A little story today of how William Morris’s adage about beauty and usefulness can sometimes get confusing: a few years ago, having become increasingly irritated by the presence of an ugly blackberry, packet of chewing gum, bank card reader and set of keys, I hid them in a cute box. As useful as these items were to their owner, I did not find them beautiful. Of course by Morris’s standard, the owner of the offending items had every right to own them. At the end of a long and frustrating search that resulted in the items’ owner being trapped in the house unable to make contact with the outside world, I realised that my need to hide everything not beautiful can sometimes be taken too far. Allocate a safe house for ugly items that allow us to lock a door or make a phonecall, that everyone can easily identify. And ensure when housing small items you only rarely find useful (spare sewing machine feet, safety pins, buttons, biros, pencils, foreign coins), to remember what’s in each box. I’m not advocating labels, but nor am I promoting beauty over sense. Not really.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are simply no rules about anything anymore*. There is no right time to have breakfast, there is no correct way to poach an egg, there is even, unfortunately, no fixed regulation or etiquette around using an iphone (or firing up You Tube at dinner). One rule in the home used to be about setting off complementary colours so that the eye is pleased. This is a rule that has been firmly stamped upon by authorities. Clashing colours can be magnificent, both pleasing the eye and distracting it, like a white ribbon running past a sleepy cat. With relatively little effort, a wall or side table can be transformed into something quite special, whether it’s an area destined for festive decoration (bright red berries next to a bright pink rose) or an area usually lacking inspiration (a black bath robe hung against a navy wall on a wooden hook). Pesky areas of rooms with no point can take clashing colours extremely well. And they will (unlike me if you look at animals chasing ribbons on You Tube at the table) thank you for it.
*There is one exception – Christmas decorations and their installation and de-installation times. November is no month for festivity.
I’ve always thought of the coffee table as something of a mystery; a table yes, and by its name one that sits adjacent to a sofa, usually in a sitting room, drawing room, lounge – whatever you call it. But coffee? We use the word to signify its location in the home, but I personally prefer to drink coffee in the kitchen in the morning, and at the dining table in the evening. The ‘coffee table’, because of its position, is a potential victim of many a domestic design crime. All manner of ugly objects threaten its smooth, simple patina, whether painted or plain. The roaming remote control, errant nail polishes, clippers and emery boards, TV dinner plates, batteries, chewing gum, sweet wrappers, apple cores, biros, yoghurt pots, or worse still, those items not even destined for the living room, but cast aside incongruously en route to their rightful place; wet tea towels, toothbrushes, hair wax, potato peelers, pedometers*. I like to treat the coffee table as a beautiful platform for some of the most desirous items one owns, and not to overload it. A note book or two, fruit for boredom eating, a candle, a good-looking hand cream and that’s it. Except of course for coffee, which in this instance, at any time of day, we know better as ‘wine’.
*All of these items, and more, can be placed in one of the following three places: a.) in a beautiful flip top box under or near the sofa, b.) back where they belong, c.) in the bin.