Is the Era of the “Perfect Home” Over?

by hookedonhouses on December 1, 2011

In her book The Perfectly Imperfect Home, Deborah Needleman declares, “The era of the perfect home has passed.” Seems natural that she would write a book about it, since she was the editor of the now-defunct shelter mag Domino, which really celebrated that concept.

There has definitely been a change in the way we see our homes over the past ten years. This is not news to those of us who read decorating blogs that pronounced perfection dead a long time ago.

The popular blog Nesting Place, for example, has the memorable tagline “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful,” and versions of that sentiment have been reverberating through the blogosphere for years.

But now the rest of the design world has taken notice and it’s official, I guess. We are moving past perfectly designed interiors and looking for something more meaningful in them.

“This is fortunate for two reasons,” Needleman writes. “One, because perfection is of course unattainable, and the other, because it is boring. A room decorated to within an inch of its life—where everything has provenance or is absolutely just so—feels self-important and static.”

Deborah Needleman

What strikes me is how this is part of an ongoing conversation between different decorating-personality types.

For a long time the “perfection seekers” were the leading voices in the discussion about design. If that’s your personality, then you want and appreciate guidelines. You’re more comfortable and less anxious if you know what is expected of you and your house. You don’t want to be told to “just make up what you want and go with it, even if it’s not perfect!” You want The Answers, and you want to do things right.

But now the more creative-leaning types are speaking up. They have fun breaking the rules. Their environments are constantly changing and evolving as they do. They like to put something ugly, weird, or unexpected into a space just to mix things up. They’re not afraid of bold color in unusual combinations. And they’re leading the decorating revolution.

A black nursery featured in Domino.

Needleman speaks for them when she says, “Style ought to be loose and easygoing, capacious and expansive, uplifting and amusing. If a room fails to put you at ease and welcome you, well, then, what is the point?”

A stuffed squirrel featured in Domino that makes me think of Funny Farm.

There’s no right or wrong personality type, and no right or wrong way to approach decorating your house. Maybe you need the rules so you can relax and feel like you did it “right” (I hear from readers like this every day, so I know you’re out there!).

But if you’re sick of trying to make your rooms look like someone else’s idea of how things should be and are ready to spread your creative wings, then your era has officially arrived.

Which “decorating personality” can you relate to more? Does all this talk about being creative and imperfect at home thrill you and get your creative juices flowing? Or are you scrambling to figure out the rules behind this new “imperfect look” so you can get it right?

Needleman’s book The Perfectly Imperfect Home is on shelves now. The Wall Street Journal has an excerpt from it: 10 Odd, Yet Essential, Elements of Style. (Photo at the top via Country Living. The rest via Domino.)

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Beth@UnskinnyBoppy December 1, 2011 at 9:27 am

Can I get an AMEN? The rules are out the window. I was never much of a rule keeper anyway. I’m glad I am around to decorate in this era. :)

Sue Betts December 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

A perfect home is a home that is YOU ( and your spouse or whoever shares your home with you). A perfect home is one that makes you feel happy and restful when you walk in. One style fits all is a NO NO. I am so not a ” country” person but I have friends who are and when I go to their homes, I feel happy because it is who THEY are.

I love your updates!!! Keep them coming::))

Have a wonderful Chrsitmas season everyone!!!!!

Sue Betts December 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

Sorry, I type too fast: CHRISTMAS::))

Jen December 1, 2011 at 9:32 am

Great Post!

Diana December 1, 2011 at 9:46 am

The perfect home has always been a dreamy ideal mostly for decorators and designers. And real people have always lived in real homes without seeking perfection. Decorators and designers should not stop seeking perfection. The rest of us can enjoy their perfection in a room or design, a new layout, use, format, idea, or trend. Trust me, we’ll know that OUR rooms will not be models for magazines, but we’ll have taken the best of your design and decor and incorporated into our real life and our real house. There’s always room for perfection. Because even when you design a so-called imperfect room, it is not the imperfection we aim to find and incorporate into our homes and lifes and rooms……it’s the rest of it.

Miss Em December 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

I wholeheartedly agree. I prefer to live with what I love, instead of necessarily following the latest fad. I see a lot of those fads in some design blogs though. They’re all the same trendy color and have all the same proper accessories. In 2020, those fads will be viewed the same way we see country blue and mauve now.

Ricki Jill Treleaven December 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

I am a perfectionist. But I am also creative and a little bit odd….

