Earning The Right To Scold, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:29am


In retirement, I’ve been thinking about doing good. I confess that as a mother of small children, and then a manager and executive in technology, I cared less about virtue than excellence in my work. As a result, I’ve come at Good with the energy and naivete of a newbie.

I include my emergent thoughts here, on Saturdays abstractly, and on weekdays specifically – teasing out what ethical commerce and lifestyle initiatives I might support. To be sure, my efforts are patchy, intermittent, and a little plodding. But they’re not nothing.

I do get scolded.

Which made me wonder, scolding, does it actually contribute to our collective virtue? Does it make us better overall? And if so, how?

The village scold has been part of human culture for centuries. I think she played a useful function. I imagine a middle-aged woman, aproned, floured, wagging her finger at an errant youth. I imagine said youth either chastened or arrogant and laughing. But I also imagine that said youth couldn’t run away altogether from the scolder’s intent.

Villages were small. Families stayed put.

Today, I think if we want to scold someone with effect, we have to earn the trust of those we would make better.

People become adult precisely by coming to believe that they know what they are doing, that they have understood some things. When confronted with evidence to the contrary, i.e. when shamed, many of us activate self-defense mechanisms. “How do you know? There’s no science! You’re weird! That’s too hard! I’m good enough!” Or maybe that’s just me.

I used to respond strongly to shame. Maybe as do all well-loved children. My father would call me into his study, to stand on the Persian carpet. It was 1964, I was eight, he sat behind a Danish modern desk. Even seated he was tall. If I backed up I bumped into a low bookshelf filled with Encyclopedia Brittanica volumes. I didn’t move. I listened to him tell me what I had done wrong and I believed him. I felt it in my body. Although it hurt, I didn’t want to run. Shame works when you are cared for, and even so, should be used with caution.

Now, I respond to scolding when I trust the scold. Who do I trust? The kind. The consistent. Those who clearly live the precepts they profess. Those who have shown themselves vulnerable. Just being in the right isn’t enough, we humans love to squirm into gray areas, and we need a hand to keep us honest. Or maybe that’s just me.

Please do not stop speaking up for what is right, here. I am learning even though I’m a pretty good squirmer.

Maybe the same effort which gives us the right to scold does all kinds of other good? Who would object to intimacy, kindness, constancy, truth? Maybe the village finger-wagger was also a baker, sneaking hot and sugared currant buns to the the dirtiest of children? Maybe she burned their tongues just a little and it was OK.



Hot cross bun photo via Alpha on Flickr

Faith In The Face Of Newly Planted Native Plants And Their Ratty Selves

Gardeners are a faithful lot. We have to be. Native plants, those most virtuous of garden citizens, test our faith entirely.

I have finished this spring’s new plantings. California natives under the Live Coast Oak, olive and “strawberry” trees along the back fence, and a couple of heuchera and nandina to fill in gaps close to the back patio.

Does everything look fabulous? Not even. Let’s take a look at what I’ve got under the oak. Boy, that’s a ragtag crowd.


I needed the hose to hand-water the natives and settle them in during this drought. In a couple of weeks, if we get just a little rain, I will be able to leave them largely to their own drought-tolerant devices. And I’ve ordered this, tested and and deemed to produce the fewest toxins, for future use. Garden responsibly, right?

So how about a view along the fence. Any better?



Maybe a few plant closeups will do the trick. (BTW, when I got to the nursery we changed the planting plan, in response to availability and the advice of nursery staff.)

Here’s what I mean by gardening faith. On the left, a bush anemone as it looks now, against my fence. On the right, future promise. An aside, all Internet sources say bush anemones grow to 6 feet and I need at least 7, if not 10, to screen the neighbors’ house. But the women at the nursery were sure.


We managed to scrounge up 3 flowering currants, 2 white, 1 pink, for the middle range of the planting. Again, the now and future shrubs.


