It took me a great while to appreciate simplicity. As I mentioned here, I wasn’t born with an inherent love of minimalism. I grew up around my parents’ luxurious holiday parties – which included crystal wine glasses, hors d’oeuvres and caterers wearing black satin bowties carrying polished silver trays – and grand lawn parties – hosting not only guests but horseshoe, bocce ball, and volleyball courts, a live DJ, mixed drinks served by yours truly, and valet parking (the valet tended to be my sister, Samone) – thrown for reasons as widespread as church get-togethers, annual work celebrations, and birthday parties. It sounds like the West Egg opulence only truly existing within the pages of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel (perhaps that’s why – in my subconscious mind – that my posh kitten, who enjoys the finest of kitty foods and a whole basket-load of handmade catnip toys, should be and is rightfully named Gatsby…).
My new simple and sustainable lifestyle has helped me slow down after the fast living of my own slice of Fitzgerald’s West Egg experience. While I couldn’t be more in-step with Jordan Baker at my parents’ parties (“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”), I am not yet ready to entertain the way they are able to. I did inherit my parents’ excitement to play host, however. Every time a friend comes over for wine after work, a quick bite to eat, or a get-together with several other people, it is a time to polish the glassware, break out the locally handmade servingware, clean up house, and whip up something eclectic in the kitchen. It all breaks down to this; I’ve developed a keen sense of style when it comes to the items I keep in my kitchen that I enjoy showcasing. I am proud of my space, and I want my friends, family, and visitors to savor the time they spend here.
I am a great admirer of Apartment Therapy (if you haven’t seen their blog, you can check it out here). I have their book Complete + Happy Home that gives me inspiration whenever I open it. They are lovers of the open-style kitchen (and so am I) with opulent decoration and collections of vintage items heaped stylishly on every surface yet remaining uncluttered. The styles they showcase in that book remind me of an East Egg-like lavishness that vies with my parents’ large West Egg-styled home complete with vaulted ceilings, polished granite counters and dishes hidden behind custom-designed water glass. (Here I sit, in the Valley of Ashes [that hopeful connector between East and West Egg], hoping to make something of myself in Sunrise Spot.) My kitchen has cabinets rather than the open design so coveted by Apartment Therapy fans, and my cabinets are simple wooden ones (which I’ve recently slathered in a new coat of non-VOC paint) rather than glass-paned, but I like to furnish my kitchen as though everything is constantly on display. When I open my cabinets, I like to see order and simplicity. There is never too much stuff filling up the space, and everything – in my opinion – is lovely. Going back to the roots of what my journey to simplicity has been about, if I don’t find the object to be beautiful, there is no reason for me to have it. Just as I mentioned in my previous post about my closets in Sunrise Spot, I like for the things hidden away in my cabinets to contain a lovely surprise, as well as a utilitarian space. For me, a lovely surprise is my blue sea glass vase tucked away amongst the wine glasses and a glass jar of coffee beans nestled between the homemade granola and a jar or two of JIF Extra Crunchy (stashed away for diet-breaking occasions).
On special occasions, that sea glass vase is filled with flowers and placed on our dinner table with a candle or two for a romantic dinner for two, or that glass jar of coffee beans has a sticky note on it with a love note to start Sawyer’s morning off on the right foot. These objects, hidden away in my cabinets, always manage to please me when I open my cabinets for the everyday implements necessary for mealtimes. Not everything beautiful needs to be set out for visiting eyes to see, and I take pleasure in knowing that these small contrivances are meant for Sawyer and I to enjoy simply because they remind us of each other, and good times shared over food and drink.
I am in the phase between swapping out my college belongings with my more mature purchases – handmade bowls, plates, tumblers, crafted by local artists and built to last a lifetime of hard work while also making my space more beautiful. To return to my favorite William Morris quote: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
As you can see here, I am phasing out my plain and simple white bowls (bought at TJ Maxx for $9.99 for my dorm room in 2010) with handcrafted Jeremy Ayers stoneware bowls (just two more to go for a complete set!).
There is something about handcrafted, locally-made objects that beckon me. For one, I know for certain that Jeremy Ayers is at the Burlington Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning, rather than in a manufacturing factory in China or India. My new bowls (among many new additions to my kitchen) did not travel thousands of miles, literally a half a world away, to be happily tucked away in my kitchen, taking up my precious space and lengthening my carbon footprint. I like to find local craftspeople to celebrate in my kitchen and during my gatherings.
I have had many friends ask me why I would, for example, buy more expensive bowls when I already have a great set that does the work they were intended for. I think that is a justifiable question and definitely something worth noting here: I enjoy beautiful things. I was an art student and continue to be an admirer of beauty, so when I find a local artist who is making such beautiful, utilitarian pieces, I cannot resist. In my mind, there is no better use for money than to spend it on happiness, and beauty brings me happiness, each and every day. There are three questions I ask myself before bringing something new into my home: 1) does it do work?, 2) is it beautiful?, and 3) is it replaceable? Obviously, most objects are replaceable – but I’m speaking along the lines of the next 10 or so years. Both Sawyer and I have agreed that the Jeremy Ayers bowls are worthy of occupying our space for the next decade. Not only are these bowls appreciated for their utility, loveliness and projected endurance, they are also a small part of the story of my relationship with Sawyer (and vice-versa), an anecdote of our life together thus far. They are, to me, priceless pieces.
As you can see, I do have an affinity for mugs. A handful of these mugs were gifts, given to us when we moved into Sunrise Spot together, or as holiday or birthday gifts, but the majority of these were from the collection that Sawyer and I had stockpiled throughout the years. This particular mug saw me through my senior year thesis on the practical application of Charles Baudelaire’s flaneur to newly discovered street photographer Vivian Maier’s work (what I’m trying to say here is I spent many a late night up with a mug of strong tea, my laptop, and research spread across at least three desks in the library).
Despite it’s cracks and chips, I couldn’t bear to part with it; it saw me through an impressive accomplishment in my life and marks a special milestone for me. Not only that, but it still holds an impressive cup of tea twice a week. What Sawyer and I have decided for our move to Philadelphia is a simple, utilitarian one: we will part with all mugs that we do not have in rotation at least once a week. This has worked out perfectly thus far, as we have begun weeding out those mugs that are less-loved and have found new homes for them with our friends.
All-in-all, I don’t think the opulence of my parents’ West Egg-styled parties was completely lost on me. I enjoy the grandeur of my simple, hardworking objects. There are many differences between myself and my parents – age, occupation, pay grade, and general wisdom being a few of them – but their appreciation of beauty has definitely helped shape the woman I am today, and therefore held some inspiration as to how Sunrise Spot has come to be the way it is. I couldn’t be happier with my tiny apartment and the happy slew of belongings that Sawyer and I share. The simplicity of my kitchen cabinets embodies my journey toward a simple lifestyle – a slow life with time to stop and smell the flowers in a sea glass vase.