The Best Bad Advice (That You Actually Should Consider)

The Best Bad Advice (That You Actually Should Consider)

Jennifer Hunter
Nov 4, 2014

Admit it, you love-to-hate advice, especially those cringe-worthy words of wisdom spouted by outdated books. Turns out, some advice is universal. Come see these home decorating pearls of wisdom — hilarious, yet still applicable — that we uncovered from Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette, circa 1952.

The pre-Pinterest, pre-vision board strategy to defining your style —

Keep a scrapbook, collect swatches of material and samples of color. Develop your own taste from what pleases you in all this. Then build your own home around what you have learned with the help, if you wish, of a decorator. But never let a professional superimpose his taste on yours. You will never be comfortable in your surroundings if you don't understand them and if, no matter how perfectly conceived from a decorating standpoint, they don't seem in the least like you.

Defending slow decorating —

Never decorate in haste, trying to complete the whole picture within a four-wall frame at once. Homes grow from the outside in. We need to live in them a little and in relation to what belongings we have with which to start, before we know what is right for the house and for us.

A great argument for an eclectic decor mix —

Do not be misled by those who preach the necessity of "period." Nothing, to my mind, is duller than a room, modern or ancient in genesis, all keyed to one static note. Good modern rooms come to life with old glass, a piece or so of antique furniture, an old painting, a time-honored rug, a brass from ancient Syria or Ceylon. A room graced by antiques will be more comfort- able for its present-day roomy sofa and its freedom from froufrou.

How to find your best furniture layout—

The furniture should be grouped with a main center of interest the fireplace or the view and subsidiary groups for conversations among two or three, so that they can join, without moving, conversation in the main group governed by the placement of the sofa or sofas. In good decoration a room should never look too new. Do not fuss if you can't have every piece of furniture freshly reupholstered at one time. It will seem more comfortable for an occasional bit of genteel shabbiness. Do not be misled by the vagaries of fashion in decorating. A good room can remain exactly as it began for many, many years, with occasional necessary refurbishing.

Color advice for the 50's set —

To be a good, pleasant, and satisfying room, a living room should have shades or variations of each primary color red, yellow, and blue. Our eyes unconsciously seek these colors. Of course they include all the greens, shades of rose, orange, gold, and dozens of possible combinations. Beware the startling and work up from the rug or the floor color. Colors are most important of all. Never try to live with a color you don't like and couldn't wear. This goes for men, too, who are notoriously uneasy in juxtaposition to pastel, fussy-feminine decor.

A case for personalization —

The most livable rooms reflect the interests and hobbies of the owners. A friend of mine, proud possessor of a Sutton Place brownstone, has a pleasant masculine study whose chief decorative motif is a large airplane propeller over the Victorian marble fireplace. My friend is an aviation engineer and to him a propeller is just as beautiful, I suppose, as one of his Manets. At any rate, it looks right in the room because it expresses his interest, not one some decorator has thrust upon him.

— from Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette, 1952

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