Close up, the pink currant shows us its ratty ol’ foliage. Let’s face it, plants that can survive clay soil and a summer-dry climate don’t waste their efforts on large glossy leaves. I forgive them. Plant natives only as close to your house as you can tolerate vegetal impolitesse.

For the lowest planting layer, next to my flagstone patio, we decided on groundcover manzanita and grasses. Right now the manzanita looks like a few green specks amongst the brown and gold oak leaves. But it’ll spread. I’ve been promised. I only wish I remembered its name.


The grasses, one of which chose to bloom, offer the most new-planting pleasure. I don’t remember their name either. I kind of like to pretend nothing has names when I garden, as though the world is still pre-verbal.


But on the whole, I’m waiting. As gardeners do.

In a while, the currants’ foliage will smell faintly of sunburned roof tar and lemon. The bush anemones will grow taller, their leathery leaves will rattle a bit. The grasses will mound over the backyard berm, pretending it’s a real hillside. We can imagine California without people, marsh ponds reemerging from under the freeways, the Bay filling with creatures. So maybe the gardener’s wait is its own thing, valuable as much for what we make out of nothing, as for what we see when the plants grow in.



All plants purchased at Native Revival, in Aptos California. Photos of plant futures via Las Pilitas, a nursery a little further south.

Plant List (Next time I’ll remember all the names. I promise.)

Bush anemone AKA Carpenteria Californica
White Flowering Currant AKA Ribes Indecorum
Pink Flowering Currant AKA Ribes Sanguineum (also in Materfamilias’s garden, here)

Amazon link is affiliate and may generate commissions, all nursery links are independent


A Post About Fashion And Identity, For The Most Part

A couple of weeks back, when Une Femme and I collaborated on posts about jeans, the last thing I expected was a referendum on whether I should wear skinnies. It got me wondering, “Why do people care so much about denim leg sleeves on a late-middle-aged woman?”

Readers had commented either (we’ll use the most expressive examples), “You have a rocking body!” or, “You look like you’re picking up cardboard in good shoes!” I wanted to deconstruct what those comments might mean, with extra urgency because I realized I hadn’t yet come truly clean about why I resisted #teamskinnyjeans.

So, at the highest level, why do people care what women wear? In turn, why might we resist the general opinion? Living in women’s bodies is like that. Bear with me for some underlying assumptions.

Important Fact: women are responsible for the continuation of the species. As a result society cares – a lot – about our bodies. But we live in those bodies, both biologically and politically, so we care – more. “Skinny jeans,” on this little blog, was just one example of the unseen self reflected in clothing choices. The unseen self being both biological and political.

On to the more immediate. Why does the world want me to wear skinny jeans? Hypotheses ‘R Us.

First one, the social desire for more formality. We like people to make an effort. I looked messy and uncontrolled in baggy pants. I wore my hair, which is ridiculously long, down. I get it. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the baggy jeans outfits were well-proportioned, modern, and appropriate – to the community in which I live. People still didn’t like them. Why?

I credit to the persistent and compelling strength of our female silhouette. We prefer it visible.

As we’ve discussed before, my body aligns with the socially desirable shape for women’s bodies. By that I mean, bluntly, my waistline looks like it might perpetuate the species. Of course, at 58, I cannot. Oh, and of course, nobody’s consciously thinking, “Hey, look, Lisa could have a baby!” Just saying that makes me shake my head uncontrollably, in laughter, in shock. But I think when we say someone has a good figure, we’re speaking from the species’ need to perpetuate itself.

How’s that for a cheery Tuesday thought?

(By the way, I get that your comments were compliments, approval for an aspect of who I am.  I mean in no way to be ungrateful. Thank you.)

However, my particular body, both social and biological, hates tight pants. Against every High WASP dictate in the book, I’ll share the private reasons. Note that I do so in the service of truth-telling, and to further the conceptual discussion about style, not because I think my particular body and its quirks are all that interesting.

