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. It is still in the same family.

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

After 100+ years the house was in the bad shape and wasn't being used. New windows, new bathrooms, and an updated kitchen made it comfortable and livable for the large clan and guests. 

photo by Eric Roth

The current elders in charge, a sixty-something brother and sister, spent every childhood summer with their cousins in this seaside cottage. What really struck me is how lovingly the sibling duo have 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 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 here it resides 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 got me thinking, really thinking hard. On rare occasions this has resulted in what some have misinterpreted as trouble.

It's the third day of Autumn and I should be writing about fireplaces, boot trays, or mufflers not thinking really hard about a summer home. But Fall, at least here in New England, finds me back in the house resuming the decorating projects I earnestly launched last Spring (and didn't finish).

The article, my projects and Mark Hampton's quote swirled around in the same synapse. A moment of clarity ensued. Will any of my stuff make the cut for future generations? Or at the very least, they might find one or two amusing? Why am I not able to get these projects done? And 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. It is 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 the house, I find myself looking at things and rating them on the T-Scale hoping that some are in the top T, timeless, and eventually into the hands of the next generations.

The T-scale: tacky, trendy, tasteful, tasteless, timeless. Never heard of the T-Scale? Not surprising since I made it up.

Let's review. Tacky, the Dictionary defines it as showing poor taste and 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 trumps monetary value and construction quality.
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.

While I had the Dictionary out, tasteful is defined as showing good aesthetic judgment and a lack thereof would be tasteless.

Right. Let's march headlong into the swamp of subjectivity. I'm sure the mud bath will be 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 it does not matter. 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.

Does your house tell your story?

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. 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!


Please do. I love to know what you think!