Beauty Where We Dwell

We want our home to tell people who we are, who and what we love, and where we've been.

Appears in Winter 2010 Issue: Faithful living
December 1st, 2010

My husband, Johnny, and I began our married life in a first floor apartment. It had a small living room/dining area, a study, a narrow kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom, which was odd architecturally because it connected the bedroom to the study and contained our washer and dryer. But hey, we weren't complaining; avoiding the laundromat was blissful. Our furniture was comfortable, but eclectic—hand-me-downs and a mishmash of items from our single years. We hung an Indian tapestry from a missionary friend above the fireplace; placed a print of one of my favourite paintings (The Old Guitarist by Picasso) above our bed, the palette of blues complementing the comforter; situated our framed crimson and ivory wedding flowers on a blank, wide wall; and so on. We made those five rooms as beautiful as possible within our budget and space limitations. We had a few friends over for dinner, which was eaten leaning over the coffee table. We even crammed my family and our godson's family into the small square footage for a few unconventional, joyful Christmases. We were thankful for our first home; we lived in that cozy space for four years.

Fairly soon, though, Johnny's dad was diagnosed with emphysema, which quickly worsened, so we moved him into a nice assisted living facility literally right around the corner from our apartment. Mr. Simmons (as I still call him) had saved money for years, and we knew some of that was to be Johnny's inheritance. We begged his dad, "Let's buy a house and you can live with us! We'll take care of you. You'd love our cats!" But my father-in-law didn't want to impose, even though we insisted he wouldn't.

After only one week in that room of laboured breathing, an oxygen tank, and loss of appetite, we found ourselves planning a simple, military funeral—my humble father-in-law's preference. As we discussed how much of Johnny's inheritance to save for our future, and which portion to put toward bills, we wistfully remembered our dream of sharing a home with my father-in-law. Then it hit Johnny how much his dad would want us to have a house, to find a place to build our future. His father was thrilled by his son's marriage, a fact which forever makes me smile.

We asked a realtor-friend to find houses we could peruse. We selected the second out of nine. We looked at the other seven out of duty, but the second house actually brought to life the cliché we never believed until that day: it was "the one." I mean, it had a three car-garage, perfect for a drum studio. It surely wasn't the paint colours or the hideous wallpaper—vertical navy blue, burgundy, and white stripes pasted to the kitchen walls; a salmon and teal combination in the master bath—which attracted us. No, it was a spiritual resonance, if you will. As we opened the front door, peeked around downstairs, and then climbed the stairs, I felt a light punch to my gut, almost in vocal form: This is where you will raise your children. I swear I could hear little feet and squeals running up and down the stairs. While Johnny and our friend talked logistics, I quietly looked at the bedrooms. I selected the smallest room for writing, and the largest upstairs room for guests; we planned to host many.

We sealed the deal on that house, which sits on a corner and has a large front yard, pink roses and gardenias by the front door, and a pretty cypress tree in the backyard. Inside, there are high ceilings, big windows, and lots of natural light. Immediately, Johnny and I had a vision for our decor, which we loosely call "exotic eclectic minimalism." Instead of wooden floors, we chose bamboo for almost every surface feet would tread downstairs. We installed white porcelain tile in our bathroom. We selected peaceful paint colours that would flow from one downstairs room to the next: a custom-blended teal blue in the kitchen, sage green in the living room, and blue the exact colour of a sunny sky for our bedroom and bathroom. It was taupe for the entryway, the same taupe for the top of the adjacent dining room, and chocolate brown for the bottom half, divided by a strip of cream crown molding.

However, we only painted one room upstairs—the guest bath—and it's the same sky blue as our master bath. The other upstairs walls are exactly the same now three years later, a pleasant off-white canvas in the waiting. After the guest bath, we stopped and made another decision in our decoration philosophy: to be very intentional about paint colours, furniture, and decorative items, and have very little visible clutter. So we quit slapping paint on the walls and decided to wait and "listen" for future colours to speak.

Our furniture is a combination of comfortable, modern pieces from West Elm and IKEA, including an L-shaped brown couch and a taupe armchair in the sage living room, great for lounging and reading. A Moroccan rug rests underneath the dining room table, and a 3-tier "lace" pendant lamp hangs above, casting whimsical patterns on the walls at night, which is why we've kept those walls bare. We've also gratefully accepted antique finds from my mom, such as a wooden pulpit cradling a Bible illustrated by Barry Moser in the entryway and a wooden prayer bench topped with a cross in a corner of our bedroom—quite the visual when I first open my eyes each morning. I purchased an antique hymnal rack which braces a living room wall, holding periodicals. Johnny and I started a wall of icons in the living room, the spiritual art reminding us that we "live, move, and have our being" in our home, in Christ. These latter items in particular hint at my fantasy of living in an old church, too.

We do the same "listening" to any piece that decorates our home. We believe everything has its rightful space to fill where we live and work every day and offer hospitality. We want our home to tell people who we are, who and what we love, and where we've been. A Celtic cross hangs above our front door outside. A rustic wooden birdhouse and bird greet you at the top of the stairs. An iron music staff rack with eighth note hooks is draped with my late grandfather's and father-in-law's bolo ties in my writing room—my family inspiring me. We also decorated the top shelf on a downstairs bookcase to honour Johnny's dad: his framed military flag, glasses, a crude black crucifix, a few of his old theology books, and his military dog tags placed over his Air Medal.

