This is an essay about why I insisted we repaint the inside of our house. Again. If you’d like a refresher, here’s the intro to the last time I freaked out and did this. Less than a year ago.
Today’s story starts with a cruel but totally justifiable accusation. A veritable finger-pointing! An aversion of self-blame! Here goes…
My soon-to-be sister-in-law, Alyssum, is legit one of my best friends. We went to grad school together, I introduced her to my brother years ago, and she was my maid-of-honor. For real: We’re tight, y’all.
But I blame her for throwing me into a pit of psychological chaos. Even though it’s not her fault I’m cray-cray. It just feels so good to deflect sometimes, you know?
It started innocently enough. One day last month she sent me an article from the NYTimes: “When the Gospel of Minimalism Collides with Daily Life.”
I clicked. I read. I freaked the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks out.
The article had a message that resonated with me big time. For weeks, I had been covertly folding up rugs and putting away trinkets. Manny would come home, ask where something was, and I’d sheepishly explain how such-and-such item had ‘offended’ me in some way, and why its banishment was justified. That rug was collecting Riley-fur! That pair of candlesticks never held the candles straight! You get the idea.
The gist of the article, though, is that just taking stuff away from one’s home doesn’t always lead to fulfillment. Minimalism seems “virtuous” on Pinterest but is, for many
husbands people, ultimately unsatisfying, as it has a tendency to sterilize and impersonalize the home. A better solution for clutter-phobes who actually want to feel at home in their home is something the NYTimes writer cites as “post-materialist values.” Ermm…. errg… in layman’s terms: curating the home to create “a well-edited space with expressive touches.”
Let me be honest, just writing the phrase “curating the home,” makes me gag at myself a little. The art historian in me knows better than to use museum-language when talking about my house — especially as I’m about to have two kiddos, and this bungalow is going to get an injection of baby stuff and Real Everyday Life that is distinctly at odds with both museum-culture and glossy magazine spreads.
I freaking love all-white interiors these days. My Pinterest boards are stocked with more pacific white enclaves, more Scandinavian winter white palettes, than I can shake the proverbial stick at. The article awoke in me an awareness of the fact that I had changed my mind about paint colors and a whole lot of other interior design stuff some time ago. I just hadn’t fully realized it yet.
You see, the article came with lovely pictures of the home of Karen Bertelsen, the voice behind an awesome blog called The Art of Doing Stuff. Karen’s home is white and serene and just all out incredible.
As I read more about her home’s transformation, I learned that Bertelsen is not just funny and cool and in possession of an adorable house. She is also wise. She described her own conversion from a red dining room to a white one as follows: “white is the botox of paint colours. We both look younger and fresher for it.” Her Canadian-British spelling of the word ‘colors,’ aside, she struck a cord in my little crazy-person heart.
The Way We Were…
With that, let’s backtrack for a sec. When Manny and I were in the process of buying this bungalow nearly two years ago, I spent a silly amount of time enthusiastically researching historically-sensitive paint colors for 1920s craftsman homes. This was my most coveted inspiration pic:
Though I still ‘appreciate’ the image, I now think this is hilarious. Not because I snub my nose at history all of a sudden. But because I took this picture so seriously… and it is so unlike what both Manny and I gravitate toward at this point, two years in. Anyway, this is how we mapped the idea of that picture onto our own home soon after moving in:
The photo is kinda grainy, but you get the idea. It was cute and cosy. Like granny’s house.
Fast forward a few months and I’d come to realize that the beige living room in particular had been a mistake. So I painted it white. The result:This did seem to help considerably. And soon after Apartment Therapy contacted me and asked if I’d like to have a photographer come get images of our home for a tour feature. I remember having thought, “Bingo! The house is done now! We’re going to have fancy pictures taken for the interwebs!” In a nutshell, I was really proud of our little bungalow.
But then over the past few months, I revisited the pics and felt less excited. Don’t get me wrong, the images are great and the whole experience was super fun and rewarding. But I no longer felt like the house was “done.” What I felt was the urge to fiddle with things — first signs that my design sense had started to… evolve (she writes dramatically and with no trace of self-consciousness whatsoever).
I noted previously that, when Manny and I moved into this house, we had basically no stuff. No couch. No bed. Really, pretty much nothing but some super nice plates from our wedding and a one-eyed basset hound. That’s good stuff to have, mind you — but you can’t sit on any of it. Well, we tried to sit on Tilly once or twice. She balked. (J/k!)
So we hit up consignment stores and auctions and antique shops, and over the course of our first year in the house, we managed to coordinate a whole array of places to sit! And sleep! And eat!
