Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Clutter- Good Idea or Bad? Talk Amongst Yourselves

Anytime I'm flipping through Interiors and English Style, I always stop and stare at one interior that is featured in both books- the London home of antiquaire Stephen Long. I can't help but marvel at how much "stuff" he was able to fit into that home! Can you believe it?

Now, I think that one reason I spend so much time looking at these photos is because I need a lot of visual stimulation, and you certainly get that with this home. There are layers and layers of objects, books, fabrics, flowers, plants, etc. But that neatnik side of me becomes curious and wonders how does one clean a place like this? Just how dusty do things get? And does one constantly misplace things in a home like this?

For those of you who may not be familiar with Long, he is considered to be one of the preeminent antiques dealers in London, a profession that might help explain the chock-a-block home. Long once said "If you have only a few things, they must be really good, but if they're not, you have to crowd them up." He also chose to lay a strong foundation for each room- bold colors and strong statements like the faux tortoise molding, bookcases, and fireplace. And according to Long, it's the clutter that then softens the whole effect. I think he has a valid point.

Long once defended clutter by writing "True clutter is very different from those artfully arranged tablescapes, piles of expensive books and endless buttons and bows aimed to give an instant lived-in look. It is based on the often unconscious acquisitiveness of many of the Human Race who cannot resist making jackdaw nests for themselves with things which have taken their random fancy." Well said, and spoken like a true collector. It's certainly food for thought. But my question is, do any of you live like this? Or do you adhere to a design diet of moderation?

Another view of drawing room. I am so taken with the faux tortoise molding and fireplace, which is hidden behind you guessed it... clutter.

The kitchen shelves are laden with blue and white china and creamware.

The dining room does not seem as crowded as some of the other rooms. See how pretty the room looks lit by candlelight? Remember this when you're entertaining over the holidays and try using only candlelight.

The sitting room. Note the faux marbre molding. The chintz on the armchair is Old Rose which was a favorite of John Fowler, a close friend of Long. The curtains were made from an 1825 chintz.

Image at top: Another view of the drawing room.


  1. As a designer, I would never promote clutter unless a client loved the look - for my personal space -I LOVE clutter - but it is contained - organized disorganization

  2. Mary- I like your description of "organized disorganization". And yes, you either love clutter or you don't.

  3. I think the key to clutter is in the grouping of like things. A table covered in random things you love may please your eye but to an outsider can be downright cringe-inducing. A table covered in a collection of boxes, books, paperweights, shells, etc. has a logic and beauty to it that all but the strictest minimalist can typically appreciate.

  4. I think I love clutter - other people's! xv

  5. I agree as well, I like an organized disorganization. I couldn't live in a place THIS cluttered but love the look and atmosphere it provides. In my worst nightmares this is what my apartment turns into! Excuse me while I go purge...

  6. Anonymous9:09 AM

    This is the English country house look. I doubt that those who have these homes are cleaning them themselves. I love the look. I think that this might be rather freeing.

  7. First things first: I would like to see the photos with another treatment of the shades, ilumination and colour. It seems to me that these photos are too much saturated and it's a pitty!
    The interiors and contents I think they are the most relaxed and unpretentious, because the decoration acts here as if it doesn't exists. Few people in the world are able to display objects and the wide collection of books in this manner without crash into foolish!
    I don't subscribe intirely this style. For instance, I dislike tose ribbons upon the chimney... And can't stand with little objects and baskets wondering through the floor...
    But I have to admit and admire the style and work bothh of John Fowler and Lady Colefax who let us a great school in interior design.

  8. Clutter, but not to that level.

  9. Thanks for reminding me of these rooms; I've always loved them. I like a fair amount of clutter because we collect a lot of things. But what I do is to have a couple of rooms that are more spare and that we always try to keep clean and organized. That way there is somewhere to go for a visual break. One of them is the bedroom. I also think this look works better in the winter than the summer.

  10. Everybody has made really valid points. It's not a look for everybody, but I do respect it. It also seems that there is a definite method to the madness.

  11. Well, I definitely like layers and visual stimulation. And I love looking at these images. (Such great quotes too!)

    I guess I draw the line when friends can't find a place to sit -- have to actually remove pillows. Or can't put a drink down. Or when kids and dogs can't run through because precious objects are stacked in ridiculous towers :)

  12. Anonymous10:06 AM

    I don't think your choice of photos were the best examples-these are a little dated perhaps. I could do a much better post showing modern examples of "organized clutter" with rooms by Miles Redd, Charlotte Moss, and Mario Buatta that anyone with style would admire. That being said, I adore your blog-you are a source of inspiration. What about a post showing elegant stylish Christmas decorating-you have not really done much of it in the past-just a thought!

  13. Courtney- You know you're in trouble when it starts to encroach on the way you live!

  14. Beth- These photos are about 20 years old, so it's not necessarily a look for today. I used it as an example because it's an interior that always makes me stop in my tracks as I marvel at the amount of stuff. I've not really seen another interior like it!

