General Splendor

Myths about Splendor

Do you want to bring some Splendor into your life? What’s stopping you? Perhaps it’s one of these Myths About Splendor?

 

1 – IT COSTS TOO MUCH/I NEED TO HAVE TONS OF  MONEY SO I CAN BUY LOTS OF FANCY THINGS

Ok, the truth is that just about every hobby, activity or form of entertainment costs some amount of money, and trying to live graciously is no different. So, yes, if your idea of Splendor is setting an elegant table or having formal cocktail hour or filling a home with lovely things, it will likely requires at least some kind of expenditure above and beyond your normal household budget from time to time. But it doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune – you will be delighted by the lovely things you can find for very reasonable prices in consignment, thrift and “antique” stores, not to mention ebay and etsy.

Yes, you may have to do a bit of compromising if you have Limoges taste on a Oneida budget (guilty!), but don’t let the idea that Splendor = expensive, top of the line “stuff” hold you back. Splendor is about what you do with what you have.

2 -IF I DO A BUNCH OF FUSSY, FANCY STUFF, PEOPLE WILL THINK I’M A PRETENTIOUS TOOL

Your friends and family will only think you’re being a pretentious tool if you try to be “fancy” because you think it will impress them. A good way to avoid that is to simply ensure you are using, doing or sharing only things you truly love and that bring you joy.  If sipping sparkling wine out of a crystal flute genuinely delights you, then sharing that with guests will only magnify your pleasure. But if you’re doing it because you think it’s “what people do” or because you think it will impress people, then it’s probably not going to come off as sincere or natural. If you open your home with genuine  warmth and graciousness, people will respond in kind, no matter the circumstance.

3 – MY GLASSES/DISHES/ART/HOUSE ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Stop. There’s no such thing as “not good enough” when it comes to Splendor. Use what you have, where you are, present it joyfully and it will be more than good enough. I don’t care if you only have mismatched plates, plastic cups and paper napkins – if you set your table neatly and serve good food to people you care about, that is splendor.

4 – I NEED A COMPLETE SET OF EVERYTHING

Let’s face it, collecting and acquiring cool stuff is half the fun of most hobbies, and it’s no different if you hobby is living graciously.  Suppose you’ve always wanted to invite friends to your home for fabulous dinner parties, but you don’t have a full set of china. Or even a full set of plates. Or a table. Oh, and you don’t cook. None of those are a real impediment.  Do you have a set of wine or cocktail glasses? If not, you can get a set of 8 wine glasses for under $15 (you can spend  more, of course, if you like, but it’s ok to start inexpensively).  Then pick up 2 or 3 bottles of wine (lots of great options for $10 or even less) – now you have everything you need to throw a wine party.  I’m completely serious. Start small. Have a few friends over to share a bottle of two of wine. Put some crackers in a bowl and a block of cheese on a plate or board and you’ve got refreshments.  You don’t need to have dinner service for 10 to host a gracious and wonderful evening for friends, and you don’t need to spend a fortune, either. In time, you can add to your collection of dishes and tableware if that makes you happy, but you don’t need to have a full Butler’s Pantry before you start hosting.

5 – ALL THIS SPLENDOR IS A LOT OF WORK

Anything that’s truly worth doing in life is going to take a bit of effort, including Splendor. But here, too, you can choose the moderate path. If you absolutely loathe hand washing dishes, then you’re probably not going to find the delights of using fine china worth the clean up. Guess what? You can get yourself a set of lovely “Special occasion” dishes that can go in the dishwasher – there is no rule that says a splendid table must be set with only fine or expensive china.  The only requirement, really, is that those plates please you and give you some sense of “occasion” when you use them – it doesn’t matter if they’re a cheap set from Target or high end antiques.

That’s just one example – apply as needed. Find things that create more delight than hassle and focus your efforts there. Splendor and a gracious lifestyle isn’t about making life harder, it’s about strategically using a little extra effort to make life (or at least parts of it) more special.

6- I DON’T HAVE TIME

Time is a precious commodity. Much like #5, anything worth doing will take up some of your time. Here, again, moderation is key, and you don’t have to devote heaps of time to polishing silver or caring for a large house or garden in order to celebrate a bit of splendor in your life.  If your life is hectic and heavily scheduled, splendor for you (at least right now) might be as simple as picking up a few flowers every week during the grocery run or making sure you eat dinner (even if it’s delivery pizza or leftovers!) on a real plate. Start where you are, and work from there – even making tiny changes to bring a bit more nicety into your life can make a tremendous difference.

If you love to have dinner parties but you don’t actually like the time involved in planning, shopping for and  cooking a big meal, serve good take out or even hire a caterer if you have the budget for that.  Then set the table beautifully, serve the food with graciousness to your guests, and enjoy the evening.

