by Kim Winslow
What do you do when you find yourself in a new home, or at least one new to you, and want to fill it full of stories and life? How do you create a storied home when your family's story is just beginning in it? I recently moved, and my own struggle with this question has led me to think about how my new home might serve as a canvas for my family's story.
First, determine the story you want to tell. Your family’s life may have changed significantly since you moved; therefore, reevaluate this new space based on both your past and your hopes for the future. How do you see living your day-to-day life? How do you envision entertaining? How do you want family and friends to feel when they enter your home? Does the style of the home dictate some of the story? Our new home is only 19 years old, but is built in the Charleston-style of lowcountry South Carolina. Guests walk down a long porch before entering the front door. For this house, then, the story seemed to begin on the outside. We placed a hand-painted canvas with an ocean scene above a cafe table and chairs. The painting came from my grandmother’s home. She had taken up painting as a hobby in her 60s. After my grandmother died, the unframed canvas took up residence under one of my parent’s old beds. Now the moody ocean scene is outside welcoming guests along with rugs, candles, and plants. We live in the sandhills and we sometimes pretend that the ocean is just beyond our view. Of course, there was once an ocean view here, but we missed it by a mere 55 million years!
Another porch off the master suite upstairs is screened. I have often dreamed of a sleeping porch on the second floor. We put an 1800s bed there along with a table and chairs, buffet, tv, and lots of lanterns. Even though it is off the master, we plan on entertaining on that porch as well. It may be unorthodox to host guests on a porch off the main bedroom, but it suits the vision we have of this home: a bourbon bar, candlelight, overhead fans, and the sounds of regional music. Someday we may add a turntable and old vinyl records, but for now, Alexa willingly plays music from my high school days when I worked as a local deejay for a very small station that played country and folk music on the weekdays and black spirituals all day on Sundays.
2. Respect the past story of a home. The couple that lived in this house before us were international concert pianists. They had two grand pianos in one of the rooms, and they traveled all over the world performing together. I have one of their playbills displayed in the home. We are not musicians ourselves, but appreciate that this was a home where exquisite music was played. I have even begun calling the room where the pianos were the conservatory. My husband rolls his eyes and says it is a sunporch. He is probably more accurate in his assessment, but the conservatory conjures up images from my favorite childhood game-Clue, so I am sticking with the name.
3. Create new traditions using old, family items. Yes, new traditions may be an oxymoron, but essentially it is about using treasured items to make everyday activities full of ritual. For example, my husband inherited a delft blue and white rooster creamer made in Holland from his grandmother. It sat in the cabinet of our last home, but we decided to let it crow every morning in our kitchen by filling it with creamer. This simple change connects us to his Nana. Another new tradition we added was drinking a high ball in vintage glasses while watching the sunset. My husband’s father, affectionately called Bear, was famous for his evening highballs, usually made with Crown and ginger ale.
4. Tell the story of your community and perhaps of your travels as well. Fill your home with authentic handmade items, such as local pottery and paintings or souvenirs from trips. Shop in vintage stores or display one-of-a-kind items. Know the stories of the objects in your home. Shopping from small, local businesses does not necessarily require large amounts of money, nor does displaying gifts from artist friends and family members. But creating a unique space does sometimes require patience and an open mind. Enjoy the journey, but don’t forget to leave a record of why the objects in your home matter. At Family Narrative Project, we have an online course called: Less Stuff, More Stories that will help with editing the items in your home and creating a record to pass to your children. We also have a book written by Dr. Dar with amazing prompts around objects.
5. A storied home and personal style do not rely on current trends. In the home we recently sold, a high-end decorator had the homeowners replace the granite, in near perfect condition, with white quartz because it was the most current trend. I remember when brass went out and nickel was in, but now brass is back. The fact is that trends will come and go and if you have unlimited amounts of money, you can stay current, but even if your home looks like a showroom, that does not mean you have style. It just means you are copying whatever is new. Try to figure out what you truly love, and then add some new pieces each year to keep your look fresh.
6. A storied home will contain beautiful photographs. Although some of these will be posed, I encourage you to display casual photos as well. Both of my sisters are particularly skilled when it comes to taking photographs of my kids. My older sister took a picture of my son eating a snow cone at Little League. Every time I see this photo, I think about how at the age of five, he was picking dandelions in the outfield and running around the bases so slowly that it looked like he was running in molasses. But as soon as the whistle blew indicating the end of the game, he sprinted as if on wings to the concession stand to get his free snow cone. When you are taking action shots, don't force your kids to say cheese or to smile. Just take pictures. If they are enjoying themselves, then the smiles will come naturally. Also, framing small photographs with large matting will make a great impact. In addition, consider gallery walls. My downstairs hallway is full of black and white images, and my upstairs hallway is a gallery of colored photos and portraits. Photos are important, but they shouldn’t be the only art on your walls.
7. Create some positive tension in your home. It sounds like an oxymoron, but, essentially, I am suggesting that a storied home will have a mix of new and old, modern and vintage, light and dark. In Asian culture, it may be stated as yin and yang. Positive tension entices the viewer to look closely at every object in a room. Recently, a friend gave me an impromptu tour of her home. Even though she was apologizing for items out of place or things that needed to be fixed, I was intensely interested in her fearless, fascinating style. She mixed large modern art with intricate antique pieces and combined chartreuse walls with vintage wallpapers. There were family pieces living happily with new furniture from outlets malls. She had a story for every new and old piece. We have all been in the ubiquitous dining room filled with all matching traditional cherry furniture, everything neatly in order. I prefer interesting spaces that tell a more complete story.
8. When you move into a new home, don’t force fit your items into the same locations. Interesting pieces can shine and add to family stories by being moved to new locations or being used for a different purpose. For instance, we have a 1939 Coke machine that was fitted with a wood chopping block. In our previous homes, we used it as an island. We enjoyed it because every male, whether 5 years old or 95, would walk into the kitchen and say, “Cool Coke machine.” Our new kitchen already had a large island, and this Coke machine would have looked out of place in it. I thought about relegating the Coke machine to the rec room, but then decided to place it at the end of the long porch that greets our guests. It remains an iconic piece in our home, creating new conversations. We also turned a lingerie island from our old home into a charcuterie bar, giving us ample space for beautiful handmade cutting boards made by family and friends and for hand-me-down serving pieces. My daughter and son-in-law love to eat from the bar when they visit.
9. Make sure your open concept home has intimate spaces. Many homes built within the last few years have open spaces, and I like the openness, especially for large gatherings, but really important moments often happen in intimate spaces. Our previous five homes were built in the 1960s and did not have open floor plans. In those homes, I focused on creating the illusion of space. In this home, because it is newer, I find myself adding intimate pockets in the room where just two or three people can interact without feeling swallowed up by the space.
10. A home should be full of elements that make people want to sit and stay. Inviting homes elicit stories because people want to be there. For the most part, these items are inexpensive and accessible to everyone. They include fruit, flowers, and wine. Don’t forget soft sheets, quality towels, and really good soaps. Light a few candles. Almost everyone lingers around stories, especially when they are given room to share their own.