My mom, my sister, Rick and I went to the Birth of Impressionism exhibit at The deYoung Museum in San Francisco a couple weeks ago.  The exhibit is on loan from the Musee’ D’Orsee.

I was thinking that I would be bored out of my skull.  I’m not high-brow enough to like ‘Birth of Impressionist’ art, right?  I mean, honestly, I really liked an photography/art installation of Maori clans and their tattoos.  Me and Impressionist art?  Not so much…

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise.  Take this picture.  Officially, its called Arrangement in Grey and Black.  Unofficially, its called Whistler’s Mother.  Normally, when you see a picture like this in a magazine or catalog, you think it’s a boring painting of a dull person by some old guy.

Whistler's Mother - Arrangement in Grey and Black - Portrait of the Painter's Mother

And yet…the work on this painting is exquisite.  Her dress, black as night, has subtle tones of different shades showing the fall of the skirt to the floor.  I always thought she looked stern, like she was eating lemons.  But she looks completely approachable, like you and she might have an enjoyable conversation (but she wouldn’t gossip, oh, no, not ever), the soft lines on her face indicate kindness and you can tell how her son felt about her, his work with the brush is true to her elderly form but with a loving hand.

 I’d forgotten how moving these classic works can be.  My mom brought up the fact that years ago our family had seen the original painting Blue Boy.  I think I might have been in 6th grade or so.  I remember being struck by the glorious color.  He looked like he was alive and could step right off the canvas.  That is the first time I can remember understanding what art was and how it can move you.

Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

Not to say that we liked ALL the works in the Exhibition.  There was an oil painting, about 4’ x 4’, of white turkeys in a yard.

Sixteen square feet of white turkeys in a yard.  That’s a lot of space for a painting of turkeys…in a yard.    

 Sometimes, a copy feels the same as the original, or ‘close enough for government work’ as the saying goes.  You love  Eames original chairs?  Well, there are similar chairs you can get instead for much less.  You love crystal?  How about cut glass instead?  Faux fur vs the actual pelt, bathroom tile ‘seconds’ might have flaws you won’t even notice (or care about).  I love silver (I’m a real magpie when it comes to shiny objects) but I also love aluminum and pewter, so I’m not stuck with a taste only for the expensive stuff that I can’t always (read rarely) afford.

 Other times the copy cannot do justice to the original and you get what you pay for.  Of course, most of us don’t have a wallet large enough to buy this kind of art, but sometimes the price is worth it.  Ever had a towel start fraying at the edges with its first wash?  Ever broke out in a rash from using a soap you got at a discount store?  Got green on your finger after buying a ‘silver’ ring?

You can make your dollars count by determining where you can scrimp and where you shouldn’t.  Quality, value and common sense.  Where do you need that WOW factor?  I used WOW products in areas that were important – such as the large window over the claw-foot tub.  We asked John Joy to put in a stained glass window.   

Window by John Joy

Wine label tiles in the butler pantry.  

Wine label tiles

 Crystal chandelier in the dining room (but I’ve already shown you that picture…)

The picture following, taken before the tile was installed, shows you what a difference the tilework makes in the space.

without the tile

Does your bathroom floor HAVE to have whiter-than-white imported marble from Barcelona (believe me, the whitest is the most expensive).  How about putting that money to work where it counts, like on-demand hot water tank or solar panels on the roof or pavers in the driveway instead of concrete or Hardi-Plank siding instead of wood (it’s a cement product, very durable) or even uber-green stuff like a rain water reclamation system, landscaping your roof or buying a barn in Idaho and shipping it out here and having it re-planed into flooring – which isn’t the greenest thing, actually, because of the gas and effort it takes to get the barn pieces to wherever you are.

 OK, now I’m swirling in a cloud of indecision…is it green, is it not-green?  I need an Excel spreadsheet to calculate it all.

 Example:  Cement can be recycled, yet it is created by digging up the earth.  A product like Silestone or Caesarstone is a green product because it is created from other recycled products, YET it cannot be recycled itself because those recycled products are glued together with a product that can’t be recycled.  Granite is green but, again, you’ve dug up the earth to get it.  Its starting to feel like a no-win situation…

 But, then along comes a paper countertop – yes, paper –  and which can be made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper.  That’s pretty cool.  But, the product isn’t made ONLY of paper, there are resins involved – nice, green resins, they say, with Zero VOC and stuff like that there.  I don’t have samples in my hands yet, but I’ve ordered some.  They say its hard, extremely durable and can be sculpted like hard wood.  Hmmm, sounds good to me.  Now, all I need is a price comparison.  But, hey, that’s what you’ll do when you do your Quality/Value/Common sense test, won’t you!  😉