Domestic Archaeology: The Art of Undecorating
Rescue, repair, reuse and rethink. These are the guiding principles behind the new book, Recycled Home by Mark and Sally Bailey. The Bailey’s version of recycling is to uncover the potential of abandoned bits and pieces for a home by giving them a new lease on life and a new purpose. The Bailey’s farm property and home-based store in the Herefordshire countryside of the UK are the stars of this book. Unlike most decorating books, Recycled Home dares the reader to think outside the box and take a look at the stuff they already have. A pile of old apple crates becomes a bookshelf, an old baker’s table transforms into a kitchen work bench, and mismatched chairs give instant chic to an unexpected, but charming industrial table.
I am so aligned with the eco-friendly and truly economical philosophy the Bailey’s share about home design. Work with what you’ve got and be true to the structure of your house and what it’s made from. They sum up their attitude to home improvement in one word that perfectly describes what they do, “Undecoration.” The Bailey’s claim, “You don’t necessarily have to add to improve – sometimes it’s better to take away. Discover the honesty and history of your house by peeling back its layers of wallpaper and paint. This will give you the chance to see what your house has been through before you came along, and in this way the house itself gives the decorating direction rather than you imposing your will and endless paint charts upon it. Instead, you embark upon a voyage of discovery together and, by taking this course, you learn to appreciate the creativity there is to be found in imperfection – there is always a surprise in store when you undecorate.”
What could be more eco-friendly than reusing something that already exists? The Bailey’s philosophy is spot on, as they seek out environmentally-friendly materials in their “undecoration” quest. For them, this often leads to implementing old-fashioned techniques and materials, such as using lime plaster on their walls with yak hair teased into the mixture (the hair helps it bind together). It’s better than modern plaster because it allows the building to breathe. Their home is insulated with sheep’s wool. Recycling comes into play in every aspect of their home. They used 10,000 old slates on their roof. Discarded floorboard is used to make unusual mirrors and picture frames. Factory trolleys transform into storage on wheels, and fruit crates house CD’s and books.
If you don’t have a stock full of “undecorating” gems in your basement or garage (or in their case, a farm and a store), how can you impart the Bailey’s green decorating philosophy of using or reusing furnishings that you already have, into your EcoNest? Many home items have useful lives that can extend far beyond one owner. Craigslist, Ebay, Freecycle, garage sales and the classified section of the newspaper all provide quality merchandise at secondhand prices. Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices provides lots of places to find the best secondhand deals. My personal favorite is acquiring vintage pieces and sprucing them up to fit my needs. The environmental benefits of buying secondhand, and keeping items out of local landfills with no new resources used in manufacturing and shipping are the stuff tiny carbon footprints are made of.
Could there possibly be a downside to all this “undecorating” fun? My digging around unearthed a bunch of studies linking older upholstered furniture to the flame retardant, PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). These PBDE’s are found in mattresses, in foam covered upholstered furniture, textiles and hard plastics. As they begin to break down, PBDE’s leak out into the environment and have been found in our bodies, and in the food chain (meat and fish). The Worldwatch Organization outlines more about PBDE’s here.
Although I never thought of my decorating style as “undecorating”, the Bailey’s “recycled home” with its many vintage and new items, share so many similarities to my EcoNest. “If there is the faintest glimmer of life in something, reuse it – you’re bound to be able to find a use for it somewhere. Think of your home as a delicious experiment.”
Have you given an abandoned or unloved object a new life in you home?
By Ronnie Citron-Fink