Comfort Makes a Difference
We all want to be happy and to be comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings. Once the basics of food, water, clothing, and shelter have been secured, we seek sensual pleasure and beauty in our environment. Primitive man covered his floors with furs and drew pictures on the walls of his cave. He satisfied his body's desire for warmth and texture next to his skin and his mind's need for something to look at. We aren't very different. In fact, studies conducted in Germany indicate that pleasant settings have an almost incalculable effect on children's sense of self confidence, learning abilities and social behavior as they mature.
Who does not sigh with relief as he rests in a comfortable chair after a long day at work? Who does not drift with the lily pads as she looks at Monet's "Water Lilies," released for a few moments from the stresses around her, quiet and at peace?
The personal and family furnishings we live with every day affect us and our loved ones. Furniture can make our lives more pleasant. Beautifully made and proportioned furniture excites our senses in the same way as fine, well proportioned sculpture. Each piece of furniture that we own can contribute to our aesthetic experience and our comfortable and happy lives.
Our lives are significantly shaped by our surroundings. While in some measure the home in which we live is determined by income and geography, our choices within those limits are highly important. You can motivate your family to appreciate their home environment or you can motivate them to see the family car as a reflection of the family's value system. If a family spends more on their car than on the design and decorating of their home, children will establish their values in the same way.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 1.
Your home is a reflection to your friends, family, and the world at large of the kind of person you consider yourself to be. If you make your home comfortable, a reflection of yourself and of your tastes, you'll love it. If you try to make it a status symbol, at odds with your tastes and lifestyle and imitating the interiors seen in glossy magazines, the prospects are that you may dislike it. It won't suit you and you may not be comfortable in your own home.
A Short Course in Interior Decorating
Now for a briefing on interior decorating and for a few easily learned techniques that can help create comfortable rooms.
When we walk into a room, most of us have a first impression about it. Why do we have such feelings? What do they mean? Simply stated, our feelings about a room are our reaction to the space we have just entered. They are a combination of our responses to certain aspects of that room. Using the vocabulary employed by interior decorators, we are reacting to space, color, form, balance, symmetry, and texture. Combined with this may be our psychological responses to memories of past encounters or experiences in similar settings. The color of a wall may induce the recollection of our parents' dining room. The shape of a chair, perhaps, is like the one a beloved grandfather used to sit in. Once we become aware of the effect the elements of design have upon our senses and our memories, we can use this knowledge to help us in our decorating project.
The six crucial elements of interior design and decorating are: SPACE, COLOR, FORM, BALANCE, SYMMETRY and TEXTURE; Short definitions (enough to make these concepts familiar and usable), with a little historical background, are given below.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 2.
Spend Less and Buy More
Good interior design can be relatively inexpensive, but the return on investment in home furnishings is comparable to no other. The money you spend establishes the flavor and personality of your home. It enhances your life.
Some people think that once furniture is bought, "that's it, the money is gone." This is just not true; when you buy furniture you are investing in yourselves and in your children; in your future growth and well being.
This chapter will help you to get the furniture you want at the prices you can afford. Good design and quality are available at competitive prices. However, it is helpful to be aware of the pitfalls that can lead you off track and beyond your budget.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 3.
Old Furniture and Antiques
A good way to begin your decorating plan is to look at the "old" furniture you already have. Make two lists: one should be the things you like and wish to keep and the other is for those pieces that you really hate, wince when you look at, and no longer want in your home.
The fact that something is old does not make it good design. Now is the time to give away, throw out, or sell those pieces of furniture that you no longer want to live with.
Take a good look at your "to keep" list. It may be short but on it should be those pieces of furniture and accent pieces you like and are comfortable with. Now take your pen and pad and jot down your thoughts on the way you want your future newly decorated home to look. Perhaps it will help to thumb through some home design magazines or some books on furniture style. Write down notes on things you see that appeal to you -- for some of us it is also helpful to make a list of what we really do not want to see in our home as well.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 4.
Classic Furnishings - Reproductions and Adaptations
Among today's loveliest furniture are reproductions and adaptations of antique designs. For traditional furniture lovers, this is a good place to start. Let's clarify the terms.
* REPRODUCTION is a term usually associated with a piece of furniture that has been reproduced exactly from an antique. The manufacturer has researched, carefully, the livability of a design over the centuries and selected those originals that are wonderful examples of internal design and harmony. Many exact reproductions are as exquisite as the originals from which they were copied.