 

Far be it from me to try and sell you on the idea of gracious living. It’s something that will either appeal or it will not, and either is ok. But if you want to start experimenting and dabbling, don’t let these mistaken ideas hold you back – Splendor is about what you do with what you have, it’s about starting where you are and adding a bit of burnish to your life. It’s ok to start small and it’s ok if your own definition of Splendor is different from someone else’s.

Vanitas

I’ve always been intrigued by Vanitas paintings – that is, still life paintings that feature stark reminders of the inevitable outcome of life (death) juxtaposed amidst the more transitory or sensual pleasures of life (flowers, food, books, pipes, wine)

The Vanitas lecture may be the one thing that I was awake for in my 8 AM Dutch art history class (I kid, I kid – there’s still a lot of Vermeer and Rubens kicking around in my head).  If you’re not familiar with Vanitas paintings, they feature symbols of death and mortality amidst the splendor and abundance of life. Sometimes this is a subtle nod, others are a bit more…..obvious. It’s a form of art that is so filled with symbolism that each one is it’s own unique puzzle.  And the conceit of Vanitas is as relevant today as in the 17th century – where there is life and abundance and pleasure there is also waiting death and decay.

My husband, Louisville portrait photographer Ben Marcum, and I were inspired to create some Vanitas of our own earlier this year.

I mentioned he’s a fantastic photographer, right? That’s going to be super important because I am definitely not a photographer or a painter – and if this project was going to come into being, it needed someone who excelled at sculpting with light. While Ben and I have collaborated together on some portrait work for my custom wig business, we had never done anything in the realm of still life before, so it was a new project for us both.

It was decided that I would be in charge of figuring out the contents of the pieces, and of sourcing the props. Or, to put it more bluntly, Ben said “figure out what you want in it and get it, and I’ll figure out how to shoot it. Oh, and I get to keep the skull in my office afterwards”. That seemed like a reasonable plan, so I started going research. And shopping for skulls.

Since we wanted to work from a pretty classic interpretation of Vanitas, we needed a full-sized replica of a human skull. Thankfully, the internet has everything, so I was able to purchase a wonderfully detailed skull, with excellent patina, from Etsy shop Dark Crop. Probably better not to ponder where all those Dutch masters got their skulls in a pre-Etsy time.

With the skull sourced, I only needed to figure out what kind of foliage and artifacts the pieces needed. Since it was late April, I decided to work off of the theme of spring. That meant early wild onions and other greens I sourced from our yard, and spring-ish flowers like roses and hydrangeas from our local favorite, Schultz’s Florist. I also decided to add eggs (I recommend hard boiling them first) and eggshells for their Easter symbolism, and vegetables like asparagus and artichokes (not totally sure artichokes are spring, but I was too taken with them at the store not to include them).

As splendor is a major component of vanitas, I felt obligated to pick up a few fabulous pieces of silver – including an antique silverplate floral centerpiece holder and a silver egg cup. I wanted this particular piece to be fairly structured, with the flowers threatening to overtake their bowl, the way that the early spring’s tentative sprays quickly give way to frantic summer growth.

Since I knew absolutely nothing about using or arranging flowers, I bought a book. This was great because I needed some help and also, I like to buy books. This gorgeous and well-written book on painterly flower arrangements was a tremendous help, and I’ve used it frequently since. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning about flowers and floral arrangements. Note please that if you were to purchase it by clicking on the photo link, I’ll receive a small commission from Amazon which will help keep the lights on and the silver polish stocked up. For further information, see my Affiliate Policy.

In final preparation, I shopped our house, looking for objects we already have that could potentially be part of the compositions. Though I had a clear idea in my head of what I was aiming for with these pieces, I went ahead and packed up anything that I thought might have a role to play – better to have too many pieces than not enough!

The morning of the shoot, we went first to the grocery for vegetables and then to the florist for fresh flowers. We loaded everything in, and I set to work arranging the flowers while Ben set up his studio lights.

The rest of the shoot is a bit of a blur. The entire process of setting up a still life and then looking at the camera results on screen (Ben shoots tethered, which is SO nice) meant I did a lot of rearranging and editing. The eggs and their shells were especially challenging to place, as it was easy for them to be dominated.

After a few hours of arranging, shooting and rearranging, we had two “Spring” Vanitas pieces. Ben worked his magic editing them to enhance their painterly qualities, and then sent them off to be printed. Once they arrived, we framed them and enjoy them in our dining room.

We plan to create further Vanitas pieces (after all, we need to get our money’s worth out of the skull!). I’m excited to see how the pieces will evolve as I become better at arrangement and composition, and of course, I’m sure I’ll have to buy some new “props” – for the sake of the art, of course!

If you like these images, they are available for purchase as prints!

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What is Splendor?

Hello and welcome. Let’s talk about splendor, the mission statement of this site, for a minute. Dictionary.com defines “splendor” as: “magnificent and splendid appearance; grandeur”.  I choose define Splendor as: “care and selective embellishment used to make both the every day and the special occasion a little bigger, grander, shinier. Living one’s life with appreciation and gratitude for beauty and magnificence, whatever those words mean to you.” In other words, it’s ok to gild the lily sometimes. But make sure you stop to appreciate it on it’s own merits first.