But I’d started to wonder if some of our decisions had been correct. We hadn’t shopped with a plan. Or rather, we had — but the plan wasn’t exactly design-oriented. It was more like, “spend none of the monies!” Or at least as little as possible. Sometimes this worked out well, like in the bedroom, à la another pic from last September’s AT house tour:
I inherited the bed and think it’s special. The curtains are from IKEA and are the closest thing to Josef Frank I’ve landed on. I still really like them. Also, those black painted chairs, which we use as end tables, were five bucks — and while they probably aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I continue to get a kick out of them.
But I’ve never really been happy with our living room, for instance.
In part, this may be because it doesn’t really look like the AT pictures make it out to look. The feature makes it seem brighter than it really is most of the time and that plant in the corner (pictured in the collage above) was just there for the day because I needed to hide the fact that I (still…) don’t have a side table. In reality, it lives in the sunroom because it’s a huge, unruly monster plant and would be totally impractical there.
But I love, or at least like, most of the elements in the living room individually — the Article Alcott sofa (a splurge item), the old suede chair, the vintage rug, the artwork. It’s just never really gelled together coherently. I’m no professional designer (>>>UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT<<<), so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself…? But, for the last few months, I’ve found myself occasionally staring at that room thinking, “How do I fix this?”
It’s been making me a little crazy, to be honest. If I had a big budget (and/or a more total lack of sense?), I’d probably have scrapped everything and jetted off to some credit-card-accepting store to start from scratch. But that’s full-blown insanity, and, I really believe, no more a surefire way to get a home you love than thrifting and buying ad hoc over time.
So I started racking my brain. What can I change in the living room to help it along? Do we need to invest in a new rug? Did I make a critical error in buying a fancy, expensive black couch instead of something more caramel-hued? Should I take down all of the art? Should I rush out and buy new art? Do I throw out the perfectly good suede chair? Or have it reupholstered? Should I make some valances? Should I learn what a valance is?
Immediately, I realized that
some most of these potential solutions are no-gos, at least for now. Like, we are NOT getting a new couch. Um, ever. Not only was that bad boy expensive, but he’s handsome, and he’s staying put, even if it means I have to redesign the whole house around him. Also, Manny loves that rug, and it’s his house too. Also, we’re about to have two kids and I’m taking an unpaid maternity leave in the fall, so… home decor is low on the ‘priority expenses’ list… sort of on par with caviar and teeth whitening products. Or maybe below teeth whitening products… because glaringly white teeth might (literally?) blind people to other aspects of my post-twins appearance, like love-handles and baby-spit-up-covered clothing.
The Crazy Comes Out
But since Manny is really a doll and is willing to listen to even my more inane thoughts and actually take them seriously, I put some of this decor dilemma to him anyway. He asked me to try to explain just what I thought was “wrong” and I hemmed and hawed and told him that the front of the house just felt too dark sometimes.
And he actually agreed with me!
Seriously, I’m pretty sure he said something at least somewhat sympathetic. Something like: “Yeah.” Or “Really?”
Then I heard myself say this:
“What if we re-painted the dining room?!”
To be fair, this statement spontaneously burst out of me from some deep, down loco place and probably sounded more like:
Meaning, even I was like: Huh? Because I didn’t know I wanted to paint the dining room until the words were out. I’d thought I liked the dining room.
But now, here I was, proposing a change. And I liked my suggestion. Author-know-thyself be damned!
Even stranger, Manny responded in the affirmative. Something like: “Sure, that color seems to suck the light out of house.” Or maybe: “I guess… uh …?” Either way. I can’t really remember exactly because Baby Hormones.
So my mind again went back to that NYTimes article and Karen Bertelsen’s house and my Pinterest boards. And my curiosity as to whether white paint could really “fix” some niggling (if seemingly unrelated…) design concern became a moral imperative to find out.
Within forty-eight hours I had purchased paint. That weekend, the drop cloths were ceremoniously laid.
The results? Pleasing, I think:
(Btw, do forgive the grainy iPhone photo. Apparently “bed rest” does not allow for one to dig out the tripod and good camera to take blog pictures. I plan to revisit the topic in the future, though, with more quality control. Or not. We’ll see how it goes with twins.)
I got a buzz from the newly white dining room. Like, it did help the living room to some extent just by simplifying the home’s color palette and playing up the light. Or so I’m still telling myself because, again, Baby Hormones.
To Be Continued
At this point, I still don’t know what the heck I’m going to do about the living room. Since I’m on bed rest, ‘nothing’ is pretty much my only option for now. And then I’ll have newborn twins, so ‘nothing’ will probably remain the rule for at least a little while.
But today, as I write this, I sit in a home that has been botoxed from front to back, essentially. It feels brighter, “period appropriateness” be damned. I also recognize that, while I have a way to go yet when it comes to honing my design style, I’ve got a clearer direction than I did as a brand new homeowner, intoxicated by the mere fact that we no longer lived in a 400-some sq ft studio apartment in Brooklyn.