The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that we build our buildings and then they shape us. It remains to be seen how this house will shape me.
I wish I knew what makes one home come together easier than another. Most of ours have required some amount of renovation, which you hope produces the perfect blank canvas to launch the ideal interior design. It does not always work out that way.
Sometimes there’s rooms of furniture to be purchased, which should make for the perfect layout. Or maybe a home requires serious downsizing, which almost always leaves me with mostly perfect choices, and a few of something I should have gotten rid of but didn’t.
Design is definitely the process of solving problems.
I have realized that by delving into the world of interior design on a running blog has created two distinct audiences. It’s my husband’s fault. He encouraged me to write about the things I enjoy most when he said, “It’s your blog. You can write about anything you want.”
So for this (non-running) post, I thought we could document the evolution of one of the rooms in this house. For whatever reason they seem to be taking their dear sweet time to reach a conclusion, giving us the perfect excuse to tag along on their journey. Take our living room, for example.
Bodies were placed in Parlors when influenza ran rampant after World War I causing it to become known as the ‘Death Room’. The Ladies Home Journal suggested that with the return of socialization and happiness after the outbreak subsided, the room should be ‘livened’ up, and thus the term ‘Living Room’ came to be. This is the story of ours.
Design Rule No. 1: Deal with the elephant(s) first.
How wonderful when a room has a focal point – architectural windows, a brick wall, or grand fireplace. Focal points should stand out, although they should only be noticed after one has laid eyes on the one design element with the most dominance in the room (or, however many design elements of dominance one might possess).
There was no construction to be done to this room, so the most important decision was the furniture layout, including three elephants: an oversized armoire, a piano and a herd of wild horses.
We found the horses on the third floor of an antique store in New York City in 2000. Two strong men can barely lift them, and you can’t imagine the terror they’ve brought to the eyes of movers everywhere.
They’ve been in storage three times while we renovated, on a boat to Ecuador and back again, and have dominated a foyer, kitchen, and six living rooms during my lifetime. Finding the perfect spot for ‘the horses’ is one of the first decisions we make in every home. Sometimes a design element can become a burden.
The only time the horses resided in the foyer was in this house. We found the perfect round table for this perfectly square foyer, and that table became the best spot for the horses for several years to come.
We sold the round table before we left Ecuador and for a few years the only place for the horses was on the bottom shelf of the island in the kitchen (next to the pig who lived there first). It was not their most dominant years.
Design Rule No. 2: Be sure you can walk around the room.
We used the living room for storage while the rest of the house was being renovated. I had put the piano by the front windows where I thought it would remain forever. After renovations, I asked my husband to help me move it to the back of the room just to spot check how it would look there. I wasn’t sure that was perfect, so we moved it back to the front of the room, which confirmed it for me – it looked best at the back of the room. (Yes, he’s a saint.)
The horses found their perfect spot, the armoire started feeling more comfortable tucked away in the corner of the room, and positively amazingly – we could walk around the room.
Design Rule No. 3: Add the human touch.
Fabric, more than any other tactile element in design, has the ability to humanize our interiors.
Interiors by Karla J. Nielsen and David A. Taylor, McGraw-Hill
Fabric adds depth and texture to a monochromatic scheme, or it can create a dramatic, even theatrical design with intense colors or interesting patterns.
We bought the sofa and a pair of chairs to furnish our previous living room, which also included the same rug, cocktail ottoman, and all the same elephants from our current living room.
I love colorful rooms – whether multiple shades of the monochromatic scheme, or the expert combination of every shade on the color wheel – and if you can swathe the room in fabric? Even better.
When my son had an unavoidable meeting at work during my visit a couple of weeks ago, I searched out the nearest fabric store – and spent the entire day there. Most of my hunt revolved around fabric for the upstairs window seat cushions, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had needed nothing at all. The hunt would have still lasted all day.
The Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago, Illinois has been in business for more than 30 years with over 13 rooms and 75,000 sq feet of fabric. I never made it to all 13 rooms, but spent a good deal of time in the upholstery room where every fabric was on sale for just $5/yard.
There were hundreds of full upholstery hides. I carried the green one around all day (on the top shelf between the red ones), but ultimately put it back since I couldn’t think of a thing to use it on.
These boxes held a gazillion million slip covers and pillow shams. I had to stand on my head several times to reach the bottom of the box, but eventually found two pillow covers for the living room sofa.
For this living room, we used a bold drapery color that’s repeated other places throughout the house, such as on all the doors, the chairs in the keeping room, the refrigerator, and even the ottoman under the horses.
The Berber Kammlah Baby Mac Ottoman by E.J. Victor is upholstered in shaved hair-on leather, which we always thought was black until we saw it in the direct sunlight of this living room.
It seemed to be the little things that pulled the colors of this room together – the blue plates on the wall, touches of orange in the flowers, vases, the chairs by the horses, and the miniature fish prints by the sofa. Then I realized it lacked a critical color – my favorite color, green. Plants, pillows and the green shagreen on the sconces by the fireplace helped solve the problem.
It is definitely our ‘living’ room.