Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review: The Perfectly Imperfect Home

So here I am doing my very first book review. Hooray! My goal is to be honest in my review and to avoid negativity... by only reviewing books I like. How's that for media bias? Hey, my blog, my rules, muah ha ha haaaa......

Excuse me, I'm having a "mad blogger" moment...

Right, back to the review. The book I'm reviewing is The Perfectly Imperfect Home, How to Decorate and Live Well by Deborah Needleman with lovely illustrations by Virginia Johnson. I just got it in the mail on Monday and I've already read through it twice. Ask me what I didn't get done while I did that... actually, better not.

My noisy pic of the book.
My new camera has been ordered but I have to wait for Christmas to use it.  *sigh*
I don't think we can begin to discuss The Perfectly Imperfect Home without first discussing the dearly departed Domino Magazine, which I believe to be Needleman's best known project. For those of you who have never read Domino here is a link to the Domino Magazine Flickr group so you can have a look. Domino was special among decorating magazines. It was full of quirky, beautiful rooms which looked like they had evolved over years. Rooms that displayed the personality, tastes and interests of their owners. Rooms with with layers of color, pattern, texture, furniture and objects. All of the rooms were different, but all had a unifying thread: they all had a casual, unstudied elegance; they all looked sort of un-decorated, as though the room just naturally looked that beautiful.

A very cool room from Domino. Copyright Domino, September 2007
If I'm not being clear, let me try giving you a contrast: Better Homes and Gardens vs. Domino. Let me start by saying that I love BH&G. I'm often a subscriber. When I look at a room in BH&G I can see what the decorator did. I can see the palette, I can see how they made their furniture choices, I can see why they chose to place the furniture where they did, I understand the choice of accessories and I think "Pretty room, I could do that."

This one is from Southern Living but it illustrates my point.
BH&G-type rooms are lovely but they look, well, decorated. Formulaic, would be the right word. Again, there is nothing wrong with formulaic, probably 90% of decorators follow some kind of formula. Formulas exist because they work. Follow a good formula and you're likely to get a pretty room.

When I read Domino, by way of contrast, I would look at the room and I could see how amazing it was but I was usually left wondering "How did they do that?" "Why does that crazy color scheme work?" "How do you come to the conclusion that you can put a Panton chair in a room with a wing chair?" "Why would you hang a picture so low on a wall?" I could see that it worked but I had no idea how they got there and I certainly couldn't reproduce the look on my own.

An illustration of Kate and Andy Spade's guest room.
"How do they do That?" is where The Perfectly Imperfect Home comes in. Another subtitle for Perfectly Imperfect could be "how to decorate like Domino." However, unlike Needleman's first book,  Domino: The Book of Decorating: A Room-by-Room Guide to Creating a Home that Makes You HappyPerfectly Imperfect gets into the decorating details. It gives specific instructions on the little things which, as we (should) know, make the biggest impact.

John Stefanidis's mudroom. I love the jumble of baskets, hats and umbrellas.
There is an entire chapter devoted to "Cozifications" which discusses the merits of throws, pillows, and baskets of logs. That chapter even has a page or two devoted to "A Bit of Ugly" where Needleman advocates for the addition of an ugly, drab color into a room for the purpose of grounding it. I found that particularly helpful because I love pastel color schemes, but I hate the fact that my rooms look teeny-bopper-ish when I use them. "A Bit of Ugly" makes perfect sense.

Heart print Porthault sheets in Rita Konig's bedroom.
Needleman has another chapter called "A Bit of Quirk" which I, quirky person that I am, absolutely love! In it she advocates for the addition of "Jollifiers," sentimental objects that bring joy to the room, like the LOVE poster in the illustration of Rita Konig's living room below. The inclusion of "Mollifiers," which are the less-than-wonderful items beloved by the people who live with us. And "Some Small Animals" because they are fun and because Needleman says so. I happen to have a bronze owl, which I like very much. I may need to get her a friend.

Jollifier - the LOVE poster in Rita Konig's living room.
Some of the chapters are seemingly obvious, like the chapter called "Spots for Books, Drinks & Feet." I say seemingly obvious because the room I'm currently sitting in has very few of those things and would be a great deal more comfortable if it did. In fact much of the book contains ideas which should be obvious but aren't. Tips and ideas for stuff which we have forgotten or which we have eliminated because we don't think those items belong in a well-designed room. Needleman wants you to put the Kleenex box back beside your bed. She just wants you to cover it or hide it a little. 

Carolina Irving's apartment. I love this room! I could move right in.
There is a chapter devoted to "Glamifications" with the directive to add some sparkle to your rooms. Something that I am reconsidering given the fact that my aesthetic tends toward the humble. A decorative mirror and some shiny objects may be just the thing to liven up my really basic house. There is a chapter devoted to "A Sense of History" where Needleman explains how every home, even the most modern, needs an antique, a few old things and some items made by actual, human hands. 

It's funny, I grabbed November's copy of Martha Stewart magazine. (Shown below in a really bad picture.)

Because I was flipping through it at the grocery check-out and I saw this picture:

and I loved it! It turns out that this is a picture of Deborah Needleman's living room. In the issue, there is an entire article devoted to her home and Perfectly Imperfect. The November issue of MSL is off the shelves but if you have it, have a look. Here is one more picture. This is of her bathroom, where you can see the Domino aesthetic at work.

Grainy, I know. My camera doesn't do it justice (yes, I'm blaming the camera.)
What I love about this book is that Needleman advocates for homes to be lived in, loved and thoroughly used by their occupants. Homes with "A Personal Narrative" (another chapter) so that the people who live their are clearly represented by their photographs, the books they love, and objects from the places they've been. Homes with a patina, where all of the evidence of time hasn't been scrubbed away. Where it is obvious that the objects contained therein are loved and used by the people who live there.

That is the perfectly imperfect home, one that is both beautiful and useful. A home that is personal and a little quirky. A home where comfort is just as important as style. It is a home which is the antithesis of a furniture showroom.  A home that is a lovely, useful, personal, meaningful place to be!

I recommend this book! I'm going to read it again and start to do what it says!

Thanks and see you Monday,


  1. Hi Heather, I love your book review! I have such a big pile to read, and yet I love another recommendation. I never read "Domino", so your explanation was helpful. Very interesting. Happy weekend!

  2. Great review! I agree with Noreen...really nice explanation too. I loved that article on Needleman's home in MSL.

  3. Oh, this book looks great. I may have a book addiction, but surely one more won't hurt! Lovely, personal review. I enjoyed this post x

  4. Hi! I found my way here through Leah's blog Sang the Bird, and I got stuck reading this interesting post :-) I have read something about this book before, but not as inspiriring as your post. I soooo agree that a home should be a comfortable and personal place to LIVE not a showroom.

    I will be back to check out your blog again!

  5. Thanks Jamie! I'm so glad you like the review! I loved the book. I'm sorry that it took so long for me to see your comment, I have to fix the comment moderation settings... I hope you do stop by again :-) I'm going to pop over for a look at your blog now!


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