yesterday’s perfection

by Elizabeth de Barros

“Fads come and go, but trends live longer.”

– Newell Turner, Editor in Chief, House Beautiful, Dec/Jan 2011

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It’s all about STYLE.

At least that’s what they told me. And I’ve lived long enough to know how an ever-changing forecast of what’s in and what’s out influences our choices on many levels. Did you know that hot pink is considered a neutral? Well, it is. They said so. Goes with any color. Feel free to buy the pillow now.

Designers issue warrants against fads, render edicts for what’s on trend, and guarantee joy, peace, and freedom by the time you finish the third application of epoxy after using their $30 stippler brush. The amount of money spent in search of the holy grail with just the right patina doesn’t factor, as long as it’s not fake verdigris from a can. That’s so 20 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. I love good design. Point out an arch and I’m in Rome. Put some fuzzy peaches in a respectful blue bowl (any shade) and I’m happy. Leather, wood, marble, a touch of brass. Silver and bronze, too. Natural beauty is the raw element of good design — shape, color, texture, and a drop of wonder — gives it strength. And certain quality lends that element of perfection, lest we forget.

Let’s talk placement. How and where a thing goes will adjust a person’s sensibilities, may even slough off that winter malaise: Here, not there. This, not that. Yes? No. A little to the left. OK, there. Good. Like having an editor living inside your head, hacking away at the excess, adding to what is sparse, leaving behind what works, that five peaches are better than four. Same with flowers. Odd, never even. Right there. Keep it. Perfect. Get the camera.

But if there be any grit to one’s theology, it will inform even this kind of stuff.

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In the ’70s, mine was a mother who not only acquired amber glass grapes, an orange butterfly chair and a Rococo mirror, but she also knew what to do with them. As she did with the hot pink ostrich feather boa, which matched the hot pink Qiana criss-cross halter gown she made for a cruise to the Caribbean. Her closet provided more excitement than a funhouse. The Spanish gaucho outfit — the hat alone held more grandeur than our small town could bear — but her penchant for quality surpassed her flair for fashion, so she got away with it. Matching the grey leather gloves with the silver-studded grey suede pumps and hosiery took skill and a few hours spent at the accessory counter at Monkey Ward, but the dusty lavender felt cloche was an instant wonder that made the plum wool suit sing. She knew color — undertones and overtones of every shade and hue.

A domestic maven, she could spread a table like no other. Fresh flowers to celebrate all four seasons; red, white, and blue on the fourth of July, candles and gourds in November, anenomes come March. Her private stash of dinnerware regaled each holiday and minor occasion, including gigantic clamshells and brown oval restaurant dishes when the whim struck for stuffed clams or au gratin. (Her frittered squash blossoms never made it to the plate.) Everything I learned about taste, tilt, mood, line, scale, bias, and nap I learned from her — furniture, fabric, clothing, hats, coats, handbags, linens, drapes, pillows, bathing suits, boots, and shoes. Lamps and candles, too. Taught me to first eyeball things, then measure afterwards, just to be sure. Her city ways even showed up at the farm stand, where buying a jar of local honey and a dozen ears of corn could’ve brought out the paparazzi. Someone should’ve taken her picture. But style can’t be bought or sold, and there was a reason they named her “Hollywood” in the nursing home.

In her 50’s, she admitted it was all a fading glory, even the patent leather stilettos, that silver glitter eyeshadow and those chandelier earrings that swept long against her black turtleneck silk crêpe cocktail dress. For the first half of my life I lived inside her world, her magazines, her jewelry box. I bought the lie, too. A scam of the highest order. Thankfully, we both crawled out in time. Time enough to close the lid on the need for MORE.

hot pink

“To all perfection I see a limit;
but your commands are boundless.”

−Psalm 119:96

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That’s why fads and trends don’t cut it for me. Covetousness mars the whole bolt. But I don’t wage war by dressing in burlap, whittling sticks from a broom while sitting barefoot on my front porch. I’m learning to be content. Use what I have, reinvent the rest. Life as improv. Why? Because I know myself. I need to keep a check on my appetite for nice things. Don’t ask me how I got here, I’m just grateful for the grace. Joy, peace, and freedom do not come from a 1,500-thread-count, expensive wall art, or good lighting — and I really like nice lighting. The world of design is an endless cave of diamonds; there’s always another one to mine.

Sure, the gloss of perfection exists, but mostly for the camera. If we zoom out, we might get in touch with our depravity— learn how our lust for more is the cleanest of enticements and unlearn our proclivity to want and waste. Designers and decorators spend way too much time, energy, and money doting on the small stuff, luring us to crave what it is we don’t have and what our eyes never have enough of seeing. But they can never give us what we need. 

Tomorrow may find us laughing at today’s fads. But trends? Well, one day, they will be so yesterday.

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