Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Organizing My Thoughts

I know many books recommend that we keep “inspiration” notebooks or files for decorating our homes.  These files might include magazine articles and photos, paint chips and tiny fabric, carpet, tile, granite, laminate and wallpaper samples.  I think “inspiration” files are effective when you are working on a specific project and are trying to finalize purchase decisions.

But sometimes you just want to keep track of all the interesting things you read in periodicals.  I have a lot of magazines and continually use them as references.  I would never tear them apart!  How would I find anything?  Besides, magazine editors and writers expend enormous energy creating each issue.  Often the layout and writing are just as exciting as the products and décor described inside.

So, seven years ago, I started a reference index for all my magazines.  It’s just an Excel spreadsheet where I can organize topics of interest to me and note where they can be found in each magazine.  It’s extremely helpful and completely subjective and slightly absurd.  It has grown to over 5,100 entries.

"Fabric on Walls", "Banquettes", "Ceilings" and "Displaying Artwork" are four of my favorite categories in the spreadsheet.  Mainly because I think they are great elements in any room but are often extraordinarily tricky to imagine… so a picture truly is worth a thousand words.  "White Interiors", "Bold Interiors" and "Dark Interiors" are all categories that capture the essence of a room rather than individual features.

I love mirrors and try to document as many beautiful ones as possible.  There are 220 "Mirror" entries currently in the spreadsheet.  "Use of Large" is a subcategory within "Mirrors".  Large mirrors can look absolutely fabulous or terribly dated, so I like to record any good examples.  Kitchens are divided into four subcategories based on cabinet styles: "Painted Contemporary", "Painted Traditional", "Stained Contemporary" and "Stained Traditional".  But "Appliances", "Counters" and "Range Hoods" are all categories of their own.

Living designers, like William Diamond and Anthony Baratta, Mary McDonald and Albert Hadley, are listed under "Designers", and those not living, like Rose Cumming, Billy Baldwin and Tony Duquette, are considered "Trendsetters".

Some categories are fairly broad, such as "Bedrooms" or "Bathrooms" for when I like almost everything about a room.  Some categories are more detailed, like "Beds", "Bed Linens", "Bathtubs" or "Bathroom Vanities".  And some are ridiculously specific, like "Coat Racks", because attractive coat racks are few and far between.

Perhaps I should eventually transfer all this information to a real database, but Excel provides all I need for the moment.  I can sort and search by category, subcategory, magazine, issue and even special comments.  Let’s say I’m looking for a single article about these pretty toleware lamps by Two Girls Arts, but I can’t remember the name Two Girls Arts.  I can just search for tole or "Toleware".  In fact, I don’t have to remember toleware.  The same article is referenced under "Lamps".

Of course, it’s not a perfect system.  At the beginning, travel information was only organized by individual state or country, for example, Main Category: "Travel", Subcategory: "The Netherlands".  Now "New York" entries are overwhelming.  I’ve started to differentiate between NYC and the rest of New York State, but information may need to be even more precise, such as organized by neighborhood, for quicker accessibility and convenience.  I don’t want to double check forty magazines for two days of travel to lower Manhattan.

Some categories have escaped the spreadsheet all together.  Paint Colors, Fabrics and Wallpapers and Reading for Home and Garden have developed into separate documents… each with hundreds of entries of their own.

In the end, my magazine reference index is not much different than an “inspiration” file, except perhaps in scale.  Only things I like make it to the list.  I never include “bad” or “what-not-to-do” examples.  Categories are highly personal.  Would anyone else understand my descriptions of "Regional Décor": "Alpine", "Adirondack", "Mediterranean", "Californian", "Spanish Colonial", "Scandinavian", "Belgian" or "French"?  Maybe not.  But I do, and I can quickly find what I need.

Best of all, my magazines remain intact.  Just in case, I want to peruse them for even more inspiration!


  1. One of these days I hope we will live close enough to each other for you to help me make my house look decent!!

  2. I LOVE IT!! I came across this article in search of "organizing excel" for a COMPLETELY different topic (I'm doing a financial analysis of my income). But I'm also an interior design student who is IN LOVE with magazines. But I DO NOT AT ALL want to tear apart my magazines, never ever, for anything, they are precious entities full of continual inspiration. This is by far, just amazing and I'm hailing you a god of inspiration! But I am so overwhelmed with the idea of organizing my collection, eeks! But thank you! I'm so book marking this.

  3. You are brilliant, thank you! I love magazines, I'm an interior design student looking for a way to organize my magazine inspiration, thank you thank you thank you!


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