April 6, 2011

Get Personal with Your Decorating: Monica Rich Kosann Interview

Last year, I did a roundup of decorating books that offered practical tips on making a space your own. Monica Rich Kosann's Living with What You Love was on that list, and her book's main idea of how to incorporate collectibles, photos and other personal treasures into a home really stuck with me. I recently had the chance to chat with Monica, who's a photographer as well as a jewelry and home accessory designer, to learn more about her outlook on decorating and the art of collecting.

Decor Musings: If a friend came to you, complaining about her home lacking personality, how would you advise her?
Monica Rich Kosann: I believe your home should show your personality or your family’s personality. It’s about telling your story, expressing the things you love and having them around you. For instance, I inherited a white mug from my great aunt that has the name “Agnes” on it. That was my middle name, which I dropped after getting married, but it had a special meaning for me. Instead of keeping the mug tucked away in my cupboard, I decided to put it out on display. I then began frequenting flea markets in search of white pottery and ended up building an entire collection around that one mug.

DM: What’s your overall philosophy on collecting?
MRK: I always say a collection starts when you have three pieces of the same theme. It’s the beginning of an experience. You don’t want to go out and buy 12 pieces that are similar all at once, because then it’s not a collection. The whole point of collecting is the fun, adventure and history that comes with it. It’s also not a matter of how much the items cost either.

DM: How do you avoid clutter when building collections and incorporating them into your home? 
MRK: You can’t have everything around you all the time. For example, I personally love collecting teapots, but I can’t have them out every day. When I have guests over, I use them as flower pots. Otherwise, they're kept in my pantry area.

So pick and choose what’s most important to you and figure out how it works with the décor in your home. If you have a very, very country home with shabby chic items, maybe an Art Deco glass collection might be inappropriate. 

DM: Where do you shop for collectibles and how do you navigate the markets you visit?
MRK: I love Portobello Road in London, Marché aux Puces in Paris, the flea market in Chelsea, Manhattan, and the annual antique shows in Brimfield, Massachusetts. I also like to visit the flea markets in Asia whenever I'm there. 

DM: What's your strategy for navigating flea markets? It can be overwhelming sometimes. 
MRK: The best way is to peruse it first to get an overall feel for the different vendors. Then when you walk around a second time, you'll remember that there are certain points you want to hit. Also, if you visit often enough, the vendors get to know you. You can learn so much from them and they really enjoy talking about what they have for sale.

DM: You also love the idea of displaying family photos in a home. What are your tips on getting it right?
MRK: I have photos of my family in almost every room in my house. My entire refrigerator is covered in family photos and people always love looking at them when they come over. In addition to showcasing them in the kitchen, I like creating a family wall, where you take old photos from the past—photos of aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents—and start incorporating them with those from your life. I call it a fine-art family wall. It becomes a conversation.

If you don’t have wall space, you can create vignettes, which I like to call intimate landscapes. Put photos in new or vintage frames and gather them. I like to put five to seven photos in small frames on a tray, or even lean framed photos on bookshelves.

DM: Why do you find decorating fulfilling?
MRK: Every home should have a story to tell—it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Don’t decorate your home and then be done with it. That’s no fun. I am constantly rearranging pictures, vignettes, always adding and subtracting. It's about the things that make your home personal and make your home yours.

All photos courtesy of Monica Rich Kosann