home > house: the details that make a difference

i've been to way more beautiful houses than i can count. from gorgeous villas to modernist marvels, i like to consider myself a connoisseur of beautiful houses, condos, cottages, apartments and everything in between. one thing i've become far more keenly aware of over the last few years is that there are a few key elements that transform a lovely house into an actual, lived-in home. while there are many ways to create a beautiful space, there is a substantial difference between a beautiful house versus a beautiful home. to me it speaks of personalization, of creating a space that feels lived in, used and loved. it also speaks to a sense of functionality, of a home that is designed to be put to use rather than just for show. while i've been working to achieve this with my own home over the past year, i've narrowed it down to 8 core principles that you can use to transform your house into more of a home that feels right for you and your family. 

  1. create livable (and lively) spaces. functional space design plays a big role in transforming a house into a home. think about what you and your family/roommate/dog (fill in the blank here) spend time doing at home and carve out spaces that are intentionally designed to accommodate and encourage these activities. want to eat breakfast outside on a regular basis? maybe it's time to add some more comfortable cushions to your patio set to encourage this behavior. 
  2. evaluate areas that bother you on a regular basis. always grumpy after trying to get dressed and out the door in the morning? there's probably a reason for it. perhaps your closet isn't organized in a very functional manner or you can never find your keys because you don't have a designated spot for them. taking inventory of the pain points in your home is essential if you want to actually solve the problem. full disclosure: this is not an entirely fun activity as these things typically take dedicated time and energy to fix, but i can assure you that doing so will actually save you far more time (not to mention frustration) than you would by ignoring it. 
  3. choose artwork that speaks to you. this can range from nicely framing a piece of handmade abstract art from your 4 year old, to a piece from a local artist--the bottom line is, it doesn't have to be fancy or even expensive to greatly contribute to the look and feel of your home. one thing that does make a big difference though is investing in framing, even for ordinary pieces or prints. a good frame and mat make a huge difference in terms of presentation. i also love to add in a few picture lights for favorite pieces, which add quite a bit of ambiance and are surprisingly affordable luxuries. 
  4. study the light. evaluating the current light quality in your home is a worthwhile investment. take time to notice how the natural light changes throughout the day and how you look in said lighting. it's an easy confidence booster to invest in better lighting, as it makes absolutely everyone look at least 15% prettier. i usually like a mix of recessed lights on dimmers with a few floor or table lamps, as well as a interesting accent pieces thrown in for good measure. when it comes to lighting, it is just as much a science as an art form and there are many considerations in deciding what will work best in your specific home. it is one area that is assuredly worth the time, energy and cost though, as it's nearly impossible to have a comfortable home without attention to lighting. 
  5. bring on the green! plants that is. plants are such an inexpensive investment that can literally transform a space in the course of an afternoon. plants also happen to be my area of weakness--i buy plants on an all too regular basis, but have managed to find space for them throughout my home. not only do they help to increase the air quality, but they also serve to add life and organic shape to the four walls of any room. many surveys also find that people who live with plants are generally happier it's such an easy way to bring elements of the outdoors into your home.
  6. customize. do little things that make your home feel happy. for some people that means painting their front door a bright sunshiney yellow. for others that means something a bit more subtle, like switching out builder grade door pulls for something with a bit more weight and texture. if your renting, my favorite quick fix for any space is a large, colorful rug--preferably vintage--to liven up a space. 
  7. ask yourself the hard questions. namely: do i need this item for my home to function? and does this item make me (and/or the people i live with) happy? it's really the same process of going through your closet and getting rid of the items that you're holding on to because a) it once fit b) you spent a lot on it, but regardless, you hate wearing the said item. same concept, just with home goods. you probably don't need or want everything you currently have in you house and there are people who do need and want these items. consider donating the things that you don't need or that don't make you happy--not only are you helping out another family in need, but you're also creating space in your home and in your life for something that you really love. 
  8. let your space evolve with you. most beautiful houses have a sense of uniformity to them that differs from a beautiful home. it's a look of almost too much continuity, like everything was bought all at once from the same source. again, it's not a bad look persay, it just doesn't look real--and from my experience it's frequently not entirely functional or very satisfying. leaving deliberate gaps in your home allows you to fill in the space over time--meaning you'll have room for a lovely side table brought back from your travels or a piece of art that you found while strolling through a gallery. a home is never truly finished and it's far more fun to design deliberately. 

before coming to the realization that all the space that i really gravitated toward were all a little less than perfectly manicured, i was in the habit of constantly folding, fluffing or buffing almost every surface area in my home (to the degree that someone inquired if i actually lived there!). first of all, this amount of effort takes a great deal of time and energy to maintain. secondly, it simply looks too staged. while there's definitely a degree of daily maintenance to every home, it actually helps the look of you home to have some a casually strewn blanket or a messy stack of books by your bedside. it took me a long time to come around to this, but it really does add an element of "someone actually lives here" that makes it feel more like a home, less like a hotel (in a good way).