Decorating Lessons I Learned from My Mom

Decorating Lessons I Learned from My Mom

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Shifrah Combiths
May 8, 2016
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

The home you grow up in influences not only your homekeeping habits, but your sense of style. It's the "mother tongue" of home decor, the factor that surrounds you, gets into, and comes out of you. Here are four things I learned from my dear mother which influence my own surroundings to this day.

Do the best you can with what you have. When my mother returned to the United States with two young children after seven years abroad, she was basically starting over. All our furniture consisted of gracious hand-me-downs from relatives and friends — including a hideous-on-its own pea green satin couch and armchair. But my mother made it work. She toned them down with dark wood furniture and bright white lace curtains that let the light spill in and that were echoed in delicate lace doilies that proudly displayed cheerful African violets. Rather than putting up with furniture nobody else wanted, my mother embraced what she had and lovingly created a delightful space for her family.

Surround yourself with things you love. If you walk into my mother's home, you'll know that she loves plants, books, and semiprecious stones. From the towering umbrella plant that's got to be a couple decades old to the polished marbles of amethyst, sandstone, tiger's eye and many more, everything decorative in my mom's place is meaningful and beautiful to her —and her guests are privy to it. I'm sure this contributes greatly to the warmth and intimacy of her home. You feel not just welcomed but embraced. To this day, impersonal decor in my own home makes me uncomfortable.

My mother also uses this principle in decorating with useful things. For instance, family heirloom copper bundt pans are on display in the kitchen, as are the mugs we, her daughters, have gotten her over the years. Combining usefulness with beauty, a la William Morris, is one way my mother has always saved space in her small home.

A clean home is always uplifting. One time when I was growing up, my best friend's teenage brother came over with his family and said as he walked in to my mother's living room, "Wow, everything's so white." Now, nothing in my mom's living room is white, except for the curtains. But his comment clearly left a lasting impression on me, and I realized: the absolutely pristine condition my mother keeps everything in makes a powerful overall impression, one that supersedes even actual objects in the home.

Let the light in. If decorating a home is a matter of creating an overall feel in a space, then light is my mother's favorite tool. First thing every morning — blinds and curtains (and windows, weather permitting) open, every single one. I do the same thing to this day and have everywhere I've ever lived. I feel claustrophobic and down if I don't. If not actually symbolic, it's nevertheless a ritual and an attitude, a letting in of the day, of freshness and light and new air to the most intimate of life's backdrops, home.

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