Less Is... Impossible: One Man's Quest to be like Mies

Off the Eaten Path
Game On!
Because It Tests Us... Why We Love Lake at Winter
Party Perfect
The Lost Art of Summer
Magnificently Terrified
Growing Pains
Less Is... Impossible: One Man's Quest to be like Mies

When my partner, Gary, and I moved to Turkey Run, our cottage near Saugatuck, Mich., we vowed to change our style.

Our home in St. Louis was a cornucopia of eclecticism – highlighted, in fact, by theme rooms. We had a “gardening room,” filled with pots and antique garden implements; a “grandma kitchen” crammed with McCoy cookie jars; even a “lodge room” lined with snow shoes and fishing poles.

Turkey Run, we vowed, would be different. It would reflect our growth as people and style mavens.

So we began combing through magazines to gather ideas. Browsing Architectural Digest and Martha Stewart Living, we happened upon an all-white, retro ranch in Palm Springs, Calif., which appeared to be decorated with only a Phillippe Starck chair, an Eames lamp, a fondue pot and a single palm frond.

“We will be minimalists!” Gary said, breathlessly.

“We will sleep on a tropical leaf and eat our cereal with fondue forks,” I thought, cynically.

I mean, let’s be honest: There’s nothing minimal about me or Gary. I wear more chokers than an attack dog; Gary has a closet filled almost solely with sweater vests. We have roughly 50 red and green boxes just for holiday decorations. We’re not hoarders; we’re collectors, which means we infuse every item we acquire – from our McCoy pots to our Jeff Fleming bears – with profound personal meaning and significant sentiment.

Turkey Run was a classic knotty pine cottage, filled with nooks and crannies. Not exactly a white slate for clean design. Still, we said goodbye to all that tchotchke-ism when we moved to Saugatuck.

All of our unwanted baggage had come with us, though, to be stuffed in storage. And like bad memories, we tried valiantly to keep it all repressed. When our unpacked boxes sang to us like Circe, we resisted by sticking our noses in decorating magazines and admiring the unfettered surfaces of the modern homes inside. To bolster our resolve, Gary cut out a quote from Better Homes & Gardens that read: “I don’t like clutter, so I don’t fill my house with tchotchkes. What’s most important is that the items I display mean something.”

We framed this, in tasteful barn wood, of course, and hung it in the kitchen, for inspiration.

Marching to our minimalist mantra, we decorated Turkey Run with a few pieces of Stickley-inspired furniture. We added a few strategically placed antiques. We leaned stark birch branches in a corner and placed a single, funky vase on a mantle. Instead of putting our dishes in the open cupboards, we put them out of sight (read: somewhere inconvenient), so that each door-less cabinet could frame a dramatic piece of pottery.

We tried to admire this new style, but everything felt forced and empty – and sort of disappointing – like being invited to Ralph Lauren’s weekend house only to discover he had decorated it with Ikea furniture.

And then one Saturday, Gary and I stumbled upon an old shed, hidden near the front of our three acres. We jimmied open the door, expecting to find mice or raccoons. Instead, we found an itty-bitty antiques shop. The shed was filled to its sagging roof with old jars, vases and flower pots, books and pictures. At the back, a treasure trove of old piggy banks gathered dust: Some were pottery, some plastic, some were Roy Rogers-themed, others were shaped liked snowmen.

What’s more, many of the items bore inscriptions of the names of the long-ago owners of

this land.

Gary and I stared at each other in this mildewed shed, holding our favorite pieces.

Then, like any good minimalists, we hauled every single piece into Turkey Run, bleached and Purelled them, and found perfect niches for them. When we finished, the treasures from the shed began to look lonely and friendless, so we unloaded our storage boxes of snowshoes and sailboats, and minnow buckets and beach signs.

Then we began shopping like weekend resorters: We bought a trio of giant carved bears with happy expressions, and vintage signs that said, “This Way to the Lake!”, and mugs and dishtowels and oven mitts featuring Lake Michigan.

Soon after, a friend of ours – an interior designer who decorates penthouses in Chicago and retreats in the Hamptons – came to visit. He walked in, spun around like a top, and wagged his finger at the hundreds of tchotchkes with which we had bedecked Turkey Run.

“Boys, my dear boys!,” he exclaimed. “It looks like Eddie Bauer threw up in here.”

We took this as a huge compliment.

For one thing, we knew we had the perfect set of dish towels – emblazoned with dancing pine trees and happy canoes – with which to clean up such a mess.

More to the point: Our house finally felt like a home. I may not be a designer, and Gary and I may never be minimalists. But Architectural Digest be damned: Surrounded by stuff we love, we’ve found our own, true, tchotchke-filled style.