How to choose great home colo(u)rs

By Caitlin Kelly

Few challenges can feel as daunting — and turn out so horribly — as choosing paint colors for your home. Even selecting a white (creamy? icy? blue undertones?) can be tougher then you think.

 

People also forget, or don’t realize, a few basics when choosing colors:

 

What color is the existing floor? If wood, it is pale, orange-y, dark? White tile? Your permanent flooring, unless you plan to change it or renovate, adds a huge chunk of color to your room. Will it go beautifully, or badly, with whatever you put on the walls and baseboards (what Britons call skirting boards)?

What direction(s) does the room face? A north-facing room will have a different kind of light than one facing south.

What views does the room have? If it overlooks leafy green trees, (or a red brick wall), do you really want purple? Don’t forget, each color you choose should relate well to all the colors around and near it, (which is why a huge black sofa doesn’t help much.)

How much division does your space have between rooms? i.e. if it’s mostly open plan with each color immediately adjacent to one another, a stark contrast will look odd and unattractive. The eye should travel easily from one space to the next without jarring interruptions.

— Who’s mostly going to be using that room? A young child? An older person? A teenager? What do they love most?

How do you want to feel in that room? Calm? Energized? Soothed? Color powerfully affects our mood.

Matte finish, semi-gloss, gloss, Venetian plaster finish, faux finish?

What colors are your existing furniture, rugs, curtains and other major accessories?

What color scheme? Our living room is a classic pairing of opposite colors on the color wheel (red and green) — but a soft muted red and a pale yellow-green, not the dark/harsh Christmas combo that mix usually brings to mind.

Here’s a super-helpful explanation of various color schemes and the differences between shade, tone and hue.

House Beautiful magazine also publishes, every month, great colors designers select as some of their favorites.

The colors in our apartment are all from a British company in Dorset, Farrow & Ball, who add to their stunning range every year, currently with 132 colors. They also offer their discontinued colors, (like the Gervase Yellow on our living room and hallway walls.)

I visited their paint and wallpaper factory last July, a 2.5 hour train ride and 30 minute cab ride from London. I met their production director and their head of color consulting, Charlie (Charlotte) Cosby, both of whom were warm and welcoming and took me through their facility.

What I like about F & B colors — apart from their great names, like Elephant’s Breath, Clunch and Dead Salmon — is their subtlety and depth. My husband, who’s done all the painting, loves the paint’s texture, which he compares to melted ice cream.

Gervase Yellow is warm but gentle, and goes very well with our mid-brown wooden floor, wooden furniture and mixed art; that room’s colors include sage green (sofa), deep burgundy (rug) and these striped curtains.

 

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Our bathroom walls are Hay (I think!), a deep mustard; I love their acid-bright Yellowcake and Babouche, (the color of fresh egg yolk), one of the best yellows anywhere.

Our bedroom is (I think!) Hardwick White (might be Skimming Stone), the warm soft gray of cigarette ash.

Our wooden kitchen cabinetry and the drawers shown below are in French Grey with Clunch (a neutral gray-white) on the walls.

 

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The sitting room is Peignoir, a very pale lavender, which picks up a color in the existing curtains and is subtle but warm. It doesn’t so much read purple as…almost a pale gray; it also works really well near Gervase Yellow because purple and yellow are opposites (again!) on the color wheel and because they’re very similar in value, (i.e. there’s no huge contrast between a light color and a darker one.)

 

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Gervase yellow (in shadow) meets Peignoir (in light)

Here are some more, quite technical explanations of color theory.

If you read interior design magazines, you’ll see, lately, a lot of rooms in two of F & B’s saturated and dramatic deep blues, Hague Blue and Stiffkey — and their pale, gorgeous, ethereal blue of Borrowed Light.

The trick, of course, is to paint a big enough sample before painting a whole room; get a piece of foamcore or stiff cardboard as large as you can — and sit with the color for a day or two to see it in daylight, candle-light, whatever illumination that room will be using. (Every light source adds its own color as well, with incandescent light being warmer than halogen or fluorescent.)

 

 

It’s spring! Time for a room refresh?

By Caitlin Kelly

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One of our many mirrors…

We’ve just endured the least-sunny, most-gloomy winter in my 25+ years living in downstate New York — day after day after day after day of gray clouds, rain, mist and/or fog.

Soooooo depressing!

If I wanted that climate, I’d move to the Pacific Northwest.

