July 14, 2024


Interior spice

Interior design and landscaping lessons learned in 2020

Interior design and landscaping lessons learned in 2020

Normally at this time of year — and what a year this has been — we reflect back on what we’ve learned on our journey toward better living. So here are my top takeaways from 2020:

In January, sick of the mud our three dogs kept tracking in from the yard where the lawn wouldn’t grow, because the trees were overgrown, my husband and I got professional help. As we sat on the patio overlooking our mud pit with landscape designer Tony Evans, DC and I sputtered possibilities: a fountain, a fire pit, a pool, no more mud. Two weeks later Evans came back with a plan, one far better than we could have imagined, which was, after all, why we hired him. It would be seven months before the vision became real, and the yard got muddier before it got better. But as COVID closed off the world, our new outdoor space delivered greater returns than we could have imagined.

Lesson: Don’t ignore your yard. In the past, I’ve always prioritized interior design over outdoor. I now believe that is a mistake.

In February, we opened our door to a stranger. A family friend asked if we had a spare room to house a student, Jessica, who needed a place to stay for 12 weeks while she completed her last internship on the way to getting her doctorate in physical therapy. My mind raced through a parade of horrible outcomes, but I wrote back, “Of course we will help.” And our home life got better. She joined us for dinner, pitched in around the house and made our nest feel a little less empty.

Lesson: Believe in humanity. If you can be a port in a storm or a temporary haven for someone in transition, open your door. Your heart might open up, too.

In March, I reconnected with the ideas of the late architect and designer Michael Graves by previewing a line of 100 new kitchen items, from cookware to canister, as his namesake design firm, Michael Graves Design, rolled them out. Each item embodied his three-part formula: form, function and whimsy. I interviewed Graves for my first syndicated home design column nearly 20 years ago and twice since. He made an impression on me and on the world.

Lesson: I rediscovered how applicable the Graves method is when confronting any creative act. Whether approaching a recipe, a room or a relationship — or in Graves’ case, a city library or a toaster — ask how can I make it a better experience?

In April, we hunkered in place, beginning a chapter of unknown length and unfathomable darkness. As life went on, I marveled at the flexibility and adaptability of humanity and at the versatility of our homes, which suddenly had to become all things: school, office, gym, church, restaurant, theater and beauty salon.

Lesson: I found a new appreciation for my home. When the world is a troubled place, our homes are where we turn for support, comfort, safety and now just about everything else.

In May, DC and I engaged in the great pool debate. The landscape design for our yard came in two versions, with pool and without. We had to choose. I looked at the pool rendering longingly. That cool aqua rectangle sure was seductive. I welcomed the idea of dipping into a cool patch of blue on a
hot summer night. DC did not. He called a pool “sunk money.” I called it “liquid joy.”

Arms crossed. Backs turned. Heels ground in. I surveyed my readers. The votes were split. I did the math, which was sobering. The cost of putting in a pool, plus maintenance, heating, insurance and repairs over 10 years, divided by 20 swims a year, came down to $400 a dip. No number of poolside margaritas would help me wash that down.

Lesson: The most cost-effective way to get a pool is to buy a house that has one.

In June, I met a young couple who put a new spin on the tiny house trend. Motivated by the desire to own their home outright and travel with ease, Hannah and Ian Hernandez bought a school bus and converted it into a tiny house, or “skoolie” as they’re called by a growing group of bus converters.

To turn the bus into a home for their young family, the couple gutted the inside, insulated the walls, added electrical wiring, paneled the ceiling and installed sinks, a shower, a composting toilet, a stove, a refrigerator and cabinets to create a 35-foot-long home on wheels.