I was lucky to travel regularly with my family when I was young. While my boys were little we made regular trips back and forth to Colorado and Florida, with a few other domestic destinations in-between. International travel was not realistic for me when my children were little, but in the past few years I’ve taken my older boys to Paris for their 13th birthdays. These trips have been a gift for me, as well, to be in the city and to see it through their eyes. I find that wherever I go, when I travel I come back with a mental stack of new ideas for my home.
I’ve been in Paris twice this year. I was there for work most recently, but it was still an extravagance. A well-planned and thought-out extravagance, but an extravagance nonetheless. There are countless books and blogs and articles written about the wonder of Paris, but travel, no matter where it takes you, can offer unlimited inspiration. There’s no need to be a snob. I’ve spent nearly as much time taking pictures of floors in Jefferson City, Missouri, as I have in France. The important thing is to stop and really look at what surrounds you. To really be aware of everything you see, everything you smell, everything you touch.
It is the details that make the difference. If you are lucky enough to travel to an old city, notice the subtle variation in the color of the limestone facades. Notice how the top of the heavy doorknob is shiny and bright from the number of hands that have turned it, while the intricate back plate is matte and dark in its untouched depth.
Take a moment as you stand in line to notice the lantern that hangs above you and the unique shape of the links in its chain. Or take in the pattern of the fretwork on the grate below your feet.
The daylight wherever you go will likely be different than the place where you are from, but don’t ignore paint colors that seem fresh and new in that light. They, like the language, can be translated once you’re home.
The details of everyday life in the most casual situation will offer inspiration. The simple but engaging line of a carafe at the café. The practical and charming texture of the rough, striped napkin. If these things can be purchased and tucked into your suitcase, even better. Filling the carafe for your dinner table and sliding that napkin into your lap will stir your memory of that place far more than a forgotten image on your computer.
So as you rush to the exhibit opening or dash to the cathedral tour, slow just a moment to notice the details and carry them back with you. These things will change the way you live at home and become a different type of souvenir. Better, even, than the miniature Eiffel Tower. Though get one of those, too. I am a sucker for kitschy chic.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you open your eyes to the beauty of new—or old—places.
Always, always, always have your camera at the ready, but not for wide shots of buildings or monuments that will hold no interest once you’re back home. Capture the dozens of details of doors and gardens and, lord help me, floors. I could write a book filled with the images I’ve taken of floor patterns.
Look Up, Look Down
I was in a neighborhood restaurant recently when the owner asked me if I liked the new floors. I was sorry to say that I hadn’t noticed. He was crestfallen. “Nobody looks up; nobody looks down,” I told him. We so often keep our eyes at, well, eye level, that we can miss a lot of detail in both ceilings and floors. Take it all in.
Talk to Strangers
Would you hesitate to provide help to a stranger who asked for suggestions on a good place to eat or the best shop for leather gloves? Most likely, you’d like to help both the visitor and a favorite local merchant. While the French have a reputation for disliking Americans, I’ve never found this to be true. Rude and demanding folks from any nation may deserve a brusque reply. Be friendly, be respectful, and ask. Parisians suffer my poor French with amused patience, but most speak a little bit of English. Just remember where you are and don’t expect them to.
Keep a journal, whether it’s paper or electronic. Write down your impressions. The description of the expression on your child’s face as he stands rapt before the Monet will mean more to you than a snap of the painting itself.
Fix it Up!
Joanna and Chip Gaines are Waco, Texas, residents who own a shop and a remodeling business. They are in the second season of their very engaging show, Fixer Upper, on HGTV and will be in Kansas City on the main stage of the Home Show March 21st at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. and March 22nd at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. They are charming and talented, and you should do your best to be there. We recently caught up with Joanna to ask for a few words of advice.
Create value where you’re planted. “We went to school in Waco and assumed that we would leave after graduation, but we realized the city has a ton of potential, so we decided to plant our roots here. We are so excited that Fixer Upper shows Waco in such a great light. It’s a great town with great people. It’s time for it to shine.”
Invest in the big stuff. “I’m drawn to a timeless look. When I’m investing, I want it to last. It’s like my clothes. When I buy jeans and boots and a nice top, I want to be able to wear them for a long time. It’s the same thing with a sofa or a table.”
Follow trends in a small way. “Your money goes further when you capture a trend that you like in a pillow or a throw or accessories. That way, if you get tired of it in a few years, you can replace it without guilt.”
Be brave. “Chip is a risk-taker and I’ve been more cautious. He loves having a full life. It makes it fun and it challenges me. Without him I would never have opened my shop. Risk makes me nervous, but it’s always fun on the other side. Now we’re starting to flip roles with me saying ‘Let’s go!’ When the production company first approached us about the show he said, ‘That’s a scam.’ And I said, ‘No, we’re calling them back. It’s been a great ride.”
Since March is our month of before and after photos, we also asked Joanna to share some of her remarkable renovations.
Q: Inspiration is not a problem for me. I love so many different design styles that I can’t choose just one. How do I narrow down my choices?
— Mary Jo Olinger, Kansas City
A: The very best way to figure out what will work best for you is to keep track of the designs you truly love. There’s the old school way—rip out the pages from design magazines that feature the rooms you feel speak to you and organize them into files. (And this magazine gets plenty of use for that, we’ve heard.) Then there’s the 21st century way—Pinterest (and our website) to the rescue. Combine the two and you’ll surely define your taste to a T.
Do you have a design question? Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may appear in a future issue.