Monday, May 2, 2011

Living a chic life

Originally posted on La Vie En Fifi, 3 October 2008

With my interest in all things chic, how could I pass up a book entitled 'Chic - life as it should be'. Stylish and authoritative. One reviewer said the author Colin Cowie made Martha Stewart look like a slob, and reading this book confirms that as a fact. Apart from writing books, he is a very highbrow events co-ordinator.

It is a very inspiring read, makes me get up and declutter a shelf after finishing a chapter. For example, rather than have a bedside table cluttered with everything you could ever want to reach for, Colin has the top drawer all but empty, with the essentials laid out on one of those lacy thin rubber mats cut to fit the drawer (to stop everything sliding around).

For me, body butter, hand cream, lip cream, lip balm, pen and paper, mini alarm clock and a few other bits and pieces (I'm too embarrassed to tell you about my bookmark collection so I always have a pretty one to use). And then you would have a few choice items on the top. He said his goal is to have his home look like a chic hotel.

This book also has many pictures of Colin's home in NYC. His style is a little masculine for me, however I can appreciate the stylish orderliness and I covet his labelled, stacked, grouped closets and cupboards.

An excerpt from the book:

The foundation of any well-run home is cleanliness and order. An orderly house will not only give you pleasure, it will also make everything in your life, from writing a thank-you note the day after a fabulous evening to opening your home to over-night guests, that much more effortless.

Living elegantly means creating a place you look forward to coming home to, a place where you can entertain happily, harmoniously, and generously.

If my home is in order, I feel as though my life is in order and I can take on anything. I love walking into an intelligently designed, immaculate kitchen. I love opening the freezer door and finding everything I need neatly stacked: frozen appetisers ready to be popped into the oven, decorator ice cubes available to enliven a chic cocktail, chicken stock waiting to form the base of a delicious home-made soup.

In the closet, I love finding my shirts arranged from light to dark, short-sleeve to long, beautifully starched, and hanging from matching hangers. I love clean, polished surfaces that are stripped of any unnecessary clutter. I love opening my desk drawers and immediately finding business cards, personal stationery, pens, and my cell phone charger. And at night, I love retiring to a bedroom so pulled together and luxuriously welcoming that I could easily mistake it for a five star hotel suite.

Keep the things that are precious to you close by and available so they can be used on a regular basis. Everything else should be stored in a safe place, not left out on display. Serving bowls should be on the tables only when they’re overflowing with food, and there’s nothing at all exciting about an empty vase perched on a windowsill (even if it’s Lalique!). Less is definitely more!

For example, a simple vase with one exotic flower on a central table can be more astonishing than that same vignette surrounded by fourteen framed pictures and half a dozen objets from your last European vacation.

Instead, keep a separate closet or cupboard where you can store your collection of decorative items. When you bring them out for entertaining, they’ll seem brand new again. Use your pieces to create varied and interesting vignettes and fresh atmospheres, then put them away for the next time the mood strikes.

Invest in drawer dividers, baskets, and closet organisers. Trays and decorative bowls can also be fantastic containers for odds and ends such as keys and loose change. Create areas for everything you use, which will allow you to find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it.

Try to take twenty minutes each day to tidy up and put things back where they belong. When you’re having a few friends over for drinks or throwing a party, you shouldn’t have to do a major all-day cleaning. The longer you delay straightening up, the more burdensome it is to clean. It’s much better, and a lot less overwhelming, to maintain order and cleanliness as you move through your day.

Granted, most people work and have to scramble to keep up with household chores. But ideally, you’ll get to a point where with a bit of soap and water, a mop and a broom, some dimmer switches on the lights and a little music, your home should be ready to receive guests at practically a moment’s notice. A little at a time goes a long way.


I saw Colin and his partner on Oprah and he was so engaging and funny I couldn’t help but liking him. His partner said if he ever wants to upset Colin all he has to do is shake a drawer so everything gets mixed up. Colin may sound a little OCDish but he makes it seem so appealing. You can view that Oprah session here.

I think Colin's advice to take a small amount of time to tidy up each day is so wise. It really makes a huge difference to both the smooth running of my household, and my levels of serenity. I also changed my bedside table to reflect Colin's recommendations (above) two and a half years ago when I first read the book, and it is still like that today. It must be working.

Image of Colin's bedside table from


  1. It's been a while since I read this book, but I enjoyed it a lot. I've got to start working on our drawers and cabinets getting them organized and cleared out.

  2. Good grief, where does the time go? Has it really been THREE YEARS since you brought that book to my attention and I read it?!

    It's such fun re-reading these great old posts of yours, Fiona. Thanks for reposting them; what a good idea.

  3. I'm with Colin, I don't like any clutter anywhere and love to just have a simple display of photos and fresh flowers and very few nic nac's. xxoo :)

  4. Although I know who Colin is, I did not know about this particular book. I looked for it at our local library, but as usual, nothing.
    It sounds so intriguing. I will try to find a used copy elsewhere.
    And I agree with the single flower vs. a spray. Simple and elegant.

  5. Oh Thank you for the book review...I must get my hands on this gem.

    You are such a great source of all things chic Fiona!


  6. oh fiona i love colin. i loved his first book, i think it is now out of print, effortless elegance and i used his weddings book as my bible when i was a caterer. i read your excerpt from the book with his gorgeous south african accent. i like my house to always be in the condition to be able to pull it all together in under 5 min. it does require upkeep but it's so worth it. b/c after all, we are constant guests in our home. anyway, thanks for sharing.

  7. I am trying so hard to get caught up on my blog reading....Let me say I am so @#$* happy that you are re-posting older posts. I love your voice and sense of style, Fiona. xxBliss

  8. DH and I went to the library today and I checked out Colin Cowie's book. After just a quick browse through the book I am amazed at how much information is packed in there! I'm really looking forward to taking my time reading through this. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!


  9. I love his list, and it is consistent with professional butlers manuals and de-cluttering gurus. Very chic indeed. It is now on my Amazon wish list.

    Colin Cowie is responsible for my obession with Diptyque candles.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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