If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of a magazine like Architectural Digest or House Beautiful and lusted after the classy kitchens and luxurious living rooms that populate their glossy pages, then author Myquillyn Smith’s new interior design book probably isn’t for you.
In “The Nesting Place” (Zondervan, $19.99) Smith lays waste to the idea that a home must look perfect and be expensively outfitted in order to be beautiful. She has garnered plenty of fans via her popular decorating blog of the same name (thenester.com), which boasts 300,000 monthly page views.
A stay-at-home mother, Smith, her husband and three sons have lived in 14 different homes — some that they’ve owned, others that they’ve rented — during the past 19 years. She claims to have put her personal decorating touch on each place, usually through a combination of old-fashioned elbow grease, refurbished thrift-store and garage-sale finds and plenty of ingenuity.
“The Nesting Place” is filled with photographs that she snapped of her previous rental home, which exuded a casual, shabby-chic elegance and — most importantly, she said — a sense of comfort for her family and guests. (The house was also featured in several magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens.)
The book’s cover features a photo of an upholstered chair wearing a frayed white slipcover, with Smith’s coral pink pumps carelessly kicked off to the side. Its pages are packed with pictures of her DIY decorating projects: a laurel wreath made entirely of white plastic spoons; painted tree stumps repurposed as end tables; a fireplace surround fashioned with contact paper and hand-drawn bricks.
Such elements are proof that, as Smith wrote in the book, “You don’t have to get perfect to have a pretty house. Most of us simply need to learn to see the beauty in the imperfect. Because life is gloriously messy.”
People have been “duped into believing that that’s just the unofficial goal of everything in our life is (to) strive for perfection,” she said recently from her family’s newest abode, a “rundown” house situated on 12 acres outside of Charlotte, N.C., which they purchased last year.
To abandon the idea of attaining decorating perfection is “a gift you give yourself,” she said. “I think to be at a level where you can accept the imperfection in your own life and then welcome other people into that” fosters personal connections. “I think revealing our imperfections really makes us closer.”
Those imperfections “play an important role” in any home by putting “people at ease” and making the environment feel more livable, she wrote. “The truth is I’m just not comfortable in a house that seems perfect.”
While there are some daily tasks that demand exact execution, decorating is definitely not one of them, Smith said. “Decorating done wrong is better than no decorating at all.”
It is crucial to determine how a home must function in order to best suit its occupants’ needs. “Don’t let Ethan Allen or whatever furniture store or HGTV tell you” what the purpose of your home should be, Smith said.
Despite what current design trends might dictate, “We get to decide at any moment what the purpose of our house is.” After all, “The house is there to serve us. We are not there to serve the house.”
For years, Smith said she had “furniture I was afraid to use or floors I was afraid to scuff. … If I’m too busy protecting the furniture, then something’s wrong because the furniture is there for us to use.”
What to do when the sofa cushions become stained and the coffee table is covered in scratches? Don’t fret, and certainly don’t apologize to guests for their appearance.
“What if you’re complaining about your drapes, and (the other person doesn’t) even have drapes? Then I’m offending (by) not knowing what their situation may be. I feel like it just is a very ungrateful way to present myself and my home,” she explained.
Instead, in Chapter 8, Smith encouraged readers to embrace what she calls a dwelling’s “lovely limitations” — oddly shaped rooms, too few windows, ugly carpet and such — by turning them into exciting decorating challenges.
Case in point: The living room of Smith’s previous home was unusually long. “At first I cursed it and I hated it. And then I figured out a layout that would work” for her family’s needs. These days, “we’re in this house that doesn’t have an awkward living room like that (and) I kind of miss it.”
Another chapter of “The Nesting Place” is devoted to taking decorating risks. In it, she detailed some of the risks she took in her own homes, which included hanging a massive mounted fish she purchased off Craigslist in the living room.
“That was a risk for me because you can’t really try it out and take it back if you don’t like it, and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to sell an 8-foot-long sailfish if it didn’t work,” she said.
Even those who live in rented homes and apartments can afford to take decorating risks. When her family rented, Smith said she switched out the light fixtures with selections she purchased on her own, which she would uninstall and take with them when their lease was up.
“That was a great fix for us because it really changes a rental that feels like a builder-grade home to something that feels really cozy and just more homey to us, because we always had the same light fixtures in all of our houses,” she explained.
Although tenants are often prohibited from painting walls, Smith worked around the drabness of her rental homes by purchasing colorful pillows for her sofas to add pops of color to the space.
“I think more than anything — more than the house that you’re in, or what the landlord does or doesn’t let you do — your attitude is gonna totally make or break the space that you’re living in,” she said.
Also, there’s no need to spend big bucks to make a house feel like home.
Smith wrote that one of her favorite decorating tips is to “walk around your home and look at every room as if you were shopping at a store where everything is free,” and then move items to others rooms “in order to have the best placements of all your pretty things.”
A big fan of quirky items, Smith said she discovers plenty of them while shopping at flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores.
“That’s where you’re gonna find those items with the most personality and story and character,” she said. “I think every house can benefit from a few secondhand finds, for sure.”
Christine Ringenbach isn’t as certain. A longtime interior decorator and owner of the Decorating Den Interiors franchise in Henderson, she said it takes a certain amount of skill to mix and match oddball items within a home’s design — a knack most do-it-yourselfers do not possess.
“It takes a really good eye to be able to find all kinds of things all over the place and pull it all together so it actually looks nice,” Ringenbach said.
She does, however, agree with Smith’s philosophy that design needn’t be perfect to be beautiful.
“Function comes first, especially when it’s families” that Ringenbach designs for, she said. “I don’t think anybody tries to decorate so that it’s absolutely perfect … because real people live there.”
Smith plans to begin inviting her readers and blog followers to her home for crafting and furniture-rehab demonstrations, swap meets and other events staged in a refurbished barn on her property.
“It’s not perfect here and we’re not perfect people, but to let the community truly see that’s where my heart is” and spread her decorating message is what matters most, the author said.
“We don’t have to wait … to be part of each other, to be acceptable to each other. Let’s just invite people into our mess and invite people into our imperfect lives. I think that is very powerful.”