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3 Tips For Artfully Messy; Deliberately Casual Style

There’s an overarching theme on The Crux’s Pinterest board . It’s something I think of as artfully messy staging, but its really just casual style. You are probably familiar with what I am talking about, though you might not have spent time dwelling on it: that oh-so-casual precisely arranged “mess” that elevates a home from well-designed to “lived in”. Think unmade beds, throws tossed haphazardly, piles of pillows, leaning art or mirrors, displayed collections, and carefully curated stuff. Open shelving is often a great example of artfully messy.

You don’t want your home to look actually messy. A real mess sprouts from clutter, disorganization, clutter, uncleanliness, oh and clutter. But, there’s something to be said for deliberate casualness, for a purposeful mess. It’s most common, and probably most familiar, in the context of Bohemian style or Country Chic. I like the look of an artful mess because it’s poignantly natural, functional and aesthetically easy on the eyes.

Even Fay Wolf, self-confessed perfectionist and author of New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (and Everyone Else), says that perfection is a mistake and that no good comes from having everything precisely placed. I agree with her whole-heartedly.

The Framework For Crafting An Artfully Messy Home:

1. Each Item Must Have A Purpose, A Reason

Keep minimalism in your mind; do not fill your home with objects simply to fill your home with objects. Too much stuff creates a real mess, not an artful mess. Consider each accent, each decorative item, and ask yourself “Why do I want this?“, “Do I need this?” and most importantly, “What purpose does this item serve?” The answers can be as simple as you love it, the colour creates balance, it’s deeply sentimental, or you store your fruit in it. It doesn’t matter what the reason or purpose of the item is, only that it has one. If you pick up a piece of décor in your home and can’t answer these three questions then it’s time to chuck it (or re-purpose it / sell it).

Casual style and artfully messy styling create a relaxed atmosphere in a home that is more authentic.

Homelife / Sharyn Cairns

2. Have An Organization System

Keep your mess tidy (err… what?). Artfully messy implies consideration, forethought and technique. It comes from practice and from structure. I will reiterate what I wrote above, which is that you don’t want your home to look actually messy, simply casual and lived in. The most important element to creating a casual environment is organization. Organization means storage: crates, totes, shelving, etc. Organization means a system: where things go and how they are arranged there. Colour, shape, texture, size, etc. How you choose to organize is up to you, simply make sure you do it.

Casual style and artfully messy styling create a relaxed atmosphere in a home that is more authentic.

The New Bohemians by Justina Blakeney, photography by Dabito

3. Wing It, We Are Talking About Casual Style After All

Part of creating a truly casual style means just jumping into the fray with no plans and only your gut instinct to guide you. When I make a bed messy, or arrange cushions on a couch, or style a shelf I just like to toss things around and see how they land. If it looks good on the first try then I dust my hands a walk away, if not I re-toss or nudge a little. Sometimes I find it necessary to live with the décor for a few days (or if at a photoshoto I will leave the room for 5-10 minutes and come back) before I can recognize if there is balance and cohesion in the space.

One of the reasons I began to think about casual style or artfully messy style was the sheer hectic nature of life. Our St. Bernard Winston has a knack for making a mess of the best laid plans. Le sigh. He jumps up on our bed about .5 seconds after I make it. Between two dogs, two kids, and a narcoleptic habitual cat-napper, it simply doesn’t stay that way. I throw a fit. I storm around the room complaining about everyone touching everything. You know what? I’ve had enough. Screw it. The dog is happy and I’m not, which is no way to live. Better we all be happy.

Yes, I suppose I could wedge a chair behind the bedroom door to keep the world out, but then I’d be trapped in with a bed I couldn’t touch. I once wrote an editorial for Our Homes Magazine about how the magazine look is an unrealistic frozen glimpse of time that simply fails to reflect reality. If we could freeze time we could all have that perfect look but surely that defeats the point of having a home in the first place.

The desire to perfectly place is all very nonsensical. I’ve noticed lately that every time an editor reaches out to me for a home feature they are always striving to find a home that looks lived in. The love for that deliberately casual look is growing. Case in point: I recently read a debate amongst interior designers that questioned whether or not magazine shoot stylists should forgo the attempt at dressing a bed perfectly in favour of an unmade bed. The debate sent my brain reeling. Not only is the bed one of those difficult areas to maintain in my own home, it’s one of the most difficult areas of any home to “perfect” for a photo shoot. The layers and layers of fabrics, falling every which way, the wrinkles, the pilling—I could go on all day. The worst part is making sure all blankets and sheets run level to the floor around the perimeter of the bed. Beds are absolute havoc.

Just keep the mantra—casual style—in your mind and you’ll be fine.

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  • Reply Catherine

    You have put perfectly into words the wabi sabi way of my own life. Clean and tidy is important, but in a home, especially one shared with pets, one would go mad trying to keep up with perfection. Perhaps, your editor’s need for a lived in look is a backlash to too many years of coiffed interiors that the average person just can’t make happen. Nicely written!

    February 4, 2016 at 1:50 pm
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      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do feel like staging is taken too far a lot. When I was writing this article I was flipping through the Restoration Hardware look book and it was scary.

      February 4, 2016 at 6:55 pm
  • Reply Sara

    Wow, I love this post!!!! It’s so RIGHT ON! I love the messy “look” but it has to be done “right.” These images are just perfection – great examples and thanks for linking up with us at Your Home Decor and More Link Party!

    February 23, 2016 at 9:21 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      Thanks Sara! Your link party is great, I’ve found lots of great blogs.

      February 24, 2016 at 9:09 pm
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