What is your best decorating design advice?

zenhomesMarch 8, 2014

I'm quite the novice when it comes to decorating and so I thought I would start a list of tips:

What is your best decorating advice?

(p.s. I was forced to change my name as my password wasn't recognized. Used to be zen4d)

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Measure your space before you go shopping for a piece of furniture. Take the measuring tape with you and a photo on your phone of where the piece will go.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Start with an inspiration piece, be it a pic of a room you like, a piece of art, fabric, outfit, plate, whatever...to give you a direction to go in.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 12:03PM
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Carry with you as many samples of your design elements as possible. For example, I have a ziplock bag in my purse that contains paint chips for all the colors I've used in my house, a swatch of my living room sofa fabric, etc.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 12:27PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Figure out the style you love most and stick with it. Don't be swayed by other styles are you'll end up with an uncohesive hodge podge.
If you're an impulse buyer, just stay in your style and color scheme.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 12:35PM
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Don't fight your space. If you hope to turn your Ohio ranch into a beach cottage, the ranch will always win.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 12:48PM
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Determine how the room will function at least 80% of the time and furnish it to support that function. Use rooms in the way they work best for your life, which may not be the way the builder envisioned, so that you don't waste any of your square footage.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 12:58PM
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Read about interior design and look at a lot of pics of rooms by well-known designers. The link below has many. Home decor is like anything else, if you are going to DIY there are things you need to learn. Otherwise hire a decorator/designer if you don't want to put in the effort. Also like anything else you teach yourself, be prepared to make mistakes. Hopefully you won't make the really expensive ones but neither can most people expect to get it 100% right the first time.

In spite of that, try to have fun with it. It's your home and you likely know more than you realize and have likes and dislikes you must follow to have a result that is pleasing to you.

Here is a link that might be useful: AD's top 100 architects and designers

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 1:04PM
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Never decorate around a mistake. Been there...

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 1:25PM
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Decorate for yourself and not for your mother, MIL, best friend, sister, GW...... Follow a "trend" or current colours only if you absolutely love them and have always done so. (I still miss the jewel tones).

Use your favourite colour even if it isn't in style. Look at your current rooms and see if there is a common theme among them now. Decorating doesn't have to be expensive. Places like Home Goods (Home Sense) can have great inexpensive pieces that you might be able to use for jumping off points.

Either shop by yourself or with your partner, leave everybody else at home. - unless you have someone in your life that you have real trust in their taste and who won't try to influence you. You know the ones - the ones who say "I hate that" and you actually like it.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 1:35PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Regardless of style, getting scale and balance right is essential to a room's success.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:18PM
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It's better to wait and save for a piece that is substantial and is the proper scale for a room than to purchase 20 smaller items that will only register as clutter in a room.

Only buy items that you know exactly where you will place them in your home. Too many people buy objects they think are cute in the store, get them home and don't know where to put them.

If you are a woman living with a man, remember that it is his home too and should (in my humble opinion) reflect both your tastes and be a space where both of your enjoy spending time together. I feel rooms that are too feminine or too masculine are a turn-off. A balance of the two is always more inviting. To me, at least.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:31PM
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The following list represents the best decorating advice I have received over the years that has worked for me:

1. When you move to a new home, live in a space for a while before deciding on renovations.

2. Always, always sample paint colors on large pieces of white posterboard, and leave them in the intended room for at least 24 hours to view the color in different light.

3. Allow nothing in your home that you don't find useful or beautiful (the William Morris motto).

4. With some ingenuity, you can marry form and function 90% of the time.

5. If you have small children, be practical about what's appropriate in your home. Keep in mind they grow up quickly.

6. Despite the abundance of retail sources available, you don't have to think inside their box. If you don't find exactly what you want, you can often build it or make it yourself--or pay someone to do it.

7. Make a decision already.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:46PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Definitely agree with #7.
I really don't understand people who go for years undecorated just because they are afraid of commitment.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 11:17PM
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"I really don't understand people who go for years undecorated just because they are afraid of commitment."

