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    Rethink The Way You Live

    06.19.2013 / ARCHIVES, ART + DESIGN


    A few weeks ago, former Associate Editor of British ELLE Decoration and Top Design judge Amanda Talbot sent me a heartfelt note with a link to her new book, Rethink: The Way You Live. She thought it might resonate with me, as I’ve slowly morphed into this odd, thinky design blog where I’m asking a lot of questions, searching for answers and trying to figure out how design applies to my life now. I don’t know if I’ve properly put this into words here, but I’m in this weird space where I see so much value in design, but am also seeing a lot of the cost. Consumerism, materialism, keeping-up-with-the-Jones-ism. I mean, these concepts have been around for years, yes. But for some reason, I’m feeling the weight of it in a bigger way. Something in my heart is stirring…

    It’s inconvenient for a design blogger to feel this way. I’ve made a living uncovering trends and sharing products and labeling things as “must-haves” and “statement makers.” And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I still love doing it. I’m fascinated with discovering new designs that change the rules, new artists that struggle for their passions – and yes, every now and then, just a pretty dress. I mean, come on. I’m still pinning like a crazy person. I’m adding to the noise.

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    How do you even rectify that situation? How many times will I promote excessive spending in the name of “inspiration”? It’s a tough pill to swallow, one that Amanda knows all too well. In 2009, she left her high profile editor position at ELLE Decoration for one reason: she had fallen out of love with the lifestyle she helped to promote. “I could no longer connect with the content of these types of magazines because they didn’t relate to the way I lived,” she writes in Rethink. “My friends and most of my colleagues were increasingly removed from the reality of these magazines, too. I didn’t know anyone who had a glossy home filled with expensive designer furniture. My home was filled with IKEA, Habitat, flea market finds, press gifts and handmade bits and bobs.”

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    And here’s where her story gets interesting. Rather than retreating or hiding or switching career paths altogether, she set forth on a mission to find meaningful trends in the home. Trends that celebrated family and home and a brighter future. “My whole attitude and approach to design was turned upside down,” she writes. “I began questioning the conventions that had been in place for so long. I was looking at rooms in homes in a completely new way and found myself asking questions – Do we need an office in a home when there is only a laptop and iPad in sight? Is a bedroom only used for sleeping? Can a kitchen become an edible farm?”

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    Her questions bring up many conversations Ken and I engaged in during our own renovation for HGTV.com. As a result, our office is also Bee’s playroom, our sunroom is a living room and our bedroom houses a handmade sauna. “Matching living trends with good design is no longer just about color, function and aesthetics. It is about creating a product, an idea, a space that can enhance our life and help us deal with what obstacles this changing world is throwing at us. How do we create a home that will bring out the best in us?”

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    I hope for Design for Mankind to be my proverbial home, bringing out the best in me but also answering a few of those same questions I grapple with daily. What is design’s place in my life? Where is the line between celebrating simple, beautiful pleasures and promoting an excessive, consumer-driven lifestyle? How can I encourage readers – and myself – to live a life filled with more authenticity than stuff?

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    I’m still poring over the pages, endlessly inspired by Amanda’s courage to release this book into the world. It’s a read that was rejected by US publishers for being “too political,” but in actuality, it’s exactly what our country needs to hear. Overflowing with inspired themes like urban homesteading in the kitchen, multifunctional rooms and optimistic design, Amanda throws tradition and rules and status quo out the window of her impeccably curated home.


    But perhaps what inspires me most about this book is Amanda’s personal story. To leave the fame of editorial positions and TV shows and embark on a journey that makes people feel slightly uncomfortable is a courageous act indeed. And her work doesn’t end there. She’s currently in the process of writing her second book entitled Happy: How To Achieve Happiness Through Design and is working closely with the city of Sydney to create the Happy Home Project: an idea that will provide revolutionary affordable housing for Sydney’s homeless.


    It’s a strikingly good example of a passionate woman using her strengths, background and skills to change her own world in a unique way. One that I, personally, am taking note of – rethinking, quite literally, the way I live.

    Image Credits (sans bottom photo from me): Mikkel Vang for Rethink, published by Murdoch Books

    p.s. The story of design and a surprisingly thoughtful kitchen trend.