 

Ok, so I copped to a cliche and I opened with the dictionary definition of a term, and then redefined it. I beg your pardon, but sometimes a cliche really is the best way to start.

This site is dedicated to the idea of a life full of Splendor. Though I gave my own working definition of the term, I ultimately think it’s up to the individual to define what it means for them. Like most of life’s intangible concepts, the burden of definition ultimately falls on the individual.

 

Before I break that down a little more, I have something very important to say: The following things have NOTHING to do with Splendor:

  • The amount of money you have, or don’t have.
  • How much you things cost, how big your home is or how much stuff is in it.
  • Being “fancy” to  impress people rather than for joy of it.
  • Not taking time to actively appreciate and enjoy what you DO have.
  • Doing “fancy” things that do not increase your joy because you feel like you “ought” to

I’m not kidding about those. If you take nothing else away, believe that living in splendor is about what you do with what you have, not about having money or the “right” things, or even about following other people’s recipes for splendor.

With that out of the way, let’s talk a little more about the purpose of this site and of what it means to add more splendor. For me, splendor is:

  • sitting down to a nice meal at a formally set table with the “good” china
  • trying to fill my home with art and lovely things that truly fill me with joy
  • a garden, filled with flowers, plants and birds
  • drinking out of “nice” glasses, even if it’s just water
  • a well-mixed cocktail before dinner
  • a loaf of my husband’s amazing homemade bread
  • reading a book that is both a wonderful story and a beautiful tome
  • books, in general
  • watching the birds in my garden

So, you see, that list might start off sounding high-fauluting- You might even be thinking “sitting down to a formal table with china?!?!” “drinking out of “nice” glasses?!?! art and lovely things? Those sure sound like conspicuous consumption and fancy-schmancy stuff.” And you’re right, to a point. Those things *could* mean an emphasis on “stuff” and purchasing power.

For me, there is great joy is setting a table with beautiful dishes, silver and crystal. But the joy is from the time and effort and from actively appreciating the lovely, but very inexpensive, set of Noritake china I bought on ebay, the heirloom silver plate flatware, and the budget crystal I bought on amazon, all set on the table I found on craigslist.  It’s about appreciating the beauty of that table set with things I like and about elevating one of the seven dinners we eat each week to something a little more special.  While I take joy in my pretty dishes, and am happy to have them, my joy would not be greater if they cost quadruple the amount nor would it be much reduced if we didn’t have special dishes at all.

I’m very lucky to have been able to slowly acquire some beautiful and beloved pieces of art and furniture for my home (which I am also very lucky to have, and which I love dearly). While there is no denying that they represent an expenditure, they also represent a very deliberate and careful purchase, bought and cared for because of the emotional response they create.  For me, they are an experience I live every day, one that enhances my life tremendously.

But also on that list are things that are not about buying or having things, or about things at all – watching the birds in my backyard provides me with literally hours of delight.  Looking out the window and seeing flowers and plants is a constant joy, both for the beauty and for the satisfaction of planting and caring for them.

But yes, there are things on my splendor list to certainly represent “Stuff” and buying. I will be candid and say that I struggle frequently with wanting more beautiful things than I can easily afford – part of why I created this website is to help focus my mind and intention on part two of MY definition of Splendor: cultivating appreciation and gratitude for what  I do have, rather than harboring active awareness of what  wish I had.

In the end, Splendor is loving and appreciating beauty and knowing what extra efforts or embellishments will bring you joy, and then putting your resources there. It’s true that the focus here is largely on domestic splendor, but that’s not the only way or means of enjoying or appreciating splendor.

Welcome To Hey Big Splendor!

Sundays at home with Neville.

Hi. Thanks for coming.  This site is dedicated to a celebration of splendor, to elevating life and kicking things up a notch, at least some of the time. If you want to throw fabulous dinner parties, cook lovely food, make your home and garden beautiful and use the  “good” china for any (or no) reason at all, you’re in the right place.

Don’t think you need to to have tons of money or a fancy house or expensive things to strive for splendor. Splendor is about what you do with what you’ve got, how you put a little (or a lot) of gilding on the ordinary.

 

About me:

I like old things (houses, art, furniture), shiny things (silver, gilding, a touch of ormolu), tasty things (cocktails, good food) and making my home and garden beautiful.  I like a little bit of pomp in every day life, because life is short and it might as well be fancy. I have three cats who are all a little bit extra, and a husband, who’s pretty great. We live in Lousiville, KY, so prepare for lots of bourbon and horse racing.

 

Specifically, you can expect to hear about cooking and food, fancy table settings and entertaining, gardening, collecting shiny things, nature (the ultimate authority on splendor) and books because those are the things that add splendor to my life. I claim no expertise, in fact, I’m a total novice about a lot of things, but I’m on a journey.

You can follow along on Instagram @hey_big_splendor.