'Gulp'... That would be me.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 9:04AM
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Make it reflect who you are, not what you think your house should be, i.e.: House Beautiful.

Figure out that the key to picking paint colors is in the undertones of the paint, not the overtone. Took me forever to figure that outâ¦and as soon as I'd finished painting my entire house, naturally!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 9:28AM
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don't buy stuff you don't love just because you need "something" there

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 10:23AM
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"I really don't understand people who go for years undecorated just because they are afraid of commitment."
'Gulp'... That would be me.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Create a design YOU want and love, rather than follow the latest trends. You'll enjoy it much longer if your environment represents your own personal taste and personality.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 2:11PM
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laura mcleod

Don't forget texture - nothing warms up a space better

I think every room should have some old stuff in it - patina warms up a space and helps avoid the "bought all of it at once at Homegoods" look

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 8:30PM
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Decorate for the "life you have" not the "life you wish you had". Learned the hard way with light colored rugs and messy dogs.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 8:51PM
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I didn't read the others first, so here is my first impression.

1. When you love something, you may have to let it go if it just doesn't work in your space.

2. Don't be matchy matchy. It's easiest but boring and amateurish (no offense meant)

3. Proportion and scale are the hardest rules to break.

4. There is nothing wrong with stealing a look, but be sure you analyze it to figure out what elements drive the look and what elements you actually like.

5. Don't be too practical. (the opposite of the advice plastered at the top of the page). If we only did what was the most practical it would look like hospital waiting rooms. Be moderately impractical about at least a few things!

6. Don't think you need to agree with everything a designer says if you hire one.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2014 at 9:21PM
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Learn from my design mistakes.

I had a cute Victorian rug and Victorian-style footed sofa and armchair. It was adorable in a suite in a heritage house, but did. not. work. when we bought a new boxy apartment. Work with the architecture of the home - never fight it and never fake it.

I love colour. 12 years ago I painted my bedroom fuschia. It is still fuschia. Needless to say, although it was fun it is not especially liveable. Yes, I am planning to paint it! I tried all sorts of crazy colours - mint kitchen, navy dining room, orange living room. Years of analyzing design photos finally sunk it into my head - often the rooms I love are actually 90% white/neutral and only 10% colour. Colour needs space to breathe and actually has more impact when it can pop against a neutral base. And my brain needs space to breathe when I look around the rooms of my home.

I just spent a fortune fixing a design mistake I made 12 years ago. I have an open concept kitchen/living/dining area in my apartment. I picked tile for the kitchen and recycled hardwood for the rest. I finally got the hardwood extended into the kitchen this week! It looks beautiful and creates a seamless look for the space - so critical in a small home. Within a room or visually linked rooms, always try to minimize the finishes.

Like many, I love wood. But you can get into dangerous territory when there is too much wood in a room. It really helps to treat wood like a colour. For example, if you have golden oak floors like I do, you have to understand that you are decorating around that gold colour, which may or may not read as a neutral depending on what else you have in the room.

In a family home, pick finishes that age well. I asked for a matte finish on my floors because that's how the high-traffic areas will look after a year or so - I won't end up with shine in less-trafficked areas.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:12AM
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I like what mtnredux wrote - "don't be matchy matchy". I would take that one step further even. My sister constantly harasses me for decorating advice as she neurotically analyzes every design decision. Because she's a perfectionist, I actually encourage her to have something that clashes in the room. Something that's a bit tacky or unexpected. Truly appealing rooms often have an element that breaks the rules and that is what makes it feels like a human being lives there. I shudder when I enter a home that feels like a showroom.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:17AM
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Once you figure out what you like be true to yourself. You can like lots of other styles, but they're probably not all for you. One of my favorite bloggers has a style the complete opposite of mine. I think it's gorgeous, but there's no way I could live in a house that looked like that for a few reasons. I think it's sometimes better not to constantly be looking at decorating blogs, sites, magazines, and tv.

Don't allow yourself to get frustrated wanting it finished. If or when you do, put it into perspective in the grand scheme of life. At the end of the day trying to figure out which paint color to use is a great problem to have, you know?

