A JOY TO BEHOLD
HOME STYLE With Chris Read It’s the little moments that can make life seem so wonderful
This last year or so I have felt the world is a more dangerous place, with old certainties disappearing. It’s led to me needing to counteract this where I can.
It has taken some odd forms – like doing more exercise ( not entirely sure of the link there but I know it exists – maybe about looking after myself) and more time with friends and family, but also that old failsafe of home.
It’s a turning inwards, a curling up into a protective ball and, sure, I have to be careful this doesn’t turn into escapism, but it is a huge source of solace and a recharging of batteries to help one face the demands of the day. So far, so standard.
We all understand this and it’s why trouble at home can be so unsettling. But I’ve come to understand that there are ways of dealing with this and I can find no better phrase for it than ‘ moments of joy’.
This phrase came to me on a recent visit to the rather gorgeous town of Hereford and a walk round the cathedral.
It’s choc full of little moments of joy, great architecture, amazing lighting and some wonderful craft and art.
They add up to a sum greater than the parts, but when applied to home this actually doesn’t really matter, it’s about creating those little moments of joy.
Many of these for me are visual and tactile, as you would expect from an interior designer. But it’s also simple things such as appreciating the most heavenly smell in the world, sautéing onions and garlic ( you can keep your scented candles), or the purr of my cat, or the sound of wine being poured into a glass, or the total sense change you get when first walking outside in the morning.
A big part of this is about deliberately noticing our world and spotting those everyday pleasures. It’s also about creating them, deliberately adding a bit of joy to the everyday.
How to do this? Apart from eating garlicky onions every night, that is.
To be fair, it’s often the ephemeral such as food, or flowers, that work really well, because you don’t get used to them.
It needn’t be expensive either – at this time of year, branches from the garden, often with the remnants of leaves on them, or seed heads work well. Just make sure they are discarded when they get too dusty or battered – no joy there at all.
A big bunch of daffodils lifts the spirits in early spring, and scented flowers give the added bonus of announcing themselves when you first walk into the room.
Almost better are displays of vegetables, a nice change from fruit, because you get the double fun of looking at them before eating them.
Think of the old Dutch Master paintings and arrange them like a still life, though preferably without the dead rabbit or grouse.
One of the best ones for me is an open fire or a wood burner. There is something about the flickering of flames that is atavistic, providing safety as well as warmth.
It’s practical too – I can keep the central heating on low through the house, and still be warm enough when finally sitting down, so for me in the winter it is literally an everyday pleasure. But I still actively enjoy it.
Though my ultimate moment of joy is a decadent wood burner in the kitchen. Lighting that in the winter for a Saturday morning’s cooking always gives me a sense of expectation.
I think it’s that flicker of light that is also part of the joy of a candle, especially when there is no other light source in the room.
I’ve talked on a number of occasions about the pleasure I get from handmade ceramics.
Mostly I love the usable ones, because then I get the fun not just of looking at them, but handling them too. From laying the table for a supper with friends to a bowl of soup for a quick lunch, using crockery that gives me pleasure adds to the experience.
I’m slightly worried about the food theme that is developing here – but, hey, food is one of life’s great pleasures and we should actively enjoy it, rather than get too tied up about its symbolism ( is it a ‘ dirty’ food, how much gluten, what type and how much fat etc).
It’s also about creating small corners that invite you in – for me, this would be a comfortable chair, a throw, with an open book laying there. For others, it may be the artfully unmade bed, a la Ralph Lauren, with crumpled real linen sheets and half a dozen throws and pillows.
Some people I know have an area, from a simple shelf to a corner of a room, that they turn into a shrine – maybe remembering a friend or relative who has died, or just mementoes from their children’s babyhood, or to make a place for meditation. This doesn’t work for me, but I totally get it.
This is not about those large scale issues of interior design, the ones normally talked about – it’s not good layout and storage, colour scheming, balancing the proportions, getting a look, it’s about small ‘ vignettes’ – something on its own or in juxtaposition that provides a noticeable ( and wonderful) punctuation, snags the eye in a good way. It’s providing atmosphere and it’s telling a story.
Above all, it’s tasking yourself to notice what’s around – we live in a truly beautiful world if you look.
As long as you don’t live in the firing line of a North Korean missile.
Damn, I promised myself to finish on a positive note. Where’s that dratted candle?