Charm spreads its warmth in its own eccentric manner

October 18, 1990|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

Charm. What is charm, anyway? My battered and dog-eared paperback Webster's (an element of high-touch charm plopped atop my high-tech word processor) defines it as a magic spell or something irresistibly attractive.

It is a compelling concept. We all seem to crave charm in our homes. To be told you have a charming home is a supreme compliment. It means, after all, that someone else has found the place you live to be attractive, hospitable, comfortable, maybe even cozy.

So, partly, charm comes from things: certain furnishings, decorative objects, architectural details and materials. The list is extensive, but always seems to include such items as French xTC doors, arched windows and louvered shutters, Oriental rugs, wingback chairs, curtains, polished wood tables, ginger-jar lamps with silk lamp shades, rolled-arm sofas, fireplaces and fully stocked bookshelves.

But charm comes in small doses, too, often in the form of antiques and collectibles. The trouble is, some people confuse quality with quantity, figuring that if one spongeware pitcher is charming, 30 spongeware pitchers (or baskets or cuckoo clocks or patchwork quilts) will be 30 times as charming. But charm doesn't work that way. At some point, as the law of diminishing returns begins to kick in, another basket added to the collection is just another basket and means more clutter, not more charm.

You see, charm is less a function of volume than variety.

More than a look, charm is an attitude. It's an approach to furnishing and decorating that isn't forced or contrived or imitative. It comes from a willingness to invest time and emotional energy, to go slowly, to build layer on layer, to add and subtract and shuffle things around, to mix old, not-so-old and antique with new and almost new, the precious with the everyday, the hand-me-downs with the haute.

Real charm isn't cute or cloying or contrived. It's unself-conscious and confident. Often, it's downright eccentric. But most of all, it's sincere.

Charm comes from simple pleasures and sensible priorities. A house (or apartment) that welcomes you home, lets you rest and recharge, protects you, caters to you and coddles you is a home where charm lives.

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