When I first heard that expression used to criticize a home interior that was polished to perfection, I thought I was going to have to break something. No sooner had I gotten to the point where I could almost pull off a perfect room than I learned that wasn't the aim.
"It's not?!" I asked some top designers, who are all in cahoots.
"No," they assured me. "It's not."
"You moved the goal posts!"
You might want to sit down while I explain. "Too precious" is designer diss for a home that is too pulled together, too perfect, too color coordinated. And it's no compliment.
Translated it means that the time you canvassed three counties looking for drape fabric in a green that exactly matched your throw pillows was likely a waste of time. Ouch.
I never said decorating was easy. But the flip side of this harsh news is that we can stop trying so hard.
I know. I know. Breathe. Hang with me.
"Anyone can match pinks, but that's boring and false," said anti-precious designer Katie Leede, owner of her namesake interior and textile design company in New York.
"When putting together colors, picture the number of blues in the sea," she said. "Indigo is next to turquoise. In nature, you see spring green next to conifer green and sage, and it's spectacular. Open your eyes to see how God does it."
"You make it sound so easy," I said, but frankly, when I hear design advice like this, I just want to go live in a cardboard box in an alley and drink gin all day out of my shoe.
"When a home is too precious," said Leede, "besides being just boring, and not showing any uniqueness, it feels uptight, zipped up, as if this is not real life. You feel as if it's for show, and not for living and eating and talking and drinking wine and messing around."
"In other words, if we got over ourselves, loosened up, and relaxed more when decorating, our rooms would turn out."
"You want a lived-in look," said Leede.
"But not everybody's definition of 'lived in' is the same," I argued. (Remember, I'm on your side.) "There's lived in what a mess, and lived in worn and wonderful; just like there are old jeans no one should be seen in, and old jeans faded and fabulous."
"It's a fine line," she agreed. Then, to help steer us away from creating too-precious interiors, she offered these traps to watch out for:
•Too matchy. Don't be monotone at home, said Leede. For starters, don't use every coordinating fabric from the same store.
•Too perfect. Let your home show its wear. Don't worry if things get banged up.
•Too dainty. All furniture has to function. Don't have chairs guests can't sit in. "You want nothing you have to put a cord across," Leede said.
•Too symmetrical. A perfectly balanced room with matching end tables and matching lamps on either side of a sofa, which has matching throw pillows on both ends, and matching side chairs feels stiff and forced. Bust it up. If you have two matching lamps, put them on different end tables and vice versa. "It keeps the eyes interested."
•Too much. Put decorations on a diet. Too many chatchkies makes rooms feel fussy, and those in them uncomfortable. "You don't want visitors in your bathroom afraid they're going to knock something over."
•Too lacey. Quality lace in spots, as in under a sheer drape, is lovely, but too many frills, as in lots of cheap lace and ruffles, makes a room feel too sweet fast.
•Too wimpy. Pale chintz fabrics in small-scale patterns drive Leede crazy. "Go big, go bold." Rooms need to have some guts.
•Too slick. The opposite of too fussy is too streamlined, which also falls in the too-precious camp. When all surfaces are perfect and shiny and smooth, they feel sterile, unwelcoming and unforgiving. Throw in some color, vary textures and use warm woods.
•Too contrived. Don't be meaningless. It comes off as affected. For instance, if you have an antique suitcase that belonged to your grandfather and has been around the world, build it into your décor, maybe as a coffee table base. But buying a vintage suitcase as a room accessory feels fake. "If you come by it naturally, or if it has a story, that's better," said Leede.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun