Making A Room: the living room.

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.

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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.

IMG_3166.JPGWe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It is definitely our ‘living’ room.

Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, however, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.
Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).

A Powder Room Remodel

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Long before the news broke across the country, I already knew there was a serious shortage of trade workers in the home remodeling industry. They agree to show up next week, re-schedule, work a few hours, disappear to another job – they’re juggling dozens of projects all across town. Once in a while we actually finish a room. . . although finished does not necessarily mean done.

Last July when we first started remodeling this house everyone decided the first floor powder room would be the first room to be finished. It was small, only needed the sink and toilet replaced, a new light fixture, and a fresh coat of paint. Then the tile crumbled when the 45-year old vanity was removed. Okay – we’ll replace the floor. Even better. 

The sconce was on backorder, the electrician was delayed, other rooms in the house became a higher priority, but finally (and with the help of our contractor’s adorable baby girl) this little powder room was finally finished. Meanwhile, those walls began to look very bland.

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After a great deal of research, thousands of photos searched on Pinterest, and a can (or two) of antiquing glaze, I decided to add a ribbon with upholstery tacks just above the tile for a punch of color in this sea of blah (actually, I couldn’t find ribbon in the exact color as the new paint on the doors, so I used a decorative, self-adhesive tape from Michael’s.)

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We fell in love with the color of paint on the front doors (more blue than reflected in this photo) so I decided to use it on all the interior doors as well. The doorknobs, by Nostalgic Warehouse, were on Amazon last September at $15/each – 90% off retail. I bought every one available, which was just enough to replace every doorknob in the house.

My inspiration photo (from Pinterest by LisaMendeDesign.blogspot.com)

There are risks to actually finishing a room. For one, my family claims I grow restless when I’ve finished decorating every room in the house, and then it’s only a matter of time before we move on. If you stick around long enough though it’s fun to look back and see how a room evolved over the years. Maybe tweaking a room is the best part of the design process – adding a plant in a found container, changing the pillows, adding fabric to the ceiling.

I was a bit intimidated to put a lovely piece of fabric on the powder room’s ceiling, but it was in my original plan. Let the tweaking begin. . .

It was just a cabin.

January 2016: we bought a little cabin in the mountains to escape summer’s heat.

If home remodeling projects could be called children, our second project of this past year definitely fits the mold of the middle child – plain, drab, neglected.

February 2016: furnishings were gathered.

Taking pictures helped us remember what we had bought (and which store we had left it in!).

March 2016 – construction wraps up.

A new roof, new windows, remodeled floor plan, insulation, and running water.

Move-in day was on the last day of March. . .

April 2016: spring had sprung.

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May 2016: lazy, happy days.

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Dudley and Mr. Boggs

June 2016: back on the market.

How could we leave these beautiful mountains at the end of the summer? Instead, we hatched a plan to sell both homes (the cabin and our home in Greensboro, N.C.), and move back to the mountains permanently. Our trusted agent’s photographer captured our renovation efforts on camera.

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July, August, September, October 2016: showing, after showing. . . after showing.

A showing request comes in – at all times of the day or night. Spiff things up, sweep the porch, check for cob webs, dust the furniture, put away the dog bowls, hide the dirty laundry, turn on all the lights, drive the dogs away in the Jeep. . . wait, wait, wait (sometimes an hour, sometimes 10 minutes). Two days, or two hours later: repeat.

January 2017: SOLD!

This little cabin proved to be a determined little house. It was brave, willing to think outside the box and open to compromise. It may have felt neglected for a long time, but when the time came for it to shine, it embraced the opportunity. A classic middle child indeed.

 

Through My Windowpane

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It was the windows of this home that first stole my heart – casement style with a crank handle that go beyond stylish; they’re downright romantic.

Maybe it stands to reason then that the first ‘decorated’ space in this home would be one of these lovely windows. While unpacked boxes were everywhere, and we could barely move around the misplaced furniture, I found a pair of drapes and immediately installed them in the keeping room. It did not escape my notice that there were no kitchen cabinets, stove, kitchen sink, or master shower at the time, but we had one beautiful window – then another, and another, and another. . .