So, after a few years of loving the soft dove gray walls in our small sitting room, I’d had enough.

I couldn’t take one more glimpse of gray.

Back to my favorite paint store, Farrow & Ball, an English company whose paint has, to my formally-trained design eye, the loveliest colors on offer, now 132.

You can test their colors out with $8 sample pots, (a must, painted on a large white card, carefully considered in all kinds of light, from daylight to candlelight, with every adjacent fabric on it.)

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Here’s our new sitting room choice — number 286, name Peignoir. Love it!

It’s the palest warm lavender, like clouds at sunset, its tones ever-changing with the light. That exact tone is in our curtain fabric and also had to relate comfortably to two adjacent wall colors, difficult in an open-plan 1960s-era apartment. (It didn’t hurt that all three colors are Farrow & Ball. Their colors can work beautifully with one another.)

We already had a color scheme, thanks to a rug and curtains.

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I’ll later add some of my own floral images, framed.

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A few quick ways to refresh a room; (you can find low-cost options in thrift stores, flea markets, Ebay and Craigslist):

Paint!

Usually by far the cheapest answer, especially, (if as we do), you do the prep/sanding/spackling/painting yourself. A gallon of paint can cover a lot of wall, (especially over a light color), and a fresh creamy white can punch up dinged/dingy baseboards, (skirting boards to Britons.)

Adding color(s) terrifies many people, and getting it wrong can mean visual misery. No matter what you think you like, when choosing a color, consider:

1) the color of your floor;

2) the color of your current furniture and fabrics;

3) which way the room faces, (e.g. north light is cooler);

4) the mood you want to create.

Read a few smart websites on color and color schemes — then buy a big piece of foam-core and paint a 3 foot square sample, maybe of several colors, or different hues/intensities of the same color.

Then choose.

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The floral is our sitting room curtains

Fabrics

The world is full of amazing fabric, from spendy designer stuff to Ikea to Spoonflower, where you can design and print your own. I love vintage textiles and search them out at antique shows, flea markets and auctions, making them into throw pillows and tablecloths.

Even the simplest sofa can benefit happily from a few fresh pillows in complementary colors; Pier One, in the U.S., is a great/affordable resource as are pricier Horchow, Serena & Lily and Anthropologie.

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Fresh flowers — a must!

Flowers and plants

Our home is never without multiple arrangements of fresh flowers, whether a single lily — brilliant orange, pure white, soft pink — or a bunch of purple or white or red tulips.

I keep Oasis on hand, (the green foam used by florists you can cut and shape to any size), allowing you to make anything non-leaky into a floral container. Floral frogs, of metal and glass, with holes and spikes to hold stems in place, (easiest to find at flea markets) are also helpful.

Rugs

They don’t have to be dark nor boldly patterned nor made of wool!

Too many people just throw down a big pile of red or blue or dark green and get stuck with an ugly color scheme as a result.

I prefer lighter colors and cotton and wool flat-weaves, like kilims. A favorite site of mine is Dash & Albert, with a wide range of colors and sizes.

Here’s our rug…

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Mirrors

A must, especially when they reflect sunlight into and around a room.

Don’t hang them too high.

Our bedroom mirror, from Anthropologie, is this one, $128.00.

Total cost of our sitting room refresh:

1 gallon Farrow & Ball paint        $99

1 quart white semi-gloss paint for baseboards     $12

two vintage (bought in 2010, originally) chairs     $450

new tray                     $56

3 pots Farrow & Ball (color: Churlish Green) to repaint bamboo boxes we owned        $24

$641.00

A former student, now instructor, at The New York School of Interior Design, I can help!

Email me for a consultation, $100 U.S./hour: learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Making a pretty home: customize, re-purpose, DIY and upcycle

By Caitlin Kelly

The next instalment…stay tuned for the final one on framing your art and photos!

The real fun of making your home pretty is, for some people,  also the satisfaction of making it yours in small and telling details — from nice dishtowels that pick up the room’s colors to choosing and replacing nasty/worn/outdated hardware, whether on a chest of drawers, closet doors, kitchen cabinets and/or your front door knocker.

Even if you’re renting, there are many ways to make a space personal and absolutely individual.

Here are a few ideas:

Repurpose

When I decided we needed a fresh new look for our tired-looking fabric headboard and old curtains, I dreaded the yardage cost of nice fabric, let alone all the labor required to cut and sew it. Solution? Three $25 shower curtains from West Elm, whose large scale and clear, fresh colors were exactly what I needed; two curtains became our curtains and the third, torn to fit and tucked into the old headboard’s crevices, became basic fabric to use as needed. (Fabric sold by the yard is typically 54 inches wide, while most shower curtains are 72 inches in width.)

