Whether you live in a palace or a studio apartment, it’s the little things that create your personal sense of beauty and comfort. Soaring ceilings, valuable antiques and serious art collections are impressive but it’s the small luxuries, the “niches of comfort” that make for a livable home.
Personal comfort may be as simple as an assortment of fabulous bath products and big fluffy towels or as elaborate as a state of the art home theater (often a man’s idea of comfort). For me, I want well-designed comfort everywhere but if I had to choose my favorite spots, I would opt for a wonderful bed, a great reading chair and a beautifully set dinner table.
Beds are critical. Sad to say but we spend one third of our lives sleeping, thus spending more time in our bed than in any other environment, so it only makes sense to make your bed the most comfortable, relaxing, sensuous and deeply restful place in your home. Start with a good mattress; there are an infinite variety of mattresses and “sleep systems” available, so shop around till you find one that suits both you and your mate. If you don’t want to invest in a new mattress you can upgrade or revive a “tired” mattress by adding a special mattress pad – take a look at the Cuddledown selection (www.cuddledown.com) their offerings range from simple quilted cotton, to thick plush foam, down-filled featherbeds and comfy fleece pads. Next, buy the best sheets you can afford. I like Egyptian Pima cotton sheets with a thread count of 300 or more. Cotton is a wonderful fiber – there’s nothing like getting into a bed of freshly laundered smooth and crisp premium grade cotton sheets. And, in the depths of winter, nothing is so cozy as cotton flannel sheets. Don’t even think about polyester or any artificial fibers; they don’t breathe and besides, who wants an artificial fiber next to your skin for that 1/3 of your life you spend in bed?
Pillows are a very personal item. My husband loves and will not part with his ancient pillow – now a pathetic flattened lump of goosedown, but he has utterly bonded with it and however miserable looking, I haven’t been able to tempt him with something loftier, so I cover it in an attractive case. Suit yourself – maybe you like the firmness of foam or the loft of Dacron but for my money, I’ll take the softness of down for the way it conforms to your head and neck. A word of warning to pillow buyers: feathers are not the same as down – they are much coarser – and I must warn you that you have to get a tightly woven pillow cover so that you are not bothered by small bits of down that may escape through a loosely woven fabric. I design my large decorative pillows to be sturdy as well as beautiful so that they can double as back supports while I read myself to sleep. The smaller decorative pillows are more for show and I enjoy piling them up in a visually pleasing arrangement when I make the bed. I keep a coverlet on the bed and, depending on the season, I keep either a light quilt at the foot of the bed or a goosedown duvet with a beautiful cover. How I love getting into my bed at night!
The Reading Chair
There are still people who enjoy reading and if you’re one of them I’m sure you have a special chair for that purpose. I do. It’s a traditional English style easy chair with an ottoman. For most upholstered furniture, I recommend a seat cushion of spring-down and that’s what I chose here – it’s soft but the springs keep the shape of the cushion so it doesn’t require constant fluffing – and I had it upholstered in a soft chenille with an antique rose damask pattern. The chair is big enough that my beloved Yorkie, Petey, can sit beside me and help me read (of course when I’m not in it, he sits in the middle). The chair sits next to the fireplace, an optimum spot for a reading chair and I bought an antique brass trivet that sits appropriately on the hearth and serves as a repository for my books and magazines. On the other side of the chair I put a round piecrust side table that just happens to be the right height to hold a cup of tea, a plant, and a tray to keep a few pens, pencils and scissors for making notes and cutting out articles. Lighting of course is important for reading so I put a light on either side of my chair – a handsome classic brass floor lamp which gives a little visual height to my furniture arrangement and a tiny clip-on light which is perched on built-in bookshelves next to the fireplace. Most weekday evenings I can be found at home luxuriating in my chair with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other.
The Beautiful dinner table
Eating is one of the great pleasures in life and it is immeasurably enhanced by a pleasing atmosphere. My mother was my mentor here; she had rules about dinnertime: (1) no milk bottles on the table, (2) always dine by candlelight, (3) always have some kind of decorative embellishment on the table – preferably fresh flowers (4) always use the good silver (5) table manners should be worthy of dining with Queen Elizabeth. I have been shocked to discover how many of my clients who have families rarely sit down to eat dinner together. What with sports practice for the kids and late hours for working parents, a lot of households develop a kind of boardinghouse mentality – everyone eats when they are hungry and that often means a microwaved meal to be eaten on the run. Channel 2 News actually came to film the family of one of my sisters as they prepared and ate dinner together – as if this was some kind of arcane ritual! Turns out it was a newsworthy story because someone somewhere had done a study that revealed that children who regularly eat dinner with their families actually do better in school than those who don’t.
My husband and I do our best to put on a lovely dinner every night. We set the table with colorful placemats and cloth napkins, I always try to have either cut flowers or a live plant on the table and of course, candles. Wine glasses look elegant even if they are being used for water or juice; any kind of goblet style glass is an easy way to lend a special flair to the table setting. A good looking salt and pepper set is a must. Avoid having anything ugly on the table or any mail or papers – it’s distracting. If children are taught to respect the dinner hour they are likely to observe and enjoy it – one of my sisters has two teenage sons and one evening when they were left to fix dinner on their own she returned home to find them eating on TV tables in front of the TV, but, on each table they had artistically arranged a lighted candle and a flower!
So, what’s your favorite home comfort zone? Plan to make the most of it!
Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 37 Main St. in Tarrytown