We are finally home from a whirlwind trip to Indiana to visit my family…I suppose any nearly 1,000 mile trip with four children in a minivan is a major event. Make that four children and one husband. Not that I care to go anywhere without him, but he does add to the mix!
In actuality, we had a wonderful trip and enjoyed many special moments together as a family, whether just the six of us (not sure if “just” and “six” really go together?) at the children’s museum or in the van playing the alphabet game (again…), or all together with my parents and brother at a favorite restaurant or the amusement park. There was of course the occasional rough patch when the children were tired and cranky, or Elisabeth’s trip to the emergency room due to contact dermatitis, or Faith’s bout with croup that had us canceling plans with friends more than once in an attempt to avoid passing along any germs. However, all in all, it was a huge success, with many hours spent catching up with friends and family.
I sat more than once in a new favorite coffee shop eating crepes and lemonberry cake with marscapone cheese filling, sipping my creme brulee latte and reflecting on the effect the cozy setting had on me. Settling in to a comfortable leather side chair, I basked in the ambience of soft lighting, gleaming hardwood floors, beautiful and interesting art work, soft rugs, and a fun array of fixtures and decor ranging from piles of old books to antique cameras and an old library catalog whose drawers now hold packets of sugar and coffee stirrers.
When I find myself in such a place, the interior designer in me is awakened and the wheels in my head start spinning madly as I imagine endless combinations of paint colors, furniture, lighting, and decorations and try to picture the result in my own home. I spent much time while I was away planning changes I’d like to make upon my return, preparing to pull out the paintbrush the moment we pulled into the driveway.
However, something happened to slow me down. (Note I didn’t use the word “stop”…just “slow”!!)
While away, we were in at least five different houses, as varied in size and style as their inhabitants were from one another in personality and family dynamic. Only one inspired me with ideas on the level of style and design, and yet this one was most lacking in warmth and life simply due to the fact that the owner lives alone and is never home, though we greatly enjoyed our visit with her.
The other homes had one or more rooms that featured shabby or outdated decor. Mismatched furniture. Peeling paint. Piles of stuff here and there. But I took away a valuable lesson from each one. Like the big farmhouse full of love and gracious speech and the smell of homemade bread as we shared a meal with a large homeschooling family. Or the small house tucked away in a quiet and friendly neighborhood on the outskirts of a city with it’s bright yellow living room, quirky restaurant booth in the kitchen, and large covered deck with funny mismatched outdoor seating where we enjoyed a relaxed meal off the grill and where my children played in a treehouse, pelting each other with water balloons before being whisked off for a ramble through the woods.
I realized two things. That my home is well-kept and nicely decorated (given limitations of time and budget), and that no matter how many improvements I make to it, the atmosphere of my home will depend most on the warmth and generosity of my family’s hospitality. Would I like to have the best of both worlds? Sure! But if I, with my well-trained eye and snooty refined tastes can be impressed by warm hospitality to such an extent that I can see past harvest gold laminate countertops and colorless walls haphazardly decked with “art” lacking in both beauty and interest, then I am certain that no measure of remodeling or redecorating, no paint color or club chair, no lighting or landscaping, will ever have as much impact on my guests as smiles and laughter and hugs and great conversation can have when offered generously without ceremony.
So tidy up a little, prepare a simple meal, and don’t stress about the tear in the couch and the pile of shoes by the door. Greet guests with a smile and extend grace to each soul that enters, for the atmosphere that you create goes so far beyond paint and pictures, and is at its best and brightest when it originates with a loving spirit, spilling over to every corner of your home. Nourishing body and soul far surpasses merely inspiring a guest with a decorating idea. Leave that for HGTV.