Design and Hospitality

Oversized trim, large windows, arched doorways. I fell in love with our apartment right away. “Draw the checkbook!” I yelled from the single bedroom, 30 seconds into the tour. Well…I guess this is a little exaggerated. We calmly looked for more like 10 minutes. We asked a question or two, interested adults are we. (And then, of course, realized we had forgotten our checkbook like true millenials. So it was more like a “check’s in the mail!” yell as we hit the road back to Iowa.)

It was easy to fill the new apartment with furniture and accessories before we moved. It was a true blank slate, ready to hold all my “first choice” pieces.

...Right?

In reality, I found designing and decorating more challenging. It’s still a work in progress more than 18 months later. I partly attribute this to all the typical apartment-dweller’s reservations like space constraints, uncertainty of how long before another move, and avoiding over-investment. But there’s been another question, growing in weight over the years and tapping my shoulder more often. It inserts itself between me and purchasing decisions and asks:

Where does style bend for hospitality? Where should design work for others over myself?

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We moved to Minneapolis alongside a group starting a church in the city. Building and fostering community has been at the forefront of our minds since we arrived. A small group of people meet in our home weekly, we knew there would be many new friends we’d want to meet, and we expected visitors now that we live somewhere...you know…cooler. (The masses words, not mine.) Our hope is that friends, family, and guests find rest in our apartment; that people feel welcome.

So can design or decorating choices encourage this aim? Can they actually inhibit?

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I don’t exactly believe our pillows and draperies will change the world but I DO believe curating and filling our homes are opportunities, not just luxuries. I actually believe our furniture and even our accessories can serve a split purpose. They can fulfill an aesthetic desire, while simultaneously help serve others and create a comfortable space.

Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you are building a home to be shared and are wondering how layouts and furniture plays a part. There are many unique questions bundled inside this bigger question of design helping or hurting hospitality - but I’ve narrowed in on 5 places to start.

1) Is it easy to move around the space?

  • This is probably the most intuitive point. We all like to move about in our homes easily. Crowding too many heavy pieces together will make the room look full before anyone even finds a seat. Keep the bulky statement pieces to a minimum, and walkways open and easy to understand.

2) Are necessities easy to find?

  • This point touches on intuition too. Warmth, water, food, a place to hang your coat or throw your shoes. These things should be basic, requiring little or no thought from guests and friends. Leaving room for a visible stack of blankets, water jugs and glasses, or hooks for coats help friends come in and be comfortable quicker. Taking it one step further, keeping extra toilet paper in the bathroom, extra dish towels by the sink, and extra coasters on the coffee table help friends move around more effortlessly.

3) Is there some durability to your furniture pieces?

  • Note: durability does not necessarily mean a high price tag. I’m not asking if it will outlast your great-grandkids (though, this would be amazing) but will it stand up against natural use and wear?

    My dining table comes to mind at this point. I had dreams of a very simple mid-mod table before we moved in. Maybe one day I will have one. But after months (literally) of searching, we couldn’t find anything that fit our small space, had leaves to bring out for larger dinners, and was in a comfortable price range. We ended up purchasing a large custom-built table from Craigslist. It fits our space as-is, and came with optional leaves that lengthen the table to comfortably seat 10. The look of the table is pretty rustic and the legs are much too chunky to ever be considered mid-century. But the durability made us say yes. You can spill anything on our table. You can drop any heavy thing. You can scratch, ding, and pour away without making a difference. Without having to consider damage to this table, it’s easy and thoughtless to set food and drinks out and walk away. Ideally, you don’t have to make a choice between durability and style. But if you do - choose durability.

    Furniture seems like the easy example to this point, but durability certainly plays into fabric and rug choices as well. I once listened to a podcast discussing design decisions and the guest talked about a white couch she previously owned. She loved the look of bright white sofas and brought home one she visually loved. She was a young mom wanting to spend time with other new moms, and…you can probably see where this is going. Every mom who came over with her young ones was instantly put on edge seeing a bright white couch begging her children to spill something. The design decision inhibited hospitality.

4) Is there good light?

  • I’m cringing as I write this - this is currently my weakest point on the list. Sufficient light helps in every area of the home and will make your home multi-purpose. Cooking, getting ready for work, reading, working, and hosting dinners all require different but appropriate light. Now: if you know, you know. Old/historic homes have amazing, unique fixtures - but they are almost always too dark. Layering is your friend! Floor lamps, table lamps, under cabinet lighting, and plug-in sconces/pendants are a few options to help.

5) Is there function or purpose behind your big pieces?

  • Going back to point #1 (is it easy to move around?) it’s a good idea to think through your large pieces - especially in apartment living. Large pieces may need to serve dual purposes. Our trundle sofa from Ikea is one example. The chaise lifts up to hold extra bedding and pillows, and the sofa transforms into a full bed for guests. If it’s going to take up most of our living space, it needs to be very functional. Other examples could be large, decorative baskets to house smaller items, bed frames with built-in drawers, or accent chairs that can move and double as desk chairs.

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Eventually, our decisions and questions will boil down to how tightly we will hold on to our vision. Working for an interior design firm and loving the process of making a home your own - I appreciate a good vision and love a smart design! Let’s absolutely look for furniture and accessories we love and that fit our style. But could we also consider function and durability? Could we consider others - people we know and people we don’t yet know - in our buying decisions? Could hospitality and community benefit from - or even inform - our design decisions? I think they can.

So tell me: what are your thoughts?

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Abby Schmidt8 Comments