* ADAPTATION usually signifies that the furniture looks like the original antique piece but has been designed with adjustments in size and proportions to suit today's home needs. For example, people today are bigger and more athletic than they once were. When adapting antiques for today's market, the manufacturer attempts to maintain the look of the antique piece while adjusting the proportions to suit people's body size today. Adaptations of antique sofas retain the lovely line of the original but are designed to allow us to sit back into them comfortably instead of perching on them as our ancestors did on the originals.
If you buy a large reproduction or adaptation of a piece such as a country kas, slant back cupboard, Welch cupboard, or highboy, you can expect it to be of good quality, based on its prominence (Manufacturers will invest more in construction of a larger piece). Accordingly, it can become the focal point of your room. Situate your sofa or seating group so that the large reproduction or adaptation piece can be seen easily and so be admired.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 5.
Contemporary Styles – Softer and Straighter
For some of us, furniture of the 1950's is modern furniture, evoking kidney-shaped coffee tables and Danish modern. Sofas bring memories of Doris Day smiling brightly at Rock Hudson.
1960's artists made pieces shaped like feet, cabinets in the form of men and women; televisions shone "Day-glo" bright and everyone had a beanbag chair. Well that's nostalgia. Much of it was created for shock value. Let's hope that the saying "if you name a dog, it always stays around" doesn't apply to many of the designs popular in the 1950's and 60's. The German words "schmaltz" meaning chicken fat and "kitsch" meaning gingerbread are appropriate for some of the modern art waves such as op art, pop art (soup cans), shock art, and schlock art.
The high tech look popular in the 1970's and early 1980's was a spare functional look, designed for work environments. The buzzword in high tech furniture was "ergonomics." Ergonomics is a term related to the measurement of work. Ergonomics does not mean the measurement of comfort, just the measurement of work. Ergonomic furniture is designed to keep you awake, to correct your posture, to avoid workmen's compensation claims. This is a correct goal for the office; it is not terrific for your comfortable home.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 6.
Starting from the Floor - Carpets and Flooring
The color, texture and feel of the floor coverings you choose have a significant impact on how comfortable you feel in your new or existing home. The good news is that today's choices are so rich and varied that it is difficult to make a mistake. There are rugs, carpets, new softer versions of traditional vinyl and tile floors, and even ways to soften impacts on hardwood floors.
With today's synthetics, wall-to-wall carpets and modern area rugs will resist damage from most kinds of soil, whether liquid or solid. One of the miracles of synthetic fibers (Nylon, Olefin (Herculon ®), and Acrylic, for example) is that they're totally impervious to foreign elements. In other words, dirt particles can get caught in between strands of carpet yarn, but they can't get into the fiber itself. If you vacuum thoroughly and use modern spot cleaners and use carpet cleaners on occasion, a synthetic fiber carpet should provide years of service. Natural fiber rugs and carpets made of materials such as wool give a wonderful "hand" and a warm feeling underfoot. However, they may accumulate soil over time since they have the natural porousness of things which have been "grown" rather than "poured."
New or antique carpets provide "floor art" and wonderful examples of artisans' skills. While wall-to-wall carpet is usually tufted (a process where carpet fibers are punched through a backing, and then left looped together - "loop pile" carpet), or sheared apart (a "cut pile," or "plush" carpet), rugs are often woven. Historically, many rugs in the United States are referred to as Oriental rugs. Many Oriental rug merchants are of Armenian or Iranian descent. Hagob Bogigian, who came to the United States with a missionary returning from the field prior to 1880, is credited with introducing direct importing of Oriental rugs to the United States. Prior to that date, rugs came from France (Aubusson, etc.) or Great Britain, even if they may have originated in China, India or elsewhere.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 7.
Eight. Choosing Sofas, Chairs and Upholstered Furniture
Comfort is (or should be) the number one priority for all who buy upholstered furniture. Quality furniture should provide lasting comfort.
Providing comfort in upholstered furniture isn't all that easy. Human beings were not designed to sit. The bones in our posteriors are formed to support tendons that help us run, probably away from creatures like saber-toothed tigers. We need seating systems that let us squirm around a bit.
Most soft furniture today is made with a combination seating system. The seat combines the softness of polyurethane foam (in 98 percent of all cases) with an underlying layer of springs or webbing to provide comfort. Backs are made in the same way with fabric over foam over springs. The frame underneath it all provides support.
It is often difficult to differentiate soft furniture that is cheaply constructed from more expensive upholstered furniture since they may not look very different, or since a distinctive fabric may obscure design underpinnings. Here are some basic rules for selecting upholstered furniture:
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 8.
Nine. Choosing Furniture with Electronics in Mind
We have been wooed and won by the modern miracles of television, radio, DVD, MP3's, compact disk players, stereo and audio recorders, video cassettes and computers, TIVO® video recorders, copy machines and fax machines. They enable us to experience the arts in our homes; see and hear the wonders of distant lands where we cannot afford to travel; listen to scholars who, before our age, could only be heard and seen in their secluded universities. Despite the few who condemn our fascination with electronics, ration their children's exposure to the "Tube" into minute doses and frown on anyone who admits they enjoy the daily "soaps," the overwhelming majority of Americans love their electronics.
E-mail and faxes are like an executive's paper airplanes, and are becoming omnipresent for many of us. Doodles whisk through space and land on desks, a reminder of schoolchildren breaking the tedium of the school day with a burst of paper flying machines.
But, isn't it wonderful that it can be done? And didn't Savonarola burn books to limit information once upon a time in history? For most of us it is hard to condemn miracles. Instead, we build media rooms and media walls to house our miracle machines.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 9.
Ten. Designing for the Wired House
Today's technology affects the entire way we live; tomorrow's changes will make the video revolution seem like a popgun war. Every room in our home will be become equally accessible from a communications standpoint, and these modern miracles will alter the way we perform our tasks at home. The trend of the last four decades to increase the labor saving involved in typical homemaking and maintenance chores will continue. We are describing the "wired house."
Voice and data communications can run directly through the house's basic electrical system, and it is becoming increasingly common for them to do so. The miracle of fiber-optics can carry a great deal of information. Techniques such as closed circuit TV allow us to keep track of what is going on in another room, even though we are not there physically.
A few years ago, the following would have sounded like a scenario from science fiction. From my phone at the office, or from my mobile terminal as a passenger in the car or train, I program the recording of the TV shows I planned to see, but will now be late for. I start the stove to cook the casserole I had prepared. Knowing that I will be running late tomorrow as well, I arrange for the delivery of groceries via the Internet.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 10.
Eleven. Home Offices - Comfortable Work Settings
In the last ten years, the "Home Office" has become "Center Stage" for many. This is true regardless of the size of one's living quarters. It is perhaps even more important to design your home office carefully if it is the "corner office" in a small apartment rather than a dedicated room in a larger home. Controlling distractions and providing some separation between work activities and "down time" is even more critical if space is limited.
First, let's look at the trends and societal pressures which have caused this need, and the resulting effect on many of us.
In 1999, there were 18.3 million home-based businesses. This was a 23 percent increase over 1998, when the estimate was 14.9 million. And in 2003, the estimated number was 22.7 million. While the rate of growth may have slowed down somewhat, the absolute number is still increasing significantly.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 11.
Twelve. Our Indoors/Outdoor Lifestyle
We live an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. When we are indoors, we often supply ourselves with exercise equipment and enjoy a relaxed style of entertaining. When outdoors, we take gas and electric cooking grills, portable TVs and stereos, books and magazines and our portable telephones along with us. Often we hurry in and out quickly, because we are going to the pool or to the beach or to the game of tennis that's waiting in our backyard. Along with us we track in dirt and sand, mud and water.
One solution to our indoor-outdoor activity is to create a transitional room or even just a transitional space between the interior of our home and the outdoors. Our grandparents were well aware of the value of a mudroom. Muddy shoes and boots, wet raincoats, bulky, woolly hats and gloves and scarves were taken off and left in the mudroom. Mudrooms were not always attractive but they were utilitarian.
It's possible to take the old concept of a transitional room used for wet and muddy outdoor clothes and translate that into an attractive and useful area that works for our indoor-outdoor lifestyles. There are ways to extend indoor living outdoors (or almost) and outdoor living indoors, if we wish, and there are solutions to tracked-in water, sand, and dirt.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 12.
Thirteen. Designing for Geography
Designing to create the feeling of a location can be called "designing for geography." This concept has tremendous value, which too often is ignored. Where you live in the world should influence how you decorate. You can design to improve a climate. You can design to maximize a good climate and minimize a bad one. This may sound ambitious, but with careful planning it can be done.
Lighting is an intrinsic part of design in a home. It is an essential element, interacting with your furniture and moderating the atmosphere of the room. Lighting is a great tool for modifying indoor climate, and should be thought of in terms of the geographical setting. Some basic concepts of lighting are:
* GENERAL LIGHTING -- sometimes called ambient lighting. Ambient lighting offers a comfortable level of background illumination. As an example, in the tropics homes do not require too much general lighting during the day. However, there night falls suddenly and lighting for the evening hours should be varied to produce an artificial twilight.General lighting provides the background illumination for activities and can be modified depending upon whether you want to feel you are in the tropics or in the Arctic. Whatever level you choose, your general lighting should be glare-free and bounce off walls or ceilings to closely simulate natural daylight.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 13.