This post was edited by sheesharee on Mon, Mar 10, 14 at 2:59

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 2:57AM
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Related to what a couple others have said -- in each room, I like to have (1) something antique/vintage, (2) something whimsical/unexpected, (3) something trendy (a small something, inexpensive and easily replaced with the next trend!). A lot of people say every room has to have something black, too, which I don't intentionally do, but I'm pretty sure every room in my house does have something black.

Also, I don't think anyone has mentioned lighting! which is so important. Lamps on dimmers. Overhead lighting, if you have it, also on dimmers. Don't have just one light source. Depending on the size of the room, you'll need at least a couple of lamps. And don't feel that you must have matching lamps.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 7:56AM
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Above are great tips!

Don't overdo it. Limit the number of "stars" in each room. Remember to use supporting (not competing) elements.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 11:39AM
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I like that, Suero. I am so totally stealing your rule of threes!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 12:02PM
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Buy or place in your home only what you love--not an "it will do for now," "it's cheap" or a ubiquitous piece that many others have and is common.

Mix styles, mix price points, and include something a little off or quirky if your personality allows for that. Don't worry so much about hiding all useful items like books, televisions and stand mixers in the kitchen. They are part of your life and make a house seem like a home to the inhabitants and those who visit by telegraphing that people live and enjoy the home and it's not just for show. This makes your home relatable and people more comfortable--as mentioned by Feisty68 above.

When faced with several good options, do not stress over the perfect option--just go with your instincts.

Enjoy the process and don't worry about "rules."
Enjoying your home and expressing your individuality is much more important.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:16PM
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Don't buy a whole room of furniture at once. Live in your space for a while, even if it means sitting on an older couch you need to replace. I think Sueb20 is right on target with having something unexpected and also something that is older. Also, there are really nice accent pieces at homegoods, warehouse stores, etc, that allow you to bring that smaller "wow" item home. Keep your bigger and more expensive pieces neutral and timeless.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Pay attention to sight lines. What do you see when you are sitting/ standing/ lying down at a given location? Lengthening the sight line can make a small room feel bigger. Shortening a sight line can make a large room feel cosier.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:42PM
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My favorite tip here, which bears repeating:

Don't buy something you don't love just because you need "something" there.

I would extend that past "buy" to simple "use". My Mom just moved from a 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment. Naturally she doesn't have nearly as much space now. She brought over her favorite things, then took pictures of what was left in the house. Over the next few weeks, she looked at both the photos and her new space, and chose the pieces that were the most appropriate and meaningful. She went from the angle of "Where will I put this beloved painting or photo" rather than "What am I going to stick there?"

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 1:49PM
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Do you all have friends that have homes that are matchy/matchy showrooms? I can't honestly say that here in the Midwest that is an issue. I would hazard a guess that (and I should note that I am always looking at homes on Zillow etc. just out of sheer nosiness and to get an idea of what home market values are in my general area) out of the homes I see, 90% I are cluttered. Most people tend to buy many small items to fill a space without taking the size of the room and scale into proportion.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 10:44PM
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Mmmbeeer, most of my friends have kids and don't have showroom homes. But every once in a while I see a home that is really "done" and kind of shake my head.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 12:38AM
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I have to admit I like having my home somewhat looking like a showhome, but I'm a extreme minimalist. When my children were younger our house was so much more full of kids stuff everywhere. But now my children are getting older and don't play with toys anymore so I enjoy having my home looking nice and a bit more in order. They always have their rooms for their stuff and a family room for the video games, movies, tv..... Their spaces for their stuff. And the main areas I like nice and clean and organized. Is it always like that? No, we are a normal family.... but once or twice a week for a day or a few hours I'm in heaven, lol.

I also used to work in showhomes and sell houses for builders so a bit of it has rubbed off on me.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 3:16AM
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Buy quality. Fewer, but better. Interestingly, when inexpensive items are then slipped in here or there, their lower quality appears elevated.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 6:35AM
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Wow all these tips are so helpful!! Im stuck in our master we bought an amazing bed but I have no clue what nightstands I don't really want matching ones! Ive copied all these tips and going to read them aloud when my husband gets home this evening!! He likes the uniform look..