The Body Political

Why resist looking as though I’m making an effort? Especially when, in fact, I am? In San Francisco, the creative sort often wears looser, messier clothing than do the more conservative professionals. Therefore, given my current Artsy intent, if I wear an outfit that’s neatly-fitting up and down, I’m falsifying. (Note I don’t say “close- fitting,” that would be sexy and therefore Not Allowed for High WASPs. But “neat” is supported for the Sturdy.)


The Politics Of Skinny Jeans, 1 and 2.

In neatly-fitting clothes (unless at work or for an occasion) I’m disguised in the costume of my origins. I’m reminded of the inner space where great-aunts and grandmamas wonder, “Why is your hair in your face all the time?” Please no. Not now.

The Body Biological

And, well, um, can’t get around it. Although High WASP bodies are supposed to disappear somewhere between our collarbones and mid-knee, I confess I am prone to UTIs. I don’t even like to wear workout tights any longer than necessary. So beyond aesthetics or politics, no skinnies.

I suppose I should have told you all this to begin with, but, all hail the High WASP body disappearance, in full force.

And we’re not going to do a Polyvore, OK? Right. I figured.

Again, my particular body quirks are far more embarrassing than interesting. I’m writing because I felt as though I’d been feigning truth, and I need truth to be true. I also wanted to remind all of us, myself included, that urging women to consider spurned fashion choices is sometimes supportive, and sometimes, despite our best intentions, not.

Fashion incites because, uniquely, it displays deeply held beliefs and bodily secrets, using materials optimized for attraction and surfaces. We say who we are when we dress, even if there are things we try never to say at all.

And now, because sometimes we just like clothing without all the jibber-jabber, let’s shop. High WASP tip: talk about “good-looking” things when ideas and emotions get embarrassing. Don’t you just love that little boho tank?

Politics #1. (6 items, click the little gray arrows to see them all.)

Politics #2. ( 5 items, click the little gray arrows to see them all.)

By the way, since this post contains information of a particularly personal nature, I am moderating these comments. Usually I do not.

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Broth, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:32am


After a way too busy holiday season, life is finally settling back to normal. The house painters have left – they’ll come back later for a few final touches. And yes, the front door is unfinished but I have decided 1.) I don’t care right now 2.) maybe I’ll just get a new door. Mid-century modern, perhaps.

While the painting pause fills my to-do list with all kinds of new stuff, I’m exercising strategic option #1 again, i.e. Just Don’t Care At Least Right Now. The best part of retirement is choice.

And not caring means that this morning, as we speak, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter watching a just-about-to-simmer pot of bone broth. Also known as: 4.5 pounds of oxtails from pastured-raised cattle; 2 carrots; 1.5 onions (1 yellow and charred, half a red one because I ran out of yellow); a bay leaf; some peppercorns; one big stem of charred ginger; a whole lot of filtered water; 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.

Fancy punctuation for a very simple foodstuff.

The pot’s going to be sitting on my stove all day long. Maybe into tomorrow or the day after. I’ve never made bone broth, but it’s all the rage. Usually that doesn’t motivate me terribly – I’ve never cooked anything Moroccan, for example – but I’ve got my reasons.

For example? I’d like nothing more than to tell you. What better than to chat while ignoring one’s to-do list?

First, the broth is ostensibly good for your joints and I’m prone to aches. Second, if that turns out to be quackery, which I can well imagine, I believe that as a meat-eater I ought to consume as many parts of the animals as possible. Waste is bad. Third, I should use my resources to encourage pasture-raising. Commitment is good.

And finally, because pleasure moves me more than virtue, because doing good is something I require of myself and delicious comes naturally, what better than a large pot of completely homemade soup?

I’ve always loved to cook. I remember the first time I made a recipe beyond Nestle’s Tollhouse. Something with crab and avocado, from Craig Claibourne. The sense of accomplishment, of adulthood. In my late 30s and early 40s I hosted small dinner parties all the time. My food was very good, my short-term memory at its peak, I moved quickly and accurately carrying the numbers of teaspoons in my mind.

