Decorating Ideas

The Charm of the Perfectly Imperfect Finishing Touch

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There’s something intriguing about rooms that are refined but not rigid—those spaces made cozy with old chairs, layers of threadbare rugs, and bookshelves brimming with well-thumbed, casually arranged tomes. More often than not, this kind of room possesses at least one item or vignette that’s more tastefully tattered than the rest. One might describe such a look as “Old World” or “well traveled,” but it’s also what we like to think of as perfectly imperfect. Here, we spotlight the look as seen in the homes of some of our favorite designers and tastemakers and share three easy ways to make it your own.

Books arranged in a helter-skelter fashion in writer Julia Reed’s New Orleans apartment. Photo by Lesley Unruh.

Books arranged in a helter-skelter fashion in writer Julia Reed’s New Orleans apartment. Photo by Lesley Unruh.

Stacks of books anchor a portrait in the corner of Sara Ruffin Costello’s New Orleans sitting room. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Stacks of books anchor a portrait in the corner of Sara Ruffin Costello’s New Orleans sitting room. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Disheveled but Distinguished

“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot,” wrote British playwright Alan Bennett. And one could argue that the way in which a person arranges a bookshelf says as much about him or her as the volumes do. One can color block, create neat little rows, or cover every title in the exact same hue (read: type A). But one can also take a more lax approach, lining things up in a way that’s easy to pull from and stacking lighter titles loosely on top—or maybe there’s opportunity to ditch the shelves altogether and create columns of tomes on the floor, building a sort of literary sculpture. This charming magpie approach comes to life in the homes of writer Julia Reed and editor and creative director Sara Ruffin Costello, where volumes collected over decades—worn, mismatched covers and all—create a loose, lived-in vignette.

A perfectly threadbare vintage runner in designer Darryl Carter’s Washington D.C. town house. Photo by Frank Tribble.

A perfectly threadbare vintage runner in designer Darryl Carter’s Washington D.C. town house. Photo by Frank Tribble.

I think your home should be an individual expression of yourself, so I have a hard time getting my head around generic objects. And when I say this I don’t mean precious or expensive, I mean thoughtful and original.

— Darryl Carter

Think Threadbare

A well-worn rug (such as a vintage Oushak or Persian, whose fine craftsmanship and quality materials lend themselves to this look) adds instant character and a sense of history wherever it lays—and works well in both minimalist and maximalist environs. D.C.-based designer Darryl Carter placed a gently distressed runner on a landing, where it adds a touch of color and texture while protecting the wood floors beneath. Presentable, not precious, vintage pieces like this require less care than newer designs and have the effect of a treasured heirloom—even though they’re likely to be among your thriftier finds.

Sara Ruffin Costello purposely did not reupholster this weathered antique French chair in her New Orleans home. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Sara Ruffin Costello purposely did not reupholster this weathered antique French chair in her New Orleans home. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

A cabinet was left pleasantly chipped in artist Frank Faulkner’s Hudson, NY, getaway. Photo by Pernille Loof.

A cabinet was left pleasantly chipped in artist Frank Faulkner’s Hudson, NY, getaway. Photo by Pernille Loof.

Chipped and Worn

Whether it’s a vintage chair left in its unreupholstered state or a secondhand cabinet scuffed in all the right places, a worn object injects life into a room. If it’s well made, it will age just as well. So think twice before having something you already own refinished to its original glory—and don’t disregard buying that old table because of a minor chip. These kind of imperfections add beauty in all the right ways: It’s not “damaged”; it’s gracefully aged.

Shop vintage furniture and decor to bring home the look →

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