Saturday, April 25, 2015

Thoughts on Living in a World of White

I had the privilege of attending a beautiful event recently. Rick belongs to a chamber music group here in the Lansing area that has the most remarkable concerts. They are held within an art gallery and the space is small and intimate. Only about 100 people can fit into the space and the concerts generally sell out -- and with good reason. The performances never fail to disappoint.

The organization had its end-of-year soiree for members, an event that included a lovely French-themed selection of heavy hors d'oeuvres and desserts (but I have to say, my macarons would have been tight competition for theirs!). For reasons you'll understand in a minute, they served only white wine. The food was bracketed a concert by a remarkable trio that played music by Faure, Debussy, Ravel and several others. A stunning evening.

The event was held in someone's home in the part of the city I call Izzoland. Tom Izzo is our basketball coach and lives where the big houses are because he is paid several times more than the university president. (There is something VERY wrong about that fact, I might add, and I don't care how much you like basketball.) We walked up a long, curved driveway in a wooded lot when we arrived and when we entered the house we (or at least I) gasped.

It was an avalanche of white, with a huge bank of two-story windows that stretched across the living and family rooms, overlooking a pond and wooded area that might just convince me to like winter if I lived with that view. Maybe. In autumn it would be to die for.

But as I was looked about the room I couldn't get away from white overload. Almost everything in that space was white. White carpeting, white furniture, white marble, white counters. The only accents were the beige trim, shiny black coffee tables and the occasional painting on the wall, along with a china cabinet with beautiful pieces that were -- yes, white. There wasn't a hint of clutter. They could put the house on the market today, no staging required. It was very contemporary, very sleek. Extremely elegant. Very not me.

Now, I like white. In fact, two of my favorite blogs, Jacqueline's and Susan's, are decorating/antique blogs and their use of white makes my heart sing. Karla is one of the quintessential "paint it white" bloggers and it looks great. All three of these women (and I'm sure many others) work with a white palette in large part, but there is a charm to it. You can call it shabby chic or call it lived in or loved or filled with personality and soft plush, deep cushions, gentle edges and warmth.

But when I was looking at this marvelous house with its very hard, stark edges I had a stunning realization about myself.

I couldn't live there and there were more than a few reasons why.

I have a cat that periodically hurls and never on the patterned rug or the kitchen floor, but always on the lightest carpet in the house (it was an admittedly bad decorating choice, considering that the family room is also the back-door and garage entry room. It is also the room where people congregate at a party because it is by the kitchen and small and folks seem to like that. Consequently it has seen more than its share of spills.)

Which brings me to wine, specifically red wine. I just like red wine too much to be worried about spilling all the time. And I would spill because that's just what I do.

Can you imagine our Cork Poppers doing this on a white carpet? Maybe the first couple of pours -- but by the sixth tasting, we'd definitely be living dangerously.
Then there is the cat again. Lizzie is black and white, as you may remember. She generously leaves white fur on all my black clothes and black fur on anything white. Oh, if I had white furniture and a rug, well -- you can see the dilemma. ("Vacuum!" you say. Let's just say my vacuum has been broken for two years and so twice a month when people come to clean -- sort of, the messy stuff -- they take care of that. Then I try to live neatly till their next visit.)

Lizzie on white cushion. You will be pleased to note that now there is a navy fleecy thing covering that cushion. Because she likes that chair and we'll get on a lot better if I don't have to use the Helmac every time someone stops by.

Then there is the clutter issue. Now, I know these folks cleaned up for a party. We all do. But I'm not familiar with something called "bare surfaces." They make me nervous. Consequently, when you walk into my house, you can see my life story. You can tell my passions by the books on my shelves (I didn't see any books there, but I suspect those were in another room. I hope they are.)

You'd figure out that I love Paris, art and creating, theatre, biographies and England and that I have very diverse tastes in reading. That I collect things and have the collections passed on to me from my mom -- Hummels and Doulton figurines, cut glass and seasonal whatevers -- bunnies in spring, snowfolk in winter, Santa at Christmas. There are photos everywhere and too much art on the walls. But I don't really care. It's what I like.