These days my food is probably worse but I don’t care. I enjoy myself so much.

The bone broth, which is still coming to a simmer, by the way, I have triangulated out of a few recipes. This one, for the basics, this one for oxtail pho, and this one for Hawaiian oxtail soup. By triangulated, I mean I read them all and then decided I knew enough to proceed. Oh, and by another way, I’ve moved to the sofa. Best place for a chat.

The decades, while they’ve denatured my capabilities, have compensated with knowledge, habit, and confidence. Not always true with skills as we age, but wholly so in the kitchen. So I parboiled the oxtails for 5 minutes, following the bone broth recipe, added charred ginger and onions from the pho inspiration, and used more water than anyone said just because Significant Husband loves a not-too-strong broth.

It might turn out badly. In which case, I will probably feel annoyed, but will exercise our valuable strategy one more time, and Just Not Care, At Least Right Now.

Life is good, my friends, life is good. Have a wonderful weekend. I hope you have time for broth or its equivalent.

3 Public Service Announcements From And For The Privilege Community

she is ready to fly!

I thought I’d round up a some interesting bits that have come my way from the community.

1. Mark Defrates Jewelry, the makers of that pentangle talisman, are offering a 15% discount for Privilege readers. No code to enter, just email Pam (markdefrates (at) mac.com) and let her know you have bought or will be buying, and she’ll apply the discount on the back end. I wear my pentangle every day now.

2. On February 2nd, Sylvia of 40+ Style is starting up a course called 21 Steps To A More Stylish You. It’s interactive online, and, although I have not done it myself, looks to be fun. Sylvia, (who I met once for coffee in San Francisco although she lives in Singapore,) is a lovely person. I’m guessing that $25.00 for 3 weeks of her thinking and interactive tools would be well worth the price.

3. After I posted a few semi-coherent thoughts on artists, a reader sent me a link to Valerie von Sobel’s opening at Voilà Gallery in Los Angeles. Valerie is 70, that’s her up top with wings. A little inspiration for a winter Thursday. The show will run February 7th-March 7th.


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A Few More Shots Of My Mother’s House, Santa Barbara Casual Elegance Meets Swedish Folk Empire


A couple of you have referred to my mom’s house lately, and Leslie, the blogger at Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, asked for more photos, so I snapped a few when I last visited.

I’ve already showed you the living room, the guest house, a silver spoon, and the portrait of the 3 oldest kids that hangs in the master bedroom. This time we’ll start in the kitchen. The kitchen window, to be precise, with sunrise, and reflections.


The kitchen sitting room, if that’s an an actual thing, also at sunrise. The brick fireplace was in place when mom and my stepfather moved in, they had the saltillo tiles installed throughout public areas of the ground floor. You see the extra height added to one of the little loveseats; my stepfather is tall.


The dining area, or nook, really, sits between the large living room and the kitchen. Which works well, since it’s both decorative and functional. Damn I love a good chandelier. The painting, lighting, clock and table are all Swedish. The chest of drawers is from Mom’s side, whether English or American I do not know. By the way, we never pass food through that window.


Down the hall, Mom’s chaise longue in the master bedroom. She’s set up a similar perch in every house she’s lived in since, um, 1965 at least. Swedish folk art on the walls, mohair throw on the chaise.


Let’s go upstairs. How about one of the the guest rooms? Or at least its wall? Framed Alice in Wonderland illustrations.


And bedding? I rather like the lace shams against a green and gray-blue floral duvet.



From the other guest balcony, one can survey Mom’s planters. They are somewhat meager these days, the drought regulations prevent outdoor water usage. Usually they’re full of hibiscus, geraniums, and sage.


And down the Hall of Infamy, another shot of our family photos by the dozens. A gallery wall, I guess we call it now.


Among the pictures, one of my mother’s mother, who we called Grandmama, sitting by the fire with little blond Mom and her brother and sister.


