A disconcerting look, a gasp, or a simple catch in the throat were the common responses I received from my friends when they heard the title of this book: 101 Things I Hate About Your House. Some people would nervously laugh and ask with trepidation, 'Is my house in there?' or, more rarely, defensively say, 'My house better not be in there,' as if a gauntlet has been thrown down in preparation for a bloody duel. I usually pause, for effect, and reply as though searching for redemption from a particular decorating transgression, 'No, not necessarily.' My response is true enough, though admittedly vague; its ambiguity either masks a sustainable truth (what were they thinking with that shag sofa?) or conveys my mood, which most likely is dependent on the day of the week, the direction of the wind, or whether my new sweater makes my butt look big.
Someone once gave me this bit of wisdom: 'The act of creating is fueled by the total of life experience.' Truth, regardless of how we come to it, is just thattruth. So, in an indirect way, every room I've entered, looked at, dreamt of, or ran screaming from has influenced this book. Instead of gossipy storytelling or a 'kiss and decorate' mentality, this book will provide you with my keen observations and bits of learning gleaned from years of study, practice, and mistakes I've made while pursuing the art of beautiful living. And lest anyone take this book, me, or themselves too seriously, please know that as much as I love the work that I do, I also understand that no lives will be saved by my fabric selections and no wars averted as a result of a deftly shaded lamp.
For me, it seems the writing was on the wall early in my life. As a child, I was told I had 'champagne taste on a beer budget.' This was confusing for me because I was neither interested in the cost of champagne nor beer; rather, I was very concerned about the poor furnishing choices I saw around me.
With one leisurely detour that included an undergraduate degree in theology and a minor in music, I made my way to the study of design and architecture and have created classically influenced interiors ever since. I have spent more than twenty years working for clients who have included captains of industry, movie studio heads, investment bankers, and real estate moguls. My work has put me on yachts and private jets, in luxury high-rise towers, and mountaintop retreats. I've done the great auction houses, been to the openings of the world's finest antique shows, and tromped through muddy barns on back country roads in far away countriesall in search of just the right piece. I've worked on homes built from scratch and on those expanding on an already beautiful idea. I've survived temperamental architects, contractors, craftsmen, and artisans (not to mention the occasional testy client) and live to tell the stories. I've made huge mistakes, had resounding successes, and tried to carry the battle scars of this wild and wonderful profession with a small degree of dignity and a big dose of humor. It is into this gaping void of the discretionary that I toss my insights knowing that whatever the balance in the bank, money spent to better our living environment is always discretionary. A home must respond to daily demands forced upon us by life, by the unbending laws of physics, and by any number of petulant voices in our heads. Practicality, while often unglamorous, is necessary when creating a beautiful home. 'Tear down that bitch of a bearing wall and put a window where it ought to be' is the admonition barked by Faye Dunaway (playing Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest) during a most memorable remodel, reminding us that if the basics are not executed with consideration for our needs then 'Houston, we have a problem.'
I would like to state clearly the point of this book: my goal is to provide you with the basic principles you need to create a beautiful and gracious home. Beauty and grace evolve over time, like a good wine. A gracious home, while not always trumpeted in the glossy magazines, is one filled with collected objects of beauty comingled with the voices of friends, the laughter of family, and the relaxed acknowledgment of contentment. A gracious and beautiful home effortlessly considers the needs of its occupants and consistently rises to the occasion. We understand style and taste as being subjective, but principles for gracious living are not. While the former denotes mastery of historical nuance and devotion to a fickle public's fleeting fixations, the latterand the object of our attentionis rooted in common sense piled high with practical experience.
The principles shared in this book will not cure cancer, usher in world peace, or get you into the size four jeans hanging in the back of your closet, but they will do one thing and do it consistentlythe principles will work. I guarantee it. You don't have to be born with creative DNA or know how to mix stripes and patterns. You don't need to know how to spot the difference between Louis XIV and Louis XVI or have a clue who Baldwin, Draper, or Hampton are. Regardless of the state of your estatebe it massive or minusculeor your Style IQ, these principles of gracious living will deliver a framework for a more beautiful and gracious home. Another way to look at this is that you can have fun with your home. I hereby give you permission to do so. If you can read, laugh, and jump start yourself into a modicum of action then you are well on your way to enjoying a more thoughtful, graceful, and beautiful home.
The title 101 Things I Hate About Your House may prompt you to ask, what of all this talk of 'hate'? As is often the case in literature, entertainment, and it seems, even politicsexaggeration is used to make a point. Diluting their content and potential for impact, too often design and decoration tomes read lightly in the area of critical comment fearing readers will take offense. Personally, I'd rather my good friends tell me I look frightful in my new blazer with its horizontal stripes rather than tacitly standing by while I make a fool of myself. When it comes to your home and all things pertaining to a gracious and beautiful way of life, you can count on me to call things as I see them. So yes, there are things about the American home that I can't stand. Believing, as I do, that love is closer to hate than indifference, I feel confident that anyone reading this book cares enough about their home not to mind the unvarnished truth.
So, as not to miss a lick, we start at the street, move through the front door, and don't pause until we've taken a peek into every room of your house. I've also numbered the '101 Things' that make up this little volume so you can easily reference items you find helpful, painful, or just too funny to forget. I know of no better way than this to banish the foibles and follies and make fabulous the faux pas littering the homes of America.
Rest assured, it doesn't matter if your casa is inspired by an English cottage, a French farmhouse, an Italian palazzo, or last month's Design Within Reach catalogue. It doesn't matter if you have lots of money to spend or very little. It doesn't matter if you're ready to knock walls down, or already have, or if you've hired a general contractor, put the kids to work in a seedy sweatshop, or believe this to be the right time to sponge paint everything in sight. What does matter is that you genuinely want to experience your home in a more beautiful way and are prepared to lift a finger or two to realize that goal.
So, Dear Maker of Homes, here it is, the CliffsNotes for a more beautiful home. Quibble if you must about your own personal style and artistic vision; or sit quietly by, knowing that you've single-handedly raised the bar for the stylishly impaired. It matters not. There is room for all. The plan is simple; laugh a bit, learn a bit; and, most important, come to love your home as you've never loved it before. Now that's beautiful.
©2011. JAMES SWAN and CAROL BEGGY. All rights reserved. Reprinted from 101 Things I Hate About Your House. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.