I admit that I do miss the prettiness of the eighties (Mario Buatta’s elegant and pretty rooms). And I am not a fan of the industrial look because I think it makes most rooms look cold and ugly.

*But* if that’s what folks want and love, and it makes their nest right for them, so be it!

I have not seen this book in person yet. It was recommended to me by Barnes & Noble.

Nice post, Julia!

Janice December 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

Part of what made/makes the “perfect” rooms done by decorators/ designers is they do a whole room all at once. Most of us don’t decorate that way. Not only can we not afford to buy a whole room of new stuff all at once (even if we could find what we wanted all at one time), part of the joy of decorating your own space is the search and putting things together with what we already own. All the matchy matchy fabrics that were designed to work together always lacked life, somehow. They were just that – too perfect. Too done.

Although, there is a Domino style, one that we see in a lot of blogs, that is quite distinct and we will look at them in a few years and be glad to break from that mold too.

Amanda French December 1, 2011 at 10:18 am

I don’t feel like much of a rule keeper either… and I like to change it up every so often so that the space feels different than before! I think what feels good, welcoming, and comfortable for each individual should be the concepts they bring into their home- not what others tell them to do regardless of what is “trending”.

Debbie England December 1, 2011 at 10:27 am

I never think of a home as being “perfect” or “inperfect” but rather a reflection of the personality of the person who lives there. Therefore you will always find original art on the walls in every one of my rooms, books and a comfortable place to read them, pictures of my children and friends, antiques because I am a history buff, something from my time living in Japan; all the things that represent me and who I am! There is nothing more boring to me than to go into someone’s house and everything perfectly matches! But maybe that is a statement in and of itself! For me, there is nothing more complimentary than for someone to tell me I have a beautiful home and in the same breath say how comfortable they feel in it.

Karena December 1, 2011 at 11:05 am

It is just so much more interesting to find unique pieces and mix it up! If you love it, get it and it will more likely than not fit in and add to the allure of your space! I think perfection is really unattainable unless you are OCD and then you make yourself crazy anyway!

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Claire December 1, 2011 at 11:08 am

I commented the other day on the Christmas houses post that The Family Stone house is my favorite, and it’s because of it’s imperfections. That house is lived in, and that’s what I want for my own home. There is a 90% chance that a pile of laundry can be found in my bedroom; you’re almost certain to find at least a spoon sitting in the sink (I have a tea problem); the blankets on the couch stay folded as long as it takes to descend the stairs from the dryer to the couch. I want a comfortable home, surrounded by the things that make me happy. To me, that’s a perfect home.

pam kueber December 1, 2011 at 11:24 am

Yup, those granite countertops don’t look so enticing when you are upside down on your mortgage. Duh. Beware the Marketeers who want you to constantly *hate* the old and luv the new. Love the House You’re In.

Julie December 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Ha! So true.

DERealtor December 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

I agree with her principles that rooms do not have to be perfectly decorated to be beautiful, HOWEVER, after looking at the pictures featured in Domino, I now see why the magazine is defunct. The black nursery is hideous. Not because of the color but because of the details (toys on the mantel, clutter at the base etc.). Design principles exist because certain visuals are pleasing. You can stray from them, but to throw them out the window is to have visually unappealing chaos. I’m sure some folks will like that, different strokes for different folks, but when it comes time to sell that house, it needs to be appealing to the masses.

Kelly @ JAX does design December 1, 2011 at 11:40 am

My home most definitely is NOT perfect, and I wouldn’t want it to be. But I’m not on the totally imperfect bandwagon either. I find that a lot of the rooms that people gush over just don’t appeal to me because they’re too much of a mish-mash, sometimes bordering on what looks like a complete mess. There’s imperfect, and then there’s what the heck were they thinking?! I like a room that’s well designed and thought out, and also has character and some fun and/or unexpected elements and looks lived in and loved. But a taxidermy squirrel in a cloche? Not so much!

Jessica December 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I agree with your sentiments. I’m between the two extremes. :-)

LeAnn December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

I actually just ordered this book, one for me and one for my daughter for Christmas. I love breaking the rules, I think that’s why I love Emily Henderson and the Novogratzs, anything goes. I can’t wait to look at the book.

Maddie December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Wow, her ten essentials really distilled my style. I think that you should walk into a room and say “I love that, and that, and that, and that, etc.” I remember my gypsy days when I moved almost every year, and as soon as I put my things in an empty box of a room, I felt at home.