One of my fave Easter pix. Note the stuff stashed into the china cabinet, the wrapping paper rolls in the corner and a desk that has too much on it. What you can't see is the art stuff on the windows behind Greg -- color samples, papers, baby wipes, a serious selection of glue and a basket of paints. Real life, folks.
You'd know I love things that have been around the block a few times -- my Stickley table and lamp, a cut-down claw foot coffee table, the odd trinket here and there. The cat thing is obvious with some of the cat collection on display (the rest in other rooms). You'd know I don't care much for new tech with my old square heavy TVs (which, to be honest, I wouldn't mind bagging but they work so well) and yes, I still have a VHS player.

The art room/office is organized (except for a few piles here and there) but no one else would ever be able to see that. I like to look at things I've done, so they're all on display. Not prettily, necessarily, but there. And I love my friends' work, too -- so yes, that's here, too.

Art room shelves. Organized? Yes. Spacious? No.
And please don't open my kitchen cupboards unless you are willing to perhaps be attacked by an landslide of Tupperware. (Or, in the case of Rick last week, my Laurel Burch mug, which now -- sans handle -- has been moved to the art room where it holds paintbrushes. It was a gift and it's pretty. I can't toss it.)

I lose things in my house. The elegant satiny jacket I wear only when I get really dressed up disappeared from October until last week. It was found in Rick's closet. It took me three weeks to find my favorite blue pants after they came up from the laundry. And just a couple of days ago I found my tennis shoes that were missing since October. Don't even ask where those turned up.

And we won't talk about the basement and garage.

Coming home from the party I was reminded of the movie I saw the night before on TNT. It was called "Holiday." Cary Grant was a happy-go-lucky guy who wanted to make enough money to be able to live his fancy-free dreams. While on a holiday he meets a woman whom he discovers -- when going to meet her father -- is very wealthy. He arrives at their penthouse and enters through the kitchen, thinking it must be the front door (because that huge facade where the taxi driver left him off couldn't possibly be their house.) The kindly butler shows him into a massive room that makes Downton Abbey look like that little dump in the country. He meets his finacee's father (who expects him to enter their family business) and her siblings -- the sad and unfulfilled party-boy brother and the black sheep sister (Katharine Hepburn) who has her own digs in this palace -- a cozy set of rooms with a burning fireplace, comfy furniture, all the toys of childhood and lovely things all about. She has his whimsy, spirit and a zest for life that is stifled in this mansion. And, as you might expect in the end they get together.

I wondered if our hosts had that cozy space, the place where they kick off their shoes and if they leave them under the coffee table rather than neatly stored in shoe boxes or a rack in the closet. And, that when someone discovers them there the next morning, they'll not think ill of them for doing so. A spot where they can leave up the jigsaw puzzle or the incomplete craft project, the model train or the tacky macaroni art made by a grandchild and filled with love. I suspect they might. They were warm, lovely people. And I hope they do, because they deserve to live, to have a black cat (or dog) and drink red wine or eat pasta with red sauce in front of the TV.

But I couldn't live with what I saw. I want my sheddy, pukey cat and red wine. I want to know that if I come in from filling the bird feeders, no harm is done should some seed stick to the soles of my shoes. And I most certainly need to live surrounded by things I love, out there for everyone to like -- or not -- at their choosing.

You will note that sheddy, pukey cat with claws has bonded with the new rug. It's much nicer to pull up than the cardboard on her "scratchy box."  We are in negotiations.

That said, the time has come to let go of a little bit. Letting go is difficult for me. I don't let go of people or things. Everything is connected with memory, with emotion. But the fact is, most folks other than I don't really care about my stuff. So maybe it's time to go back into the basement and fill up another 10 bags or more -- and then actually take it to Goodwill. (Because I know I will never price it all for a sale!)

Ah, the thoughts we contemplate and the lessons we learn between Faure and Ravel.


Thistle Cove Farm said...

I'm rather sure I would LOVE your home! My home/farm is arranged for **living** for humans AND for animals. Books are piled everywhere, threatening to topple over...and frequently do... while my kitchen and dining rooms are painted Bee Balm Red...much to my MIL's dismay.
I find white sterile and not in a good way although Shabby Chic white can be a good thing.
Recently, I figured out I don't want to paint my furniture but want to leave it as it was built...all those decades ago. Painted furniture is fine for others but, in my home, leaves me sad.

