Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Acquisition of Things

A favorite bedroom from designer Christopher Maya

As a person who loves to decorate and adorn my home, I'm always balancing my wishes with my pocketbook.  I hate settling for anything less than perfect, but I frequently do.  Generally, availability is the problem.  There is a less than stellar selection of wares in Calgary (especially if you have traditional tastes) and if you ever want your home to be remotely attractive, eventually you must pick from the available offerings.  Or you keep living with that Ikea coffee table in your otherwise polished living room. 

And lest we forget the bigger issue - the question of cost.  I covet fine things, but just how much is too much to spend on a given object?  
A simply appointed hallway (with Burberry umbrella, no less) by designer Christopher Maya

I know many people quote William Morris's "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful".  While I agree wholeheartedly with his quote, the reality is that I cannot afford what I find most beautiful, generally. 

And while this is wonderful in theory (and perhaps a great shopping mantra to prevent too much junk from accumulating in your home), it is nearly impossible to put into practice, unless you have infinite time, resources, patience and access to products (by living in a large and cultivated American city for example, like some lucky so-and-so's who shall remain unnamed).

So I find my poor self continually settling.  In our house, I can probably name less than 10 things that, if pressed, I would say I truly adore.  Everything else is adequate:  I may like it, be fond of it, or have nostalgia for it, but I don't love it.  Perhaps if I were into flea market chic I'd be easier to please.  Or perhaps the quote would be easier to put into practice if I were born with the deep pockets of a Rockefeller or an Astor? 

The reality for most decorators of modest means, specific tastes, and limited access is compromise.  Unless of course you are the martyr purist willing to live a life of eternal waiting with your few precious gems for the arrival of that perfect object of lust.  I envy you your strength and patience!
Just the other day, I came up against another contest of want versus wallet.  I spent $270 on window hardware from Restoration Hardware (where you pay for character, if not quality) for our dining room (that's for a 48-72" rod, two brackets, 14 rings, and two end caps!).  When I think of beautiful homes I admire, this is a drop in the bucket compared to what many spend to create a blissful and considered environment.

David and I can afford this splurge, financially-speaking.  But I don't want to afford it, spiritually and practically.  I am a die-hard saver and feel sick spending $270 on a curtain rod.  Naturally, it is impossible to find a shiny nickel rod anywhere in Calgary for anything less than this amount.  Trust me, I've tried.  At the custom drapery shops, and the price point was $300 minimum.

In the long run, this isn't much to spend to make a beautiful window, considering I bought the silk panels on sale.  But the reality is, for $50-100 I can buy an inexpensive rod that while mediocre, will do the trick.  It's not like my home will be in House Beautiful any time soon, so who will notice?  And I can put the $300 towards a coffee table that people will notice, something that actually matters, in terms of form and function.

But the dilemma arises because I don't want to settle.  Yet I don't want to waste money either.  I prefer to spend my money to pay down our mortgage, save for renovations, or buy good furniture.  For me, good furniture is most important decor-wise. I also prefer wool rugs (I cannot pretend to afford silk) and good bedding.  Art is important too, but lovely works can be had for a modest budget.  For everything else, I am flexible (which means cheap).  

What I wonder is, do you also struggle with where to spend your decorating budget?  Do you do the same balancing act, whether your budget is large or small?  In the annual Acquisition of Things, what do you spend your money on?  Where, or at what cost, do you draw the line?  What can you justify spending big bucks on? What do you insist on buying cheaply? 

Do tell! 

In a future post, I will explore the places I've found to save money (so I can even consider splurging on preposterous hardware for my windows!)


  1. All I know is that there is never enough to buy the things that make the detail - like the curtain rods. I don't have curtains! It doesn't matter what the budget, if you are an interiors junkie like we are, it will never be enough because the world is full of beautiful things to acquire. What follows from this is that all these gorgeous goodies out there make me want to change my home around all the time. Great post, xv.

