Slow design for a fast age

slow design for a fast age

Yesterday I told you about how I totally freaked out about the state of my home.

But I heard something recently that made me think maybe I’m not doing as horribly as I feared.

While I was still awash with the regret of not trying new things and making mistakes in my home, I listened to this After the Jump podcast with Jon Call.

It was a terrific interview (and I was happy to see host Grace Bonney call it one of her favorite episodes, ever) but Call said a couple of things that really jumped out at me.

He advocated for slow design, a term I’d never heard before but resonated with it at once. I believe in local economies, in quality over quantity–but I’d never applied those concepts to design.

But Call did. Slow design (akin to Slow Food) honors craftsmanship, sustainability, and place. And design that is literally slow–that evolves organically over time–has an authenticity that can’t be ordered out of a catalog or purchased at IKEA.

I loved this bit from the interview, especially because it applies so well to me and my starter house I moved into straight out of college back in 2000:

If you keep a simple interior, it will have time to grow. You can move into it through all phases of your life, no matter who you are. You can start when you’re 19 and till the end of time you’re going to be happy with it.

Now, I’m not as far along the growth process as I’d like to me, but I’m assembling foundation pieces, and colors that make me happy. I’m slowly (slowly) figuring out what kind of space is right for our family and what we want that to look like.

Reading Call’s words, I don’t feel stalled: I feel like I’m moving–growing through all the phases, of life and of design. 

Call says that people who put together interiors over years–even decades–instead of in the span of a few months are able to create spaces that are “current and relevant, honest and true.” I’d be happy to have those words apply to my own space, and I think we’re moving in that direction–if a little more slowly than I’d prefer.

I’m resolving to give my house some love, to take care of it in little ways. Like we live here. Like we’re happy to live here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. (If you haven’t checked out yesterday’s comments section, go do it now. It’s fantastic.)


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  1. That’s an interesting thought…I definitely am a bit on the slow side. But once I do pick something, it’s usually “me” enough and classic enough for me to be happy with it for a long, long while.

    I guess that makes sense because it’s how I approach a lot of my purchasing. I take a fairly long time to decide on something, I spend a fair amount on it, and I keep it for a long, long time.

  2. Yes… except you don’t want to live in a project forever. And “slow” design can easily become dithering. There are a million dining room tables out there. We often learn to love whatever we wind up choosing (the possession effect). When we were decorating our house, I was frustrated with how unintentionally “slow” decorating is. Why, why, does furniture take 8-12 weeks to be delivered??

  3. Breanne says:

    I am such a fan of Slow anything….it makes the most sense to me. We have lived in four houses (all rentals) before our current home which is also a rental. This is the first place that I have felt totally at home in, we needed to figure out our style/budget for where we are right now and the space that works for us.

    We’ve picked up furniture off the curb, accepted freebies and have been okay with not having a couch for a period of time. I pin the ‘moods’ and ‘atmospheres’ I like and regularly look at my boards to see if I’m on track and what I need to do to create the atmosphere I like.

    And now I’m off to check out that podcast!!

  4. I think “slow design” is what I’m doing! The one “fast” decision we made was our living room furniture, and I hate it. I wish we would have saved up for quality, rather than just buying what was cheapest at the time. But my husband is of the mindset “if we need it, lets buy it now and buy it cheap.” Although with our uncomfortable couch, maybe he’s starting to learn the value of quality.

    My house is evolving as I evolve. And it’s turning into quite a lovely place, if I do say so. One thing I’m doing these days is removing everything we don’t use, need, and/or love, and selling it. I’m keeping that money separate, as my decorating stash. That way, when I see something I love, I can buy it. I acquired a gorgeous mid-century chair exactly like I’ve been wanting for years that way.

  5. Ana says:

    Yes, this makes sense, especially financially! But at the same time, I think I’d let “slow” become “never” if I waited too long. I think a maximizer could use this “movement” to spending months/years on decisions because the PERFECT solution isn’t immediately available. Its fine to do it one bit at a time, as long as you are making forward motion, that’s the key.

