As a designer, I've had the opportunity to work with lots of different people, but there's no one I'm more charmed by than a person who works on a budget, never stops reaching for things of beauty and, most importantly, has tremendous pride in their home. Too often, I think, we're taught we should only care about people and pets—and, of course, we should care about them—but a space filled with objects that make us happy can remind us of where we've been, who we've loved and what our lives have been. It can also help us aspire for more. Here are a few ways to create a home that tells the story of who you truly are—and who you are on your way to being.
Photo of Nate's home: Roger Davies
Hit the Pause Button
The idea of slowing down is exactly what inspired me to write my book The Things That Matter
. It's really tempting to create an instant interior and say, "This set of bedroom furniture is a great deal, and I can finance it. It's easy, I'm done, and I can move on to other areas of my life." Take a beat and drown out the noise from all those makeover shows. The best interiors—the ones that look, function and feel the best—are the interiors that are assembled and collected over time.
Adopt a Group Mentality
Things—even ordinary objects—are powerful when they're gathered together. I had a client who loved to travel with her boyfriend. They collected sand from every beach they visited and brought it back in small black film containers. I thought that was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard, and knew we had to bring it into their space. We transferred each vial of sand into vintage glass containers etched with the dates and locations of each trip. Now when you walk in their home, you see 30 samples of sand on their bookshelf. It's striking and the kind of thing that really tells the story of who they are.
Give Tissue Paper a Rest
Often, the finest things in design ooze age, patina and history. I'm talking about the things in drawers—the wedding presents, the quilts that came from our grandmothers, the blanket chests we inherit. People who come to my home wouldn't think to ask to see the jacket my grandfather wore when he was 2 years old. But when they see it hanging on a hook next to framed photographs and paintings in my stairwell, they invariably ask about it. The idea that it’s on display—and not wrapped in tissue—to me personifies what life can be like to live with things that have meaning.
Honor Your 20-Year-Old Self
Don't overlook your own more recent history. If you've got a fantastic picture of yourself with your girlfriends in college—and now you're a mom with three kids—make sure that college photo is part of a collage somewhere.
If Something Speaks to You, Listen
Not every item has to be an heirloom, a memento of an exotic vacation or a marker of a huge life event. You can love something and surround yourself with it simply because you like the color or the shape. Well-made items can be found anywhere—Target, flea markets, antique malls. The 1960s brass table I saw at a vintage shop with my mom was no exception (and at $50, it was a total steal). Now it stands in my L.A. home
Think Back to Dinner Dates
One universal truth is that everyone wants to be known. So if you're moving in with someone or reworking a home with someone you've lived with for years, start by talking—like you did on those early dinner-date conversations. Share stories about where your family comes from or moments in time that brought you great joy. Take those stories and incorporate them into your house with pieces that speak to what was—and still is—important to both of you.
Avoid the Ugly Fight
Your partner adores this particular thing, and more importantly, will never throw it out. You, however, believe with conviction that it does not work and never will. (So many of us have been in this exact position.) This is not a recliner I'm talking about. This is something like a collection of sports memorabilia or decorative birds. Whatever it is, if the person you love cares deeply about it, there's a way to make it work. In fact, someone out there—just like you—has probably already solved the problem. Just start looking. For example, I'm a big Googler—you'd be amazed to see what people have come up with. So, before you say no, before you pick the fight, do your homework.