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You either got it, or you ain't
on 17 January 2012
The images in this book are carefully shot and the rooms have been "dressed" for the camera. Even so, many look more like a corner of a fleamarket than a desirable home, with areas of indigestible and, lets face it, not that attractive clutter. By contrast, others display the kind of fashionable sparseness which is only possible if you have a huge house or flat and can leave areas empty.
The whole book is "bitty", and doesn't hang together as a coherent whole. As is the case with other books "by" Emily Chalmers, this is in fact the product of a committee; Chalmers, with Emily Westlake, is credited just with finding the locations (ie choosing the rooms featured); the photos are by someone else - Debi Treloar - and Ali Hanan has the copyright for the text. Which does leave one wondering in what sense Emily Chalmers is the "author"?
The advice given appears sound; once you get your eye in, you'll spot wonderful things quickly, at a distance. Well, I've been getting my eye in for years, and in my experience the following is true: First, that truly wonderful things are thin on the ground these days, you have to shift a lot of cr** before you find a jewel, and the more people read books like this, the less likely you are to be the one who finds the treasure. Second, when you spot that treasure from a hundred yards away, stay calm; the sad probability is that either it is still there waiting for you (as opposed to already in the back of a dealer's van) because it has a serious and irrepairable flaw, like terminal woodworm plus a dreadful pong - or because the stallholder knows exactly how good it is and wants about eighty quid for it. Third, inspiration is a wonderful thing, but sometimes when you get your quirky treasure home you realise that is is, in fact, just a naff bit of tat, and all your friends throw up their hands in horror. And do we really need to be told to go to boot fairs or look in charity shops?
And this brings us to the crux of the matter. Decorating your home with fleamarket finds sounds great, but to get a result which you're happy with takes luck, confidence, a very alert finger on the fashionable pulse, and a great deal of taste. We all see features in the mags and Sunday papers about people who've filled their homes with witty assemblages of the kitsch and funky; but, by being featured in a mag, these homes have recieved a sort of seal of approval. How many of us would have the confidence to do the same? If you've got that chutzpah, and the taste to carry it off, you're probably doing it already - you don't need the book. If you're reading the book, you're probably a bit too timid to carry it off. After all, you can't copy what's in here; the whole style relies on the serendipity of finding something and realising its potential. The book is great fun as far as it goes (hence the 3 stars) but it can't make a funky trendster out of the average (i.e. like me) reader. I did, indeed, furnish and equip my house almost entirely from junk shops, bootfairs and charity shops, but the result is fairly "straight"; I'd say you need a strong personal style to make the fashionable kitsch/funk look work; and that has to come from within or you'll never really like the result. It's not something you can pick up from a book. Best use for this one? leave it prominently on your coffee table so your friends see it and realise that you are drop dead cool, not a weirdo . . .