A Tiny House, a Watering Can, and the Joy of Objects with Meaning

Updated: Jan 30, 2019

-By Rachelle Padgett

Jim Croce serenades me from a record player perched atop a live edge shelf, surrounded by thriving plants and hovering above an endearing, miniature electric stove. I’m seated in a perfectly scaled, velvet armchair, wrapped in an ochre, knit throw and propped up by pillows embroidered in Native American textiles. I’ve just arrived at the Coyote Ridge Tiny House in Paso Robles, my home for the night on the return leg of a Southern California road trip. I am so captivated by my surroundings, I sit down to document them immediately. Every detail of this home has been considered, and it is nothing less than enchanting.

It is January of 2019, and we are in the first weeks of the KonMari craze, ignited by the release of the Netflix series featuring Marie Kondo, a real life Mary Poppins. This diminutive, internationally renowned Japanese cleaning expert sweeps into clients’ homes to teach them the magic of tidying up. Her process is simple and, to our culture drowning in meaningless clutter, profound. After dividing belongings into categories - not rooms - the key to her process is to only keep the items that “spark joy,” and to show gratitude for any object given or thrown away.

My eyes are drawn from my screen to the facing wall, a wild composition of stone, vintage stained glass windows, wine bottles and rusty odds and ends. It forms the backdrop for a winsome table, grounded by a well-worn carved base and topped with galvanized metal, darkened toward the edges. I picture myself enjoying tomorrow’s breakfast at this table (the hosts have left a half dozen eggs from their chickens), and the vision of my morning meal certainly sparks joy.

At the very beginning of my design career, I managed a longstanding boutique of contemporary, American handcraft in Berkeley. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by the owner not only in the trials of small business ownership, but in a principle that guides my work and my life. In her shop, everyday items were celebrated as articles of beauty with a story to tell of their materials and their maker. What are they made from? What was the statement and process of the artist? What are the marks of their artisanship, and how will they elevate the consumer’s experience of the object?

I knew this philosophy had sunk in when I, an interior design student on a retail associate’s budget, plunked down $40 for a watering can that caught my eye at the local nursery. Shiny copper contrasted with the blue-green patina of time and exposure. The long spout extended like a graceful dancer’s arm from the sturdy body. It was just plain pretty, and I knew that if my houseplants were to survive, the watering can would need to be left visible as a reminder to employ it. Plastic just wouldn’t do, nor would it last. Sixteen years later, this watering can sits conspicuously in my home, and yes, my plants are very happy.

The KonMari method offers followers inspiration and structure for how to take stock of every item in their home. The transformations that result are not only physical, but emotional. Partners soften, families begin to heal. But what comes next after your home has been decluttered and organized? As you continue your journey into tidy living, how do you acquire your furnishings, your art, your useful vessels? Are they made by human hands or by machine? Do they show character or chronicle an adventure? Can they support the livelihood of a local craftsperson?

My gaze again lifts to take in the abundant details of this charming home, and I answer these questions affirmatively. It just feels good to be surrounded with materials and objects that have been so thoughtfully chosen. I am reminded of why I do the work I do. At my core, I simply want to help people feel comfortable, happy, and at home. Good design - design that sparks joy - gives us this opportunity.

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