Fourteen. The Environment and Your Home
In the recent past, we have lived through Flower Power, the Reign of the Yuppies, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and the era of Consumerism Rampant. Perhaps we are maturing, at last. This century will be the century of the Environment. What better place for us to start than in our own homes, as we avoid discomfort in order to create comfort.
Hazardous chemicals and products can pollute indoor air and are harmful to our health. An Environmental Protection Agency report has stated that indoor air is five times as polluted as outdoor air. In small towns and in large cities throughout the United States, local papers scream that pesticide runoff is endangering water supplies. Consumer advocates have emerged to safeguard our food supplies. We are no longer in the dark about the dangers of contaminating our earth and depleting our natural resources. What can we do?
The place to start is in our own homes. When that is done, we can reach out to the community and lend a hand with others who have pledged to protect the environment.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 14.
Fifteen. Backdrops for Different Stages in Life
As we progress through life, we go through passages. The way we interact with the things around us changes. For that reason, we need to think about our surroundings and how we can best tailor them to the stage of life we are entering.
In a recent book about architecture, Prince Charles of England suggested a hierarchy that adapts as well to furnishings as it does to buildings.
* Think of the scale of each component of the room, particularly along with the architectural background and the other pieces to which it must relate.
* Consider the design of the piece. The more simple the shape, the more readily a piece of furniture will adapt to an eclectic setting.
* The enclosure within which our activities take place must be part of the equation. This setting is composed of materials and their texture which will affect the design of the room. The more interesting the texture or native pattern the less ornamentation is needed.
* "Decorating" is considering your setting and selecting and removing and arranging accents that produce the feeling you wish to evoke. It is not just adding frilly things to a room to produce color.
* Art is an important concept in the hierarchy. Art has intrinsic interest and it contributes to the overall background.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 15.
Sixteen. Many Rooms – or Many Uses
The forecast for the 1990's and the "twenty-ought" decade was that houses would grow bigger again and that was correct. The 1970's were a decade of smaller house size. The 1980's house maintained a constant overall floor space, but rooms became larger in size while the number of rooms within the house decreased. The catch phrases of the 80's and 90's were "eat-in kitchens" and the "great room" -- where living and entertaining took place.
Now in the twenty-first century, house sizes have continued to expand, and room uses diversify, with "Mc-mansions" growing ever larger, and even "tract homes" increasing in size.
While houses are growing in size and the sizes of lots on which they are being built are decreasing, there are more uses emerging for interior spaces. As the wired house technology spawns new gadgets, the media room gains prominence. Gadgets, despite miniaturization, take up space.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 16.
Seventeen. How to Cope with Buying Furniture
There is no secret to furnishing a whole house, or single rooms, without breaking your bank account or having it consume endless amounts of time. Just use your common sense, remember the principles of good design and the vocabulary you learned here, and be a clever shopper.
Let us review some relevant points:
* You need not buy "top-of-the-line" to achieve the look, endurance, and comfort that you want in a room. Often the so-called "best" advocated by designers is just more costly and more "jazzy" but not better made.
* Good design is meaningless unless the furniture you choose enhances the room in which you plan to use it.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 17.
Eighteen. Putting It All Together
Interior decoration began when some early human being rearranged stones in the family cave. Today, furniture arrangement is still a basis for any decorating scheme. It bears the same relationship to the way a room looks that an exercise regimen does to fitness or a recipe to a cake. The person who can arrange furniture without planning and, as a result, have both the furniture and the room function well is as rare as the cook who can produce a gourmet meal without planning the ingredients.
People choose the clothes they wear with care. Whether you dress in Harley Davidson T-shirts or Brooks Brothers gray flannels, you know how you want to look. You need to think about your lifestyle when you plan a room, as you do when you dress yourself. Before you buy furniture, you should have a picture in your mind of how you want the room to look. You should also have a scale layout on paper of the room, including walls with windows and doors. The scale drawing allows you to create a mental map of how you want the room to work when it is finished.
In the living room, for instance, you know you will need a couch, chairs, tables, and wall storage. Play with your plan until you find the arrangement you want. Plan the other rooms using the same method. Make a very simple scale drawing; make a list of your needs for that room; play with your plan on paper until it satisfies you.
Continued in "Make Yourself Comfortable," Chapter 18.