Recently in New Mexico, I picked up a handmade wooden angel that I definitely knew belonged in our home. He now hangs directly in the center of our fireplace mantel, to look as if he balances there; an antique child's ukelele hangs to the left. I find other beautiful oddities here and there: an antique egg-holder and wooden spoon stamped with "Sweden" hang by the kitchen sink window, as well as postcards of Mark Rothko's art. Prints of still life photography are simply nailed to the walls all over the place. A white wall chandelier with light pink prisms hangs by our bathtub. I often seek out fair trade items, usually from Ten Thousand Villages; I look for the crafts by Catholic or other Christian organizations, like the blue and white-striped tablecloth in our breakfast nook, or the "Tree of Life" table runner for the dining room that we pull out for special occasions.

I've commissioned pieces of art as well—the inspiration for each work struck as quickly as inspiration does. One of the commissions ended up being a birthday gift due to the generosity of my talented friend, Kierstin Casella. A painting/ collage inspired by an important hymn to me, "Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness," hangs in our living room. She typed the lyrics on an old typewriter and adhered them to the piece with her artistic skill. She also made a gorgeous white paper cut of a butterfly sprouting flowers entitled Hope. The other commission was by another skilled friend, Christine Bailey, who I asked to write Psalm 91 with her exquisite penmanship, which she bordered with paper the exact colour of our kitchen walls, birds, and flowers; thus, that piece hangs in our kitchen.

There are bookshelves both upstairs and down, but our TV sits upstairs on purpose. We enjoy certain shows, but we don't want the cacophony of commercial advertising to be the centre of our marital hobbies or entertainment for guests, and we don't want to be bound to the hypnotizing schedule of TV. We record our shows on the DVR and make the effort to march upstairs when we feel like it, and we try to read more often.

I could go on and on. God has blessed us with a beautiful home and decorations, with more space than we need (right now), which we can share with family and friends. We strive to be good caretakers not just because we own pretty things—it's not about materialism—but because of our dominion calling in Genesis 1, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Sure, that mandate applies to a much larger sphere of caring for creation, but dominion begins in our homes. Just as Adam made the garden beautiful and named the animals, my husband and I strive to make our dwelling space beautiful, just as we intentionally did in our small newlywed apartment. We've even practiced the art of naming our three cats: Harley, Milo, and Lily Belle. As we are called to bring order, symmetry, and peace to the world, we also create shalom within our walls—to be a haven, a place of refuge.

Another verse in Philippians 4 comes to mind, one that states what I believe culture is to reflect: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Again, culture begins in our homes and families. When Johnny and I stated our decoration philosophy, we were unknowingly planting these very words in each room. When I sit and read or just think, I can look around at objects and colour that speak truth, peace, creativity, beauty, and even justice in what has been fairly traded. Our home reflects who Johnny and I are as little icons and Image-bearers. "In His light do we see light," and we want to see this light after a day of running around town, and more importantly, we want our guests to see it, too. We take every thought captive, including our domestic thoughts; every square inch of our home reflects Paul's exhortation to the best of our ability.

Our intentionality is not just my type A personality. I read 1 Kings 6 one morning and was stunned anew by how much God cared about His dwelling, the Temple, "the house of the Lord." He inspired a writer to record very specific decorative details to reflect His glory: windows with recessed frames, stone, cedar, cypress, olivewood, gourds, flowers, palm trees, gold, and cherubim with massive wings, not to mention all the cubits and other metrical specifications. If God Himself was that intentional about where He would dwell with His people, I'm fairly certain we should be the same with our people.

In Revelation, He even had another writer, St. John, describe the beauty and order of heaven, and he depicted the Church as a well-ordered, golden, and jeweled city which God is sanctifying and beautifying—me, you, and all of His people, His new dwelling.

But here's the thing: You don't have to own a two-story house or for God's sake, live in a Temple, to make your home beautiful. We learned the beauty of simplicity and minimalism early on in our apartment, and though we now have more space, people often remark not only about the peace in this place, but also about the simple beauty. I collect rocks or pine cones from a walk. I hang inspiration wires, an idea I gleaned from browsing Flickr. I simply hang cards, magazine pages, gift tags, tiny blue bird bobby pins, and the like with wooden clothespins on hemp twine nailed to walls in our living room, our closet, and in my writing room. I change the images according to each season, or just when I feel like it. I even accept loans from my mom who has an interior decorator's eye: a family rocking chair, a blue-green owl from the '70s, a Moroccan wire tea light holder, and a ceramic plaque bearing a pear tree and my grandmother's favourite verse, John 15:5. I shop on Etsy because I'm a firm believer in the homemade and handmade.

We are all designed with the capability to beautify our dwellings, whether that is a tiny studio apartment, a house, an Airstream trailer, or a mansion. We are to study our lives and what is important to us and find creative ways to communicate that visually. Every detail of my home tells a specific story. So does yours.

Topics: Arts
 

Jenni Simmons is the editor of the Art House America Blog, assistant editor and staff writer for The Curator, and a freelance writer of eclectic subject matter. She works in an upstairs room of her own while her drummer-husband, Johnny, teaches in their renovated garage studio. They enjoy practicing the art of hospitality in their suburban home, watching films and TV together, and taking long walks around the 'hood. They attend Church of the Holy Trinity in the historic Woodland Heights of Houston, in close proximity to Antidote Coffee and Kaboom Books, which Jenni tries to incorporate before or after worship every Sunday.

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