Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

By Caitlin Kelly

Just try saying it!

As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh  — making something more attractive.

As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.

Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls


So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.

A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots


The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.


Steam-clean major upholstered pieces


Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.


Invest in a few good rugs


Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.


Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping


Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,


Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?


Everything gets dusty!




Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery


A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.


Get out the polish!


I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.




Lots of candles


Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.




Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful


Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.

Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.

32 thoughts on “Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

  1. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I love to hear your home decor ideas! I have a lot of antique (or antique-ish) furniture that I, belatedly, realized needs to be polished. I used to never do this because I don’t like my furniture shiny, but I’m coming to notice that furniture eventually dries out if you never polish. So it’s as much for maintenance/preservation as appearance.
    I went to an antiques fair last weekend and bought a pair of stunning prints, one of ornate antique guitars and the other of antique violas da gamba. They were only $100 the pair, so I can afford to take them to a frame shop for new frames, which they really need.
    Thanks for the reminder that Farrow & Ball will custom-mix colors that are not in their current brochure. I want to re-paint my office, but I was disappointed that I didn’t see the color i want in their brochure. We painted the living room with a Farrow & Ball off-white this past spring, and it is just beautiful.

    1. Thanks!

      Yes, wood absolutely dries out — our dining table is 18th century and I make sure to oil it regularly.

      The prints sound great!

      Which F & B white did you choose? They just added nine (!) new colors as well, so the fandeck is quite different. They just — last week! — retired the creamy white of our small kitchen, a color called Clunch. Since our spaces are fairly small, I don’t resent the added cost as we are so happy with the results.

      1. Jan Jasper

        White Tie for living room walls, and Pointing for the ceiling. I’m glad you told me that F & B has 9 new colors! It’s definitely worth the price. My living room walls are almost velvety now.

        Someday I hope to find a place to use something like Elephant’s Breath or Mouse’s Back because those names make me laugh.

      2. Their names are such a hoot. Joa’s White is named for their creative director, Joa…and there’s a new brilliant orange called Charlotte’s Locks (she has red hair.) I was fortunate in July 2017 to visit their Dorset factory and meet Charlie (female) Cosby, their color director. A huge thrill!

  2. Oh, a post right up my alley! Love the cheery teacup. I have one that is my favorite–the design, the material, the way it fits in my hand. It truly elevates my morning cup of joe to an art and makes me smile. Thanks for the rug link also. Will be checking that site out. And while I still love candles, as I try to stay clean & green, I’ve realized so many candles aren’t. I’ve been diffusing essential oils and only buying unfragranced beeswax candles. It feels good to keep up the march to completely chemical-free . . .

    1. Dash & Albert rugs are awesome — I have several…well-priced, well-made; she named the company after her dogs.

      I love having nice teacups as I drink a pot of it almost daily around 4pm.

      1. Jan Jasper

        Thanks for the tips about Dash & Albert rugs. I need a couple of new rugs and will definitely look at that website.

  3. I do the same year every late fall, feather the nest. I have to bring Fred the Ficus in, so that annual ceremony is always a good time to start, take away that, polish, sweep, and all the drudgery stuff. And open windows on mild days to freshen everything up before winter. A must and helps to stave off those dreary dark moods that come at the heart of some winters…brrr…nice to have a place you want to be that makes you happy. Great tips, too, gave me some ideas for my finale. : )

    1. Thanks! I’ve cut back on plants and have only two now, but will always have fresh flowers — and eucalyptus is great for the smell! This weekend will be the prep work (ugh, mess, sweat equity) then once we’ve painted it, will hope for a few more years before we have to do it again.

      I also treated the apartment to some great new orange/ikat linen blend to line the glass doors of a cabinet. We like to give the house presents!

      1. I do believe some fresh flowers are definitely on the menu today, the white fluffy shite just began this morn. I did my re-do on colour accents this fall, painting all the accents a rich ultramarine that really makes the orange walls POP in my bohemian bachelor pad. But definitely need some flowers today. : )

      2. Wow! Love that ultramarine/orange! I love a deep strong orange and our headboard (home made) is covered in a delicious teal fabric I bought in London on Portobello Road at the Cloth Shop — THE BEST store, whose owner told me they supplied a lot of material and ribbons to the costume designer for Harry Potter films; now I look very closely at them!

      3. I know, eh? It is so striking. Going for a victorian/boho beach house style… I have many heirloom pieces. More a matter of editing, really. Very, very difficult, not in my DNA.

      4. MUST edit!

        It’s taken me a while — and studying interior design formally helped a lot — to see that “eclectic” can just mean “visually exhausting.” Our space has changed quite a bit in the 30 (!) years in it, but it has gotten simpler and more rigorously edited. That doesn’t mean cold or empty but I am more disciplined about what we buy and keep.

        Our apartment is all open — you can see the kitchen from the dining room and there is no separation between hallway (all the way to the bedroom) and living room walls — so we have to be REALLY thoughtful about how all colors relate to one another. People forget (or don’t know or don’t care) that it’s visually wearying to have every space a different color.

