Every year about now, I look back at what I learned — sometimes the hard way — during the previous dozen months through writing this column. I review the advice gleaned from others who know more than I do and sift out the best lesson from each month. I distill it down, and serve it up in two parts, in a 12-lessons-for-Christmas kind of way.
Here are my top takeaways from the first half of 2013:
• In January, a Los Angeles designer taught me that the most important room in the house may be … the closet. “It's where we spend the first and last moments of our day,” said Lisa Adams, founder of LA Closet Design. “This highly used space needs some respect, but closets gets shorted by builders who shove in a rod and a shelf and call it finished.”
To bring the closet of the closet, Adams said to decorate it like it's part of the house. Paint it a great color or put up wallpaper, add handsome moldings, hang a great light fixture, and the tip that changed my life: Stuff your purses with those air-filled plastic packing pillows, to give them structure, so they stand up and don't collapse on the shelf.
Lesson: Turn your closet into a chic boutique — a store with clothes just for you where you want to go shopping every day, said Adams.
• In February, I learned the finer points of choosing something every home has: a sofa. “Our industry has done a really poor job of educating customers about how to pick a sofa,” said Regenia Payne, creative director for Taylor King Furniture, in North Carolina. It's a big decision to get wrong.
We covered function, length, height, style, detailing, fill, and then, most eye opening, arm style. “Sofa arms, more than any other feature, declare its style,” Payne taught me. Stuffed rounded (called sock arms) go in laid-back casual interiors, such as cottages or country homes. Structured, rectangular arms work best in transitional or modern spaces. Curved arms lean Old-World traditional. Clean-lined wooden arms look Mid-Century. I never knew this.
Lesson: When choosing a sofa, be color blind. Though color is often the first decision most customers make, it should be the last.
• In March, I began the emotional journey of clearing out my elderly parents' home of nearly 50 years, and my childhood home. Given a choice between this task or performing surgery on myself, I'd opt for surgery. But I didn't have a choice. I wrote about the process for months. (To the many readers who asked for this series of columns, the book is coming. Promise!) Torn between the practical need to clear out the house to get it on the market, and the desire to be a good steward of my parents' belongings, I called on estate experts, garage sale gurus, antiques appraisers, and my own heart.
Lesson: Among the many bits of wisdom I acquired was this from “Antiques Roadshow” antiques appraiser Gary Sullivan: Age does not confer value. Age — specifically being 100 years old or more — makes an item an antique. But to be a valuable antique, the item has to also be rare and desirable, Sullivan said. Most people greatly overestimate value. This helped me let go.