Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Thought for Sunday, May 24, 2015

  "Physical bravery is an animal instinct; moral bravery is a much higher and truer courage." -- Wendell Phillips

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The "Before" Photo I Didn't Show You

The largest "canvas" I've ever worked on is our house. I'm guessing a lot of artists view their homes the same way I do -- as ongoing works in progress. Hubs and I are longtime DIYers who've invested countless years and effort working to improve this place we call home. There will always be something yet to be tackled on our to-do list, because every project seems to generate another project. And sometimes it requires calling in outside help.

Anyway, a few days ago I posted a series of photos showing the remarkable difference it made in our home's appearance when we called in a professional landscape designer.

The "before" photo I posted had been taken in 2013. By that time we had already made significant improvements to the house. When a friend saw the pictures on the blog she asked me why I hadn't used the very first photo taken of the house when we bought it years ago. I mumbled something about trying to keep America beautiful, and not wanting to foster stereotypes of Appalachia, but I had to admit she was right. I hadn't wanted to use that photo because the house looked unbelievably awful back then. "But you've done so much to it since then" she argued. "You really ought to show your readers what you started with."

So in the interest of full disclosure, here's what Hacienda Edwards looked like when we were young, stupid, and under the illusion that a couple weekends' worth of elbow grease was all that was needed to fix the place up:

The original "before" photo, taken just after we bought the house

As it looks today
I've been working on this "canvas" now for better than half my life. It will never be completely done, and I'm not sure I want it to be. Just as it is when working on a painting, it's the envisioning, the planning, the decision-making, the problem solving, and giving life to a mental image that's so gratifying. As the saying goes, "It's the process, not the product."

Thanks to my friend's suggestion, I'm stunned by the contrasts in these two photos. It's the first time I've actually placed them next to each other. It's pretty amazing what "a few weekends worth" of elbow grease can do! Have our efforts been worth it? Yes, I think so. Just one piece of advice for first time buyers looking for a DIY fixer-upper: estimate your timeframe for getting the work done, and multiply by 30. That's 30 years, not days. After all, it'll take some time to get the place just the way you want it. :)

Images and text ©2015 Lynn Edwards

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dull, Drab and Depressing Decor: A Color Rant

The other day, a friend commented on how much emphasis I place on aesthetics. She's right. How an environment looks and feels is extremely important to me. Maybe it explains my obsession with the decor in medical facilities. Too often these places appear to have been designed by someone who's never heard there are other colors besides brown and grey.

As an artist, I'm extremely sensitive to color, as most artists are. Color to us isn't just an afterthought, it's everything. We use color to communicate. To create a mood or a feeling. To set a tone. To convey a sentiment, or make a statement. Color can be invigorating, calming, provocative, healing, cheerful, restful, soft, loud, energizing, meditative, assertive and bold, to name just a few of its potential effects on the viewer. We can say more with color than with a 15 minute cell phone conversation.

But color can also be depressing, drab and dreary. Certain colors can make a sick person feel even sicker. Research shows hospital patients housed in rooms painted in cheerful colors heal considerably faster than those whose rooms are painted grey. In fact, grey is the worst possible color to surround sick people with, as it suggests illness, decline and death. Brown runs a close second in this dubious contest. And thus begins my color rant:

It's the sick and the elderly who frequent doctors' offices, imaging labs, hospitals and clinics, so why are those facilities' interiors overwhelmingly decked out in shades of grey and grey-brown? (By my estimation I've seen the interiors of no fewer than 30 different medical facilities in the past three years as I visit my own doctors and accompany loved ones to their medical appointments or visit them in hospitals. I'm here to tell ya: every single one of these facilities has the same dull, drab color scheme! I've seen post offices and government offices that were more attractive.

Oh sure, the carpeting may be plush, and the chairs in the waiting room feature tastefully woven fabric, but those colors? Ugh.

Are interior designers working in the healthcare field oblivious to that palette's detrimental effects on patients' mental outlook and well being? Do they specify those colors for carpeting, upholstered goods, and paint simply because everyone else in their field is using them? Is it because those colors don't show dirt? Or are these designers simply so comfortable using this all-too-common combo that they're stuck on color-autopilot? Whatever the reason(s), to them I say, "Stop! Please, please stop and rethink your choices!"

Informally, I've studied the psychology of color for years. It came in handy back when, as the owner of a creative services company, a hospital asked me to recommend a color scheme as part of an interior rehab. One of my first steps was to do a walkthrough with the administrator. Room after room, hallway after hallway...grey was everywhere. I suggested they change to pastels in every section of the hospital but the children's ward, where I recommended using mid-values of the colors used elsewhere. The colors I suggested -- in lay terms -- were pale "mint" green; a faint, soft apricot, and ivory with a hint of yellow.

Several months later, the administrator told me the response to the new colors had been overwhelmingly positive. Not only did it lift the spirits of the staff and patients, but patient surveys indicated a significantly improved satisfaction level. His data also showed a decrease in the average number of days patients remained in the hospital. Everyone was happy.

Eventually that administrator moved on, new management took over, and ultimately the hospital came under new ownership. A few years ago, I had the occasion to visit a patient there. It was my first visit back in decades. As I entered the lobby, I immediately noticed the decor. The usual greys. The usual grey-browns. Stepping off the elevator, more of the same. Grey walls, grey tiles on the floor. In the patient's room, what did I see? Directly facing the bed, a wall of dark grey, with the other three walls painted mid-grey. I sighed. It was deja-vu all over again.