That really was their dog.

Up one final half flight of stairs, is Mom’s little office. Here she mixes red patterns. The gingham is fading.


And finally, in that same office, the story cabinet. Mom collected curios, and kept them here. The grandchildren were allowed to come and pick one in the evenings, and my mother would make up a story and tell it to them.


Thank you for the photo request. I realize that in the taking, I have also caught the place where I came with my children for more than 20 years. They remember Granny’s house as part of their lives, even though the grownups have grown forgetful. Mom meant to make a home and a space for her whole family, and she did it with a generous spirit and eye.


An Actual Room Of One’s Own, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:32am

I visited my mom this week. On the way to Santa Barbara, I stopped in the totally surprisingly adorable town of Los Olivos, to have lunch with Margy of Fool For Fabric. What a gift. You know when the universe offers you a token of future possible?

Margy is older than I am. She’s been working in her studio for years, in various modes of creation. Now she sews some pretty astonishing clothes. While I’m unlikely to sew or ever want to – I struggle with small motor coordination – the meta-concept of a studio, now that’s something.

I had always scoffed at a Room Of One’s Own. I have earned a good living: managed people, functioned independently. What use a solitary space? Hooray for post-oppression! But not all oppression is overt or external. Suppression tamps down an awful lot, solo.

High WASPs find creativity dangerous. My culture often marginalizes its artists, preferring that if they must “art,” that they do so while male. The unspoken code lists artists as messy, and prone to outbursts. Not excellent, in the way we appreciated, and not quite comprehensible.

Once I got to Santa Barbara, I took mom out. She’d given me a shopping trip as a Christmas present.

Lunch first. We sat, considering food. Tile floor, white tablecloth, windows to the street. She chose a turkey club, I, petrale sole. She wanted wine with lunch, agreed. On my phone, I showed her a rug I was considering for what has been my son’s room, and will now be my office. Or studio, conceptually.

Kathy Leeds, an artist I have come to know here on the blog, had recommended the rug maker. Dash & Albert. Kathy was recently chosen to show at Art Basel. Even my culture of origin would recognize her superior relationship with color.

Mom liked the rug. She exclaimed, happily. She was always the visual one in the family, the one with a sense of design and style. I shied away, I had my reasons.

After lunch we went to James Perse, where I discovered that this anorak wasn’t so great in person. So mom bought me the Harlequin Cotton. She has always been generous.

Another, perhaps the other, great gift of my life comes from my husband. I take early retirement as an opportunity to anneal my self. Hard doesn’t always mean brittle. I prefer a crystalline end to a dusty fade. Lava into obsidian, or, more tamely, an often salty solution into large, clear, cubes.

California Jeaning, North

Today une femme d’un certain âge and Lisa of Privilege are collaborating, each writing a post about the love we share for denim. We thought it might be fun to approach from the perspective of two Californians, one north, one south. Denim is our state’s unofficial uniform, after all.

In the past, it’s been said that women over 50 shouldn’t wear jeans. To which I reply, “Ha!”

Perhaps there is an age at which one puts denim aside, but it’s not 58. In the Northern Californian climate, denim is always comfortable and versatile. We alternate between classic and hipster, the SF Old World tradition coexisting with our counter-culture – which has become a tradition in its own right.

However, denim, more than most items of clothing, requires that you find the right fit. Physical and emotional. Style is 30% color and pattern, 30% geometry, 30% emotion. Since denim removes most of the variance in color and pattern, geometry and emotion play an even bigger role.

There are now so many brands, and so many versions of jeans in style, you can’t just say, “I’ll have the bootlegs please.” Here’s what to consider.

Physical Fit, Or, Geometry And Your Silhouette

  • Rise (high waist, mid-waist, low-waist)
  • Shape (skinny, bootleg, flared, wide leg)
  • Ankle show (a lot? a little? none?)
  • Fabric content (how much stretch?)
  • Wash and distressing (Light blue, dark blue, really dark blue. Little “whiskers,” big creases, little rips, big rips, none of the above.)
  • Details (seams, pockets)

Emotional Fit

Consider the components of fit in the social context. Your location, life circumstances, age and orientation.

