I Never Understood My Mom's Style — Until I Was A Grown-Ass Woman

The author's childhood home. Photo © Cate West Zahl
I was born in 1984, smack-dab in the middle of America's chintz craze. The glazed textile was a prominent player in our house, from a ruffled tableskirt that matched the window treatments to a pair of slipper chairs. The colors and feminine floral prints could, in the wrong hands, start to feel like a bad Palm Beach apartment. But, not in ours.

Our house was (luckily) in the hands of my talented mother, Ann West. Her career includes a season spent working with David Hicks, opening an interiors shop in Washington, D.C., and starting her own business, Ann West Interiors. But, despite all of these testaments to her good taste, when it came time to first express myself in my own space, I was determined to go in a different direction.

In college, I fell in love with Shabby Chic. Everything had to be white on white on (faded, with eyelets) white. I idolized Rachel Ashwell and rebelled against the taupes, seafoams, and perfect ecru shades of my childhood home. Then I moved to New York City, and my mindset turned to more is more. I covered my walls with funky art, installed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and dove headfirst into tablescaping. I ignored the edited vignettes and emphasis on function that are the calling cards of my mother's (not to mention my grandmother's) style.
The author's first apartment in NYC. Photo © Cate West Zahl
Now, at home in Charlottesville, Virginia, I realize that it's okay to have moments in your house that don't necessarily draw attention to themselves because of some surprising, dramatic combination you cobbled together in an attempt at something utterly unique. It's actually okay if things match.

With a husband and two small boys, I have fully embraced my mom’s way of decorating. For starters, after years of an all-white bedroom, I decided to follow in her footsteps and think pink. (There is plenty of edge in my mom's house — just not in the bedroom.) I've hung pink china plates and put pink and white gingham table skirts on our side tables. Guess what? My husband likes all of it!

Every time my mom visits my house, I try to get her to rearrange everything. The first thing she always says is that there's nothing for her to do — it all looks great. But, slowly, she drifts from room to room, taking away two things from this table, shifting the scale of the hurricane lanterns just so, and basically editing my overly crowded mess. Her instinct to simplify comes from a pragmatic place. "If it looks good enough with just the one, why complicate the matter?"  There's a component of minimalism in her taste; she recognizes that drama can be achieved with simple lines and subtle layers.
The author's current home. Photo © Cate West Zahl
On some level, we all dread becoming our mothers — or, that's how you’re supposed to feel. I’m sure my mom would say the same of her mother, who, at 90 years old, still resides in a house full of character and perfectly placed antiques, the result of having an opinion and not being afraid to stick to it. But, those decorators like my mom back in the '80s were onto something. They appointed a home in a way that didn't scream "Look at me! Someone designed every inch of me! Taadaa!" There was no Pinterest and no Internet inundated with image after image of perfectly decorated rooms. So, I'm embracing the comfort that pretty, elegant, and simply chic environs can impart. Yes, I decorate like my mom — and I like it.
The author's grandmother's home. Photo © Cate West Zahl

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