Harrison Ford once starred in a movie about a medical doctor who suffered a health crisis, becoming a patient in the very hospital where he practiced. The experience opened his eyes to a whole different view of medicine, and gave him a dose of what it was like to be on the receiving end of it. If only those who design medical facilities' interiors could see them through a patient's eyes, experiencing what it's like to face a drab wall while in pain or the throes of nausea, things might change for the better.

Paint in uplifting colors costs the same as depressing colors so it's not a question of money. For not a penny more, using appealing colors would make such a difference. Few people think going to the doctor or experiencing a hospital stay is fun. It's stressful at the very least. Why not try to make it less so, simply by changing the colors for the decor?

©2015 Lynn Edwards

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Thought for Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Thought for Sunday, May 10, 2015

"We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us." -- Winston Churchill

Friday, May 8, 2015

Landscape Design: Bringing Artistry to Life

Hi friends! If you've been wondering why I haven't posted anything in several days, it's because we've been busy watching our front and side yards get a total makeover. Two bitterly cold winters in a row had killed half the shrubbery in front of the house, and most of what was still alive looked pretty sorry. The old landscape timbers we had laid down years ago to contain a gravel pathway had long since rotted out. Ditto for the wood deck leading to the side entry. A straggly nandina, a patch of leggy sedum, a sun-starved banana shrub and an abundance of weeds rounded out the picture. Clearly it was time to do something about the disastrous state of our yard.

Our yard as it looked last summer, before the winter of 2015 killed off half the shrubbery.
 Landscape design is an art form I have no talent for, as the photo above demonstrates. Nor did Hubs and I feel physically capable of digging, lugging, dragging, shoveling and lifting heavy items like flag stones, large plants, gravel, bags of mulch and soil amendments, etc. No, the scope of this project demanded that we call in professional help. It proved to be one of the smartest moves we ever made.

Hubs and I were in accord on what we envisioned: a casual, country garden with low maintenance, deer resistant, drought tolerant plants. We wanted it to be bird, bee and butterfly friendly, and we wanted it to be visually consistent with the surrounding woodland environment. We did not want a design that was formal looking in any way, or one that relied on a bunch of high maintenance plants requiring constant pruning and coddling.

Our landscape designer, Ridley Hailey from Pike Nurseries Landscape Design, had no trouble understanding exactly what we envisioned. He listened to us, asked plenty of questions, made a number of excellent suggestions we hadn't thought of, and then drew up a beautiful plan that met our every criteria.

Then, this past Monday, the crew from Pike arrived to turn our dreams into reality. Four days later, it was done. And it exceeded all our expectations!
Our new landscape is a dream come true! Hubs still needs to put the landscape lighting back into place, and I need to cut those tags off the newly installed plants, which, on this side of the house, include "Bonanza" camellia, red heuchera, autumn fern, Hilda Niblett azalea, and red rhododendron.




I wanted the big "Nikko Blue" hydrangea on the left to remain, even though it currently needs a bit of TLC. It'll look fine when its winter killed branches are removed. That large glazed urn next to the path is to become a bubbler fountain, and an evergreen clematis will be planted to grow up and over the arbor.


A spreading Japanese maple flanked by daylilies adds interest to the corner bed. Once the urn becomes a water feature, winterberry (gaultheria) will be planted around it. To its left (not pictured) is a red rhododendron that will eventually fill the corner, providing visual contrast to the Japanese maple. Perennials consisting of yarrow, coneflower, coreopsis, lambs ear and black eyed susans lend a cottage garden feel; low growing plum yews brighten the shady path leading to the back yard.
Now, what was so intriguing to me about this visualize-communicate-realize process was how effectively it worked even though three people were involved. We never showed Ridley so much as a magazine photo as an example of the look we were after. We did provide him with a written laundry list of wants, along with a description of how we maintain the property as a haven for wildlife and our feelings about chemical pesticide use (minimal if at all). The entire communication process was written and verbal, not visual.

Somehow, we all ended up on the same page, and when the design was actually implemented, it came to life with not a single aspect out of sync with what had been envisioned. I find this quite fascinating. Was this a form of mind transference? Group think? ESP?

In a way, it reminded me of commissioning a painting. In this case, Ridley was the artist. We told him what we wanted and what we didn't want, and he designed the plan around it.

But having produced a number of commissioned pieces myself, I recognized there were some key differences, namely, Ridley was given nothing visual to work toward, and because he didn't know us personally at the outset of the project, he had no idea what our tastes might be. In fact, I don't think he ever came into the house, where the decor might have revealed our color preferences or decorating style. Usually in a commission situation you're given something to go by, however small it may be: a photo, a scrap of fabric, or a clipping from a magazine depicting a favorite color. Not so in this case!

So you could say coming up with this design was, for our designer, very much like painting a non-objective abstract: no external references, everything rendered purely from the imagination. As I walk around his creation, noticing soft coral buds unfurling on the azaleas, feeling the smoothness of flagstones under my feet, seeing the ferns nodding in the breeze, it's all in the physical here and now -- a lovely canvas brought to life.

But here's what's so intriguing to me: what I see before me had its origins entirely in the mind, in the imagination, in memories and emotions and perceptions. To my way of thinking, that process of transitioning from the imagined and intangible into physical existence is mystical. It's an act of co-creation with something much greater than ourselves. To pick up a brush, compose a haiku, design a landscape or engage in any creative act is to make that sacred connection. The connection is very real, and very magical. It's a precious gift. And I feel very blessed to sense it each time I walk through this beautiful garden, with many thanks to Ridley, a true artist indeed.

Text and photos ©2015 Lynn Edwards







Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Thought for Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Every time you smile at someone, it is an act of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing." -- Mother Teresa