  • How fancy are you? (Are you a formal person? Do you like to sparkle? Or do you prefer to hang out, under the radar? AKA Grande Dame or Sturdy Gal?)
  • How conventional? (How do you feel about protocol? About inhabiting the strata of society? AKA Artsy or Grande Dame?)

Wallet Fit

It is entirely possible to find good jeans for <$50. They’ll evince less “fashion”, but you can compensate with the rest of your outfit.

The Styling That Follows, Proportion And Balance

You could just pop on a t-shirt, of course. License to chill. But if you want more, here’s the rest of what it takes to make jeans an outfit.

  • Jackets (shape – boxy, fitted, or flowing –  and length, cropped, hip, or longer)
  • Shoes (toe shape – pointy, almond, or round – heft, and heel height)

Principles in Action

Here are some examples of how geometry, emotion, and styling play together, using afew new outfit posts, and a few from the archives.

In 2011, the first outfit I ever showed on the internet. What’s the emotional style? Conventional, as was appropriate in the days when I was still anxious about how I appeared here. Formal, for Northern California daytime.


I balanced broad shoulders with 7FAM bootlegs, added a long lacy layer under the short and boxy Chanel jacket, finished with pointy-toe flats to keep the line elegant. A reasonable strategy for the long of waist.

In 2012 I wore bootlegs in a different guise, the High WASP in her grandmother’s Harris Tweed.  Informal, but perhaps not quite myself.


These almond-toed pumps with boot details balanced the bulk of the turtleneck and the texture of the jacket.

And the same silhouette, evolved for work at a job where the only (unspoken) dress code was, as I have said, “You probably shouldn’t wear tattoos all over your face.”


Relying again on the proportions of a long jacket and boot-like shoes.

Shop For Bootlegs And Their Friends

Everyone has some kind of denim that they can’t abide, for one reason or another. While it’s true that skinnies have crossed all emotional boundaries, functional all the way from formal and conventional, to informal and alternative, they just don’t work for me. I’m going to call this look Conventional Informal.


And I’m also going to call it, “No thanks.” I like the rest of my body so why emphasize my upper thighs? And it’s not just a body image thing, it’s sense of self. I like the swagger of a baggy jean. No skinnies for me, but you go right ahead.

Shop For Skinnies And Pointy-Toe Flats

My style has continued to evolve towards the unconventional. Why I felt ready to bust out the inner biker here we’ll never know. With pearl studs.


But the look worked well, with a longish t-shirt layer, straight legs and some fairly hefty almost-pointy brogues.

Then I retired. Refused to wear tight pants ever again. Here’s how I wear my denim these days,  dressing “up” for a family dinner in Berkeley.


These are “fancy” boyfriend jeans, in that someone else faded them, and the silhouette narrows at the ankle. The shoes are what really give me any right to call this dressing up, my current favorites, Valentino “Tangos.” There’s an ankle strap, hiding.

Here’s how I wander the streets of San Francisco on a weekend morning.


Faded-of-its-own-accord wash boyfriend jeans, flat and amazingly comfortable cool shoes. This is how I get to dress like Grechen, by wearing Vince “Preston” slip-on sneakers. I nod to formality with old gold hoops, and a Bottega Veneta hobo.

Finally, and most recently, out for cocktails and dinner with a ridiculously creative young friend. As hipster as a middle-aged High WASP can go. Selvedge jeans from San Francisco’s Mission District. Big ol’ cuffs.


The biker jacket makes a happy return. High rise jeans are good for the long-waisted, pentangle talismans for those calling on their inner sorcerer.


As for shoes, if I dressed this way all the time, I’d buy some cage booties. I suppose I mean, “Cage booties, baby!” But for the occasional outing, that wide black strap on the ancient Paul Green pumps will suffice.