  2. Interesting post Terri. It's a constant dilemma isn't it?
    I'm lucky...I love almost everything I've purchased for my home, or at worst, I like it. If it doesn't make my heart sing, I don't buy it. However, I have spent many years accumulating stuff slowly, and I do have a taste for rustic things so I have picked up a number of bargains from auctions etc. But I'm also the type of person who would rather have a blank space than a piece of furniture that is a compromise for me. For example, I lived without a dining table for five years. When I finally found 'the one' it was really quite expensive, but I teamed it with inexpensive chairs on sale at a chain store. So patience has been something I'm blessed with. But I'm also prepared to spend a bit on my home - I don't smoke, rarely drink, I don't purchase lots of clothes, dvds or cds, or have expensive hobbies, so I'm happy to spend on something that I really adore when I know that I will have it for a long time.
    Anytime I've purchased somethung that I didn't totally love I end up replacing it so it was a false economy.
    I say go for it Terri, buy those curtain rods. In five years time you won't even remember how much you purchased them for, but if you buy the ones you don't really like you'll be looking at them in five years time wishing you'd bought the ones you really loved.

  3. This is a great post in times such as these - times when we all need to be more careful about how we spend, and yet, also times when we are probably at home more, going out to eat less, cocooning and enjoying our homes.

    I have a budget every year for home decor. Some people have a budget for vacations, some people have a budget for clothes and shoes, but not me. I am so modest in my spending on vacations, clothes, shoes (and so on) that there is really no need to set limits. Home decor, though, is another matter - I love it. The very nature of the purchases (which are usually more than a few hundred dollars) makes me quite cautious in how I spend 'the budget'. If I have my eye on something, I think about it long and hard. I bring the item home on approval, if possible. I visit the item many times in the store (or online) if I can't bring it home first. I look at all the options. Often I will move on, or decide that it is not wise to buy the item for my current house (better to wait for the next house). It is the search that is part of the fun for me.

    I have read that decorating ones house should never be something that you finish - it should be something that you do slowly over the years. I also think that there are places to splurge and places to save. Joni from CDT seems to have that down to a science - when she remodeled her kitchen, she made decisions about what she wanted to splurge on, and what she wanted to save on, based on how she would use the kitchen and what is important to her.

    Anyway, I have written a book! But as far as how I am spending my decorating dollars these days, I seem to be focusing on the 'icing' this year - the art and pillows and items that finish off the decor. I have also changed a few paint colors over the past few months. I can now say that my house is pretty much furnished; some of it is second hand furniture from relatives, but much of it is furniture that I picked out. I like the color scheme of my house, so no need for new rugs or curtains.

  4. I purchased rods from Restoration Hardware five years ago - and love them still. At the time, I agonized over the price - just as you are doing now. Buy what you really love, otherwise you will just end up replacing it.

  5. I think we all share the dilemma of there is always more of what we want than what we can spend ... and then there is the reality that (at least for me) some of the things I find that make my heart spin are in some gazillionaire's home featured in some magazine or book on someone's coffee table -- so, while it isn't realistic that I will ever have the exact same pieces or the same room, I absolutely can have the same feel, and do it on my budget - for the most part :) It just takes great patience and being very, very resourceful.

    Everyone is different, but for your question of what I do -- if something is factory made, (ie. in any of the popular catalogs) I know it can be found elsewhere, especially with the whole world available to us through our computers! I go into type A research mode and find that item in as many places as possible (there is always a knock off out there somewhere!) and then, in the end, buy the combination of how far down from "I love" am I willing to go to get it as cheap as possible. Sometimes I choose the cheapest option, sometimes the original expensive one, but most of the time it's in the middle.

    I don't care about labels or name brands and I don't cry over reproductions vs. authentic - I buy what I like and it's the quality and the overall feel that's more important to me than names.

    For antiques and one of a kind items, I stay away from the expensive high end shoppes (except for browsing and getting inspiration) and go to the flea markets and estate sales - I look for pieces with good bones - those that are structually sound and have the frame I want - ignoring finishes and fabrics or condition of those two things that they currently have, because I can change those things easily!

    There is nothing like the feeling you get when you do find that perfect piece at a steal -- the fun is in the chase, too. At least for me!

    I've written a book, too!

    Great post, Terri!
    xo Isa

  6. It must be a challenge to have such exquisite taste! :D No, I never struggle this way. I think you can tell that from what you see of my home. I am as happy with a rabbit for $9.99 as I would be with something much more expensive. And this is a good thing, for I've never had a lot of disposable income. I live in a depressed corner of my country where prices are high and incomes are low. It is a good thing that my tastes are well matched to my pocketbook. Wonder which came first...