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The leopard print drapes with black velvet hems were the first to go up.

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The tie backs combine stripped goose feather fringe and bobbles covered in alcantara suede by Spina Design, London UK
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The kitchen before my husband found muntins in an upstairs storage room.

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Those muntins transformed the sliding doors into a big picture window.

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The living room still in progress.
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Okay, I know these drapes are a departure from the home’s predominant color scheme. I still love them. Sometimes you just have to make things work (wink wink).

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Black & Blue All Over

It seems my house is like our American election: endless surprises, mud slung everywhere, and the end result the biggest upset in history.

As for my house, there’s no kitchen, the master bath is still under construction, the attic access has been temporarily closed off, which means the electrical work can’t be finished, the painting was done before the electrical was finished, and now there’s sheetrock repair and re-painting everywhere. . . suffice it to say, not one room in the entire house can be considered finished. And I don’t mean decorated.

Fortunately, on the days I have a meltdown my husband is optimistic, and when he has a meltdown, I’m in good spirits. I couldn’t promise the outcome if we both had a meltdown on the same day.

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We moved in about three weeks ago, and ate out for all three meals a day for two days when I declared I couldn’t take it anymore. My husband purchased a small toaster oven, and made it his mission to prepare delightful meals at home, which we ate from plastic plates with plastic utensils (easy cleanup at least).

Finally, the cabinets were installed – oh happy day – except there were issues. Replacement parts have been ordered, countertops measured, and sometime before Christmas we may actually have a complete kitchen.

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The red velvet drapes we discovered from the Ralph Lauren showroom were shortened and now look beautiful with our Ralph Lauren chairs and table.

Although I’ve spent oodles of time studying French Provincial decor, it has not transformed one iota of my belongings into French. And, since I am unwilling to sell off the whole caboodle and start from scratch, a somewhat modified French style has emerged.

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The Living Room In-Progress (that’s Dudley behind the sofa)
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Our armoire was so shockingly oversized for this room (and close to the ceiling) that it sent us into a panic.

The foyer’s coat closet was demolished with the intention of settling this oversized armoire back into its alcove, except the armoire began to look more at home in the living room over time, and I discovered these great columns in the back room of a local antique store that fit nicely into the vacated coat closet alcove. Our next job is to paint the interior doors a beautiful shade of gray, and stain the columns black.

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The Keeping Room In-Progress

We took the drapes from our little cabin for the Keeping Room – even though I was unsure about mixing their animal print and black velvet with the contemporary blue velvet of the new Ralph Lauren chairs. The electrician will add the swing-arm sconces over the bookshelves. . . soon I hope.

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The down side of this home’s mansard roof is that it eliminates the majority of the upstairs walls for artwork leaving me with too many pictures! In a diversion from my original vision, our guest bath was the only place that could support all five of these botanical prints, which led to a predominantly black scheme for our pink bathroom.

All that’s left for this room is a window treatment, and window seat cushion.

I read the advice of a designer long ago who said every room should have a touch of black, advice I have enthusiastically taken to heart. . . although blue has become the surprise companion color, including beautiful blue-green drapes for the living room that will be here – yes, by Christmas.

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Mr. Boggs. . . at home.

Let There Be Light(s)

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Shopping punctuates every remodeling project, and eventually takes on a life of its own. So far our shopping list has included toilets, sinks & vanities, faucets for the sinks, shower and bath, a kitchen countertop & kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator, stove & vent, dishwasher, washer & dryer, marble for the shower walls, bathroom floors & kitchen backsplash, paint for the walls, ceiling, trim and doors, doorknobs for every door, a heating & cooling system, a fence, propane tank, and light fixtures for nearly every room.

imageAnd with every project, there’s something on my shopping list that proves totally elusive. . . wearing my patience thin. In our last project it was the drawer pulls for the kitchen cabinets. This time it was the sconce for the powder room, although I haven’t gotten to the drawer pulls yet.