As does the industrial hardware on an equivalently ancient Marc Jacobs bag.

Shop For Boyfriends, From Tomboy To Fancy Badass

When evolving style boundaries, as in any growth process, experimentation is your friend. Denim is flexible enough to function as what we might fancifully call a set of beakers in the lab of style. Over the past 30 years I’ve iterated myself into a comfortable habitation of my home town.

As has une femme, in Los Angeles.


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Object Of Desire: A Simple Black Anorak

One of the best tricks I have to stay moderately stylish in retirement is to upgrade utilitarian pieces. If jeans, sneakers and tees have a little edge to them, I run far less risk of finding myself at the market dressed like a 12-year old boy.

Which has happened.

These days I’m thinking of replacing my 10-year old sporting goods jacket with a new anorak. Or parka. Do you think the word mys means different things? Let’s say no. In any case, anoraks have been so popular recently that they’re everywhere.

The easiest option is an army green field jacket, but I want something softer than my J. Crew, and I’d like it to be black or gray. I don’t need a down hood, I don’t want fur, and it doesn’t have to keep me warm below about 40 degrees. This one’s from a cool but pricey brand.



One of these might do too. An inkling more urban than Patagonia, North Face, Land’s End, etc.

What do you grab out of your hall closet for errands, particularly those done on foot? And how much, might be zero, does style quotient matter to you?


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Design With Courage, A Review Of “Simplicity” By Nancy Braithwaite


As I have said before, interior design scares me. What to wear? No problem. What to plant? Lots of suggestions. How to furnish a house? Yikes.

I’ll come right out and admit that ever since I decided to update my house I’ve been dithering – bedroom furniture, front doors, cushion colors for my living room – what to choose? So when I saw this book reviewed – somewhere – I clicked over to buy it so quickly I can’t remember who to thank for the recommendation.

In any case, thanks. I’m talking about Nancy Braithwaite’s manifesto Simplicity, on her interior designs. It’s large, full of images, beautifully presented, and currently occupying a place of substance on my coffee table.

The book is more than pictures, visually spectacular though it may be. Nancy details her guiding principles, or as she calls them, Design Elements.

  • Architecture
  • Composition (Her thoughts on repetition and symmetry, exemplified throughout the book, struck me particularly.)
  • Proportion and Scale (Again and again she uses few objects in surprising sizes, vs. multiple common objects, to make the aesthetic statement, to turn a room into art.)
  • Color
  • Pattern
  • Texture
  • Craftmanship

Although I imagine these terms are predictable to anyone versed in the field, I found them revelatory as a framework through which to experience Nancy’s rooms. Here, see how the contrast of the ornate chandelier shape against the straight-lined table is made richer by their similar textures.


And then the simple surprise of coral-lined curtains, the audacity of repeating the audacious color on so many cushions. Yes, I am repeating words. Might not work in writing as it does in design, but unless you break rules occasionally you never understand them.

nancy braithwaite

Reverence for a throw blanket, an embrace of things round, the glories of tall simple windows and their tall simple coverings.


I mean, I never thought I wanted metal sculptures on my bathroom wall but I was wrong. The biggest frog at the top, rather than the bottom, turns expectations – and amphibians – upside down.


However, this living room was the final hook in my heart. Do you guys notice all the white? Huh. And yet so rich, so warm. The peaceful plaid curtains? Peaceful Plaid – oxymoronic design for the win. How about Serene Abundance? I think that’s my phrase, guys. I think that’s what I want. The interior equivalent to Polished Tomboy.


Most of all, Nancy seems to have led me to understand the role of inspiration in home design. While I’d always been able to browse fashion and take away only what I needed, I found interior design overwhelming, and so could not abstract out my real choices from fantasy pictures.

I have no plans to replicate Nancy Braithwaite’s designs – don’t have the funds or the discipline. But she works with such bravery, I may be able to muster a little of her courage.


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