  15. If the CLUTTER is done with Good Taste, I am ALL for it! Charles Faudree, a favorite of mine, loves lots of STUFF out in his designs and it REALLY looks great! Of course, his stuff, is NICE stuff!

    The images here are WONDERFUL!

  16. I must admit, these pictures, though somewhat dated, are quite beautiful - in somebody else's home. All that stuff would just make me crazy. If it were my home, I'd feel the need to take both elbows and start clearing a path to sanity! If I were forced to live in all that arranged clutter, I'd have to start take some of those meds they advertise on tv!


  17. My mantra is that everything must have a place. I go crazy when I have homeless clutter that just keeps getting moved from place to place in my home. However, I don't have a problem with organized clutter - like completely packed bookshelves. But I need to have clear spaces - room on a table by the couch to set the book I'm reading or my glass fo water, etc.

    This clutter doesn't bother me, but it would if it were unpaid bills or the magazine I was looking for.

  18. Anonymous10:52 AM

    Once again, the Peak hits a homerun. I am the dinosaur who always lurks and infrequently comments.
    Stephen Long is one of my lifelong favorite dealers in London. I have many many things from him and my house has the same effect which gives me visual delight every day. His home is the epitome of clutter done right. Despite his comments,his "things" are first class, truly early, and have such meaning to those of us who have antiques in the blood. (Also, "antique blood" says this lady-of-a-certain age.
    Keep up the good work Peak; your choices are always tops.

  19. Anonymous10:57 AM

    I am fascinated by all the layers (clutter) in these rooms - I would love to be in them alone to explore!! However, while I adore a level of clutter this would be too much to live in - esp with children and pets. I too wonder about the dust and cleanliness levels. Yes, the visual stimulation is wonderful !!

  20. Anonymous11:03 AM

    addendum to my previous comment: Yes, I do live like this.
    No, nothing is every misplaced as everthing HAS a place.
    Yes, dust is a problem so I walk around at odd moments with a Swifer , then eventually comes some major cleaning.( I tell myself this attention to "fluffing" helps me really enjoy my many things from a lifetime of collecting.) They really do feed the soul of this visual person

  21. Clutter is life. Without some, a room is a dead thing. That being said, clutter needs a reason, a purpose, a firm hand. And a good housekeeper. Nothing is worse than a cluttered room that is unkempt.

  22. Have you ever been to Stephen Long's shop? It is absolute magic. And his book reviews for The World of Interiors always send me into gales of laughter—so sharp is his pen.

  23. I think these rooms are stunning. Clutter gets a bad rap because, in most houses, it isn't antiquarian treasures -- it's pizza boxes, children's toys, electronic gadgets and wires, dead plants, and other eyesores that need to be removed.

    I would love to live in rooms as lovely as Long's. You could get locked in by accident and never ever get bored.

  24. Sometimes clutter can look artsy - like in these pictures. But in my small home, everything must have its place.

  25. No. I grew up in a cluttered house, and too much makes me insane. But I do like things around, it's just that I try to keep them edited!

  26. he must just love to shop.
    this scares me because I sort of see myself in these pictures! I seriously am out of room for books. its getting serious. I'm at a loss as to what to do, except toss out old books, like novels and things that I would never read again!

  27. Another vote for "organized clutter" -- a visual balance that pleases the eye but allows the mind to appreciate the whole vista. Some places and spaces might be left unfilled to allow other objects or artworks to shine. Changing items around for a fresh look or season or a party is wonderful way to refresh the scene too! And a space to put down a martini is simply essential -- so a clear spot on a table is a MUST!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  28. Wow! I love how we have such different opinions on the subject... and that we're quite adamant about our opinions too. I must admit I only became familiar with Long earlier this year, so I'm glad there are those who are fans of his, and hopefully he'll find a few new fans too.

  29. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Done correctly this look is about bounty, not clutter. It is about having hand sized, human scaled objects to admire and wonderful tableau, arrangement of objects. These types of rooms feel very warm to me, but the rules of good design are the same for modern or traditional interiors--the comfort of your guests. There must be a little table to put your drink on, etc. I worked for Irvine and Fleming in New York, probably the very last of the great old school interior decorators to come from the line of John Fowler and Siste Parrish. Their design was always cozy and personal with full attention paid to furniture arrangements and comfort of the guests. I would never call their interiors cluttered, but I would certainly call them bountiful. And beautiful.

  30. Nothing dated about these rooms, children, since they were never In Style to begin with. As an extension of personality they have few equals.
    And Aesthete is correct: Stephen Long's book reviews for WOI are priceless.

  31. First of all, fun and cozy images to look at. I do agree with Tristan - there's no way I could live with it for more than a few days. I love color, pattern and judicious use of a few objets in often changing tableaus, but my eyes need a lot of breathing and blank space for balance and sanity and to bring out the best qualities in what IS in a room. But I love "stuff" and I'm a collector/junker so this is a constant uphill battle for me, especially over time. I end up keeping books in my closet and giving lots of stuff to goodwill.

