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Around the house: Look for beauty, not perfection, in home design

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If you want to endure as a senior design editor at Canadian House & Home, you better know how to make pretty pictures. Stacey Smithers spent 13 years doing just that at the popular design publication, creating photogenic spaces that were beautiful, relaxed, and accessible—places that welcomed the viewer in, and invited them to stay a while.

These days, Smithers is an independent stylist and designer. Clients include her sister Sarah Smithers, who along with partner David Gilhooly owns Stratford’s Wills and Prior, which happens to be one of Ontario’s prettiest décor shops.

Replicating the easygoing chic she’s hired to create creates may be less complicated than you think, Smithers says. Start by simply cleaning up and rethinking storage.

“No-one is leaving out a pile of toys or shoes for a shoot,” she says. Not only is culling accumulated décor and accessories a good place to begin, tidying up gives the pieces you love room to “breathe”.

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“People forget how important negative space is. Your eye needs places to rest. If there’s too much stuff, all the awesomeness gets cancelled out. It’s like wearing all your favorite clothes at the same time. “

Even humble stones from a favorite beach can add design magic.
Even humble stones from a favorite beach can add design magic. Photo by Photo Wills and Prior

That’s not to say Smithers is a fan of faultless, flawless spaces. “In styling, you’re not striving for perfection, you’re striving for beauty and that is a different thing.” Great style, she says, tells a personal story, and has private references.

“When I hear the word polished, I think of show homes,” says Smithers. “They are often so beautiful, but nobody lives there so they feel slightly soulless. (What can be missing) is the history, the quirky, the idiosyncratic—the family photos and collections. It’s the opposite of polish, but it’s what I am drawn to. “

Having watched design trends and décor buzzwords come and go, Smithers is interested in how concepts can change and grow. Minimalism, she says, used to be equated with starkly cold interiors. Now, she says, it’s better used to describe more intentional living, and higher awareness of how and where things are made and distributed.

“All of that is good, and I think when things outside your home seem out of control having fewer things makes you feel calmer, more in control, more secure. But having less doesn’t necessarily make a space chilly and spare—there can be layers and warmth.”

Great style doesn’t require a huge investment, adds Smithers. Three of her most trusted elements are within reach of most households.

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“Flowers, books, and fruit,” she confides. “No interior stylist is leaving home without those.”

Décor with different textures, heights, and styles create pleasing contrast.
Décor with different textures, heights, and styles create pleasing contrast. Photo by Photo Robin Steuben for Wills and Prior

Go for a little more quantity than you may be used to, she adds. “Take a trip down the produce aisle—every season has a still-life star – Clementines with stems and leaves, or peaches, or cloudy black plums. But grab enough to fill a shallow fruit bowl—two won’t cut it”.

Great style is rooted in the warmth and character of a house, says Stacey Smithers.
Great style is rooted in the warmth and character of a house, says Stacey Smithers. Photo by Photo Alex Lukey

When buying flowers, don’t go in with a fixed idea of what you want. “Get what is beautiful and fresh right now. But get two bunches. Often all you need is a clear vase because sometimes stems are just as beautiful as the flowers,” she says.

Affordable, attractive coffee-table books can often be sourced at thrift or vintage stores: stack five—even eight—on the coffee table.

Arranging those items with different heights, textures, and colour, and Smithers “can pretty much guarantee you have a magazine-ready coffee table”.

Lastly, live a little with colour. “Go for the purple dahlias, the crazy cushion,” says Smithers. “They don’t have to be big investments to have an impact.”

For more tips from Stacey Smithers, go to www.aroundthehouse.ca Check out more of her styling work in the e-cookbook Twenty-one F*cking Delicious Recipes for 2021 from food journalist Amy Rosen.  Available for $10 through Stacey Smithers Creative.

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