Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The T Scale: Tacky, Trendy, Tasteless, Tasteful, Timeless

"Decor must have sentimental value. A house must tell a story." 
Mark Hampton writing for Harper's Bazaar, June 1989

photo by Eric Roth

I just read (online) Boston Magazine's article on this summer retreat in Rockport, Massachusetts. A 12 bedroom cottage built in 1898 by two brothers as a double house for their combined clan.

Remarkably, the same family still owns it.

The new kitchen provides all the modern amenities but manages to keep the cottage feel
and sense of family history authentic. photo by Eric Roth

However, after 100+ years the house was in the bad shape and no longer being used. 

Pretty sad considering the current elders-in-charge and their cousins spent every 
childhood summer in this seaside cottage. 

Imagine that. 

New windows, new bathrooms, and an updated kitchen made it comfortable and livable 
again for the large clan and guests. 

photo by Eric Roth

Infrastructure, kitchens, and baths are extremely important.

What really struck me is how lovingly they preserved and curated their family history.

Shelves are filled with family photos and cherished objects. 

photo by Eric Roth

Furniture we wouldn't expect in a summer seaside cottage,

photo by Eric Roth

and looks incongruous enough that I imagine an Aunt Effie, the old dear, relegating the ornate red Victorian era sofa to the cottage long about 1940 or so:

AUNT EFFIE (perfect role for Meryl Streep)

Darling? Now that we've ordered a new sofa, let's send Mother's old red one to the cottage.

UNCLE FRED (Hugh Laurie)

 Why yes, dear! What a good idea! And while you're at it, send that big chest too. I can't sit on it and tie my shoes what with that molding on the top.

And red sofa and big chest now reside in the same room with a very homey and cozy reading bench.

I love that our current caretakers did not refinish the floors. photo by Eric Roth

This article and Mark Hampton's quote got me thinking, really thinking hard. On rare occasions, this has resulted in what some have misinterpreted as "trouble," but not this time. A moment of clarity ensued. Followed by questions:

Will any of my stuff make the cut for future generations? 
Or at the very least, might future generations find one or two amusing?  
Per Mark Hampton, what story is my house telling?

One shelf of the new guest room library is dedicated to our daughter's
most beloved children's books. No story here re the Zebra. 
Not a memento from an expedition to Africa, just an ordinary trip to Home Goods.

That's not the end of the really hard thinking. Now as I walk through our home, I find myself assessing objects and rating them on the T-Scale. 

What is the T-scale? Never heard of it? No surprise there since I made it up. 

The T-Scale is my personal and somewhat subjective rating system for objects, decor, whathaveyou. Very simple. Pick up a thing, give it a critical and mostly objective gaze 
and ask yourself, is this thing


It is useful when pondering new acquisitions. 
It is invaluable in the de-accession process -- those rare occasions when I think 
I have too much stuff and should start parting with some of it.   

Let's review. 

Tacky, the Dictionary defines it as showing poor taste and poor quality.

Before I looked up tacky, I thought David was.
He is surprisingly heavy and appears well made.
So he is kitschy, not tacky.
I am confident he will NOT be gracing the descendants' bookshelf 100 years from now.
The Egyptian mother-of-pearl box, a gift from my MIL, is in the pic solely for interest and scale.
Sentiment, in this case, is the trump card.
One for the timeless column.

I had no idea tacky had two components. I thought it was solely questionable taste. 
Always something new to learn.

Is there a term for something that is well made but in poor taste? 
Enlighten me, please.

I kept the horn handled magnifying glass and returned the turtle. 
Magnifying glasses do come in handy.
The turtle's glass did not magnify very well. It felt like a cliché. Tacky-ish.

Trendy: very fashionable or up to date in style or influence.
It may or may not be Tasteful. Or aesthetically pleasing.
In truth, Trendy Decor is not my specialty so let's move on.

Tasteful is defined as showing good aesthetic judgment. A lack thereof would be tasteless.

And so we splash head first into the swamp of subjectivity. 
A mud bath is always good for the complexion.

A copy of a Chinese antique I found years ago at Beacon Hill in Boston.
Good proportions, crisp detail, nice glaze, good heft, can't fault the design, no flaws.
I think it is tasteful vis-à-vis aesthetics.
With my luck, the descendants will not like brown and think this is too old ladyish.

Cloisonné acquired in the '80's. Small and well made might qualify them for the keep column
but my daughter likes the uncluttered look. These have estate sale written all over them.

Real Staffordshire Dogs, late 1800's. I gave these to my daughter as a "starting vet school" gift.
Clearly timeless. But that's just my opinion.

Trendy. I took my gold Sharpie to these real sea shells.
What's the story here? I'm bonkers?

In the long run, none of this matters.

I'll be dead and my descendants are free to do whatever the hell they want with my junk.

But in the meantime, I am renewing my vow to only acquire things I love and keep those with some personal or family connection (and hopefully love as well).

Mark Hampton is right, "Decor must have sentimental value. A house must tell a story."

My house story is still being written, edited, appended, redacted, revised.

Does your house tell your story? Want help writing your story? I'd be more than happy to. Email me, we'll talk.

Is there anything in your house that you want to pass on?

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pakravan

read the Rockport house article here: Let It be: Keeping Tradition


  1. As the daughter/descendent, I love the dogs and the cloissone dragon vases! And my books of course...

  2. Anonymous25.9.14

    Testing Pk

  3. Anonymous25.9.14

    Wonderful photos of the summer home! I so appreciate it seeing it furnished without the dreaded beachy theme!! Such a snob, I know, but I really despise that look and we know that is not how people decorated back in the day! Hugh Laurie!! Perfect choice, Linda. As to my own abode, it tells a story, I guess, of where we've traveled and what we love. It is home and that's good enough for me!


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