A few weeks ago, former Associate Editor of British ELLE Decoration and Top Design judge Amanda Talbot sent me a heartfelt note with a link to her new book, Rethink: The Way You Live. She thought it might resonate with me, as I’ve slowly morphed into this odd, thinky design blog where I’m asking a lot of questions, searching for answers and trying to figure out how design applies to my life now. I don’t know if I’ve properly put this into words here, but I’m in this weird space where I see so much value in design, but am also seeing a lot of the cost. Consumerism, materialism, keeping-up-with-the-Jones-ism. I mean, these concepts have been around for years, yes. But for some reason, I’m feeling the weight of it in a bigger way. Something in my heart is stirring…
It’s inconvenient for a design blogger to feel this way. I’ve made a living uncovering trends and sharing products and labeling things as “must-haves” and “statement makers.” And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I still love doing it. I’m fascinated with discovering new designs that change the rules, new artists that struggle for their passions – and yes, every now and then, just a pretty dress. I mean, come on. I’m still pinning like a crazy person. I’m adding to the noise.
How do you even rectify that situation? How many times will I promote excessive spending in the name of “inspiration”? It’s a tough pill to swallow, one that Amanda knows all too well. In 2009, she left her high profile editor position at ELLE Decoration for one reason: she had fallen out of love with the lifestyle she helped to promote. “I could no longer connect with the content of these types of magazines because they didn’t relate to the way I lived,” she writes in Rethink. “My friends and most of my colleagues were increasingly removed from the reality of these magazines, too. I didn’t know anyone who had a glossy home filled with expensive designer furniture. My home was filled with IKEA, Habitat, flea market finds, press gifts and handmade bits and bobs.”
And here’s where her story gets interesting. Rather than retreating or hiding or switching career paths altogether, she set forth on a mission to find meaningful trends in the home. Trends that celebrated family and home and a brighter future. “My whole attitude and approach to design was turned upside down,” she writes. “I began questioning the conventions that had been in place for so long. I was looking at rooms in homes in a completely new way and found myself asking questions – Do we need an office in a home when there is only a laptop and iPad in sight? Is a bedroom only used for sleeping? Can a kitchen become an edible farm?”
Her questions bring up many conversations Ken and I engaged in during our own renovation for HGTV.com. As a result, our office is also Bee’s playroom, our sunroom is a living room and our bedroom houses a handmade sauna. “Matching living trends with good design is no longer just about color, function and aesthetics. It is about creating a product, an idea, a space that can enhance our life and help us deal with what obstacles this changing world is throwing at us. How do we create a home that will bring out the best in us?”
I hope for Design for Mankind to be my proverbial home, bringing out the best in me but also answering a few of those same questions I grapple with daily. What is design’s place in my life? Where is the line between celebrating simple, beautiful pleasures and promoting an excessive, consumer-driven lifestyle? How can I encourage readers – and myself – to live a life filled with more authenticity than stuff?
I’m still poring over the pages, endlessly inspired by Amanda’s courage to release this book into the world. It’s a read that was rejected by US publishers for being “too political,” but in actuality, it’s exactly what our country needs to hear. Overflowing with inspired themes like urban homesteading in the kitchen, multifunctional rooms and optimistic design, Amanda throws tradition and rules and status quo out the window of her impeccably curated home.
But perhaps what inspires me most about this book is Amanda’s personal story. To leave the fame of editorial positions and TV shows and embark on a journey that makes people feel slightly uncomfortable is a courageous act indeed. And her work doesn’t end there. She’s currently in the process of writing her second book entitled Happy: How To Achieve Happiness Through Design and is working closely with the city of Sydney to create the Happy Home Project: an idea that will provide revolutionary affordable housing for Sydney’s homeless.
It’s a strikingly good example of a passionate woman using her strengths, background and skills to change her own world in a unique way. One that I, personally, am taking note of – rethinking, quite literally, the way I live.