Gracious homes are hard; here’s how to bring charm back to the hearth.

Charm Offensive

Think You Have a Charming Home? Check This List First.

Charm Offensive

Think You Have a Charming Home? Check This List First.
Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
March 26 2015 1:08 PM

Charm Offensive


A cheap and cheerful guide to domestic charm.


Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Thinkstock.

To the outside world, we all strive to present a cheery, optimistic, well-groomed persona. Good Day! You look mahhvelous! Dinner? I’d love to! We work extremely hard to ensure that others know nothing of the real us, the Hieronymus Bosch us, the doltish, dark us which slouches about behind closed doors. Home may well be where the heart is, but it is not where the charm is.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Home is where we guzzle cooking sherry, and where aging brassieres are rinsed and draped over rusty radiators. (You know who you are.) Home is where we sulk and binge-watch The Wire for the 20th time whilst sporting preposterously frowzy, hagged-out velour loungewear. Is it possible to introduce charm into this black hole of mood swings, stale pizza, and unopened mail? Yes, emphatically, yes. The bar is so low that the only way is up. When you are living in a veritable Kienholz installation, adding one teensy Glade air-freshener plug-in can add a massive helping of international savoire-faire. More good news: Introducing some charm to this quagmire is not only doable, it can also be creatively rewarding.

Most homes will, first and foremost, benefit enormously from the introduction of a moderating presence. The average person makes more of an effort to be charming—duplicating all the hearty bonhomie of those public personas—when there is a third party present. Keep in mind that most of us are at our most charming with strangers rather than familiars. As a result, you may get the best results (and a cash benefit) if, rather than introducing a relative or friend into the mix, you take in an unknown lodger. Once your ornamental moderating stranger is firmly ensconced, you may embark on a more detailed step-by-step domestic charm offensive.


Step one: A bowl of fruit. Think Caravaggio! Think Cézanne! I am talking about placing a large carefully arranged bowl of fruit in a prominent location. My mother Betty was a big believer in the notion of fruit as mood-improver and general life-enhancer. Nothing says, “Welcome! Look how charming, soignée, and free from existential angst this house is!” quite like a mound of fruit in the center of your dining table. Arranging a bowl of fruit can be just as creatively rewarding as flower-arranging AND you get to eat the result, which is more than can be said of flowers, which taste appalling, especially peonies.

Next let’s address the soundtrack to your home. Keep in mind that sound has enormous charm-power. The grimmest walk-up and the dankest trailer can be rendered more livable by the introduction of tinkling water, wild pachanga music, or soothing birdsong. Your ornamental stranger may be enlisted to help. Offer your lodger a kazoo and a glass of cooking sherry and see what happens.

Do not overlook the fact that Charmin can be charming. Yes, it’s time to head to your bathroom. Upgrading to a more haute couture brand of toilet paper can significantly improve the charm-factor in your crusty WC. Another bathroom idea: When guests come over, place some glamorous personalized hand-towels next to the sink. Instead of printing them with your initials—that’s a bit naff, right?—why not emblazon them with a favorite poem, or a bastardization thereof:

I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there—
I wonder if they're dry?

If custom paper hand-towels are beyond your budget, then steal a stack from the bathroom of your favorite posh restaurant or glam hotel. In addition to hand-towels, they also make lovely dinner napkins. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration; they make adequate dinner napkins.

Chapter One
Conversation Skills
Chapter Two
Personal Style
Chapter Three
Cubicle Chic
Chapter Four
Domestic Cheer
Chapter Five
Digital Charm & Conclusions

Olfactory charm: As noted above, a Glade plug-in can do so much to up-charm your bathroom and any other rooms in your abode. Spraying a favorite perfume—my fave is Sables by Annick Goutal, because it smells like cooking sherry, an emerging leitmotif in this charm guide—onto your light bulbs can also do the trick. Just be sure not to deluge an illuminated hot bulb, as this will cause it to explode with truly uncharming consequences. Cash-strapped fragrance-seekers should try the following: Place a Ziplock bag in your purse every morning, and fill it with scent strips torn from any magazines which cross your path throughout the day. Upon returning home—don’t forget to toss a charming greeting in the direction of your moderating influence—empty the contents of your bag onto the radiator (after removing those crispy brassieres, of course). ’Ere long, your entire pad will be redolent with a heady blend of freshly marketed fragrances.

Finally, let’s talk interior design, or party décor as I prefer to call it. Mylar curtains will add a shimmer to any doorway. A Jeff Koons–ian cluster of colored helium balloons will enliven a dismal empty corner. Paper pineapples never fail to perk up a prewar pantry, and nothing, nothing, is more charming and easier to install than colored lanterns. They are right up there with bowls of fruit and brassiere-free radiators. Festoon the ceiling of your boudoir, recklessly, randomly, and chaotically, with strings of these romantic little charmers. No straight lines. Remember: Anal retention is not so charming. A little dégagé is always delightful.

My charming conclusion? Charm can be cheap. When it comes to adding charm to the home, you absolutely do not need wheelbarrows full of cash. Heavy, expensive wall-to-wall megadécor can, in fact, be quite uncharming. Holly Golightly had it right. Her bare bones apartment—a sawn-off Victorian bathtub, a packing-crate coffee table, and a molting zebra rug—were the very essence of charm. Of course, the zillion-dollar Hubert de Givenchy couture wardrobe didn’t hurt either.

Next up: Online Charm