I have always been drawn to the details. The way the sun falls through a window alighting the dust into glitter, the way two people hold hands with one finger misaligned, the striped ribbon on a huge bouquet of hastily clipped garden hydrangeas as a hostess gift. There is a sense of discovery around finding little details. Details don’t scream at you, they whisper and feel like little gifts. Looking for details slows you down and can help locate you solidly in the moment. The details are what make me fall in love… with a moment, a place, a person, life’s beauty – all of it.
I am a Virgo – they say this adds to my passion for detail. Being that it is our birthday month, I suggest to all who love a Virgo that detail means thoughtfulness. Consideration. I deeply appreciate the ability to lavish attention on the small things and take equal or more amounts of joy from them. We Virgos are good at this. If you are bestowing a gift on a Virgo, consider the paper, the note card, the ink it is written with. We promise to appreciate this. We love beautiful things from nature and from the heart.
When I travel I love to get lost in the details. Getting out of my usual rhythms allows space to notice all the exceptional small things. My husband thinks I am crazy when I swoon over the perfect cappuccino – noting the sugar that melted perfectly, the high frothy foam and translucent china cup. He didn’t realize I was also breathing in the gifts the universe provided in the perfect small table in the shade, the waning sun, the exquisite piece of strawberry torte and small pieces of gold leaf floating down from the sky while we took an afternoon break at the Prada Foundacion in Milan last fall. (They were re-leafing the walls.) So many exquisite details colliding – it was magic! Or the way my young son gripped my hand, eyes like saucers, as we watched teenage lions play with an ostrich egg in Kenya. My kids support my claim, as five years later they will randomly throw some small detail of that Africa trip into conversation. When I think of the blind date on which I met my future husband, it’s the smell of the August rain on hot asphalt I recall, the taste of the greasy burgers and the fiery way the side of his hand brushed mine sitting on the bus. The east end of Long Island is full of so many small wonders. I recall being very young, the cold hard pebbles under my feet and the shock of the Atlantic as we fell into the ocean for the first swim of summer. These moments stay with me, and I venture a guess they will be with me as I am very old shuffling through the treasured moments of my life.
I love food and sharing meals. The simplest details can add immeasurably to the experience. Large linen napkins, for instance, are so much nicer than too small paper ones. When I make my afternoon tea I delight in the china cup and saucer I choose. Each time I reach for a knife I appreciate the smooth detailed bone handle someone made by hand. When cooking I use the best ingredients I can, and have found others also notice and appreciate them. I recently spent an afternoon at a lovely luncheon where all the elements were considered. From the wagon used to pull the food from the kitchen to the gorgeous barn setting, the layout of the table, the farm fresh food and the chilled champagne it was exquisite, yet simple. The host also thought about the mix of people sharing this meal (always an important detail!) whom I am sure each found their own deep appreciation of her beautifully considered choices. The best part is that each of us tends to connect with different details and can share them with each other.
Often I think the simplest way to find the best anything is to look for those who tend to the details. The details make all the difference. When hiring an architect, I try to convey my hope to partner with someone who, like me, will focus attention on the way the wall meets the floor. It’s the little things that matter on a daily basis such as where you place your cup when settled in your favorite chair or having the blanket you curl under be the right weight and softness. I take such joy in appreciating these seemingly small moments, which for me add up to living life well. The big whooshing world seems too much most of the time. The small moments of kind words, the smile when you really need it- those are what fill my heart.
I want to be clear that details are far from being about perfection. In fact, it’s usually the imperfections that grab me by the gut. The asymmetry. The little boy missing his three front teeth. I love stumbling on cracked paint in ancient homes revealing the old color hidden underneath. Nature is the best example of this. Find a spider web, admire the detail and note the many imperfections and asymmetry – not to mention the big spider. Or notice the way a verdant vine will wander around corners and even into windows, breaking them on their way. Imperfect small details emanating beauty abound, and I love the way it slows me down to notice all this.
Wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic view centered on beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, is a wonderful example of this. I love the patina that occurs earned over time through living. The perfectly scratched ebony floor from a happy dog running circles. The well loved stuffed bunny who has been loved to ruins. I try to cultivate space for imperfect details in my work and living. When something is broken, or turns out differently from the way I planned, I try to revel in that. I’ll often repair or solve the issue by adding a new cherished detail. I have beautiful denim window seats. I chose the denim for its properties of fading and wearing well. What I didn’t expect was how quickly it might rip under my dogs claws… I plan to stitch up the tear with silver thread and enrich this accident by turning a hole into a detail I love to live with.
As a designer, details are my calling card. They are, in fact, what inspire me to design. When the details of your living or working environments are just right it can create a sense of space that allows for joy and love – a sense of belonging. Just right does not mean perfect by any stretch – it means something that resonates. I believe the details help that happen. I designated a whole section of Fine Concepts to the details of my work. I felt my website should share not only the finished spaces, but also the bits and pieces that are the magic behind the unique homes I help create.
I broke down my design site Details section into Collections, Grounds, Illumine, Materiel and Texture. Design is largely visual of course, but I also focus on the interplay of details that are appreciated by the other senses. While each project needs good bones and a careful plan, the details make it sing and remain true to the homeowners style. Collections have soul. They have a visual and emotional strength, telling you volumes about the people living there. People tend to collect because there is a detail that has captured them. Our feet give us tons of information. Not to mention the yogic thought that they ground us and place us firmly in the world, hence the name for the next section, Grounds. I spend a lot of time considering the right surfaces for floors – there are so many incredible options. Imperfection feels nice underfoot. I adore one linen carpet for its patches, embroideries and lumpy weave. Doctors will tell you that an uneven floor is easier on the body as all the small muscles will work to calibrate balance with each small shift, which is why uneven reclaimed stone feels better than poured cement. All choices, and things to be considered. I also pay attention to how the details feel and play off each other, which is true also when considering Texture. Texture is visual and tactile. Nature is layer after layer of detailed texture so I conclude that living places feel best when textured as well – nature being the best teacher any of us have. When repurposing a metal kitchen table for a desk, I considered that writing on metal doesn’t always feel great. So we layered a thin leather skin over the old table and presto – the experience of writing was transformed. Lighting was important enough a detail that I wrote a whole blog on it already. I called it Illumine in my detail section as it illuminates the details! Finally, Materiel. Again, multiple senses are activated by this detail and each of us have preferences, so I love to figure out what my clients respond to. What details matter in the feel of a handle, or does the click of a switch feel right? How will metals patina over time, should walls be waxy or matte? The choice of materials are endless… that is what is drives my joy of design. All the possibilities and stories to tell through the smallest details! My reward is when a client, months or years after a project concludes, reaches out and shares that they just discovered some tiny detail and asks if I intended it. I love that, and heck yeah, it was intentional.
All our senses pick up detail – so why not use them fully and appreciate all they offer? The scent of honeysuckle in spring by the side of the road. The tart taste of a crisp apple. The smell of your child’s neck after a long day at the beach. The feel of a beloved persons hand on your back.
Perhaps you can tune in to the details this last week of summer. I promise you they will astonish you and leave you with wonder for the beauty of our world. If we can see the multitude of natural details that are amazing, and yet, surround us each day, I think our experience will be richer. It’s all there – all we have to do is tune in.