The Strategy of Staging

Our downsizing experiment has lasted almost four weeks, and we’re still married – although there was that meltdown near the end of week one.

We had furnished our cottage for the vacation rental market, so we really only needed to bring clothes and a toothbrush. He forgot his toothbrush.

The plan was to bring the bare minimum; no need to move too much until we were sure this downsizing experiment was successful. Except that every day of the first week we had to make an emergency trip back home to fetch something critical to our survival. After a few days of this routine, my husband announced he would not move back home – even if we hated living in this little cottage. It would be the understatement of all time to say he hates to move.

With the gauntlet thrown, we turned our attention to getting our house ready for market. The only thing my husband hates more than moving is getting a house ready for market.

I’ve spent a month of days removing anything from the house that would identify us: family pictures, pictures of the dogs, my running memorabilia. The garage, closets, kitchen cabinets, and even the refrigerator have been re-organized. Then we cleaned everything like there was no tomorrow. The last step was to edit, edit, edit: accessories, books, artwork, plants, and even the area rugs. Staging is the part that sends my husband over the edge. With every house we sell, he swears our house doesn’t even look like our house by the time I’m done staging. It’s wasted time to tell him, that’s the point.

Julie, our trusted realtor, walked through every inch of the house and gave me advice on my progress. We’ve worked together long enough that I could imagine what she would say about almost every accessory in the house. I have a propensity for decorating with dark bronzes. She would suggest something bright instead. And then there’s a few buyer-distracting accessories, such as the dog door stop that has his leg hiked. One time I took out all the bronzes, including the stampede of horses, and stored them in the garage. This time I’ve brought the dog, the fish coat hooks, and a few others to the cottage. Every surface has finally been re-arranged with an eye toward benign and bright in hopes of appealing to the masses.

Our forever home, the one with nine rooms and a mansard roof, hits the market today. Julie reminds us we can always move back home – if it doesn’t sell, if we don’t get the price we want, if we change our mind about cottage life. . .

It’s safe to say we’re hoping it will sell.

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Photos Courtesy Julie Lapkoff, Keller Williams

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A view of the back patio in full bloom last summer (with Bentley and Mr. Boggs).

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The beginning (before photos): Nine Rooms and a Roof

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Our Cottage Remodel: Part II

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This little cottage started its renovation under the purview of someone else. An over-ask buyer had won the bid the first day this house hit the market forcing us both to negotiate the deal a second time. There were pros and cons to this arrangement.

The good side was that our over-ask buyer discovered foundation issues during the inspection allowing her to request a tidy reduction off the purchase price to compensate for her troubles – this ultimately showed up favorably on our bottom line as well.

The con side of this ordeal was that our over-ask buyer was an interior designer/flipper, and being a highly efficient designer/flipper, she had already purchased all of the materials to create her vision: building materials, building permits, light fixtures, appliances, flooring, faucets, doors, kitchen cabinets, the kitchen sink, a shower enclosure. . .

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Which meant our purchase agreement included the repairs to the foundation, a new HVAC, a few furnishings left from the original owners, all the renovation materials, and a crew of intrepid workers barreling forward on a design I wanted to change.

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We didn’t realize until the day of closing that all of the appliances were hidden somewhere in this room of furniture.

We quickly re-arranged a couple of walls to create the floor plan I dreamed of, and then I frantically started a search for new light fixtures, plumbing hardware, kitchen cabinets, and flooring in hopes of having everything on site before the workers had to actually ask me for it.

Meanwhile, there were a few trees to take down, a driveway to create, and a porch to build.

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A rope was fastened to the tree before the top section was cut off.

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The top of the tree was set down in the road, then the rest of the tree cut down and the stump ground up (we have mulch forever). Twelve trees were taken out in all – almost every one dead or dying.

Interior changes included swapping out light fixtures:

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The electrician had added four sconces and a chandelier to the living room
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I thought the wrought iron sconces looked more original to the house. The chandelier popped up on Wayfair’s Open Box sale for $85.

