We all have that friend who is a little too clean. They invite you over for a cup of tea, and as soon as you cross the threshold, they apologize, “Oh, my house is so messy today.” Looking around, you see sparkling white counters, perfectly aligned coffee table books, and freshly fluffed pillows and think… “This is messy?” In the design world, there is this perceived pressure to have a photo-ready home at all times, with not a single accessory out of place. However, I don’t think our homes should be so demanding of us. Our spaces are meant to be lived in, and there’s beauty in our daily routines that leave things slightly disheveled. Rather than fight against it, our homes should be designed to embrace it. That’s right. I’m an interior designer giving you permission to have a messy house.
Picture Perfect Homes Aren’t Real
I’ve told you before, and I will tell you again. HGTV lies to you. Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of the channel and love watching Love It or List It. However, the picture-perfect, magazine-spread-worthy home doesn’t exist. As soon as the camera crews leave, mail piles up on the kitchen counter, kids’ toys take over the den, and the beds get left unmade the following day. And there’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, interior designers should design to account for the inevitable clutter and the coffee mug that’s left out well past breakfast. Our job is to design for everyday life, not for a photo.
Designing for Everyday Life: Lessons from Jeffrey Bilhuber
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve heard me talk about my days working under Jeffrey Bilhuber in NYC back in the late 1990s. It was a defining time for me, and the lessons I learned have gone on to influence my own work. Jeffrey taught me so much, and we’re still friendly today.
Jeffrey’s talent is designing elevated spaces that work in tandem with everyday life. No matter how “messy” or disheveled they get throughout the week, they’re still beautiful. He knows his rooms are meant to be lived in and designs to embrace whatever the day throws at them. In his book, The Way Home, he breaks the “photo-ready” mold the design industry follows and goes back to his projects after the beauty of daily life has exploded in each space — leaving toys, clutter, and the forgotten coffee mug ingrained in the design scheme for the day. These photos (which I include throughout this blog) showcase the idea of spaces as living things, taking on different personalities depending on their use.
That’s the goal of my work. Create a room that looks “perfect” amid the imperfection.
The Appeal of Disheveled Spaces and a “Messy” House
There is a certain appeal to disheveled interiors. It creates a welcoming feel to walk into a beautiful (slightly messy) house and see the remains of board game night on the coffee table or a leftover tea cup not yet cleared from the breakfast nook. These items speak to the time enjoyed in the space over a nice cuppa. Disheveled rooms are good for the soul.
Remove the Pressure of “Coordinating”
Recently, I stumbled over the trend of “undecorated rooms.” These spaces aren’t spartan white boxes, but rather beautifully layered rooms where coordinating colors and furnishings aren’t the priority. Instead, the room is focused on creating a mood and designing around comfort, which is my favorite interior design trend. We all face pressures to perform throughout our daily lives, and our homes should be an exception. Leave behind the pressure to coordinate and clean, and embrace the items that bring you comfort.
Remember Mess is Healthy
Whether you realize it or not, interior design affects your mood. I’ll let you in on a secret. Mess is healthy! Where we live plays a role in our health and wellness. Do you want to stress knowing you must clean your sterile white kitchen as soon as a crumb falls on the counter, or make your white couch a “no sit zone?” Our homes are meant to work for us, not the other way around. Remove the anxiety from your design scheme and create a space that can accommodate your lifestyle and all the mess that comes with it.
The Tyranny of the Open Concept Floor Plan
Everyone wants an open concept floor plan until they attempt to relax in the living room with a sink of dirty dishes staring them down from the kitchen. In my opinion, the open concept plan has had its reign of terror for too long, and it’s time to reconsider the benefits of closed kitchen layouts. A home doesn’t necessarily need to be compartmentalized, but your home design should consider the benefits of creating separate spaces that are not visible from one another. Sometimes, not seeing one room from the other forms a sense of luxury.
For example, I am currently writing in my living room and hanging out with one of my lovely sleeping dogs while listening to a business podcast. In the other room, my son is working on “extra math” with a tutor because he seems to think it is essential to get ahead in school when I have tried to convince him to relax this summer. (Sometimes, the apple does fall far from the tree.) In our TV room, my husband and daughter are watching Star Trek. Meanwhile, the kitchen has a stack of dishes that are out of sight and out of mind until tomorrow morning. We are all enjoying our time in separate rooms, some in disarray and some “company ready.” The luxury here is that we can choose how to spend our evenings without the pressures of performing for one another or cleaning up the mess from dinner. With walls in the right places, we can all spread out and feel as though we own our own spaces in a way that lets us be ourselves and not have to clean up after each task.
Finding Your Ideal “Mess Level”
The takeaway is not to go from a clean house to a pigsty. Instead, it is to give yourself permission to really live in your space and find beauty in the moments of disheveled clutter (which will come up for all of us at some point, no matter how clean we think of ourselves). For example, having permission to stop making your bed every morning can be freeing — especially if you hate making your bed. A disheveled space for some folks might simply mean unfluffed pillows, whereas others may live with piles and piles of half-done tasks without feeling uncomfortable.
You get to choose your ideal mess level and have permission to keep the house any way you see fit.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.