"Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement.” You know and I know (because I just looked it up) that this is how Pip felt about Miss Havisham, lurking like a spider in her creepy mansion. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, may I say it also exactly describes the neglected bookshelves in my living room?
Luckily, I have some junk—make that "treasures" and "collections"—lying around which, with the help of a few super-low-maintenance house plants (God knows I'd never remember to water them with any regularity) really gussied up the place. It's a look I call Victorian Spinster. If you want to recreate it—hello, it's Halloween—here's how:
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Let's have a look inside the living room, shall we?
Above: My favorite house plant is one that doesn't need to be coddled, or even planted, for that matter. A Tillandsia Ionantha, like its other little air plant friends, can perch directly on a shelf. I trained a magnifying glass on it in the theory that might intensify the amount of sunlight it receives on the bottom shelf. So far this has not started a fire.
Above: Do you have a bunch of old wooden mannequins lying around in a box mistakenly labeled "Nana's Tea Cups?" (That's where I found mine, when I unpacked after my last move.) If not, a similar 16-inch tall Sectioned Wooden Manikin (L) is $17.95 from Amazon; the color will darken over time. A Large Tillandsia Ionantha is $1.95 from CTS Airplants via Etsy.
Above: The most elegant succulent, hands down, is Senecio rowleyanus, also known as String of Pearls. You can drape it in macabre ways—over the edge of a bookshelf, say, where it looks eager to strangle that bird.
Above: Some people say String of Pearls is inordinately fussy. My friend, Stephanie, for instance, is always losing them. But I think that's because she coddles hers too much. My advice: Put it in a pot and ignore it. Every once in a while, stick a finger in the dirt. If it feels the slightest bit moist, go away for a few more days. Water it only if bone dry—String of Pearls is prone to rot. Makes you want one, doesn't it? A Hanging Basket Pearls Plant is $15.96 from Home Depot.
Above: That's my grandfather Elmer Wolverton (L) getting ready to head off to war. Unless the air plant gets him first.
Above: I have boxes and boxes of old family photos; a cheap and simple way to display them is on Restaurant Menu Holders (L); $8.48 per dozen from A City Discount. A Tillandsia Bulbosa (R) is $5.99 from Twisted Acres va Etsy.
Above: This whole "air plant" nickname is a misnomer, by the way. Tillandsias need water to live. Submerge them for a few minutes every week or so. Unless you're afraid they're going to crawl out of the sink and attack when your back is turned…
Above: …In which case, you can mist their leaves every couple of days with a Nickel Plant Mister; it's $20 from Terrain. The mister would also look pretty good sitting on a shelf next to all that other quasi-scientific stuff—like old seashells and tarnished silver plate spoons—that was in the bottom of the "Nana's Tea Cups" box. I suspect the real Miss Havisham might have filled her mister with gin.
Above: Add to the display a few of those wobbly, misshapen ceramic bowl things the children are always bringing home from school.
Above: If you don't have children, take heart. You can also mix in some non-wobbly, beautifully shaped small pieces, such as the Heath Accessories Bud Vase (L); in four colors, for $22 apiece. The Cafe Bowl From the Heath Chez Panisse Line (R) is $35 and available in five colors.
Above: In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's dining room was also a pretty spooky scene, with "speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies" running around on her rotted wedding cake. Maybe next year.
N.B.: To go Goth with flowers, see DIY: Black Floral Arrangements.