(originally posted march 27, 2010) For someone who’s pretty much obsessed with taste ~ the food and drink varieties ~ 
ironically that’s not the taste I’m asked about all the time. More than any single dish people have enjoyed in the restaurant, or single object they’ve purchased in the shop, it's been the overall aesthetic of Barndiva and the Studio ~ the way everything is put together in both buildings ~ that has generated the greatest force field of interest over the years.

With respect to the shop, we’ve even had clients who buy a whole mixed media wall to get what they call “the look,” or “the effect.” I know I have a talent for design, but the overwhelming response to the mise en place of our lives has lead me to suspect that something else is operating here beyond expansive admiration. A clue can be found in the oft heard refrain from those customers who don’t just look around and take a picture of Artists & Farmers like it's some Disneyland of Design, but actually step up & buy something: “I love it,” they will tell us, “now I just have to find a place to put it."

It's probably good to remember that we’ve only been at beautifying our surrounds for a few hundred years, though we’ve been foraging for a few thousand and are packrats by extension of the same primordial pull. Why then, is it so hard to know how arrange our surroundings so they truly reflect what we call our ‘taste,’ that material and very social manifestation we hope speaks to who we are ~ and where we hope we are heading?

Barndiva and The Studio define a very personal taste aesthetic, and it’s the personal part writ large that most people seem to desperately want. Unfortunately, it's something you won’t find in the dozens of home and design magazines who ply their trade by generating thousands upon thousands of images of (we are told) coveted homes filled with dream rooms of stunning art and fabulous furniture. We’ve all been trained to lust after the things we see in those rooms, which is fine ~ I love my Côte Sur ~ but at the end of the day they all beg a question they can’t answer for you. Namely, who would you be if you lived in those beautiful, seemingly perfect rooms? The answer has to start with: who are you in your rooms now?

The editors of Elle Décor or Dwell don’t know you ~ nor, really, does that decorator you hired (if you have the dosh or the inclination) that came so highly recommended. The talented ones have their own proven sense of what works together in a room, and general rules of thumb on how to arrange furniture and art to make rooms larger or cozier ~ all good ~ but trust me when I tell you ~ having worked on the periphery of this industry for years ~ that at the end of the day rooms that sing do so because whomever lives in them composed their own song. Great taste comes from writing (and rewriting) your own lyrics over time, and altering the melody so it stays relevant.

K2 asked me the other day, as we were waxing on where to place things in the new space we are creating in The Studio, what objects I still had around me from when I was very young. The question took me by surprise because as it turned out the answer was….not a lot. My Kertesz photograph lives wherever I sleep most nights; as does the small oil of two figures on a blue bed that Frane gave me the weekend I met Geoffrey; I still have the huge antique Guerlain cologne bottles I inherited from the first Tex Feldman, the sleepy doll I never cared much for until Beatrice crushed its face dusting it on a windowsill when I was 5, but besides photographs of my family at various stages of our lives, nothing around me is much more than ten years old. The truth is that even before the fire which wiped out most of what I’d collected in life, I didn’t hold onto things with the avidity of someone who seems to have a lot of beautiful, lived in things around her.

The fire taught me many things, the primary lesson being that with the exception of your personal words and images, everything else in a material life can be replaced. By letting go of things you once found charming, or amusing, you make room for the next step in your own definition of those attributes. There should not be a divide between the things you buy to impress the world and the things you collect because they speak to you on a personal level. Sorry. If the things you want to surround yourself with are stupid or silly, own it (that may not be a bad thing anyway). If they are made badly or the product of a calculated corporate mindset that does not value human labor or the environment, ask yourself why you have them around. Things, no matter how small, should add to the daily conversation you’re having with life (or should be having).

As the new gallery has taken shape over the past week ~ 14 hour days and sleep riddled with questions ~ but so much fun ~ I’ve realized that the one talent I really have isn’t what to pick up and put into my world, it's when to let go. Years of looking critically at art, architecture, literature and cinema informs my choices when I put things together that don’t at first seem to have anything in common. But at the end of the day, no matter what passion you’ve followed, even if it's light years away from a proclivity for art and design, you still live with things, pick them up and put them down on something, use them, sit in them, sleep in them, eat off them, look at them at odd hours of the day when you are really thinking about something else. If you are what you eat (and I believe that is profoundly true) you are also a reflection of your surroundings, like it or not. They can elevate the experience of life, or weigh it down. 
Thankfully, the choices really are yours. And the good news is that you can only get better and better at curating your own life when you start paying attention.

As things will happen in this cosmic joke we call life, a few days ago I received an inquiry from the New York Times Style Magazine to feature The Studio in the upcoming issue. To be in The Style Magazine ~ which only comes out a few times a year~ is one of the coolest compliments. The fact the call came the week we had just closed and dismantled Artists & Farmers might, for the faint hearted, seemed like the ultimate WTF.

The thing is, I’m so excited about what we are about to become that I managed to find a shrug and a classic 'whatever' about the timing. They will come around again or they won’t ~ whatever the case, they will find us in a our usual state of creative flux, a wonderful place that defines everything we do and keeps it all interesting for me, K2 & Dane here in the Studio and Geoff, Lukka, Ryan, Tracy, Tommy, Spencer and the rest of the wonderful gang at Barndiva who have thrown in with us.

All text and photos, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)

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