    • WOW. I’m loving this! I have to be honest and say that I’ve felt a disconnect from a lot of blogs that focus on fashion, design, what have you in recent years for the very same reason that Amanda (and you) mention. This book sounds awesome and, as you mentioned, props to Amanda for leaving a cushy, awesome (in societal, keep up with the Jones terms) lifestyle behind to forge this new life path!

    • Powerful post lady, I’m struggling with much of the same stuff.

    • This is great Erin! Thanks for pointing this book out. As a artist living in a super expensive city, I tend to be a window shopper only. It is always a great reminder that there are other ways to make it and live in this life that don’t make you feel bad about yourself if you can’t keep up with others crazy buying habits…

      • Thank you, Debbie! And man, window shopping makes for SUCH a fun afternoon! The ideas abound!

    • Wow, I need a copy of this book immediately. I’m loving the direction your blog has taken – so worthwhile and meaningful.

      • And, of course, I’ll want to get the book from the library.

        • Amen, Janssen! :) And thank you for your encouragement!

    • WOW. Just WOW. I love the way you (and Amanda) have brought so much more meaning to what we’re all doing out in this world. Yes. Design a home you love. But a loving home means so much more than a space that will photograph well. So much more. Beautiful post, Erin. I think that many of us who have been so comfortable in this world are starting to yearn for something more – meaning perhaps? – and you’ve opened the conversation up so gracefully and eloquently. Thank you.

      • Ah, thank you, Tiffany! This one made me a bit teary!!! I think these questions are easy to forget when you’re swept up in the pinning, tweeting, facebooking frenzy, and I hope I never do. Thanks for your endless encouragement, sweet friend.

      • Tiffany Miller

        I agree with many of the comments it is a very true situation that good design enhances the QUALITY of life.

    • keeley

      i love this post and really want this book. i’ve been struggling with the same ideas and you seem to really put it into words better than i ever could. I am pinning this on my To Read board. :)

      • Thank you, Keeley! I think you’ll really, really enjoy Amanda’s thoughts!

    • wow…very thought provoking…I admire you discussing these topics, as they keep me coming back for more!

    • I’ve been trying to get my hands on Amanda’s book for months. The only options I could even find for getting it were too expensive. I’ve wanted it because the ideas you’re expressing here have been in the forefront of my thinking about home for some time. As a home blogger, I’ve run into the same dilemmas you outline here. I called for a revolution about 6 months ago (http://www.thissortaoldlife.com/2013/01/02/say-you-want-a-revolution/). Our audience isn’t large, but it’s growing. I think you’re onto something.

    • Love all of this. This blog has quickly become a favorite of mine along with other more introspective ‘creative’ blogs such as Brain PIckings. I love and can’t seem to stop reading design/art/etc blogs that focus a bit more on consumption, spending, and quick enjoyment, but I’ve been noticing that the more I read pieces like this, the more I want to pick up a book, the more I want to watch a movie that challenges me, make a meal from scratch, focus on affordable quality instead of feeling like I have to choose between something ghastly expensive or totally go without. It feels good for this feeling that I think a lot of us ‘readers’ have (especially with the pounding visual consumption through social media) to start being reflected in those that we’ve followed and admired. Thank you!!

      • Nicole, this is such a thoughtful comment. Thank you so much! I think most of us love looking at pretty images and beautiful products, so I’m sure there’s a healthy balance there somewhere. I’m hoping to find it! :) And you’re right – picking up a great book or making a meal from scratch is a great start to getting there. :)

    • Rhea

      Erin- <3 this so very much! I recently read a book called "Twelve by Twelve" by William Powers which made me scrutinize my motivations for wanting a larger place to live and my consumer habits as well as revisit the reasons that I became a designer (initially political, not aesthetic).

      The book chronicles the experiences of a development aid worker who needs to decompress after a particularly tough assignment. He ends up housesitting in North Carolina for a friend/mentor who lives in a 12'x12' shanty structure that does not have running water, electricity or bathroom facilities.

      It is a powerful book that explores many of the ideas that you talk about in your blog post. Personally, it has motivated my husband and I to figure out how to make our 700 SF apartment in a wonderful urban neighborhood work for our family of a toddler and a cat.

      Can't wait to read Amanda's book. Thanks again for all of your insightful and frank postings.

      • Oh, Rhea – thank you so much for your recommendation! I’m going to see if our library has this one! It sounds incredibly powerful. (And you know, is there ever a home that works for a toddler? I’m scared to find out!) ;)

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