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 8:36AM
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"Don't be matchy matchy. It's easiest but boring and amateurish (no offense meant)"

GUIL-TEE! I actually just gave away the two enormous matchy-matchy leather recliners from my LR to my son who is setting up an apartment; here they are in all their boring identical glory along with a tv stand I also gifted to him (it had been a catch-all piece in the LR for awhile):

I did keep the dark leather sofa with nailhead trim (you may not be able to see but there are nailheads also on the chairs) which thankfully no longer matches anything in the room. What WAS I thinking?!?! I know what I'm thinking now: time for a fresh start.

I'll post something separately about this room because I have finally admitted defeat and am going to ask for some help, probably from an Ethan Allen design consultant.

I just don't have the style wherewithal to stay away from trying to find matching pieces and I also can't figure out how to make this room work.

Ahem, sorry to hijack but the matchy-matchy advice really hit home--in a good way.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 10:50AM
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While I totally agree with not being 'matchy matchy' it doesn't mean that nothing should match. Using matching side tables is perfectly acceptable but perhaps then use similar but not matching lamps. Balance is the key.

Taking either way to an extreme can either lead to boring or lack of cohesiveness. The current trend of no 'sets' of furniture and no matching may not always be with us! And anyhow trends do not have to be followed. Lots of high-end designers use matching end tables and other matching items.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 11:52AM
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Find a 'theme' for your space. It can be very strict to one idea 'vintage early 60s' or more eclectic...like 'English cottage with a bit of French and a little fairy tale'...but have one in your head, when you shop.

As you look for accessories, keep in mind if they fit your theme. Big pieces (like tables, sofa, chairs) are easy, but accessories are often what make or break your design. Just remember...if you like it, but it doesn't fit, maybe use it in another room or keep going.

Sometimes, I shop for accessories first, to see if I really like this theme, before I look for big pieces. Maybe that room on Mad Men looks great on TV, but you don't actually like the accessories or it doesn't work with your space.

Also, color makes a big difference! Pastels, rich colors, gray shades...oops! that's two and you only asked for one :)

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 12:22PM
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I was going to say exactly what Shee said - "Be true to you". Go with what you (and your spouse/family) love. Let your home reflect you. Things you love, colors you love, memories, etc. I am so not a follower of rules and/or trends.

Secondly, "don't settle". If you have a vision for a room, or have fallen in love with something - don't settle for something else (if at all possible). You may have to wait, you may have to save up for something, but in the end, you will be happy.

Lastly, something my parents taught me - in buying furniture particularly (but could relate to other items) - buy the best quality you can afford. Probably one reason I love antique pieces so much. I have a bed and chair that my grandparents used when first married, and another chair that belonged to my great grandmother.


    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 1:22PM
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Holly- Kay

Feisty 68 said, "I encourage her to have something that clashes in the room. Something that's a bit tacky or unexpected". My horribly tacky, colorful, metal rooster that perches on the top of our tv stand fits the bill to a tee. I love it because DH gave it to me but it couldn't be tackier.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 2:28PM
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i agree that it's most important to decorate with things you love and 'fit' your family.

quality over quantity almost always is worth it! but, quality doesn't necessarily mean expensive!

know/get to know yourself!!! matchy-matchy works for some people best. some people look beautiful when wearing a well matched outfit or have a beautifully matched home.... some people have a real knack for putting together quirky, mismatched outfits (and homes). but, some people really don't have the knack or the 'eye' for putting things together-- matching might really work best for some.....

i agree textures can really make a room!!

don't line all the walls with furniture... pulling some furniture away from the walls really helps to add warmth and cohesion to a room.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 3:39PM
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many people suggest "find an inspiration photo or two." I agree it can be helpful, but I think it leads to posts later asking what went wrong. So when looking at inspiration photos, I think some people are falling in love with the architecture that isnt easily replicated. Some things will not transfer from a room with 14ft ceilings and custom millwork to a tract home with 8 or 9 ft ceilings and tiny windows. Or they identify a few key things easily copied nd throw it all in the same room, but those three pieces clash and ruin the overall aesthetic. If you go the inspiration photo route, identify what it is specifically you like. Try to go from photo to photo and identify common traits. Then try to figure out if those features will feel right when you bring them all together.

layer, layer, layer: textures art and lighting. Please remember ceilings don't have to be white.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 4:23PM
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lavender_lass wrote:
"Find a 'theme' for your space."

