A Look Back at 2018: Lessons Learned — Part 2

January 14, 2018

In my final two columns of the year, I traditionally share highlights from the past 12 months. Last week’s column featured lessons from the first half of 2018. Here’s what I learned in the second half:

IN JULY, I made the biggest design decision of my life. Big as in if it’s wrong, I can’t hide it behind a potted plant. I bought a sectional, a three-piece, L-shaped, custom-ordered (no returns), place to park six or eight behinds. You want to know when you’re truly grown up? You are truly grown up when you buy your first sectional.

Sectionals are to furniture what SUVs are to cars, a sign to the world that you’re not foot-loose and fancy-free anymore. You’ve settled down and got folks that need accommodating.

As I was about to take the plunge, Bondi Coley, spokeswoman for Lee Industries, a wholesale manufacturer of upholstered furniture, offered me this ambiguous reassurance: “A great sofa sectional is like a member of the family.”

Lesson: A well-chosen sectional can help a room cohere in a way that separate sofas and chairs can’t, while providing more seating in less space.

IN AUGUST, I talked to a Dumpster diver who takes trash to a new level. The California resident has turned her life-long habit of Dumpster diving into a business. A self-proclaimed “junker,” Karen Berg has furnished her home – and others – from other people’s trash. As she got better at knowing the best dive sites, and proficient at furniture makeovers, Dumpster diving went from a way to furnish her home to a way to earn a living. Others started hiring her to repaint and repurpose their furniture. Business took off, and she now sells her makeover projects.

Lesson: You truly don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful home. If you shop garage sales and Craigslist, are patient, put in a little effort, and don’t mind getting grubby, you can get a great look for nearly nothing.

IN SEPTEMBER, while watching the U.S. Open, I noticed the sidelines looked especially nice. Was that new furniture? The answer came in my inbox the next day, an email from Michael Graves Architecture & Design announcing the firm’s role in creating a redesigned “courtscape” to celebrate the U.S. Open’s 50th anniversary. I knew it! Since Michael Graves, the legendary architect and designer, died in 2015, Donald Strum, who worked alongside Graves for over 30 years, has carried the torch as head of product design. “Whether creating a city plaza or a tea kettle, what Michael cared most about was how humans interacted with everything,” said Strum. “His focus was to make that experience as perfect as it could be.”

Strum played out that philosophy on center court. In just nine months, his design team created an iconic look for the tennis championship’s anniversary, a new umpire tower, and modernized chairs. “It was a high-pressure, high-profile project, the kind Michael lived for,” said Strum.

Lesson: Strum passed along this advice: “I Iearned from Michael to ask why things are and aren’t right. If something’s not right, don’t put up with it. Make a change.” That’s good advice for the New Year.

IN OCTOBER, I reinvented the wheel after reading floral designer Laura Dowling’s new book, “Wreaths.” The former chief florist for the White House, Dowling put a new twist on a circular form as old as, well, the Earth. “Of all the floral art forms, the wreath is arguably the most powerful symbol,” she said, “but we need to make this decorative, symbolic element striking again, elevate it from the derivative and blasé.”

And she does. Her book features 78, unexpected, rut-breaking wreaths made from such unlikely materials as brown grocery bags, marshmallows, bell peppers, berries, Brussels sprouts, coffee beans and apples.

Lesson: Finding new uses for everyday items is a creative skill we can learn. Making wreaths year-round out of seasonal, accessible, and whimsical materials is a great way to start.

IN NOVEMBER, while exploring my interest in America’s blended homes, I came to know Sherry Lopatic, and Rachel and Michael Tidwell. The mom, daughter and son-in-law combined households late last year and made life better. One off-hand remark started it. When Rachel and Michael were having dinner at Sherry’s house, just a few blocks from their home in Midwest City, Okla., they were bemoaning all the recurring bills both households had to pay, when Sherry said jokingly, “It’s ridiculous. We should just live together.”

To her and her daughter’s surprise, Michael was to first to say, “Absolutely!” The same thought had been in the back of his mind. The idea quickly gained traction. They sold their respective houses and together built a better one.

“We all are living better and spending less,” said Rachel. “Plus, if children come along, Mom will be here to help with them.” Looking ahead, Sherry knew she’d appreciate the security of not living alone.

“Some people think it’s crazy, but it works for us,” said Michael.

Lesson: Never say never. When considering living arrangements, keep an open mind. Sometimes the unimaginable works out best.

 IN DECEMBER, I stepped in reindeer doo and wore the hair Santa suit when a column I wrote on Christmas tree “mistakes” and their fixes went over like a lead ornament. Readers gave me a lump of coal for suggesting they edit their ornaments, so their trees look more cohesive. Fifty lashes with a wet candy cane for me.

 Lesson. Some people want a tree that looks good. Some want a tree that feels good. Whatever, don’t mess with tradition, she said, signing off for 2018.

Happy New Year.

CAPTION: Game on: Design that makes the human interaction with everything as good as it can be was what drove the late architect Michael Grave. His legacy was channeled in the new furniture that graced the US Open tennis courts this year. Photo courtesy of MGA&D.