Patience December 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I’m definitely in the camp that likes things imperfect. With four children, how could I be otherwise?! The book looks interesting.

Susie December 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The irony of the whole thing is (DERealtor excepted), that many, many people thought the many of the rooms in Domino were pretty darn perfect. (Even if you didn’t love them all, there are still so many that were awesome.) I think this is a trick question… what is our idea of perfection? Needleman says that we shouldn’t try to make things “perfect”, I think what she’s really saying is that we should reorient our notion of perfection in interiors to something that is comforting, visually interesting, and, in my opinion, has a certain artful sloppiness to it. (Does anyone remember that none of the beds in Domino were ever made?) BUT, that is still trying to make it “perfect”, it is just giving a different idea of what counts as perfect.

laney December 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm

…ugly for the sake of drawing attention will never be beautifully imperfect…it will just be ugly…

Amanda @ Serenity Now December 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Oooh, I love the title of that book. Needs to go on my Christmas list. :)

amy good house December 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I think the idea of what was perfect THEN is different than the idea of what is perfect NOW.

In the past the emphasis was on things being NEW and MATCHING.
Now home design seems to focus on things being REPURPOSED, UNIQUE, HANDMADE, AUTHENTIC.

It’s just different rules, not necessarily no rules.
For the record I like the new rules better :)

shabbychick December 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

As one who has a background in Interior Design, I can appreciate a perfect magazine spread, and staging for a photo shoot or for selling a home are a necessary evil…to sell magazines. Or homes. Perfection sells. People love to try to attain something that is out of reach (i.e. plastic surgery?). However, that is not how we LIVE in our homes and I think people are realizing that it’s ok to have perfect imperfection. When raising kids our homes are often a mess, and our homes need to be comfortable, so what if it’s a bit dusty? One of my pet peeves on TV decorating shows is when they fill a room with impersonal decor in order to “neutralize” and make it appeal to the masses. The way we decorating our homes should reflect the people who live there, so why not make it our own? Make it perfect for YOU!

yuawin February 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

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Kim December 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm

What a great sounding book. To me what makes a home is one that is warm and inviting. I care less if my house was spotless.

Arie @ The Ugly Barn Farm December 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm

My house is perfect because it’s perfect for me and my family. It’s imperfect because it houses a lot of imperfect people around here. I really don’t know what camp I would be in. I hope neither actually. I don’t follow trends or fads. If I like how something looks, I don’t care what others think, and I definitely don’t care if it doesn’t follow suit with the rest of my house. There is enough unhappiness in the world, our homes should be a place of comfort that brings us joy, no matter if the material things within it are perfect or imperfect.
But then again, what do I know?…. I’m not trying to sell a book. ;)

Dina December 1, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I’ve always been a Wabi-Sabi girl myself. Perfection just makes people look harder for imperfections, and when they find it they pounce.

Destiny December 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm

My house is eclectic in that it is full of things that I love, things that make me happy; things that I want to surround myself with.

I have a dear friend who has been known to say, “I don’t exactly know what your style is, but I love it!” (She’s purely traditional southern living in her decorating, and she does not stray from it.)

The last time a new friend came over she said, “Oh … I love your home. It looks just like you!” I live in a simple, southern split level, and not a McMansion of epic proportions, so it was my home and not my “house” that she was enamored with.

It was the best compliment I’ve gotten in a long time. (Especially since she wasn’t invited, she just stopped by and found me puttering in my pjs.)

Then she said, “Tell me the story of that spoon on your living room wall. I KNOW there is a story!” (She was right. It was a piece of silver from the church I attended as a child, was baptized in as a teen and got married in as a young adult. That silver was replaced by the church in the 80′s, and I inherited two pieces of the original silver when I got married. LOVE!) She then wanted to know, “How do you keep it on the wall?” For the next half hour, I followed her around as she asked question after question and it was just the sweetest unexpected visit.

Love, comfort and warmth is in the details…

Katherine December 2, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Here, here, Shabbychick! Agree completely.

Lisa December 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I feel like as I’ve grown, matured (and had a couple kids) I am way less focused on appearing perfect as a person. And this has translated to our home as well. I really used to want a “perfect” house (think Pottery Barn style for me) and while I do love watching HGTV and reading blogs like yours, I am just over perfection. It is just exhausting. Our house could use so much more decorating but I am starting to focus more on significant and comfortable, than visually beautiful and perfect. I’d rather take time to find things that I love and do it once, the way I love it, than choose everything out of a catalog, get it and just feel “eh” about it.

