How to Maintain a Flawless Home

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When asked at a dinner party when he was going to write a book on home design, James Swan gave it some wine-fueled consideration. Though he had no such plans, the Beverly Hills tastemaker came up with a provocative title: “101 Things I Hate About Your House,” (HCI, 2011). His friend Carol Beggy persuaded him to follow through, and she shares credit for the book.

Despite the title, “101 Things” is perhaps the kindest of all home design books, written for folks “who might never have a chance to work with a professional designer,” Swan says. Unlike all those dust-collecting “coffee table tomes” that do little more than incite covetousness, “101 Things” provides advice and quick fixes that people of modest means can implement right away to make their homes more comfortable and inviting. Home design crimes – the things Swan “hates” – are pointed out and addressed with love.

“Love is closer to hate than indifference,” Swan says of his book subtitled “A Premier Designer Takes You on a Room-by-Room Tour to Transform Your Home from Faux Pas to Fabulous.”

“When we react passionately to a space, it means we care. Someone who’s indifferent to their home and surroundings won’t enjoy my book.”

If people look around and hate what they see, there’s hope, in large part because their strong reaction signals an emotional investment, and also because “101 Things” shows how simple changes can help them and their guests get more enjoyment out of their living space.

Lose the fake flowers

Here, Swan free-associates about home design flaws, foibles and fixes:

The most hate-worthy feature: “Bad lighting can be unpleasant if not physically painful. I don’t care how beautiful a room is. If it’s over-lit, our ability to enjoy it is diminished. Plus, nobody looks good in glaring light.” Install some smaller bulbs and dimmers for starters. 

Details you think he won’t notice: Drapes that don’t come all the way to the floor (“it’s like a man walking in a suit with his socks showing”) and faux foliage (“plastic plants are fine for a hotel lobby, but they do not belong in a home”). Swan is more accepting of high-quality silk flowers: “But if you’re going to create that illusion, carry it through to its logical end and freshen the arrangement” every so often.

Questionable first impressions: Dingy front doors, welcome mats with cutesy sayings, pervasive odors, overburdened coat racks in the entryway.

The proper way to hang toilet paper: “Please orient the roll with the paper coming over the top toward those in need. Few things look as limp and forlorn,” Swan says, as tissue going the other way.

Invisible irritants: Rubber-backed rugs in the bathroom provide for a skid-free experience, but for Swan they call to mind “rapidly multiplying colonies of bacteria and fungus.”

An empty hearth is disconcerting because it registers as a cold brick hole instead of the warmth and conviviality we associate with fireplaces.

“Complete the picture,” Swan says, “with classic fireplace tools and a properly filled wood basket.”

Details matter

Little things mean a lot: Conveniently placed coasters are “monumentally important” to guests who want to protect your furniture and their own sense of propriety. You can never have too many candles: “Use them often and everywhere.”

Sleeping tight isn’t always a good thing: Teens and twin-sized beds do not get along. “Seeing a 6-foot teenage boy crawling into a twin bed seems inappropriate,” Swan says, not to mention disrespectful to the youth who is growing and maturing. “As a rite of passage, I’m a strong believer in a double bed arriving on or around any young person’s 16th birthday.”

You asked for it…: If you opt for glass cabinet doors in the kitchen, be prepared to maintain orderliness within. Otherwise, you are all but inviting Swan to ask why your cabinet interiors “look like the sales tables at Filene’s Basement.”

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