Friday, March 07, 2008

Bringing the Outside In (But Without the Antlers)

Dried Gourd, Coral and Sea Shell from BelizeSince 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.

For example:

Black Junco NestSeveral 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:

Conch from Chincoteague Island 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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Natalie C. said...

Even though you're away in FL, and everyone else probably commented on this post when it was on Design Mom, I will still venture to make a comment.

I love the nature inspired design! I lived in Finland for 18 months, and they are breathtaking designers- mostly inspired by nature. Something about living up there in the cold in Alaska, as well, makes people cherish nature, maybe?

page2 said...

Thanks for the great ideas. I love your suggestions. When I think of Alaskan decor I think of animal heads and big, shaggy pieces of bayleen (however it's spelled) hanging on the wall. Your ideas are much more to my taste.

page2 said...

Hope you're having a fabulous vacation! It's freezing in Wyoming.

Michaele said...

I'm so proud of you! Not one mention of the Alaskan-inflicted-upon-tourist-to-see-if-they'll-actually-buy-it jewelry style: moose nugget earrings.

;) Hope you are having a wonderful vacation!

Laura said...

That paragraph about jeans at the opera...Montana all the way! I am actually missing it for the first time...we left there 4 months ago..I am guessing it takes a little time to gain perspective!

Bahama Mama said...

Love the post - some great ideas. We love to decorate with Conch shells as we have an abundance of them. Too bad you are on vacation and missing the blog party!

Lisa said...

I hope you are having a wonderful vacation! THinking of you lots.

Team Harris said...

Thanks so much for the ideas on advertising....and the "U2" shot of the groom and his "men". haha

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I'm glad you reposted this or I might never have seen it. I love all these ideas and am already thinking of using a lot of them to help me decorate (my house badly needs some "decore")

tjhirst said...

Missed this post in Design Mom, but enjoyed it here. I especially loved this statement, "There's an abundance of natural resources and an excitement and optimism that translates into forward-thinking creativity." Some of our best design, or creativity of any kind, comes through the very limits and environment that we find ourselves in.

Elizabeth said...

Have you seen the movie "A Night at the Roxbury"? It's a really stupid Will Ferrell movie but it's what I thought of when I read the title of your post. Cuz Will Ferrell's character wants to start a nightclub where the outside looks like the inside and vice versa.

Jody said...

Oh, I love your nest. Very sweet.

We have a shadow box filled with a ton of sand dollars that we have collected in Port Aransas.

We also have various glass vases etc filled with sand and shells from our beach visits.

luckyzmom said...