We are excused from perfection

Author Dan Ho says living well is better than redecorating

January 28, 2007|By Claire Whitcomb | Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

Somebody has finally said "boo" to the idea that every bathroom needs to be a spa and every kitchen a gourmet palace. That somebody is Dan Ho.

A recovering decorating addict -- he'd finish one house and buy another -- Ho believes that we're going about style in the wrong way.

"Style can't be bought," Ho says. "Your spirit is your style."

On both The Dan Ho Show, which had its debut this month on the Discovery Health Channel, and in his new book, Rescue From Domestic Perfection (Bulfinch, $19.99), Ho challenges conventional wisdom.

Don't redecorate simply because you're feeling restless and bored, he says. Clean your windows and what you have will look better automatically.

Don't clutter your life with "one-trick ponies." Throw out the asparagus steamer and the tall vase that only holds curly willow. Instead of a Christmas-specific tablecloth, invest in red damask that you can use year round.

And by all means, don't crowd your closets with more shoes than you can wear in two weeks. "Sarah Jessica Parker notwithstanding," Ho says, "there are better things to spend your money on."

Though Ho describes himself as a "lone voice," he's not quite as alone as he was in 2003 when he launched a shoestring anti-decorating magazine called Rescue.

Or as alone as he was in 1998 when he suffered an unexplained seizure and realized that the noise of hammering that accompanied his many remodelings "was filling a deafening void."

Ho pursued the silence, stopped caring about the "right stuff" and began to rescue not just his life but others. Among his tips for doing more living and less keeping up with Martha:

Mix the low with the high. Keep the chipped china that belonged to your grandmother. Put out that acrylic afghan. Serve cupcakes and champagne.

Value what you have. Resist the idea that if you bought new accent tables or lamps, life would be better. Instead, drape a scarf you don't wear over the table you already have. Add a pink bulb to a lamp and cast a new flattering light over your possessions.

Leave the '50s tile in the bathroom and use the money you would have spent on remodeling to buy a great piece of art. The art can be passed down.

Pay attention to the legacy factor. An Ikea chair may end up in a landfill but the one by Le Corbusier will be snapped up if you put it out on the curb.

Forget the idea that your house should be ready for guests at any time. True hospitality, Ho says, "is generosity with your personal time and space, the ability to go with the flow. If you've got the domestic-diva guest room set up, so what? Maybe you should take in a boarder."

De-clutter your bed. "Beds are not meant to be gazed upon as if they were the pillow aisle at Nordstrom," Ho says.

Instead of remodeling so you'll have more space, pare down. Use a suitcase to house out-of-season clothes. Convert your summer cooler into a "closette" for storing beach towels and gear during the winter.

Clean. We live in a world where it's easy not to get down on your knees and scrub your floor, Ho says. "We miss out on an opportunity to renew our relationships to our objects because we don't handle them. But when you preen your stuff, you love it a little more."

As you'll see when you read Rescue From Domestic Perfection, Ho has come a long way from a millionaire restaurant owner who lived a magazine-cover existence.

It's a brave fellow who stands up and says, "It's a mistake to think that if you have your dream kitchen, soul will follow." It's a humbled fellow who acknowledges that love, family and friends "provide the sense of belonging we all desire."

But Ho promises, "Keep them close, and style will be bountiful. You'll see."

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