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Old MBAs Will Make Matrices Out Of Everything, Even The Process Of Learning Style

As you know, I’m in the process of learning about gardens and interiors what I knew about clothes. So I spend a lot of time studying, on the Internet.

Information abounds. However, with several decades of adulthood and opinions under my belt, I work at keeping my mind open to new ideas and methodologies. I always find a good taxonomy prevents bias. Don’t you?

I now envision style education across these two axes:

  • Inspiration: Everything beautiful, totally your taste, who cares if it’s impossible!
  • Education: Valuable skills, techniques, and principles, no matter whether you share the tastes of the imparter or not.

Business school ahoy!

I made a matrix, using Photoshop gradients, as the Internet taught me. Luckily I know I’m a dope about PS, so I pay the tutorials all due respect.


In old school business school tradition, the matrix generates four quadrants, and categories. Let’s review!

  • High Inspiration, Low Education: Eye Candy. Wow that 13th century French manor is gorgeous, no I’m not going to replace my ranch house with yellow sandstone any time soon.
  • High Education, Low Inspiration: Lessons. Detailed, well-thought-out instructions on how to paint a bookcase, from someone who wants to match the colors of their ruffled valance to a mound of teddy bears.
  • Low Inspiration, Low Education: Black Hole. Run away! The Internet abounds in this kind of stuff, ugly stupid directions on how to design ugly stupid spaces. Clickbait. The price of all that free good information.
  • High Inspiration, High Education: Flow. Almost impossible to find, in my case, and maybe in yours. Very little content focuses on how precisely to decorate a 1950’s ranch house in a slightly bohemian but Sturdy High WASP vein, or how to plant a disciplined garden of California natives. Sort of like looking for another Over-50 Polished Tomboy blog.

Good learning demands the capacity to absorb way more than you are ever going to use.

And here are some site examples in the quadrants, for my particular tastes. Yours, of course, will vary. You guys recommended many of these links, by the way, thank you.

  • Eye Candy: These sites train the eye, and help uncover universal principles. Beautiful, cool, hip even if you’re unlikely to wear that, paint your room that color, or build a parterre. And never say never.
    • Faux Fuchsia (so vivid, so amusing)
    • Frock Philosophy (ladylike, such understanding of color)
    • Grechen’s Closet (I tried to dress like her, can’t, love how she has developed a style that is so uniquely hers)
    • Accidental Icon (the hair! the sunglasses! the attitude!)
    • Door 16 (she does that wooden floor sparse furnishings thing so well)
    • Manhattan Nest (ripping up floors with the best of them. My gosh but that man has a good eye.)
    • ABCD Design (a gorgeous old stone house on the East Coast with a barn)
    • My Scandinavian Home (just what it says. White-washed room upon white-washed room. Learning the art of sparse.)
    • Mrs. Blandings (the Givenchy of personal interior blogs. She paints her own walls.)
    • Down to Earth (quite different, this one. An Australian women who lives off the land, the inspiration is all about a simple home existence, no focus on beauty at all)
    • And, of course, Pinterest – My two favorite interior pinners are Susan Daniel and cevd.
  • Lessons: Not your taste or geography – Some of the most useful sites I know are written by people whose taste differs widely from my own. These women wear brighter clothes, design more formal gardens, and use a lot of yellow. And, they know their stuff.
    • Imogen Lamport at Inside Out Style (the science of clothing that suits you)
    • Tara Dillard (gardens with gravel and lessons on design)
    • Maria Killam (houses with vivid pastels, a disciplined approach to choosing paint colors)
    • Emily Henderson (all kinds of on-trend interior styling and really useful design tips)
  • Flow:
    • Allyson at That’s Not My Age (an over-50 style blogger also fond of tomboy gear but the real deal)
    • Chronica Domus (writing about a very civilized lifestyle, her post on lemons has been good for my cutting boards)
    • Dirt Simple (The most beautiful garden blog I’ve found. Although she’s in Michigan, her container plantings can teach anyone anywhere how to do good pots.)
  • Black Hole: Would I subject you to a list of horrible sites? Nope.


