House performance is a subtle beast, and I imagine we all get a little mangled by it.

My first showdown happened in Italy on the steps of government housing. We were fresh off the flight from America and I (desperately, subconsciously) wanted to fit into our new community. Azaleas on the front doorstep seemed the thing you did on that particular street, so I headed to the market and filled my arms. I was tracking! I was matching my neighbors!

Relief … or so I thought. The azaleas bloomed and I gagged. The first problem was the color — fuchsia has always put me on edge — but the real gag was the sudden realization that I was using plants to belong.

Years later and post-azaleas, I still fall prey to house performance. I scroll and Pin and press my face against shop windows to steal their scenes. Inspiration and copying certainly primes the pump — but then it’s time to let go and trust we don’t need to make our homes for the world, but simply to reflect the people living inside them. Because being in a space that isn’t performing is a delightful experience for dweller and guest alike. A non-performing and authentic house becomes a non-performing and authentic woman who draws out the truth in all of us.

bath tub

A few ways to make home your haven:

Pull out the ill-fitting.

Such a simple thing, but literally packing away the wicker chair you bought because it looks cool but is wicked uncomfortable, or the lamp your mom gave you that you never liked anyway — this will open up a cleaner canvas that’s ready for what you find beautiful and “you.”

A mattress on the floor or a room without a coffee table is not the end of the world. Pare back as much as you need to and, even with some empty corners, you’ll start to feel a home that’s intentional and authentic, not cobbled or copied.

… it’s time to let go and trust we don’t need to make our homes for the world, but simply to reflect the people living inside them.

Spotlight your favorite collections.

A great woman I know was really dissatisfied with her housing situation, so we stood in her bedroom trying to uncover what actually made her happy. Most of the room made her feel “meh,” but it turns out there was a menagerie pushed to the back of her dresser — tiny wooden animals — and when she touched them, immediate joy.

Menageries aren’t trending on Instagram. She didn’t buy them because that’s what you’re supposed to do. She has that collection because when she touches them, she feels and remembers something true.

It’s these things you pull forward. Give them their own space.

Go back to who you really are.

No one knows how to do this except you. Your home can bear a striking resemblance to the person or group inside it and the way you love to live. From my experience, this always requires unplugging from all layers of inspiration and comparison for at least a month. If we can’t see what others are doing or promoting, we have the chance to breathe and consider: Am I really an industrial-mod woman? Are we pink-wall people? Am I lining my window sills with succulents because they’re sweet companions or because I need a good photo on social?

If you live with others, try waking up before everyone else or lingering way past nightfall and sitting alone to consider this. Look around slowly. See what’s already there in your home and what delights you as those “this is us” pieces. For our family of five, it’s a cow bone from Utah, a couch packed with fraying pillows, Dillard and Salinger and Seuss books, jars of brushes and pens on the main table, plastic guns ready for post-dinner battles and a collection of all-green-no-fuchsia plants.

Nothing’s perfect, and that’s the point. It’s ours and it’s us.

So whatever reflects you and yours, bring that out. Share it. Shine the best light on it. Let the guests who step inside and the people housed within it know they’re in a place that isn’t measuring, isn’t striving — but simply loving all who enter.

How do you design your home for you?

Images via Beth Cath



  1. Your article has me smiling. Hadn’t heard of non-performing houses but love that i have one! The best part for me is that my family and friends feel welcome and at ease when they are over. Being authentic allows everyone to relax.

  2. Aw I love this! You make a great point that I’ve never encountered through my endless design inspiration searches. The idea of a non-performing home is wonderful.

  3. I love this…I completely agree. My home brings great joy, is a respite, and, ironically, gets tons of compliments, even though I try never to “design,” and only do my home “up for myself. Such a great piece, thank you!

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