Carolyn December 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Though it may look good in a magazine, a perfectly ‘done’ room is usually not all that comfortable, inviting, or interesting. Though I’ve worked in interior design and seen some awful rooms where the client really needed help, I believe that a house should reflect the owner’s life and loves, not the dictates of a designer or a showcase of the latest trend. So, I love seeing a home with interesting and unique accessories, artwork, and antiques that speak of the individuals who live there. I hate seeing a house decorated with cheap trendy accessories or knock-offs from Home Goods and the like that you see everywhere. A home should make you feel relaxed and comfortable while reflecting your interests and what you find meaningful. With kids and pets, I long ago gave up the idea of keeping a perfect house. Life is too short! However, a totally messy, chaotic, or dirty room is not comfortable.

Julie December 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Thanks Julia, for another great, thought-provoking post. Maybe I’m of both schools. Beautiful as they may be, I don’t like a room that clearly looks like a designer was used. I love rooms that look like real people live there, and use them, a lot!. Yes, perfectly imperfect! By the same token, I always want to strangle those creative types who say, “Just go with what you love. It will all come together if it speaks to you.” Baloney! We’ve all seen some of those rooms, and thought, “..and they think this looks good!…”In other areas of our life, we trust the judgment of others who through study and experience have developed a feel or level of expertise and confidence from years of repetition and practice. I trust this when I go to the doctor, to get a haircut, or a great meal in a restaurant. I don’t feel bad about myself that I’m not an expert at everything. But, in our homes, we somehow are made to feel that we should know how to make it beautiful. Well, we do to some extent, because we live there, but we shouldn’t feel bad to want some input from people who either professionally, or as a time-consuming hobby (maybe many of your readers), have developed an eye for the basic design principles that work in a home. I love it when someone I trust can help me see my place with fresh eyes, and I love to be able to do the same for others, when asked. In fact, it’s usually the folks who have studied decorating or design for years, and don’t recognize the expertise they have developed, that are the ones who tell us to go with what we love. The best of both worlds, is to have some good advice every so often, from someone who knows us, and our hopes and dreams for our home, and through a fresh perspective, can offer some inspiration. In the absence of that, I think that’s why we house aficionados love collecting, either through Pinterest or tearing out magazine pages, pictures of those rooms that look us, or like what we want to create in our own lives. I love this quote from Needleman’s book: “Embracing imperfection does not mean anything goes. It means beauty tempered by reality. If real life involves some mess, idiosyncrasy, memory and experience, then so too should decorating.”

Mia December 5, 2011 at 8:35 am

I agree….perfection has never been attainable or comfortable. While my opinion is that the Novogratz’s “designs” are the worst-ever, just too all-over the place and way too junky, on the other end of the scale are Candace Olson’s rooms. Hers, while beautiful, are perfect perfect perfect and just too unlivable. How many times have we heard her client say, “Nobody will be allowed in here.” To me, that makes all of them bad designers! Of the TV designers, Sarah Richardson does interesting, comfortable, livable designs because she mixes old and new, and does not shoot for “perfection.” Instead, she aims for “just right” – even though she’s really getting high end with her fabrics and some choices lately. Thanks for your posts, Julia! They keep me interested! -Mia

khiori December 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I feel as though this simply a return to the original decorating precepts (worded slightly differently) that I learned back in the 1970′s. When one learned decorating out of books, updated ever so slightly less often than the internet. In other words, classic precepts. Oh, and add American crocheted lace to the “ethnic” fabrics!

Karen December 12, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I agree too that perfection is neither attainable or comfortable. I also believe that a house should reflect the owner’s life and loves, not the dictates of a designer or a showcase of the latest trend. It should reflect the interests of the homeowner and what appeals to them. My home is a mix of old and new and while that might garner criticism from some people, it’s my home and truthfully it is none of their business. If I’m happy with it that should be all that matters. They have the right to decorate their own place to suit their tastes as they see fit. I once had a real estate agent suggest to me to get rid of a priceless antique after I told her that my furniture wouldn’t fit into the tiny apartment that she was trying to sell me. Guess who I got rid of? I’ve had similar insensitive commentaries from other people who don’t like antiques. Well they should keep their opinions to themselves. If they did they may see a definite improvement in their relationships and maybe then they’d be less inclined to pursue illusions.

NJ Cellulose Insulation Contractor January 5, 2012 at 11:49 am

I think people still want to perfect their homes, just in their own creative and unique ways.

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