Going for more in 2024: With help from local experts, create a cheerier home this spring

By Gordon Dossett, Vermont Country Magazine.

MANCHESTER — With the holidays past but snow reluctant to cast its wintry spell on Southern Vermont (as of this writing), how do we bring cheer to our surroundings? Mary Jo Gourd, owner of MJG Interiors in Manchester, says, “my philosophy is that the home is a sanctuary where you feel peace and joy, so that when you walk out the door, you take that peace and joy with you.”

To those among us who find a beer bottle makes a nice candleholder and wash the dishes only when they reach Eiffel Tower proportions, peace and joy may seem alien concepts for design — but it’s still a new year. Why not try a new home?

Mary Jo constantly looks at space differently from the way most of us do, so I turned to her for some guidance.

First off, she offers ideas on larger, practical matters and larger renovations. Kitchens increasingly tempt homeowners to consider induction over gas.

Mary Jo Gourd is the owner of MJG Interiors in Manchester. Gordon Dossett — Vermont Country. 

While there are larger environmental questions — gas arguably uses more natural resources — there are also practical ones: heat powered by electricity and electromagnetism is fast, thereby speeding up cooking. For some of us, speeding us away from cooking is a blessing.

Second, new “RainStick” technology allows for recycling water when showering, perhaps not as urgent an issue here (as opposed to the Southwest). Still, the company’s claim is this: “RainStick doubles your water flow, connects to your smart home, and uses up to 80% less water and energy, saving you up to $1,000 per year on water and energy bills.”

Third, heat pumps relieve reliance on fossil fuels and provide cheaper alternatives — both for heating and cooling. (Green Mountain Power continues to offer rebates of up to $6,500, as well as other suggestions for a more efficient home.)

Mary Jo turns to smaller-scale suggestions:

Color. Consider a “color memory.” What color do you associate with something in your life that brings you joy? Use that color to create a path through your home or feature that color in a place. If that color is pink, for example, it may be present in pink tulips that you bring home from the store or a pillow (and the whole pillow need not be pink, by the way). Creating a path that features this color allows areas of your house to have harmony. Of course, paint can bring a relatively cheap, dramatic change.

Organization. This means “everything has a place.” Mary Jo does not mean homeowners need to go full Marie Kondo on their home. It costs little or nothing to take stock. If a lamp or chair or table or blanket no longer gives you joy, donate it (and perhaps it will bring joy to someone else). Knowing that your keys will always be in a particular place relieves stress; figure out a consistent spot.

Who knows what you may discover in a little-used drawer or closet? At the very least, after an hour, you will have a small area of your life that is in order, and a space for your new mitten collection.

Lighting. Play around with various light bulbs and candles, and, of course, candles are a way of adding scents, too, that may help create a calm space.

These concepts — color, organization, light — may seem easy to understand, but hard to put into practice. Watch designers at work. They may simply gaze at a wall, enter a trance, snap to and order paintings to be placed — “here! there! — no 5 inches to the right! — yes!” And in seven minutes, pictures look right, look in harmony, something a mere mortal could not conjure with measuring tapes, laser beams and geothermal sensing.

To help us schlubs of decorating bring more harmony and joy to a space, Mary Jo suggests we go to Depot 62 in Manchester, and she would demonstrate.

A word about Depot 62, owned by Alp Basdogan (who deserves a column or two himself). Although he is Turkish and started his business in New York City, there is something Vermonty about his operation. Just like people who landscape in the summer, plow in winter and sell antique stoves on the side, Alp prepares gourmet Turkish food and sells rugs and other home furnishings from a huge inventory. Go in for a meal; go home with a couch.

Alp graciously consented to use Depot 62 as a staging area, and Mary Jo quickly went to work.

I’ve included images highlighting what you might look for in arranging your own home. If needed, head to Depot 62, T.J. Maxx or your own basement for just the right pillow or candlestick.

OK, the haphazard arrangement here might be a dead giveaway, but I will confess that my own couches often have a similar, er, design.
Now in this new improved version, pillows have been plumped up, and a contrasting dark blue throw picks up on the faded blue of the two pillows.  The tray, coffee cup and books hint at a larger point: that everything need not be nice, neat and straight. Contrasts of shape and texture help make a space comfortable, lived-in, and inviting. 
In this second setting, Mary Jo set matching striped chairs around a leather couch and coffee table. What do you think of the patterned, colorful occasional seat in front?
Right — the whirly seat must go! (In the mirror, Mary Jo looks on in dismay in the previous photo.) 
Try this.  The squarish seats pick up on the regularity of the table,  and the oatmeal color suggests the same color on the circular bowl on the table.  The black throw softens the couch’s shape, deepening the dark stripes in the chair.  The two pillows and that squiggly thing (yes, that’s the designer name for it) complement the brown leather.  The colorful fabrics (lower left) tie into the carpet colors.
On to a third situation: Two leather chairs, separated by a stool that can double as a side table topped with a tea tray. Do you like the pillow on the left, with freeform blue and red shapes?
Mary Jo liked the matching pillows, thinking they harmonized and picked up on the fabric of the side piece.  
A final word:  many choices enter into any decorating decision.  Don’t let them overwhelm you.  Just choose one or two things and start–and watch a hint of joy nudge out the winter gloom.

Gordon Dossett traded the traffic and urban ugliness of Los Angeles for the Green Mountains. He lives with his teenaged children, a cat and a dog, packing urban sprawl into one home. He likes making to-do lists and losing them.

Vermont Country magazine

Vermont Country has a hyperlocal focus on the Green Mountain lifestyle, its personalities, events, attractions and culture. The magazine appears six times a year, designed to complement the state and four-season living. VtCo magazine is a Southern Vermont publication of Vermont News & Media.

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