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In Defense of Clutter | The Art of Eccentricity in Every Room

For many years, the minimalist style all but dominated the interior design space, with white or gray walls and furnishings in simplistic shapes and virtually no personal effects—deemed mess by design sophisticates. Devoid of color or clutter, the result may look clean, but it can also feel cold and impersonal. Not to mention it’s frankly an exercise in frustration for anyone with children or pets, or anyone who wants to actually live in their space. Thus, I argue for an injection of whimsy in every room: the artful arrangement of what some call mess to craft a space that is interesting, attractive, and (most importantly) yours and yours alone.

Living and bedroom spaces
One of the most well-known and effective ways to add character to living and bedroom spaces is by displaying your book collection. We would all love to showcase our book collection on gorgeous built-in shelves, but there are lots of places to keep books that don’t involve calling the carpenter, such as coffee and end tables, a hutch or etagere, magazine racks, or even stacked on the floor. Think about organizing them by color or size, with or without their jackets. Whatever the case, to make your space uniquely yours, display only the books you love.

Another great way to show your true colors in your living space is to use those colors! You can always paint the walls, install wallpaper, or recover the furniture, but short of completely overhauling your space, start with adding or changing bed linens, throw pillows and blankets, rugs, wall art, lamps, or even a few trinkets (candles, bowls, figurines) to bring your favorite colors and textures into the room. If you love vinyl records, consider keeping your collection in a magazine rack or even on a display ledge in your living space. Show off the people you love by framing some “amateur art” made by a child or grandchild or adding a figurine passed down from your favorite aunt. Subtly bring in your favorite color by adding some pastel grosgrain ribbon to trim a white drum lampshade, or switching out the clear crystal knobs on your end tables and dressers for colorful ones. These details are not only effective, but they’re also easily changeable when you’re ready for something new. Low risk, high reward!

Kitchen and dining spaces
Kitchens and dining rooms present a unique way to add personality: linens. Tablecloths, napkins, dish and tea towels, aprons, oven mitts and pot holders, placemats—the list goes on! Obviously, you can find linens in your favorite colors and patterns, but there’s more whimsy to be had than simply adding color. Moreover, simply wanting to keep the classic all-white look for your table linens doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a plain white box. The granny-chic or grandmillenial aesthetic has prompted a re-emergence of the dainty and detailed needlework many of us remember from childhood family dinners. However, now the patterns aren’t all lace and flowers; modern geometric patterns have become popular, as well as block embroidery reminiscent of traditional German and Scandinavian designs. There are of course napkins to match, which can be altered by adding your monogram or (and?) a fun scalloped trim. There are even cheeky cocktail napkins embroidered with virtually anything you can imagine: quotes from your favorite TV shows, puns about your favorite sport, or a menagerie of imbibing “party animals.”

Kitchens and dining rooms offer the unique opportunity to add artistic input through dishes and handmade wooden charcuterie boards. If you have a china cabinet or even glass-front kitchen cabinets, consider using them to display your most interesting tableware, not just the fine china you received as a wedding gift. Show off Grandma’s milk-glass pieces, seasonal tableware sets, or even your childhood collection of vintage jelly jars. Think of it as a curio cabinet instead of just a china cabinet; use it to display parts of yourself, not just what one would expect. If it’s feasible, consider painting or wallpapering the inside of these cabinets to really make the contents pop.

Kitchens and dining rooms are also excellent candidates for quick and low-cost fabric updates. Unlike sofas, armchairs and headboards, the upholstery in kitchens and dining rooms is typically limited to the seat covers of dining chairs— significantly less complicated to recover than an entire sofa! Seat covers also won’t overpower your space, so if you’re nervous to use a brightly colored or patterned fabric on your queen-size headboard, consider using it on your dining room chairs. You’ll get the added whimsy from using the fabric you love without the risk of it dominating the entire room.

Like kitchens and dining rooms, you can add whimsy to bathrooms with fun linens like shower curtains, towels and bathmats. In a full bath, humidity is often an issue, so utilizing art or wallpaper may not be practical. Consider starting with a fun bathmat and adding coordinating linens. A quick online search for “fun bathmat” will bring high quality options with multicolored tassels, textured floral and fruit patterns, pastel Persian-lookalikes, or even mock animal-skin rugs. In a powder room, where humidity isn’t as much of an issue, consider using a lively wallpaper, such as a brightly colored chinoiserie or jungle-themed mural. In this small space, it will be less expensive to install the wallpaper you’ve always wanted but never knew where to put, and your guests will always see it!

The point of adding whimsy to every room isn’t just to make it “interesting;” it’s to make it yours. The most whimsical things have a story behind them and the only way to make that happen is to select pieces that mean something to you, whether it’s a piece of your personal history or a found treasure in your favorite color. Adding whimsy is a deeply personal decision process, and you are the only person who can decide what to show and how to show it. Just remember to make it fun: Lean into your favorites, your sentimentality, and your instincts to add a little whimsy to every room.

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