That is so useful! For my kitchen I am trying to work with "soft modern un-kitchen". My sister is working with "global transitional eclectic". When she tries to combine too many ideas in one room, I am constantly referring her back to the theme that she has chosen for her home - and that is *working* for her family. She can't pull off "zen serene" *and "global transitional eclectic" in one room!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 12:46PM
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If you can buy a purple couch and know that you will adore it for the next two decades, then this advice isn't for you. If you're like me and you look at design photos constantly, are influenced by trends, and have ADHD - plan to be fickle! Incorporate elements in your home that are easily changed up to satisfy your latest whims.

For example:

* a small and inexpensive rug layered over a neutral larger one
* a large basket spray-painted whatever the trendy colour is this week
* a table or shelf that can be "styled" with whatever objets you want (stones from the beach, beautiful branches, some tacky find from a flea market)
* instead of a kitchen backsplash (super permanent), I'm doing *curtains* around my windows - they are washable and can be freshened and changed up
* dangled decorations (pompoms, bells, etc)
* small night tables painted some outrageous colour
* DIY art

This approach works best with mostly neutral quality finishes and furniture in the room.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 12:59PM
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Take photos of your space. Download them onto your computer. Look at them. You'll see your room in a different way.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 1:01PM
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What wonderful advice in this thread!!

I will agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that you should decorate in a way that is true to who you are. If you're not quite sure who you are, you should take some time to find that out first. My approach is to look at decorating in parallel to fashion. My wardrobe is not the least bit trendy, I tend to buy clothes that may be colorful but are neutral, in that they don't represent any specific time period, I struggle with fashion a bit so I have some outfits that are matchy-matchy but can easily be broken up by adding or subtracting one thing. These elements are completely reflected in my decor.

When I look at outfits in fashion magazines, I stop and think about WHY I like the ones that I like. Is it because of the colors? Is it the shape of the garment or the shape of the model? Is it the material? And then I think about whether those things would transfer to me and my figure. Some things I will always love but never buy. Again, these are the things I think about when I'm looking at pictures of rooms that I love. Will that look still be dreamy in a room with just one window, no lake view and 9' ceilings instead of 14'?

I do not have an open concept home and all of my rooms are different colors and are styled for their function but they all rhyme with each other. You don't feel like you're in a different house just because you're in a different room. I think of it like a professional family photo. You wouldn't have a photo done with one person in a jogging suit, one in a ball gown, one in a business suit and another in a Halloween costume.

Lastly, I'm not one of those people who gravitates toward dark clothing so none of my rooms/furniture is dark. I am not one of those people who flips out if I get a ketchup stain on my blouse and it doesn't come completely clean. My sunny yellow sofas with the ghost soda stain will attest that I am the same with my furniture. I love sparkly jewelry so every room in my house has some accessory that sparkles! Instead of fighting the fact that I'm short and curvy, I buy clothes that compliment that frame and avoid tube tops and other trendy items that won't make me look my best. My home is over 125 years old and while it's far from being Grandma's museum house, there is a definite nod to the age of the home in every single room.

Take your time. You've been given a lot of really good advice in this thread and it can take a minute to digest it all. One GWer used the phrase "visual emptiness" for living with a blank space until you find the right piece and I am completely on board with that concept. I am so in love with my home because I feel like it really reflects who I am and I think that speaks to my guests, making them feel at ease. Now, if I could just get some of this construction done, I will also be at ease!!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 4:05PM
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