Friday, January 11, 2008

Answering questions

A few days ago Jane Ann asked, "Do you ever dither about your decisions? You seem very sure of what you want ..." This was in regard to our remodeling project. I've been thinking about her question. The short answer is "sometimes." The long answer involves a little history. The fact of the matter is that I don't dither much. I do know pretty much what I want. I have spent much of my working life helping other people make design decisions—choosing colors, choosing materials and settling on a theme or concept based on finding out what they are comfortable with, how they want to feel with their decisions and bottom line, what their budget is. My first career was in interior design. My last in graphic design. Inbetween I owned a fabric store.

For me the nitty gritty, planning, coordinating and pulling things together of interior design was really fun. It was something of a shock to discover that most of my clients did not find it fun, but instead really stressful. I found that many, many people become so anxious about making decisions about colors and furnishings that they become paralyzed with indecisiveness. They have the belief that there is only ONE perfect solution to the problem they are trying to solve and an imperfect solution will mean only that they will never be happy with their choice. And, geez, people get whiny and demanding and obnoxious about stupid, insignificant details. What nonsense. I'm not patient with that. There are, as they say, a lot of ways to skin a cat. Pleasant surroundings and a beautiful environment are worthy goals and, I believe, enrich our lives, but they are only a superficial part of what makes us whole and happy. And creating a personal space should be fun, in my opinion, so I learned a long time ago not to stress about decisions, by keeping it in perspective and not allowing things to be too precious. I think I was a pretty good interior designer, but I couldn't deal with the people.

What I learned that I could apply to my own surroundings was:
  • to observe daily what I like and what makes me feel good, then it's easy to choose what to add to my life.
  • travel has been a passion for us, and the things that remind us of our travels make us happy.
  • things that belonged to our families and people we love hold meaning and value to us and are nice to live with
  • things are only new and perfect for a day, so I've learned to love things that are old and imperfect.
  • the art, and other flotsam,that we accumulate seems to lead us right to a lot of the other choices.

I try to have fun with design and decorating and I try to keep it personal and I love, love, love a bargain and I am delighted when I can come up with something kind of clever and crafty that solves a problem.


On another note, entirely, Del asked me about my comment that I have been painting my little fabric birds with acrylic medium.

" How do you apply acrylic medium? Brush? Spray? Doesn't it soak in?"

I apply it, undiluted, with a brush to the completed bird. Because it is undiluted and pretty thick, it doesn't soak very far into the bird. It penetrates the fabric, but nothing more. When it is painted on it is white-ish, milky. When it dries it is clear and hardly changes the appearance of the fabric, though it does make it noticeably stiffer. I used gloss medium because it was what I had on hand. One coat doesn't make it noticeably glossy. I think a second coat would sit on the surface and probably make it more shiny, which I don't think I would like. When I buy more medium I think I will buy matte medium instead and see if there is a difference.


  1. Anonymous10:31 AM

    I've made so many costly decisions in my life (cost me money and years of happiness) that I am a champion ditherer. It helps me make leaps of faith to watch people like you, Terry. And I'm glad that you aren't saying that your choices are not snap decisions--that thinking about what you want, what makes you happy is an on-going thing. I think that's where a lot of us ditherers get into trouble. We don't think about how our surroundings effect us, so that when we suddenly have to make that decision--we're paying a designer to get started or the calendar says, "it's now or never"--we fall apart.
    I have a friend who is starting the building process and said that they would be buying second-hand cabinets, "just to get us in sooner--we'll get the new, pretty stuff later." There was a sigh and the indication that was a necessary sacrifice.
    I said, "Who knows, you may love the second-hand ones..." That's one important thing I've learned from you, Terry--new isn't always the best.
    There was a pause and everyone in the conversation looked at me like I had lost my mind. I'll have to remember and quote you, "things are only new and perfect for a day, so I've learned to love things that are old and imperfect."
    That philosophy has made every place you've ever lived warm and comfortable for everyone who enters.

  2. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Decisions like this used to paralyze me. Then, in the last few years, my husband was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, my 25 year old daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and my 23 year old daughter was raped - while PeaceCorps-ing in Africa - by a man who very likely is HIV positive. Now I don't care a whit what my kitchen cabinets look like.

  3. Anonymous7:59 PM

    I just wanted to say, Terry, that your home has always felt lovely --lived in and delightful and not at all intimidating. Or at least not until I start to look closely at things.

    Your knowledge -- that new things become old -- is a life-shaper -- I love a variety and change and routines that involve my favorite coffee cup and the mirror in the hall way. And mostly I don't dither -- after all, it's easy enough to break the ugly dish you bought by mistake _- or take it to a potluck and leave it there. I've never built a house, so that might bring out the dither in me. But then, I don't think I'll find out in this lifetime anyway. I liked the way you sorted out your kitchen design, although am I wrong in thinking that the original impetus has now been discarded, but the rest of the design stands?

    Anyway, I can't wait til we get back to Portland to see the new place. Loved the kitchen tiles.


  4. Anonymous8:10 AM

    I could absolutely have written your "dithering" post myself. I too was an interior designer (and taught) for 25 years, found it a delightful pursuit, and was constantly amazed at folks who hated it and were more than willing to let someone else take charge. I'm so hypersensitive to my surroundings that I find such an attitude odd.

    We have the same sentiments about travel reminders and pieces passed on by loved ones. I have a sure sense of what I am comfortable with and what feels like my skin. But because I was (still am to a degree) exposed to so many design approaches, my problem is often that nothing seems new or fresh to me. I am in the 11th year of most of the same delicious draperies I designed when we built our third house. Because I don't want to replace what was very expensive to create, because I still like them, and because much of what I see that is "new" is just the same ole, same ole. Then again, my bedroom is having its second incarnation and I still haven't got it right. Sometimes interior designers are their own worst clients.

    However you arrive at your decisions, they are lovely and I enjoy getting to be a decorating voyeur to your process.

  5. "And, geez, people get whiny and demanding and obnoxious about stupid, insignificant details. "....this is what eventually drove me to give up interior design and go into art full time, the design side was fun but dealing with spoilt people obsessing about possessions all the time really sucked the joy out of it! Anonymous has had some pretty extreme events in her life, but the lesson is so valid, at the end of the day, does any of this REALLY matter in the overall scale of things. So your philosophy of enjoying it and taking it in your stride is right on the button!