Great-looking homes don't have to be impeccably styled. Embrace the mismatched, homespun look and "undecorate" to create a space that's truly your own.
Go ahead, break the interior design rules
There was a time when interior design was ruled by dos and don'ts and rigid regulations about what goes together and what doesn't. Interiors magazines showcased highly stylised rooms and extolled the virtues of a minimalist, perfectly matching interior that looked like a show home.
Those days are gone. Now there is a fresher, more liberating and creative approach, where the only rule is that there are no rules, except that you love everything rather than follow fashion fads.
This isn't about perfect proportions, complementary colours and coordination that make your home look like everything was bought straight out of a catalogue. This is about following your instinct and rejecting the soulless vibe that professionally designed spaces can sometimes emit. Welcome to the homespun, undecorated style that interior designers and stylists across the world are embracing.
The British stylist and author Selina Lake is the latest to champion the free-for-all look. She explores interior design through creativity rather than design rules in her recently published book, Homespun Style.
"The matchy-matchy look is not what I'm into," she says. "My ethos has always been about creating homes and spaces that reflect the owner's personality, homes that are decorated with colours, prints and accessories which generally make people happy. I wanted to showcase a look that is free from decorating rules. The essence of a 'homespun style' is that it has an anything goes approach with a mix and match feel. It's a style of decorating that celebrates craft, which can only be a good thing."
Lake says that continuing financial uncertainty is one of the reasons why this more relaxed style of decorating has taken hold. "Everyone is trying to save money and spend less, so my inspiration came from a desire to show people how to create an affordable look by choosing handmade or customised pieces, or reinventing what you already own."
"People are choosing to buy quality, second-hand pieces for their homes rather than mass-produced items, and that has led to a big revival of vintage and make do and mend trends, which is what homespun style is about."
Undecorating is the other word for this casual, liberated and informal approach to design. Christiane Lemieux, a textile designer and the creative director and founder of the popular American home furnishings store DwellStudio, conceived the term, which is also the title of her design book on the subject.
In the introduction toUndecorate, which was published last year, Lemieux says: "Undecorated is following your instinct, even when it's telling you to do something a little crazy, a little different, something against the rules. It's an approach that has nothing to do with trends and nothing to do with the rules. So you can have a period dining room adjacent to your modern kitchen if that's what you want, or wallpaper on the ceiling. Stranger things have been done. Undecorating isn't haphazard style; it's not thought-free. It's about being guided by something other than the traditional constraints."
Lemieux credits as her inspiration the wave of interior and homestyle bloggers, which tend to showcase a determinedly individualistic and experimental way of making a unique mark on their homes. They use creativity and resourcefulness, and look for inspiration outside of the normal department stores by making their own accessories and turning to small independent craft boutiques instead.
Most of the homes featured in Undecorate - from an old renovation project in Louisiana filled with quirky, one-off pieces found in flea markets, to an understated New York beach house - were found through blogs, and Lemieux refused to use a professional interiors stylist to dress up the homes for the book, insisting that they were photographed just as they were.
"People are taking charge of their spaces free of professional rules and guidance, and the result is fresh, fearless and very personal," says Lemieux. "Otherwise, if everyone is reading the same how-to's, then interiors become generic. Undecorating is the opposite to that."
Creativity plays an important role in this new way of decorating, and Lake positively encourages homeowners to try out craft projects and make their own accessories, whether it's handmade cushion covers or stringing colourful cupcake cases into paper garlands to drape across an empty wall. As the saying goes, it's the individual touches that turn a house into a home.
But you don't have to be an expert with a sewing machine to be able to add craft touches to your home, Lake says. "The beauty of homespun style is that it's a mismatched look, so you can mix homemade pieces with purchased ones. But if you're not very crafty there are some fantastic sites online where you can buy other people's homemade wares, such as www.etsy.com, www.allthingsoriginal.com and www.folksy.com. It's worth checking your local area for art and craft fairs, too."
The key to living the undecorated, homespun way is to remember that it's not about copying a certain style or a certain look; it's about what works for each individual. The focus is on comfort rather than on trying to create a wow-factor that impresses others more than it does yourself. "Choose colours you love, display the things which make you happy," says Lake. "My one rule is if you like it and love it, then do it."
Lemieux, who lives in a New York loft, agrees. "Live with what you love. It's the contradictions that make a home personal. Choose the pieces that inspire you. If you love something, the chances are you will love living with it and it will give your space character and soul."