You may be following the discussions about what the “Undecorate” movement really means, whether it means formal design is out. The discussion got started on the back of the "Undecorate" book by DwellStudio founder Christiane Lemieux (a book I own and love). But I think it’s also the dominant mindset on decor blogs and in magazines these days as we talk about democratization of design.
It's also a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time now and especially with regards to decorating my own space, wondering what my approach to decor should be. I think there are a few importantly distinct ideas being lumped under the “undecorate” umbrella and I think it’s worth teasing these out. Bear with me, this is a text heavy post…
(1) Personality & expression
First and foremost, I agree a home should reflect the individual, contain meaningful, personal objects and express something to the world about who we are. For the vast majority of people, clothes and homes are their daily expressive outlets. Beyond their words this is how they reveal themselves to the world. To me, the "undecorated" home prioritizes the individual over the paradigm, but does not necessarily negate the paradigm.
(2) Seriousness & investing
It’s a pet peeve of mine when I read designers or bloggers say “I don’t take decor too seriously”. The charitable interpretation is that they mean to encourage a more personal expression and a lighthearted hand in decor, a willingness to live naturally in a space and not thrive for clinical perfection.
The part that niggles at me is when that levity takes away from meaningfulness. I wonder how many $15 prints are slapped in Ribba frames with abandon, considered temporary and disposable? I'm definitely guilty of that. But, in not taking decor seriously, I wonder if there’s a lack of meaningfulness and commitment?
Me - I want to be serious and commit to some things! I guess I worry that not taking any of it seriously, it all becomes disposable. And I think it’s one of the strangest things about design magazines and blogs right now: They educate us about designers, about craftsmanship and materials. But there seems to be a covert acceptance that most of us aren’t shopping in those circles… so for us there’s disposable fun galore from the usual suspects.
I’ve done my fair share of shopping from those usual suspects and will probably again. For me, it's the retail equivalent of eating from a nosebag. But, in the last few months, I’ve invested in a pair of Oly sconces and some Heath ceramics. Neither purchase easy nor flippant, but there was tremendous satisfaction in committing to these purchases. The downside is clear - investing requires patience. But, haven't we shunned the idea of a "done" home anyway?
(3) Planning: Bottom-up versus top-down
Bottom-up planning is the planning that happens when you live in a space as you decorate it, when you allow the space to grow organically with you and to fit your evolving taste, budget etc. There’s no “done” with bottom-up planning.
Top-down planning is much more formal and pre-conceived. That’s what we see in TV shows when every piece in a room is considered and goes together, when there’s that ta-da moment, of a space taken from concept to reality. It’s also unrealistic for most budgets and timelines and can be too canned and at odds with individuality.
The “undecorate” movement can seem anti-top-down planning and I think that might be something of a mistake. I think top-down planning is important. If I let myself walk into a store without any top-down ideas of what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll be seduced by the siren song of a million different styles. Top-down planning introduces helpful limits and guidelines; we hone our style through top-down planning.
When Emma self-appraised her home this year, she was coming at her home in the top-down way. It gave her distance and impartiality. Top-down planning goes hand-in-hand with learning. You might learn some principles of design or research an era of furniture or the style of a specific designer. And the truth is that for many people, unbridled bottom-up planning can result in chaos, thousands of dollars wasted and a vision unrealized.
In the end, I suspect the most successful decorators and undecorators are the people who climbed the ladder before they kicked it away - they share the same top-down clarity of vision and bottom-up sense of individuality, spontaneity and evolution. So maybe, in the end, the best decorators are really undecorators and the best undecorators really decorators?