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When my husband and I went to Chicago last October for my 50k race, the race was not my only priority. It was almost equally important that I take a trip to my favorite fabric warehouse for the perfect drapery material. It was simply unfortunate for me that my husband tagged along. He quickly grew impatient of my 13-room tour of fabrics, and insisted we could find the perfect drapes somewhere amid a collection of hundreds of packages of $8 pre-made drapes. I was determined an $8 drape would not dictate my entire design, but somehow each of the drapes have survived – so far.

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The white pig pitcher was one of the things left over from the original owners. One pair of the $8 drapes will close off the french doors for privacy.

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Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, a new barn door to the master bath is barely visible on the right. One of the original doors was moved to close off the new master suite, and the public bath is visible just beyond. The little black stand was also original to the house – we think it’s a smoking cabinet that has lost its ashtray.

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We created a shower with this fabulous tile I found at Home Depot. It was only after folks told me how ‘brave’ I was to use this tile that I realized maybe I could have used it only on the floor. I still love it.

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Days of torrential rain, severe cold, sudden snow storms, and then the holidays have slowed work to a crawl in recent weeks. The valve between the tandem propane tanks was accidentally shut off causing the HVAC to unknowingly stop, and the pipes were frozen for a solid week. There’s a million gazillion little things left to be done on the interior – akin to death by a thousand cuts. It’s a labor of love.

The kitchen in progress. . . (the rooster is original to the house – in that same spot).

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The Secret Garden Cottage

Just over a year ago my husband and I moved to our ‘forever’ home – the place we intended to live to our last days. Forever had lasted about six months when I had an idea.

What if we had misjudged what a forever home should be like? Was it possible we wouldn’t want a home this large? What if one of us – or both of us – didn’t want to climb stairs forever, or putz in a garden with so much grass? And if these things happened to become true, we surely wouldn’t want to do another renovation when forever had perked along for several more years.

We wouldn’t have to live in it right away, I had argued to my husband. It could be a vacation rental for awhile, or forever, if we decide not to downsize again. But, better to find a little house now. . . just in case.

We called Julie, our long-trusted realtor, and began a search for an adorable cottage. She established our MLS ‘cart’ and (intuitively) named it Secret Gardens. It had been a few weeks into the search when she sent me an email that said, “Oh my . . .”

It was the perfect little house in idyllic Lake Junaluska sitting at the end of one of the oldest streets, and next door to a garden containing plants that were once abundant, but are now rare. My heart swelled when I walked through the front door.

One family had owned it since the mid-40s as a summer cottage, and mostly left it in its original state. Character absolutely oozed out through the woodwork.

By the time we drove the 5 minutes back home, I had reworked the floor plan ever so slightly and convinced my husband to make a full-price offer. Full price wasn’t enough.

A few weeks later Julie discovered the lady that had won the bid (with her over-ask offer) was going to flip our little house. The three of us worked up a proposal, which my husband presented to this nice lady. After several conversations, he convinced her to sell us our house back.

And for the past few months we’ve been living in the fabulous land of RenovationOz.

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“Authentic and original adorable 1945 Lake Junaluska Cottage located on Stuart Circle in walking distance to all that wonderful Lake Junaluska Assembly has to offer. The Summer cottage boasts wood floors. pine paneling, 3BR/1.5BA and two fireplaces. The livable cottage needs tender loving updating and is being sold as is/where is and priced accordingly. Seller states that the electrical and plumbing have been updated. The home is adjacent to the beautiful Corneille Bryan Nature Center.”  MLS description

LIVING ROOM & KITCHEN:

These two rooms were added onto the original cottage at some point along the way. We’ve opened the wall between the two rooms to create one large space, and a doorway and window along the back wall of the kitchen have been removed.

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DINING ROOM/LIBRARY:

This room was probably the original living room before the addition. Although barely visible, there was a very dainty crown molding that the over-ask buyer had already removed. She had also replaced the window with french doors, which we thought was a splendid idea.

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Although previously used as a bedroom, it was necessary to walk through this room to reach the rest of the house, including the bathroom!