  32. I agree with Lisa! Clutter can be wonderful if the objects are beautiful,useful and organized....but if it is trash, throw it out and clear your mind. I actually quite like the photos you chose. They would always be a welcome place to while away an hour or two reading and such.

  33. Anonymous9:24 PM

    I'd love to be able to live without clutter, but it seems to be constitutionally impossible for me, and I cannot comprehend how others live in minimalist spaces with no *stuff* visible and out.

    Personally, I'd die of boredom if I weren't surrounded by all kinds of beautiful and interesting things, especially books. Books are an addiction for me, especially design books. Joni, I am also perpetually out of space for them, so I *soooo* know how you feel!

    The hard part, of course, is keeping it all even remotely artfully arranged when you actually use the items frequently!


  34. I love the cluttered English house look with collections of cool stuff on display. If there is too much, tho it resembles an antique store but not in a good way. Definitely wouldn't want to be the one who has to dust all that crap.

  35. Anonymous11:34 PM

    Lisa Hunter makes a good point in that most people's clutter is junk while Stephen Long's "clutter" are objects of beauty.

    But for myself, living in my small condo, I could never live like this without a full-time household staff. Plus, I just don't have the eye for artfully arranging things.

  36. Anonymous3:23 AM

    You're moving in a really interesting direction: the psychology of self-presentation and display. How clever of you to explore that via clutter.

    Seems to me that the way we arrange our rooms is to present a narrative about ourselves. The narrative we think we should tell. Old money? New money? Cultivated? Ascetic? Sybaritic? Born yesterday? Obsessed with the past? Looking to the future? Tinker? Tailor? Soldier? Spy? It's all so incredibly rich.

    And as the Lamenting Aesthete points out here (and in the well-written blog), the way we maintain our rooms says much about our spirits and self-esteem.

    Rooms that silt up, whether with beautiful objects or the detritus of life, seem dead, unloved and, as Courtney of "Style Court" reminds us, unwelcoming. (Do you really have room in your life - let alone your heart - for others if they must disrupt your artfully-staged set to sit down and stretch out?)

    Regardless, I admire how you plumb the way we live - brava! Forge onward!

  37. Everyone's comments have really made me think about clutter, collections, and the way in which one chooses to live. I agree that Long's home, whether one thinks it's cluttered or not, definitely has LIFE! And shouldn't that be the most important attribute of one's home?

  38. I just wanted to thank PofC for featuring this magnificent home. I am 46, and I discovered for myself, the magic of Mr. Long at the early age of 23, thank you very much WOI. Traveling to London in my 20s and 30s, the Long establishment was a true eye opening experience. Here was the mythical "English" antique shop come to life. Just studying the windows, not to even mention the shop's interior, was a condensed lesson in British decorative arts, social history, and the impact of one individual's very personal vision.

    Most people do not know the amount of time, intellect, and passion it takes to achieve a world such as the world of Mr. Long. The ability to instinctively gravitate to objects of beauty, quality, design, age, and the appreciation for the object's sheer survival over time, speaks volumes about Mr. Long's true talents. Curating, collecting, displaying, and layering are all great attributes, but can fall very short of their potential when placed in the hands of the uninitiated. Long teaches all of us when we open up our eyes and look.

    I know this amount of possessions is not the most practical for everyday homes. This is why I love the English. Personality and quirkiness win out over our American sensibilities of "organization" and "order". A person's life and interest are presented for full viewing in these spaces. I personally say, who cares about a bit of dust when you are surrounded with so many amazing treasures. Long live Long!

  39. Anonymous4:48 PM

    Have already postd comments about buying from Mr. Long over many years, etc. Had to add more as JH's entry is a marvelous summation of what this look is all about.
    And the reference to his book reviews so true. I once wrote him a fan letter about so enjoying his articles in WOI and to my suprise he wrote me a charming letter in return.
    How rewarding to see that he and his work are appreciated by a younger generation (Maybe I am not an endangered species after all)
    Lisa B.

  40. Oh clutter.. Yes, we live amongst our things. Somehow the whole is considerably less... artful? than Mr. Long's surroundings.

  41. Anonymous7:14 PM

    I've studied these rooms in the same books, and have always marveled at Long's comments re: crowding up not-so-good things. Wow, I'd love to see what he considers good!

    I couldn't live with quite so much crammed into every space, but in any "normal" room, each of these items would be a treasured gem.

  42. Anonymous8:44 PM

    Oh Lordy!! a kindred soul!!

    look at http://www.topsyturvystyle.com/2008/08/sneak-preview-ii-santa-barbara-style.html

    Mine is the house where the writer says, "she is of the "more is more" philosophy! I obviously have lots more room!!