I need orange said...

I hear you. On so many topics! That sterile environment is not for me. I'm always baffled when I stop to pet someone's dog and they lament the hair that is being transferred to my black jeans (who cares?).... I learned my lesson about white(ish) carpet, and a white couch -- the carpet is brown with multi-colored speckles, and the couch is dark gray!

My house, too, is full of STUFF. It's clear that people LIVE here. And you can make a good guess at who, by looking at the piles of books, piles of shoes, juxtaposition of art and golf trophies............

Like you, I wouldn't have it any other way. Empty desk, empty mind, and I'm sure that extrapolates up, when it's an empty house.......... !!

Shelia said...

I love this post! Oh, I do know exactly what you mean. Those kinds of houses are beautiful but to me they seem so cold and it appears no one would live there (of course they do). I love color too much myself. Like you, I admire our 'all white' bloggers and love to look at their homes, but I couldn't live just surrounded in white. I need red and blue and yellow and green! :) You're a hoot and I love your house!
Have a great weekend,
Shelia ;)

Arti said...

Jeanie, your post reminds me that I think I saw a doc on TV on that very house, the White house. The owner is a classical music lover and he has his house designed to hold chamber concerts in there. And good for you to show us your 'clutters'. Nothing compared to our own mess, our own place which we call home. As for the movie, now I must see it. Thanks for writing about that house. Grant and Hepburn... why did I miss this one? Thanks for a charming post! BTW, I've just have a White post up too. what a coincidence! ;)

Barb said...

I love this post, Jeanie, because it's so you. The gal I've come to know over these years has a wide smile and an open heart who shares her creativity and zest for life with all of us. Sterile - I don't think so! I've done some major simplifying in the last year, but still I'm surrounded by objects that I love. Many of my art objects have been given to me by people I love, and I feel enveloped by their caring when I view their creations. I was given a love of plants from my Mom, and there is a lot of live greenery in my house (reminds me of her). Also, red wine is my favorite - spills be damned!

Karen S. said...

Oh dear sweet kitty too! I have a feeling that those folks who live in settings like that, are often a bit lonely, perhaps even empty. I often find myself thinking, oh gosh I have to declutter a bit. But then it's like, but I must have this, can't put that in hidng. Yes every room even the kitchen has books on a shelf. It's hopeless for me. But everything, all my heart-string treasures have a place. When a grandchild runs in if that something they made for me is gone- it's the end of the world. Truly.

Mary said...

Great post, Jeanie! I have lots around our house too. Last fall, I promised myself I'd donate so much of it, but I kept making excuses to myself about why I should hold on to things! I'm like you in that so very many of my things have such beautiful memories attached. They're more than just objects to me. I would love being in your home! So much love and wonderful things in it!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your story and photos. I like a clutter-free existence, but not so sterile as to make me feel uncomfortable. Lol.

Tammie Lee said...

I am often intrigued and confused by homes with no personal things, nick-nacks. I do want less things as i get older, wanting less things to dust, take care of. more spaciousness around me, but not easy to change my ways. I love red wine too. So glad you had a good concert.

Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

I'd much rather live in a home that looks lived in and functions the way I need it to function. I'm with you, I love red wine too much to have to worry about one drop escaping on the white carpet:-)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

These events are so special my friend.....we hold these and other art events so dear to us as we have this opportunity to discover them, share them and look forward to them. Now KITTY here has the right idea. SLEEP and DREAM! Have a super fun Sunday!

shoreacres said...

I went through a white wall phase myself, back in the '70s, I think. Part of it was simple circumstance. I was renting, and rentals were white, with beige carpeting. When I moved into this place, I finally did what I've always wanted to do, and painted before I moved in. I love the colors, and am much happier with them.

On the other hand, the decluttering continues apace around here. I wouldn't want to live in the white house, but I'd get just as nervous in yours! I can't tolerate clutter, even though I'm often surrounded by it in the form of unwashed dishes and stacks of paper on the dining table. But as I move things along, I find myself feeling lighter and lighter. In fact, I got rid of an antique globe lamp in the bedroom last weekend, moved the antique lamp from the bath to the bedroom, and thought: "Gosh! That really improved the bathroom!"