  6. DebRN says:

    OK. I am one of your “older ” readers. Here’s my 2 cents: Home decorating wasn’t a huge priority to us. Simple and clean. We have slowly made purchases over 36 years. It took us 34 years before my husband got the leather Papa chair to cuddle grandkids while reading. I did not know I had a decorating style but it is discovered. Our walls are covered with original art bought on vacations or it has a story. Something by a nephew, mother, African trip. Every room conveys originality and memories. Learn the sweet secret of enough and enjoy the process.

    • Abigail says:

      “Learn the sweet secret of enough and enjoy the process.” What a truly beautiful statement! Thanks DebRN!

  7. Esther says:

    We’ve embraced slow design in our current home. After getting married and settled into our first home, I was so impetuous and simply had to have everything “done.” The end result was a lot of clutter and not a reflection of who I was or who my husband I were as a couple.
    This time around we’ve decided to simply slow it down. We’ve kept some items from our first home (mainly foundation pieces like sofas, kitchen table, bedroom sets), but we purged many of the decorative items. We now slowly add a piece if it truly fits the space and we love it. The end result is a much more comfortable space with less clutter. It’s truly a wonderful approach to design!
    p.s. We also have those IKEA pillows on our couch! 🙂

  8. Catherine says:

    I like this idea of slow decorating. Start with a few good, classic basics, and add as your life evolves. Edit as necessary but with heart. Gone is the used, brachytherapy sectional, and seaport prints. To keep are Two botanical prints pulled from a Williamsburg calendar hang framed in my kitchen as they were gifts from an aunt lost last year to Alzheimer’s. Collections of fairy stones from a trip to Fairy Stone State Park, shells collected by my husband while snorkeling in Guam with his mom, a ceramic gnome and dragon made by my girls, wine labels from a special Thanskgiving meal decorate my home. I want our home to tell a tale of our family. I aim for coziness and decorations that evoke memories. I also value function over form. A glove box on the bathroom cabinet to hold toothpaste and a toothbrush. A mismatched canister to hold dog treats. Also, using resources available to you. Some furniture stores will style a room for you if you buy furniture from them. We bought are family room furniture on sale, then pulled out all the decorating and collecting stuff we had, and asked the decorator to style our bookshelves using my stuff.

  9. Slow design leads to homes that feel collected instead of decorated. Your posts from today and yesterday resonated with me. I’ve always had an interest in design, but I thought that what I was doing was decorating. It’s not. Now I do a lot of trial and error (with inexpensive, often secondhand things) and my style has slowly evolved. And I agree with John Call on slow decorating. I love secondhand things so much that I can hardly bring myself to buy new anymore.

    • Karlyne says:

      I agree, Julie! Rarely do I buy anything brand new, and rarely am I disappointed in what I do buy second-hand. It’s not just the thrill of the hunt, either, but the fact that you can get what you truly like at a fraction of what its quality would go for new!

  10. I think that in general people (myself included) are afraid to leave blank spaces in their house and so we try to fill them up with SOMEthing, even if it’s not what we ultimately want or sometimes even like. And so we just stick things places thinking that we’ll replace them someday when we get more money or when we figure out what it is that we want. Only then we forget or just become used to it and forget that we had a higher ideal.

    Ultimately I want our future home to slowly evolve, but I know that once we’re in there’s going to be that push to “settle” everything. I will have to bookmark this post 🙂

  11. 'Becca says:

    It makes sense to me! My home decor started with things I had inherited from my grandparents: 4 pieces of furniture and a lot of smaller things like paintings, dishes, and tablecloths. These gave me a sense of home and history. Also, my partner and I went shopping together for an interesting batik bedspread to brighten our landlord-white room. The one we found was predominantly blue, so everything we needed to buy new for basic bedroom furnishings (sheets, fabric to make curtains, laundry basket) was blue. Instant color scheme.

    Over time we have gradually accumulated more things and replaced many “it’ll do until something better comes along” items with higher quality and/or more attractive stuff. It’s an ongoing, gradual process in which we almost always feel at home. The drastic changes, like a total bathroom renovation, are rattling even when they turn out to be big improvements.

    I want to make sure you’re familiar with this home decorating/renovating blog:

  12. Pingback: Happy Weekend.
  13. Jana says:

    Thank you for the explanation and confirmation of how I’ve been decorating for years. My couch needs recovering (I bought it in 1983 and recovered it in 1999) and I’m thinking of using exactly the same fabric again! I like what I like, not what the fads tell me to like.

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