Since at this very moment I'm most likely lounging on a beach somewhere I'm posting this article written back in January for a guest spot at Design Mom. You'll let me get away with this while I'm on vacation won't you? Just once or twice?
I hate to admit it but when it comes to class and sophistication Alaskans are rather . . . um . . . "design-challenged" shall we say?
Partly because everything from the mountains to the economy to the cities is new, partly because the population is young, partly because it's rugged and partly because it's so predominantly male Alaskan style can be best summed up in the words "Shabby Chic" which isn't really chic at all--just shabby. And apparently proud of it.
Where else do you regularly see people at the opera wearing jeans? Or cars that haven't been washed for six months? Or homes sporting moose antlers over the garage door? Or aluminum foil decorating bedroom windows? (It's to block the sunlight in summer). Yes, as much as I love the land of my birth it's rather embarrassing when it comes to defining Alaskan style.
However. . . just because there are deficiencies in refinement here doesn't mean we don't have virtues as well. Alaskans are very aware of their environment and they respect nature (both its beauty and its danger). There's an abundance of natural resources and an excitement and optimism that translates into forward-thinking creativity.
What does this mean for every day life? Well take my previous examples. Moose antlers and taxidermy gone mad are common Alaskan decorating themes. Personally? I've sworn that there will never be anything with a head stuffed and mounted on my wall but the basic concept is worthwhile, it just needs a bit of tweaking. Bring those natural elements into your home, bring bits of the outside environment inside and you will add an important depth and comfort to your decorating.
Several years ago our family discovered a bird that had nested in the tall spring grasses on the southern side of our house. We blocked off the area from foot traffic and sat back to watch from an upper patio that looked down onto the nest. We were like Audobon paparazzi, stalking the nest to see when any big news was to be reported and when the day came that the eggs finally hatched it was an all-out Family Moment.
The birds soon flew away but I carefully collected the nest and had it framed with a card displaying the name of the bird along with the date we discovered the nest. Hanging on our wall it not only brings in a lovely natural element but is a great conversation piece. Though oddly enough everyone wants to know if the fake eggs I put in the nest for display are the real eggs. Apparently they believe I'm capable of killing baby birds for the sake of their eggs, that I'm that heartless.
Incorporating natural elements into your rooms not only creates an inviting and relaxing atmosphere--particularly when you've got light, airy spaces with clean lines and minimal ornamentation--it's a perfect way to keep family connections alive. Experiencing nature together and creatively displaying your trophies is the equivalent of hanging pages from your family albums on the wall, children love to remember the circumstances of each find which sparks lovely conversations of "remember when?"
For ways to bring little bits of nature into your home here are some of my favorite ideas:
• Framed Flat Displays. Frame charcoal rubbings of maple leaves, pressed flowers or mushroom prints made from fungi spores (see Martha Stewart "How to Print Mushrooms"). If it's flat it can be put in a frame and hung on the wall--and who doesn't have wall space?
• Shadow Boxes. For things that are a little thicker shadow boxes are an elegant alternative. Mount sea shells, fossils from a family dig, shark teeth, pieces of coral, a snake skin shed in the garden or dried flowers for an interesting grouping. I found a good supplier for shadow boxes that I described in my post "Cookie Cutter Display Cases" and even animal bones like the one my son reconstructed for science class (see my post here) would be beautiful artfully framed. But maybe not this bone--I made Andrew take that one to the office.
• Swags and Garlands. Stalks of wheat, branches of cotton with the boles still clinging, wild turkey feathers--they all make dramatic displays arched over a doorway. Think of things that are native to your region, then bunch 'em and hang 'em. As an alternative, drill holes in things like acorns or pine cones, string them and hang them at the top of a door or around a window.
• Centerpieces. Likewise, anything that you can use in a swag would look distinctive in a vase as a centerpiece to your table. Forced branches are particularly lovely in winter (see Martha Stewart "Forcing Branches" for details).
• Placemats. In tropical climates, gather palm fronds to be used as placemats or as a runner down the middle of the table.
• Enclosed jars and bowls. Vintage apothecary jars or milk glass bowls are perfect for displaying larger objects. Think acorns (oh how I wish we had oak trees here), pieces of empty honeycomb, pine cones or empty hand-blown eggs. We've collected sand from different beaches we've been to and put them in corked glass jars--but layering the sand in a large jar would also be pretty.
• Mobiles and Hangings. Hang sand dollars, driftwood and sea stars over a bed by white gauzy ribbon in random patterns or as a mobile. Hang things from the top of a window casing so that they catch the light and turn gently in the air.
• Weavings. Collect sea grasses or spring willow branches and weave them into a square with the ends still sticking out--the contrast between the rigidity of the square and the natural fibers would be attractive as a mat or framed.
• Photographs. Frame a grouping of pictures of a dewy spiderweb from the garden or a series of pictures of the same oak tree in the front yard as seen during different seasons.
• Houseplants. Line the top of the soil in your pots with sea shells, river rocks, coral--anything that will keep the soil from losing moisture and look decorative. Decoupage a wooden box with pressed flowers collected from the first blooms of spring in a new home.
• Decoupage and Mosaics. Use beach glass, shells or small pebbles to make stepping stones for the garden or to cover a patio table.
Whatever your climate, wherever you live, make your rooms more comfortable by bring pieces of your outside inside. It's what memories are made of--and memories are the most natural thing in the world.
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