With this many things to buy at once, the name of the game becomes budget.

We’ve driven to the other side of town to plunder marble remnants, made a trip to the appliance clearance corner at Lowe’s every week (we found our washer for $300 – a savings of $700!), and waited for the deal of the day to pop up everywhere and anywhere. The biggest impact to the budget, however, can be made imagewith the one item that shows up most often on my shopping list: light fixtures.

This house had just three original fixtures that could be kept, which meant we needed 14 new fixtures. Ten choices have been made. . . four to go.

Kitchen

We bought the chandelier for the kitchen before we had officially bought the house (I wish I could say this was an unusual thing for us to do). Now this chandelier is in one of the many boxes stuffed between the remodeling debris, and I can only describe that it has beautifully colored crystals of clear, pink, red and purple (as best I remember).

 

The upper cabinets have been removed above the sink, which overlooks the keeping room. Then the price dropped on these Pottery Barn crystal pendants (from $299 to $103) and a pair of them will hang over the sink cabinet.

Gray cabinets were spot checked to be sure they wouldn’t clash with the cobalt blue of the refrigerator. Red velvet drapes match the red velvet bar stools, which I hope will also match the new chandelier, and the table and chairs we used in our previous kitchen.

The Keeping Room

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Several months ago E.J. Victor held a warehouse sale at a non-descript warehouse in Morganton, N.C. We wouldn’t dare miss it. . .

Two upholstered chairs sat in a separate room from the case goods typical of these sales. Although we noticed them immediately, they were blue. . . not our go-to color. Nonetheless, they were shockingly beautiful and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Ralph Lauren Modern Metropolis Club Chair in blue velvet (retail starting at $5,775 according to the website / our price: $350 each at the warehouse sale).
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LNC Swing Arm Lamp $74.99 at Houzz

I’ve tried not to let the chairs dictate the light fixture for this room – it is possible the chairs could wear out before the fixture needs to be replaced some dozen odd years down the road – but I can’t help but see the chairs and the room as one.

 

We’ve blown our budget a bit to secure fixtures that would help make the old paneling in this room sing (my husband hated the paneling). Swing-arm lights will be added over each of the three bookshelves, along with one somewhat modern yet stunning flush mount.

 

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Murray Feiss 3-light Steel & Glass Flush Mount $206 at Houzz

Master Bedroom:

The master closet (shown at the far end of the photo) has been demolished with that space being added to the master shower (on the other side of the wall). Both windows include window seats, and an opportunity for seat cushions with fabulous fabric.

Rosie 5 Light Crystal Pendant by OK Lighting (Wayfair: $118)                                     Anichini Tapestry Linens (The Red Collection $200)

A full set of Anichini’s tapestry linens showed up at my favorite consignment store in Greensboro, N.C. (The Red Collection) for just $200 (retail value: $1000+). The perfect chandelier showed up on Wayfair’s clearance rack for $118 (retail: $195) where the copper finish and smokey grey crystals will compliment the linens and new wall color (Sherwin Williams Buff). Hardwood floors will replace the green shag carpet.

I found the large gold chandelier for the dining room at a consignment store for just $45. From top to bottom left, fixtures for the guest bath, upstairs office, and guest room – each one $100 or less. 

Living Room:

We had intended to add can lights to the barren living room ceiling until we met with the electrician who enlightened us to the consequences of those can lights – he would have to drill into the lovely crown molding. Our fallback plan is to add several well-placed sconces, although we don’t know that any one of the six light switches along the interior wall will actually control anything we add to this room.

Not every room can support my idea of the perfect light, my own design decisions have put restrictions on the perfect choice for some rooms, and the very fact that the price has dropped significantly is what makes other fixtures perfect.

In the ideal renovation where we have stripped the walls down to the bare studs, there are few compromises. Every fixture contributes to the ideal plan. Sometimes life isn’t ideal though, and in those cases isn’t it nice to know we can still find the light of our life.