Of course, all this theory and deconstruction reveals nothing in and of itself. I use it here, as in the rest of life, as a way to keep my own prejudices and preconceptions at bay, to remind myself to always test assumptions before coming to an answer.

51 Responses

  1. I just wanted you to know that your essays are saved more often on my feedly list than any other writer. I save ones about clothes, about family, about work & retirement, anything. I read a lot in my own work life (I am a professor of psychology) and not much is worth re-reading, but your essays are read often and always with pleasure. Thank you.

    1. @Robin, Thank you very, very much. If you don’t mind, I will use this comment field to reply to you, but also overall those speaking up so far. I blog because I love it – and even so, some days I’m aware it takes effort. When you all then find something I’ve posted to be valuable in any way – funny, insightful, pretty, howsoever – it contributes hugely to my enthusiasm and delight. Thank you all very much for reading. There is no requirement to comment, of occurs, and, I appreciate it every time someone does.

  2. A great blog – a great treat. The websites you mention plus your own comments (written in your sspecial style) turn this into a wonderful christmas present which I’ve had the good fortune to receive in the middle of summer.
    Thank you!

  3. I’ve just bookmarked most of the sites you mentioned; I’m going to have a fun weekend browsing around the internet even more than I already do! Thank you!

  4. I’m going to read every one of those sites! I will have to do it over time as I’m frantically busy these days (work, rising senior, divorce-in-process).

    I can’t believe you mentioned Deborah Silver’s site! I found her when I was googling images of window boxes, I think I specified green, white, purple. I was blown away by her designs. I’m from Detroit, and I’d love to visit her nursery when I’m in MI later this month, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to. I discovered nicotiana at her site.

    I consider this blog a treasure, both the content and the writing.

    1. @Marie, Work, rising senior, DIP, oh that is SO much to do all at once. I continue to think of you for the DIP. And maybe you were the one who introduced me to Deborah? If so, I owe you a big ol’ debt.

      You are very kind. xox.

  5. Interior decor is so individual and intuitive. I’m not sure that any of us ever get it right. The best advice I’ve found is to decorate with what you love and not care about conventions and what others may prefer or tout. Easier said than done! Especially when there are husbands to please and longevity to consider.

  6. Lisa thank you for including Frock Philosophy on this list, I’m so honoured!
    I haven’t read most of the other sites so thank you for the recommendations, I’ve got some happy internet reading to do now.
    I always love your academic approach to things, and your explanations are sublime. XO

  7. You’re absolutely right…they DO use a lot of yellow! Haha. But I learn from them, too. Great post, Lisa.

  8. I agree with Susan, who commented above. Trust your intuition more, and as she said, go with what you love – somehow it seems to all work out if that’s done. You’re way ahead of a lot of people who don’t even know what they like in interior design, a problem I ran into constantly when I was working in that field. And I do think you have good intuition about visuals, so I suggest you shut down the left side of your brain some and plunge ahead.

    1. @kathy, I will try. However, your comment has made me think. When I was working in a left-brain world, I couldn’t help but bring right-brain methodologies to bear on problems – drawing diagrams, inventing aphorisms, taking an interest in humans. So I guess it’s not surprising that if I’m working in the right-brain world, I’ll do the opposite.

      This actually explains a lot:).

  9. Thanks so much for the shout out! I am still laughing about “use a lot of yellow!!!” Ha! It’s a public holiday today HOORAY!!! xx

  10. I’m honored, and blushing, at my inclusion into your very analytical post on what inspires and educates you. I cannot wait to check out some of these blog links, thank you. I’ve yet to have been described as a “flow” before, but love the idea, I think ;-)

  11. I always love a list. Half of the blogs are regular reads for me and the remainder will be fun to explore.
    Thank you,

    1. @Karen, You’re very welcome. I wish there were a reliable index, somewhere, of blogs and their topics. I am sure there are some great ones I’m missing, and I just don’t know which ones they are!