The trick is for each of us to figure out what makes us happiest, I suppose. Like you, I have no decorating "scheme," but I'm surrounded by memories. I like that.

Joanne Huffman said...

One of the best things we an do for ourselves is to make an environment we are comfortable living in. It will never be perfect (a reflection of our lives), but we can make it so that it is ours. Obviously, you have done that with your home. Of course, I need to declutter, but my life is currently akimbo and the decluttering can wait. I know I would be comfortable in your home.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Great post, Jeanie. The concert sounds neat and I agree with your sentiment about the pay of coaches versus university presidents or other faculty!

Houses like the one you describe make me feel uncomfortable. I feel most at home in spaces that feel 'lived in' and reflect the personalities of the people who own them. These modern and often time cavernous spaces just don't work for me! They just don't feel like a place I would want to call 'home'. And when I go into places like that, my first thought is how people keep them clean! (although they probably have a staff that does that!)

I have been in de-cluttering/purging mode lately but it's mostly out of practicality because I have been moving so frequently these days! :/

Vagabonde said...

This white house sounds so cold. I like to look at things when I go to a person’s home – to see what they like, find out their taste by what they place on their walls. A house like you describe reminds me of a hospital – no personality, hygienic and sterile. I have seen several American blogs showing supposedly “French d├ęcor” where there is a lot of white – walls, furniture upholstery and such and wonder where in France are these white houses as I have never seen one – at least with French citizens in them. Usually people have family relics, antiques, etc. I enjoy antiques and like to mix styles. But I also have too much “stuff.” I had an old friend who repaired clocks, so we would go to flea markets and buy broken old clocks – just in my den I have 8! Need to get rid of many of them. Having a couple of cats is also hard on “white” of any kind.

Victoria Zigler said...

Oh, no, no, no! You need to have "stuff" around, so you can feel at home; a house isn't a home unless you can see - and feel - that it's lived in.

White is fine; one of the places we lived in we had white walls, and added the colour with accessories. But you need that lived in feeling, which you lose if things are too clean and organized. I'd feel more comfortable in a house full of clutter, where I had to be careful of knocking things over, than in one where things are so spotlessly clean and tidy that I'm afraid to move in case I leave a mark or make a mess.

Shelia said...

Hi Jeanie! Hope you're having a nice Sunday and thanks for popping in to see me.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Mae Travels said...

A number of years ago I was packing up my dollhouse collection to be stored for a while (I think we were renting out the house for a sabbatical). I discovered that the dolls were as bad as I am: little china cupboards all full of dishes and things, vases of little flowers on the side tables, little pillows on the beds... I know exactly what you mean.

Jennifer Richardson said...

I could never live in an all white world, either. I love color too much. And I'd feel lost without my plants. You can't throw a jellybean in my house without hitting a live plant. In a pretty pot. And it wouldn't be inappropriate to throw that jellybean, either:)
I love peeking in at other lifestyles, though. Fun:)
Thanks for the peek,

Bella Rum said...

The white house is the kind of house I'd like to tour, but could never live there. That kind of decluttering is a lifestyle. I could never be that selective. Can you imagine? Even though we've been aggressive about downsizing, I know I've still kept too much, and will have to do more when we move.

Your house is cozy and welcoming.

Kitty said...

Good morning Jeanie. What a delightful story to wake up to. As usual you have hit the nail on the head in so many ways. Thank you!!!
Love to you, Rick and the kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of in-between. I don't like clutter, but I'm not a purist either. On your art supply shelves, I noticed the Nyaker tins. Love those cookies!

Mari said...

I admire white decorated houses not because of its color but their ability to maintain its neatness. I like cleanliness but not to that strict level of a hotel. My husband and I love colors.

Generally I don't like clutter but I do allow it from time to time :) especially if it's a purposeful one - I mean like artworks & the likes.

~*~Patty S said...

Balance is such a tricky thing isn't it.
Being comfortable in our surroundings is a good goal I think...working on that myself as I tend to get sentimental over things and you know what that means.
The concert sounded nice!

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