  7. I so know what you mean... the nicest things are usually so expensive, of course there are plenty of less expensive things which are great, but like Frette linens, good beds, lovely chairs, they really are not cheap.
    I love your pictures, they make me wanna splurge again....!!! but now in these times, aren-t we all carefull, to buy luxury products... take care,


  8. I am Scarlett O'Hara in reverse: my draperies are ball gowns! My house lacks architectural charm and has the most hideous windows so I choose to make drapes that hide the negative and give me opportunity to make a fabric focal point. I scrimp on what can't be see (often use closet rods for drapes under a valance) and put my money where it makes me happy: beautiful fabric and trims. If the rods make your heart sing, go for it. But I have to say the curtains should be worthy of the investment or they won't be in harmony.

  9. Me and the husband save for things we want to buy, so we do have some expensive furniture. At the same time I love to make a bargain and always looking out for nice things on the flee market or on sales.
    But we do not longer buy things if we do not really want them. Things that we bought instead for saving up for the things we love, are all gone after a while. And replacing them is a cost that feel unnecessary.

  10. PS I love the photos of Christopher Maya!

  11. This is a really great question. Personally, I have champagne tastes on a beer budget! So what I attempt to do is buy budget with most things (e.g. my 12 piece plain white dinner setting with a basket weave edge cost me only AUD$50) but I mix this with very good quality furnishings (e.g. my dining table is hand crafted from the most beautiful timber and will last a lifetime).I try to choose wisely where I will spend my money - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I have to remember they're wants not needs. Thanks for this very thought-provoking post. Lee :)

  12. Totally feel your pain on this. I don't know many real people who only have things they "adore" in their home. I mean, really - most of the things we keep in our homes are of a practical nature. I'd love to have each piece selected with art and beauty but that is not my reality.

    Im a total cheapskate at heart - which is why you see me buy 99& of my pieces at Target or Ikea. Can't say I love them all but I love not spending a fortune. Does that count??

    PS: I do love your new photo header!

  13. Cheapskate-at-heart, die-hard saver,you could say that about me as well....i hear you!!!

    RIght now, i'm into organising my thoughts on decorating our house-to-be to turn it into a home for my kids and the hubby. It's not easy, esply. the ones i wanted are really expensive.

  14. I know that seems expensive, but trust me, custom rods are twice the price, and you found such beautiful shiny ones as well! I once had a designer friend of mine say, every room needs a piece of 'bling', the one piece of expensive furniture that upgrades the look of everything else in the room!

  15. Beautiful images! Thanks for a great blog! Please come visit me at any time! Adding you to my favourites list!

  16. Ooohhh such a tough one.. This is how I sort of work in my own home or when I move into a new one:

    First I do "damage control" and sort of get things looking good but not exactly as I'd want them if I could afford it. (Meaning I would have bought a cheap rod & paired it with drapes I like but didn't really spend on.) I buy good upholstered pieces & then I sort of thrift shop everything else. (I end up repainting or refinishing alot of it) If something beautiful in my budget comes along, I snap it up. This gets the place looking good but far from finished. Then I just sort of wait & see what comes along to help me upgrade.
    The next step is refining... This is when we sort of tick off itms on our wishlist when we feel comfortable making the purchase or when one that's such a great price/ perfect comes along & we can't pass it up. ;)
    So basically I settle in the beginning but with the intention that eventually I can & will upgrade... we have our whole life to do it. I know this sounds like a waste of money but I wouldn't be able to have say, no drapes up until I can afford the perfect ones. When I get the upgrades, Then I move things around, for example, the new gorgeous rods will replace the old "temporary" ones which will then either go to another room or be sold or given away.
    (We rarely buy anything that's not a crazy bargain or from a thrift shop unless it's a very large important piece that we can't afford to go wrong with like certain upholstered pieces.)
    I just basically need to get my home feeling good & then am satified that it's just a never-ending process... I love tweaking my home & having fun with it.

    sorry that was so long!!