  12. Intellectual and analyst in vocation always stays intellectual and analyst! Great,I like it very much! And so many recommendations,thanks!
    I think you have great taste and let it flow also in garden/ranch house interior design departements, I think that our homes are to enjoy (in confort as well visually), for us,not for others!. And learning is always fun, no?

  13. Oh, my goodness, so many sites to check out. What a lot of work for you and what a lot of fun for us. Can’t wait to visit.

    I could never approach decorating or anything else with your analytc brain power. I do know where you got it from.

    It’s all instinct to me. But I do admire you!

    1. @Sandra Sallin, Ha! Yes, I got it from Professor C., undoubtedly:). But the right-brain stuff is mostly from from Mom. Professor C. has famously quirky aesthetics:).

  14. lisa, once again, i’m beyond honored to be included in such wonderful company. and now, please excuse me while i DEVOUR all of dirt simple’s posts – beautiful photos and even more beautiful writing…

    thank you, thank you.

  15. 2 out of 3 of your ‘flow’ blogs are on my favs list ( alongside yours, of course). Now added Chronica Domus :)

    1. @Lesley, Today she did sweet peas. Which, I planted once and this year wished feverently I had done it again! Next year in the garden!

  16. Thanks for including Door Sixteen in this post. Interesting categorizations—though hopefully I bring more to the internet/world than eye candy! In the nine years I spent writing about renovating my own house, my goal wasn’t so much to give people pretty things to look at as it was to let the average person know that yes, they are capable of doing their own manual labor, and that there is a value in restoration. I have a democratic view of interior design that I try not to let get caught up too much in aspiration. My feelings about the importance of décor, design, restoration, renovation, etc., are complex. It’s not all just about how the end result looks in a photograph—it’s about quality of life.

    Anyway, if you’re looking for an over-50 blogger with a Bohemian slant, might I suggest sfgirlbybay? I don’t like the word “tomboy” because of the assumptions its use makes about gender norms, but Victoria’s eye for style (both in her own house and when she’s out and about) is unparalleled.

    1. @Anna @ D16, When I saw you’d commented here I got very excited:). Very nice to meet you!

      That said, I hope I haven’t offended you. I realize you haven’t encountered my admittedly tongue-in-cheek blatherings before, so it’s very interesting to see how I sound to a new reader. Because I so enjoy your blog, and because you’ve taught me something about my voice, I’ll reply at length.

      Eye candy – I can see how that would sit badly to a long-time renovation/design blogger. I meant no harm. In fact, when I did that graphic, I was so excited to finally learn how to use gradients in Photoshop (weird UI much?) that I didn’t pay as much attention as I might have to the labels. Perhaps I’ll change that one. The written definition makes clear what I meant, but, perhaps that’s insufficient.

      Tomboy – I in fact like the word “Tomboy” to balance the use of the term “Feminine.” That way “Female” sits at the top, and then Feminine isn’t Female’s synonym. I understand that Female itself, as society comes to accept transgender realities, has its own problems. At 58 almost 59, I suppose I’m still focused on the battles I fought, in which women who displayed any “Masculine” tendencies were not “Feminine,” and therefore not Female.

      Finally, I have looked at sfgirl, and at first glance I admit I prefer your work. But, at your recommendation, I’ll return.

      BTW, I almost wrote, “I hope we are not in a fight,” but then I realized that would be more tongue-in-cheek talk, so I refrained:).

  17. There are endless design blogs out there. You just have to find them and then look at their blogroll. It’s a bottomless well out there.

    I’d help you out, but I’m starting a new job tomorrow and I’m too stressed. Ha.

  18. Thanks so much Lisa for including in my roundup here of worthy blogs to read. I’m glad you find my lessons (and lack of yellow) to be worth recommending!

    I’ll be discovering many of these blogs too!

  19. Design Sponge is a worthwhile site for interior decoration etc. They show homes/apartments/condos from all over the world so you get a wide variety of taste and style.

    1. Ah yes! I’d forgotten about Design Sponge. I heard Grace Bonney talk, years ago, I should revisit the site.

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