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My husband added a Victorian-style ventless heater to this fireplace, and I’m contemplating re-painting the brick. The doorway leads to the hallway.

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New french doors will lead to a deck that was in-progress before this week’s snow storm. The crown molding is a larger replica of the original molding, which I had never seen before, but reminds me of fish scale siding. The original hardwood floors were re-finished last week.

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The Library’s crown molding ready for paint.

HALLWAY BATH:

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The hallway bath keeps the same footprint, but will get a new tile floor.

MASTER SUITE:

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This room is next door to the master bedroom, and will become the master closet/laundry room.

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The future Master Bath (no kidding).

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A few inches stolen from the hallway allows for a new shower and two vanities in the master bath.

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We uncovered the original exterior wall behind this closet and evidence suggesting this may have been the kitchen at one time. Now it’s the master bedroom.

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Eliminating the closet creates room for the bed on the back wall.

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Stuart Circle is one of the oldest streets in Lake Junaluska. A stone park sits in the middle of the one-way circle where perishable foods were once stored (in the large opening on the left) so that the cool spring water kept things fresh.

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The cottage’s property line ran through the Corneille Bryan Native Garden (marked by the red flag above the sign).

Hopefully I’ll be working on the big reveal next weekend – although we said that about this weekend as well. . .  

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The Heart of the Home

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The kitchen of our current home featured 1970s-era dark cabinetry, a linoleum floor, dated wallpaper and an adorable french chandelier. There were stainless double ovens, a black dishwasher and a white refrigerator. And despite its dated decor, there was something intriguing about this house. It had soul, I suppose. History.

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The adjoining Keeping Room ‘before’

It has taken a good long while to reach a point that I was willing to reveal pictures of the remodeled version of our home. Every inch of space, inside and out, seems to need more work. And work is not something that always happens fast.

We spent the first few weeks living in this house with no kitchen at all because the cabinets were delayed. Even after they arrived, we spent a few more weeks without a sink or countertops. When all the pieces were finally in place, it would be another 6 weeks before the backsplash was installed.

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I saw the refrigerator on Pinterest and we ordered it immediately. It was probably the first thing we bought. My husband picked out the stove, which was more modern than I anticipated. We picked out the countertops together, but he was almost ambivalent toward the cabinets. I, on the other hand, spent hours ensuring there was a drawer or cabinet for everything: deep drawers for the pots and pans, shallow drawers for the utensils, two pullout trash cans – one on each side of the kitchen because he’s always standing in front of one of them.

It took awhile to find that perfect color of gray cabinet, and when I brought a sample door to the house to see it in the room we realized it was the same gray that was in the original linoleum floor. I had also wanted to use a dark gray for the backsplash grout, but was overruled. He realized I had been right all along when the grout was still wet and looked dark gray. Of course.

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Gold seemed to be the right finish for everything in this house, although it was a little tricky to find a matching faucet, soap dispenser and filtered water dispenser in a style we liked. The light fixtures came from Pottery Barn in antique silver. We sponge painted them gold, including the chain.

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I thought the keeping room would be one of the most used rooms in the house. It hasn’t worked out quite that way, although it’s still one of my favorite rooms. We mounted the tv so that it pulls out and swivels toward the kitchen so my husband can watch the news while he cooks. The sun shines so bright in that window that the begonias I put in the planter over the summer actually bloomed.

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It’s always a mystery to me how a room becomes the first room to be finished, and it’s no different for the Keeping Room. How it came together so quickly I’ll never know, but it has looked just the same until a few weeks ago when we found the andirons at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for $4 (they’re solid brass!), and I found the animal print pillow on Amazon for $7.

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My husband found the muntins for the windows and the sliding door in an upstairs storage room, and we thought they changed the room. The hydrangea along the patio just outside the kitchen door swallows the other plants all summer, and in less than a years’ time it has provided enough dried flowers to fill every container in the house.

The kitchen is the heart of our home with memories to last a lifetime.

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After I snapped this picture I realized Bentley was in one of his favorite spots – under the table by the window watching for the neighbor that walks her dog every morning.
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Bentley

 

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, 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. . .