  17. Stephanie12:02 pm

    For me, the curtains rods would be the 'jewelry' atop your silk curtain panels. Since they are for your dining room, consider using the better rods. They will be seen closely while people eat their dinner!
    Save your pennies buying less expensive rods in the bedrooms and bath.
    Try to wait until Restoration Hardware has a sale!

  18. Ms. Terri,
    This is a wonderful post! And the comments so far are absolutely insightful.

    I'm happy for you and your lovely shiny RH curtain rods. You've done so many projects on your own, with stunning results. So when it comes to something that you can't DIY, I believe in buying it outright too.

    In my home we have small children running under foot. So even though I love beautiful things, it's impractical to buy gorgeous fabrics, furniture, and accessories for the entire home. My husband and I have adopted a policy that if a new purchase is going to be within reach of the children, we are NOT going to spend a lot of money on it. I still insist on beautiful goodies - but my home is full of knock-offs from Ikea and Target, as well as refurbished items from Craigslist and estate sales.

    Another reason we usually buy from said retail establishments is because we are more frequently able to change the look around our home with a minimal amount of wincing. i.e. If I'm tired of my sofa after 5 years of use, I don't hesitate to buy another (at the same bargain basement price).

    And since I don't have the budget to splurge at this stage of my life), I've learned a lot of great skills to "get the right look" such as painting, sewing, refinishing, and even basic repairs.

    So, yes I agree with the general gist of these comments. Save money by Doing It Myself or buying knock-offs. Spend money when I can't DIY or when I find something that makes my heart sing.

    Well done Ms. Terri.

  19. Terri,
    I'm new to your blog, but I love your question and can empathize with your dilemma. We save on things that we are likely to replace, splurge on things that must work well (appliances, plumbing and light fixtures, door hardware, a great mattress) or are likely to be permanent (flooring). As we get older we've learned to purchase fewer stop gap items. When we do make an interim purchase, it is something that we can repurpose later--to use as storage in our unfinished basement, for example. That said, I am still stuck with many of the things purchased in my twenties that I thought I would have replaced by now (my yellow IKEA sofa is case in point). We save on our renovations by doing most of the labour, except for the specialized trades, ourselves. I also learned to sew--curtains and slipcovers--to allow me to splurge on fabric and save on labour. But I have never regretted purchasing anything I've truly loved. We are big gourmands and never scrimp on grocery bills. But we've completely sworn off fast food. I've never regretted a good meal (nor vacation, theatre ticket, or any other wonderful experience). In fact, as I write this, I realize I believe that buying something of value that you love, once, is a far better option (and possibly cheaper in the long run) than buying multiple cheap or unloved things to fill the same role. Also, there is nothing that says you need to pay top dollar for the things you love. Style is in how you put it all together. Excellent post.

  20. YOUR blog is beautiful! Wow, I love it. You have great taste. :)
    Thanks for partisipating in my Free Giveaway! All you have to do is leave a comment on friday and guess what "fanciful design" im giving away. xo

  21. Interesting post, Terri. I guess I am living in a different reality. While I recognize the value in investing in quality pieces, I weigh what I could buy for our home and what I should instead do with our money in the best interest of our family. With three kids in sports and activities and university tuition looming in the very near future, expensive purchases for our home does not seem all that important. I cannot imagine living without necessary pieces just because I haven't found or can't afford higher quality options. I guess I live for today, and aim for an overall look that I love. Yes, I have Homesense stickers on the bottom of some of my decorative pieces, but I feel the same satisfaction I think those with more discerning tastes feel when they look at their purchases. I grew up fairly blue-collar, so I can't help but feel that spending $2000 on sheets from Au Lit, for example) is obscene, when others are going without the basics of life. I can't help it...I don't think even wealth would change that.

    That's not to say that I am right, however. To each his own is my motto, and we all spend our money in different ways. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder for certain. I guess that is how our blogs differ. Mine focuses on spendthrift solutions to decorating dilemmas, and I come to yours to ooh and aah at all of the beautiful things I cannot afford. That is what is so great about blogs. There is always something for everyone.

    Long story short: if you can afford it, buy it! You don't yet have children eating up your monthly budget so enjoy your purchases while you still can!! :)

    Thanks, Terri, for another great post!


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