In life, context is important to our ability to understand and fully appreciate what we are seeing or hearing. Knowing the context of a comment or event can make something bad even worse and something good even better. My husband, Stu, calls this "the back story" in his messages and the information he gives about the history and the prior events of the story bring a much richer understanding and appreciation to his listeners. I started thinking about how context factors into the design and decoration of our homes. What does context mean in the world of interior design? Does it matter? Is it possible to make something that is pleasing, even beautiful even more so through contextualization? If so, how do you do it in interior design? Can you design your context?
I'll try not to get too theoretical here and promise to give some concrete tips! There are several layers of context that you should think about when designing your rooms. But, I just want a new sofa, you say! Why do I need to think about context, for Pete's sake? You should consider context for everything that you put into your living room if you want the impact to be maximized and the story (your story) to be understood and appreciated.
The first layer is the context of geography. Where is your house? In the city? On a mountain? In New England? Or on a tropical island? Your interiors should reflect where they are located to a certain degree, or at least reference locale. Living rooms in the suburban northeast decorated after the homeowner's trip to Key West rarely, if ever, work. I don't care how beautiful that lime green and neon orange looked in the hotel room in Margaritaville, it won't work back home. That's because the context is all wrong. It's okay to bring something back from your trip but don't bring the decorating scheme!
The second layer of context to consider is the time period. When was your house built? If it's brand new, you can ignore this bit of context, but if it was built in the 1800s or the 1960s, you ought to reference that in your interior design. I am not suggesting that you slavishly recreate a living room from the 1960s, but you shouldn't slap up formal moldings and french doors in a mid century ranch house. It will look strange and will confuse people. You can however bring in an antique table or mirror or desk into a mid century modern house and it will look fabulous.
Third, the architectural style of the home should be considered. If your house is a brick Georgian colonial, you wouldn't want to rip out the antique wood floors and install polished concrete because you love the industrial modern style. You want to keep the walls, trim, windows and floors appropriate to the time period of the house. Save the industrial modern elements for the lamps or furniture. The object isn't to recreate a time capsule interior, rather it is to respect and acknowledge the home's history. Think about the celebrities that are advanced in age who have injected lips and body parts. It just looks weird. Don't do it.Dont do it to your house, either.
Lastly, what is your story? The best rooms reflect the occupant's personal history and interests. Your rooms should provide a context for your life and your life should provide context for your rooms. Whew. That is a bit of a brain teaser, isn't it? This is extremely important and is the reason it is so difficult to successfully combine houses when you get married late in life and you have two people with a lot of "context" to them! As I write this, I think the way to break the log jam Stu and I are experiencing in our house is to go back to set theory from elementary school. I doubt they are even teaching this in school anymore but remember the interlocking circles? Maybe Stu and I need to write down everything we like from colors to finishes to art in our own circle and find what intersects. The things that we both like will form the context for our rooms and the outliers can be sprinkled in (maybe some more generously than others!!!)
That's all for today. Hopefully, I have given you something to think about that will help you avoid some major decorating faux pas and help you create a room you love, full of meaning and context!