Editing Your Home


We all know architect Mies van der Rohe's famous words: "Less is more." But when it comes to our homes, how many of us really believe it?

This is, after all, the era of nesting and cocooning, which usually involves surrounding ourselves with our favorite things. Country, with all its charming clutter, continues to be a popular look in home furnishings and interior design. And once eclectic style became fashionable and we were told anything goes -- well, we decided that everything goes.

So now, we have six throw pillows on our sofa when two would do. The mantel holds candlesticks, vases, several family photos, a jar of potpourri and a couple of porcelain figurines. And while we love the antique rocking chair we inherited from our great aunt, once we put it next to the love seat, the living room started to seem a little crowded.

Maybe we should try "undecorating" -- editing our possessions to create a fresh new look.

Real estate agents have long recommended that sellers remove clutter and even furniture to make their homes seem more spacious and appealing. Unfortunately, their clients usually don't get to enjoy the benefits of this process while they are still living in their house or apartment.

"By having less in your home, you can accentuate those things that are most important to you," says Aaron Foster, a designer whose series FreeStyle makes its debut on HGTV Nov. 18. The program will show viewers how they can declutter, reorganize, reposition things and give rooms a different look without buying more furniture or accessories.

People are looking to simplify, he believes.

One way you can do that is by surrounding yourself with fewer things that need dusting or polishing or otherwise being cared for. Undecorating can

also create a more serene environment, as non-Western cultures have long known.

"Remove your knickknacks and replace them with one special item," advises designer Arleen Dvorine of Dvorine Associates in Lutherville. She also likes hanging one large artwork instead of multiple pieces on multiple walls.

If this sounds a lot like the minimalist, pared-down '90s design that we abandoned in favor of a cozier, kitschier environment after 9/11, so be it. Trends do tend to be cyclical. The difference is that the 2005 version is pared down but luxurious and comfortable.

Our lifestyles are so different today, says designer and TV personality Christopher Lowell, that Americans - particularly younger Americans - want houses that are maintenance free. "They are driving toward the idea that an uncluttered home is the way to go." Lowell's newest book, Seven Layers of Organization, is designed to help them achieve exactly that. It will be published in January.

Lowell suggests you ask yourself these questions to help detach yourself from excess furnishings and accessories:

Does this have meaning for me?

What do I want the room as a whole to look like?

Does my home tell my story?

There's one major problem with decluttering, he points out. "If you could throw your stuff away, you would have done it by now." Americans tend to hoard, he believes, because we're afraid to get rid of things. "It's absolutely psychological."

Clutter is such a fact of life for most of us that there are even support groups for serious clutterers. (Check out Clutterless Recovery Groups Inc. at clutterless.org.)

It helps, however, to think of undecorating as a little different. It doesn't involve cleaning out drawers or organizing the basement. It's the fun part of decluttering: creating an environment that is more visually pleasing, practical, up-to-date and serene than the one you have now.

On his show, Foster starts by totally emptying out a room. He then determines its main purpose and organizes the new floor plan around it. Only then does he put back the major pieces of furniture.

"It's important to have a plan, but it's also good to be flexible. You never really know till you do it. Bring in the pieces, move them around a little. It's a process. To some degree, it's trial and error."

This is a good time to be thinking outside the box because interior decorating is no longer set in stone. There are no longer any givens, says Lowell, who also believes that the function of the room should determine its design. "Our parents are saying where's your coffee table? We say we don't live that way anymore. If you have a coffee table covered with candlesticks and art books, who's that for? That's so our parents."

He also recommends getting rid of pattern in a room, which he calls visual noise. "Pattern will date a room quicker than anything." He's not a fan of wallpaper either, recommending that people stick with three colors in a given room.

"We are getting back to the monochromatic look in home design," Lowell says.

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