      5. Oh yes, editing. Is it decor, or is it clutter?

        My abode is a bachelor with the main room/enteranceway/bedroom you enter with these orange walls (came that way) that go up 10 feet, at the back of an old victorian farmhouse at the heart of this village in a city. Wonderful place, but, with 3 bikes, a hoosier cabinet, and the green/gold velvet Eastlake settee…see now that other things are taking away from THOSE things, now I have to figure what has to go and what to replace it with……less is more. : )

      6. It’s decor if it’s deliberate and harmonizes, seems to me.

        Hoosier cabinet + Eastlake sofa are 2 very different looks/styles/scale/periods. Not an easy match. Green gold + orange +_ turquoise = a lot of strong color, but it might work well…

        My taste tends to be quite minimal (not modern but clean-lined) — a wooden repro Pembroke table; a 17th c (given) dark oak gateleg dining table (seats 6); dark wood Crate & Barrel glass-front cabinet (the glass is lined with fabric so no visible clutter), etc. Our sofa is pale sage green velvet.

        I loathe clutter — and in a small apartment it adds up fast.

      7. I’ve become a maximalist over the years, but even with that I do like to have a theme and scheme that unifies…that’s the challenge.

        I wish I was a minimalist, but not in my DNA, I just admire from afar. I find myself watching design shows that feature those modern lines, lots of British Architects, and European, German kit houses… inspiring.

      8. I don’t know if you ever read design magazines or look at websites like apartment therapy — lots of inspiration.

        If you want a (more) harmonious look, it takes time and editing to get there. It’s also possible to tie a room together through repeated colors and patterns and symmetry (a pair of matched lamps or throw pillows, curtains, a rug.)

        I’ve ditched some furniture and other items over the years as my tastes have changed == and yet as I type this am looking at a screen print I bought in my 20s and still enjoy and am using a Tizio lamp that cost me $$$$$$$$ in the mid-80s and I still cherish…


      9. My sister has an addiction to Design mags, so I partake when I’m visiting her. You would love her place from the sounds of it. She bought our 100year+ homestead off Dad, and she’s done a beautiful job designing it.

        I actually added the dark ultramarine to that main room for just that reason, to harmonize, I put it on the lampshades, picture frames, anything standig still : ). And I have a beach house theme I’m working with, with pictures I’ve collected, and my bathroom I’ve styled as a turn of the century beach hut, with the striped gray/blue curtains, accents in a lighter version of the same sort of blue.

        Now I have to get rid of the great big oversized dressers that are taking up way way too much real estate. Good thing I work part-time for an international retailer that can definitely help me in that arena, with a discount.

        Thank you so much for the suggestions, you’ve given me some great ideas as to my next steps. It is a challenge getting a space this size to work.

      10. Happy to help….and living in a small space is always more challenging! I’ve lived in bachelors/studios and know it firsthand.

        We share a 1 bedroom, and it’s roomy enough but have been agonizing about whether to change the living room/hallway color again — in 30 years it’s been a sponge-painted mushroom brown; then a fantastic orange-red and now a pale yellowy-green for 11 years. I think we’re stuck with it because all the furniture (sofa which we love) is tough to coordinate with a wholly new color scheme…re-upholstering is also $$$$$! The sofa is insanely comfortable and doubles as an extra bed (Crate & Barrel, maybe 15 years old.)

        Love the sound of your bathroom! I designed ours to feel like a spa — deep grey/brown tile floor; multi-colored marble tub and sink surrounds; deep mustard walls; grey shower glass tile…the thing began with a $35 hand made copper sink we brought home from Mexico. I created the mirror from an antique Chinese frame and had vintage-looking mirror put into it.

  4. i am currently involved in much the same touch up/spruce up process. it tends to really hit me in the fall, just before the darkest days. i’m going room by room and doing little things that make a difference aesthetically, but also make me feel better in the process itself. i love the tea set –

    1. It’s funny how everyone focuses on spring cleaning when we’re like squirrels and bears getting our dens ready for a long winter. I also have a lot less desire to head out and buy anything nice in bad weather!

  5. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I’m thinking lately about how to avoid “visually exhausting.” I’m thinking of re-painting my office and getting a new rug. It occurs to me that even if I tidy up the room – and it stays that way (hah!) – there will always be enough stuff in that room that I have to be careful of visual overload. I briefly considered doing some type of paint effect on the walls, such as rag-rolling or sponging, then I realized the lovely photos I’ve seen of paint effects are always done in rather sparsely-furnished rooms. Ditto for the rug – less pattern will be more for my office. BTW, any other rug retailers suggestions from others here are most welcome!
    And I know what you mean about the importance of colors in adjoining rooms getting along with each other. Even if the rooms have doors, you don’t want a jarring effect when you look into a the room from the hallway.

    1. A classic solution is to remove ALL furniture, art. objects — everything moveable — and re-think how you’re using the space. Get out a tape measure. Pay attention to scale (one element non-designers forget or get wrong; things often too big or too small.) We have to repair some cracks (UGH) in our 24 foot long living room wall — so have removed all the art, which is a nice change — and will do things differently after the re-painting. It’s very hard to visualize a fresh solution while surrounded by the current one.

      We scored an amazing rug at a chi chi shop in New Preston, CT…http://www.jseitz.com/furniture.html

      $200, brand is HomArt — it’s maybe 4 x 6, cotton, and a soft weathered sage/gray. Simple but not boring. I hadn’t planned to buy a rug but it’s perfect and a very good price.

    2. It’s quite challenging to find rugs that aren’t too aggressive or too boring — sisal is a nice option with a colored border; Ballard Designs has it, as do Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, I think.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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