Style at Home: Find your decorating muse most anywhere

Mary Carol Garrity

How do you fuel your creativity? What do you do to keep yourself inspired? When it comes to making your home fresh and beautiful, where do you find your ideas? Through the years, I’ve discovered some fail-safe ways to ignite my creative spark. Here are a few of my favorite muses, which not only inspire my decorating but also enrich my life:

Travel: Travel just juices me up. No matter where I’m going, whether it’s for work or pleasure, I come back bursting with ideas. In the past few years, Dan has been stuck on traveling to France, which is not a problem for me! Everywhere I turn in this breathtakingly beautiful country, I’m in awe. Mentally, I’m making a million notes of the things I want to replicate, from the gardens in Normandy to the shop windows in Paris, to the fare in the bistros in Niece. When you travel next, go into it with a sense of wonder, and I bet you will find ideas galore for your home, garden and table.

Features on beautiful homes: When I go on a grocery store run, I’m the girl at the checkout with two food items, and three decorating magazines. I figure a magazine or two is my reward for putting some food in our fridge. The take-me-away photos of the gorgeous homes and gardens in my favorites, like House Beautiful and Elle Decor, inspire me for years. I keep them for a few years and flip through them when I need a spark. You’d be surprised how often you see something there — some little nugget you missed before — that sets a great decorating plan in motion.

The same is true for decorating books. I have stacks around my home, from old favorites to new loves. And whenever I have a few seconds, you’ll find me on my phone, getting lost in Instagram. It’s a terrible time suck, but I love to scroll through all the talented designers I follow to see what they are doing.

Nature: I’m not an outdoorswoman. You will never find me camping or backpacking. Still, I love to be in nature, when it’s a bit more tamed. My happy spot is sitting in a beautiful garden. I have no gardening ability and cannot tell you the name of almost any of the plants in my garden, but seeing them every day fills my soul. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” I could not agree more. I think that’s why I always have fresh flowers in my cottage, little bouquets here and there, just to brighten the day.

Movies: When most people go to movies, they get absorbed in the plot. For me, it’s the set. I don’t think I’m the only one, though. When “The Holiday” and “Something’s Gotta Give” came out, we had so many customers come in in search of ways to make their homes resemble those featured in the movies. My all-time favorite, though, is the house in “Out of Africa,” with its English colonial feel. Robert Redford wasn’t too bad, either!

Fellow house lovers: One of the many perks of my job is getting to spend my days surrounded by people who love to decorate their homes. My staff always inspires me, and so do my customers. It’s fun to see their before and after photos, and to get a chance to visit their homes.

One of my favorites was helping my friend Andrea bring her style to life in her beach home. The home’s dramatic exterior helped inspire the interior, with its views of the sand dunes and sea.

Honestly, I can’t go to a friend’s home without ogling their decorating. I take my time drinking in everything I see. I’m like a little sponge, soaking it all in. This voyeuristic habit started early, when I first visited my dear friend Nancy’s home. I was a new decorator back then, trying to find my style. Nancy’s unique way of showcasing the natural world in her everyday decor blew me away.

Antique shops: When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is visit antique stores. I enjoy wandering through little shops, partially to see what amazing treasure is waiting there ready to come home and live with me, and partially to enjoy the merchandise is displayed.

So here’s your assignment today: Make a list, like I’ve done here, of the things that fill your creative tank. Then, pull out your calendar and schedule in time to indulge!

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at