The Greek philosophers used “beautiful” in a very different way than we do now. To experience beauty then was to commune with the divine, to experience a world more profound than our own, and to be uplifted in a way that was deeply spiritual. In other words - in opposition to its meaning in the 21st century - beauty overwhelmed people to such a degree that they would have the privilege of forgetting themselves. Today, in a world defined by social media, profundity is so often elusive; we are driven to fixate on our presentation to the world: where we go, what we eat, how we look. As the saying goes, it’s the difference between filling a house with mirrors or filling it with windows; one prioritizes the self while the other seeks to obliterate it.
So where does a home sit in this social debate? Can you decorate your surroundings without taking part in an exercise that is purely self-indulgent? I genuinely feel strongly that you can, and that even simple aesthetics can create a space that’s psychologically expansive. “Sparking joy” has become colloquial and, while that is a worthy goal, it’s actually a challenge to live in a state of perpetual joy; it’s a feeling that requires significant output. Sometimes the goal for a home is something more foundational: tranquility, reassurance, emotional comfort.
The easiest place to start, of course, is with paint. Any color that evokes a mood, inspiration, or recollection will make a room experiential. It’s an easy way to step outside oneself, by giving yourself over to a memory and all the contentment it provides. But inevitably, of course, we acquire things - a lot of things - to fill our homes and, while antiques and inheritances come with their own histories, it’s still possible to design with an eye toward something more than an individual experience. One of the things we love about buying for the shop is understanding the stories and people behind each item: where did the design spring from? How was the business formed? In what way is it tied to the community? This knowledge, like walking through a museum with a docent, only manages to increase the visual wonder, and the appreciation for skill and vision.
So while decorating a home may not fully escape the realm of humanity, there can be something profound in creating a space that makes you feel safe, inspired, and cognizant of the effort others took to make a house into a manifestation of spirit. A favorite loomed throw or block-printed pillows may not turn us all into altruists but they are capable of making us grateful - and that’s a pretty good place to start.