A look back at the lessons the year served up reveals I once again had my share of jams, upheavals and awakenings. I faithfully reported these with what I hope some would call humor served with a dollop of advice on the side.
For that advice, I credit and thank all the experts who graciously responded to my last-minute-fire-drill pleas for interviews on deadline. They came through with insights, photos and undeserved politeness. To each I extend a cashmere blanket of apology and a fluffy all-down pillow of gratefulness.
Last week I shared best lessons from the first half of 2012. Here are my favorites from the second half:
In July, I decided a braided rug would perfectly finish my daughter’s bedroom. As I did my research, I fell in love with this humble home furnishing, which has been around longer than America has been a country.
Maybe I’m getting boring, but I was touched to learn these rugs emerged from a time when homemakers didn’t waste a scrap. When dad’s wool trousers wore out, or mom’s apron, or grandpa’s robe, they got torn into strips and braided into rugs that lasted generations.
Today’s braided rugs last just as long, but you can be pickier about their fabric content, color, size and shape, said Donna Willis, of Yankee Pride, a braided rug company in Braintree, Mass., where she has worked for 25-plus years. (Talk about durability.)
Lesson: A) Any home furnishing that weaves together history, tradition, practicality, durability, resourcefulness, craft and beauty is worthy of our respect. B) Be less wasteful in 2013.
In August, I, a conflict-dodging home columnist, and Pat Schroeder, the formidable former U.S. congresswoman from Colorado and presidential candidate, got aligned behind an all-consuming domestic issue: Housework.
Our worlds collided when I learned about her new digital book, “The House That Went on Strike” (Jumping Pages). Schroeder narrates the interactive book app, a rhyming tale about a house that gets fed up with its family and their slovenly ways, and rebels.
Why her? Because after Schroeder retired from the U.S. House of Representatives, she published a memoir titled, “24 Years of House Work and the Place is Still a Mess.” Schroeder’s message to women: “We can’t do it all by ourselves.”
Lesson: Housework, whether on Capitol Hill or at home, is everyone’s responsibility. Pitch in!
In September, I discovered the meaning of romance. I talked to architectural historian Susan Sully, author of 12 books on Southern architecture, including “Casa Florida,” a look at romantic Spanish architecture.
We discussed romance in architecture, and, more specifically, how to get more in my house.
The word ‘romance,’ she told me, comes from the root word ‘Roman,’ and refers to something that “has a lost and beautiful past.”
“So it’s not flowers and chocolate and candles and diamonds?” I ask.
Nope. But for those of us who can’t swing a Spanish Cortijo, Sully assures, “Any style home can be romantic.”
Lesson: To make a space more romantic, said Sully, avoid the unromantic: static environments with no views of the outdoors, all synthetic materials, and pretentiousness. “Unromantic homes put on airs rather than tell stories.” Romantic spaces are old or look old or have old things. “They tell stories and beckon you surrender to your senses.” Cue the wistful sigh.
In October, I ate sawdust after not believing that three Orlando decorators and a TV home-show host could design a room that I would actually want out of donated furnishings.
To celebrate World Habitat Day, the decorators and former host of “This Old House” and “Renovation Nation” Steve Thomas created the showcase room using only furniture acquired from local Habitat for Humanity ReStores. The man’s den turned out classy, warm and harmonious — for less than $1,000!
Lesson: You can save money, get a great look, help others, and help the planet all by shopping at your local ReStores. (There are 780 in the United States) Proceeds build housing for those who need it.
In November, a story about a home and its owner destroyed my faith in humanity, then restored it again. Eight years ago, after three hurricanes blew through the Southeast, the Orlando home where Linda Lipofsky had lived for 20 years was ruined.
The 66-year-old retired editor hunted for a contractor to repair her torn up roof, but all the roofers were busy. Meanwhile, the rain kept falling. The wind kept blowing. The house kept rotting. Soon the walls came tumbling and mold moved in like an unwelcome squatter.
It took a year before Lipofsky got some insurance money, which she used to hire a contractor, who did some shoddy work, then ran off with the rest of the insurance money without finishing the job.
She called on the courts, Congress and Oprah. “But no one did anything,” said Lipofsky, who lived in her shipwrecked shell for years, using the home’s only working outlet to heat water in a hot pot to fill her bathtub.
In August, Lipofsky discovered an organization that helps homeowners who’ve suffered setbacks fix their houses.
Rebuilding Together is based in Washington DC and has 200 affiliates, including one in Orlando. The organization got a contractor on the job, who gathered volunteer workers, who put Lipofsky’s house, and life, together again. In November, eight long years later, Lipofsky moved back in, and gave me a tour.
“I feel like I’m dreaming and waking up in wonderland,” she said.
Lesson: For every crook, there’s a hero. Never lose faith.
In December I promised myself I would never again do a hack gift-wrapping job. Not after talking to Nicholas Kniel, owner of Nicholas Kniel Fine Ribbons & Embellishments, of Atlanta. “The gift wrap is what everyone notices first. It should get as much thought as the gift. But it’s often the last thing people think about,” said Kniel.
Guilty! I think of all the gifts I’ve wrapped at stoplights, and realize what’s outside really DOES count.
Lesson: Create a signature gift-wrap palette (two colors plus a metallic). It should reflect your style and work year round for every occasion, age and gender. Stock up solid-colored paper and ribbon in all your colors.
Your life will instantly be easier and more beautiful — which, dear readers, is my New Year’s wish for you, in a package, tied with a double-sided silver satin bow.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.