I found two great-looking bamboo/rattan storage boxes at my local garden supply store and, stacked one atop the other, they hold CDs in the lower one and all our nasty-looking extension and electronics charge cords in the smaller one on top; stuff is easy to find, and all that clutter is hidden. Sitting on top of that is a lovely early cutlery or candle box, bought at an auction or antique store, that perfectly fits/hides/keeps handy all our television remotes.

Olive, cream and taupe -- oh, my!
Olive, cream and taupe — oh, my!I fell in love with these gorgeous heavy cotton print napkins  — imagine what a gorgeous pillow cover they would make when (hand)-sewn together!

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This fabulous purple, cream, gray and black print fabric is a shower curtain at Anthropologie, for $88 and could make a fantastic headboard cover large enough even for a queen or king headboard. There’s a whole color scheme right there.

Customize

I found a great red and black wool flat-weave rug in a Toronto antique store for $125. It just needed some trim or edging; I bought two wide pieces of black Ultrasuede and added them to each end, (sewn on by our local dry cleaner). Much better!

Even the most tedious of dressers — found on the curb? At a consignment shop or thrift shop? — can be sanded and then painted any color you like and jazzed up with new and unusual knobs, like these ones below I selected from the dozens on offer at (yes, again) Anthropologie. Even your local hardware store or Home Depot has some great options for very little money, like these or these. Changing the knobs or handles on your furniture or kitchen cabinets can add a totally new look for little cash.

Ceramic, enamel, glass...lots of choices!
Ceramic, enamel, glass…lots of choices!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcycle

The world is full of great finds — but some need your creativity, vision, and sweat equity to get them there. When you need a piece of furniture or a lamp, especially, haunt your local thrift and consignment shops, flea markets and antique stores first for interesting options. If a piece is cheap enough, (i.e. has no intrinsic historic or esthetic value as is, to you or others,) change it! Paint it, stain it, or chop a dining table’s legs down to make it into a coffee table, for example.

Focus on the shape, size and condition of the object, not just its current color.

If it’s a lamp base, for example, it might be perfect in another color, or with a fresh new lampshade, maybe in a different size, color or shape. (Lampshades come in a dizzying array of options — round, rectangular, square, curved — and in thick paper and fabrics from burlap, linen, cotton and silk. Check out Ballard Designs for inspiration.)

$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!
$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!

Here’s a bedside lamp I found I found in an antiques shop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, for $55. It was then a sickly pale mint green with pink striping, but (measure!) I knew it was exactly the height I needed and could (being plain wood) easily be spray painted the creamy white I wanted to match another lamp already in the room. I bought a new cream silk lampshade and a ceramic finial. Voila!

Finishing touches

I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room's color scheme
I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room’s color scheme

Our pale green velvet sofa, (bought from Crate & Barrel a decade or so ago), had come with narrow piping that, on its cushions, had worn down to the interior threads from daily use. New covers were hopelessly expensive. I racked my brain, then sent the pillow covers to my favorite fabric workroom in (where else?) Middletown, Rhode Island. The owner, Cheryl, is amazing — she chose the weathered rust-colored linen she made into finger-width piping and gave our sofa a fantastic new look. Yay!

It’s not terribly expensive to custom-make (or sew by hand) gorgeous pillow covers for your sofa(s), bed(s) and chairs. A custom look (add welting, piping, ribbon) is easy to accomplish and looks like a million bucks, for much less.

Need help figuring out your next decorating steps?

Send me some photos and let’s do a consult — $150/hour.

Making a pretty home: grace notes

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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— Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

— Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!
$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

— Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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— Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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— Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!
At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

— Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

Making a pretty home: 10 tips

By Caitlin Kelly

Most of us want to create a pretty, tidy and harmonious home, whether you’re living with four room-mates and in college, jammed into your first tiny solo apartment or making sense of a larger home.
It seems like it should be easy, as there are so many resources online now, from Apartment Therapy (which includes houses and is excellent) to Houzz.

But it’s still, for many people, a deeply confusing and overwhelming process: choosing the colors for walls, floors, ceilings, front door, baseboards; selecting the size and shape and color of your sofa and chairs; rugs, lighting, curtains (or blinds? Or none?)…

And most of us have limited time, energy and budgets.

I studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan and planned to leave journalism to work in that field. I didn’t, but I learned a great deal and it’s reflected in our home, a one-bedroom apartment in a 1960s six-story apartment building north of New York City. We own it, so we have also invested some money in a full renovation of our one very small (5 by 7 feet) bathroom and galley kitchen.

Here, with lots of photos, are some ideas you might find useful as well:

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1) Seek inspiration!

It’s really difficult to design a room, let alone a home of any size, without some inspiring ideas about what you like: Modern and sleek? (Read Dwell magazine.) Historic and formal and elegant? (Try Traditional Home.) Cosy and weathered? (the UK version of Country Life.) I don’t use Pinterest, but it’s very useful in this respect. Your local library will also have gorgeous reference books whose images you can photocopy. Here are four magazines I read often, if not monthly, and have for many years. I get tons of great ideas from them, especially about small spaces (European homes are often much smaller), interesting color combinations (like lime green and chocolate brown) and mixed periods, like a super-contemporary lamp over a battered farm table.

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2) Group your art

The focus here, on the long (25 foot) wall of our living room, is a vintage photo given to us by a neighbor cleaning out his garage. It’s an amazing image, probably no later than 1905 and possibly from the 1880s, and we were delighted to get it. He also gave us (!) the two lovely smaller pieces to the left of it, both original framed prints. The small images above the photo I found in antiques shops, the egg in Vermont and the dog in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The image at the far right is my own photo of a staircase in an 18th century building on the Ile St. Louis in Paris.

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3) Look around your home

in every room, for items that — when placed together — will have an artistic or interesting relationship to one another: frames, mirrors, photos, small objects like a box or an animal or bird. This grouping, in a corner of our living room, includes: a pierced metal lantern with a candle in it, ($12 on sale at Pier One); two small metal birds (our local garden shop); a vintage silk embroidered shawl (local antique shop); a Victorian ceramic vase (Toronto antique shop); two marble bits of statuary ($25, antiques show) and a huge Victorian mirror ($125, Port Hope, Ontario antique shop.) I’ve owned some of these items for decades, but it’s the combination that’s fun: echoing shape, size, color and texture with a mix of scale. I added a small spotlight ($12, Home Depot) for a bit of drama, adding both shadows and reflections in the mirror behind.

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4) Customize what you have.  We bought this Crate and Barrel armoire many years ago (it’s still available, in a slightly different version, for $1,299), but I hate looking at stuff. Inside the armoire are plates, glasses, serving pieces, candlesticks — a visually exhausting mess. I lined the doors with this charming map-of-Paris print, on linen, which was inexpensive, referenced other Parisian/French elements in the place, and gave us a nice neutral that wasn’t as boring as plain beige would have been.

5) Add unusual and lovely fresh flowers and/or plants. I found this deep, wide metal cachepot for $25 at my favorite consignment shop and have been adding fresh flowers and interesting greenery to it for weeks. I always have fresh flowers and plants in every room, even in the bathroom, as a touch of color and beauty. Really nice on a cold, gray rainy or snow day, especially!

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6) Shop often. I don’t mean spend a lot of money or make hasty impulse buys! But every month or so, I treat myself to a visit to a few favorite shops, whether thrift, consignment, garden or Big Box, to see what’s out there. I scored a gorgeous set of red glass goblets at my local thrift shop — $10 for five — recently. Favorite sources include Anthropologie (on sale!) for terrific housewares and linens and flea markets.

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7) Think about including textiles in the mix. If you have pets and/or small/messy children, maybe not. But textiles’ colors, textures and patterns, especially vintage pieces– whether a lovely duvet cover, a knitted throw for the sofa, a cover for a chair or table — can add tremendous charm without a lot of cost or taking up precious space. I’ve covered my desk with a 19th century paisley shawl, my corner table with a 19th century silk shawl and my armchair with a 19th century carriage blanket. None were especially costly; try amazon.com or regional/country auction houses for great finds in this department.

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8) Upgrade to better quality and design whenever possible.

Unless you’re wealthy and can afford to buy everything you want the very second you want it, you may have to postpone high quality purchases. I recently spent $300, (yes, really), for three new cream-colored silk lampshades. They’re clean, fresh, elegant, and a huge improvement on the cheap crappy ones I was using until I had the spare income to finally upgrade. Even a fresh set of pillowcases or hand towels can make a significantly cheery difference to your space.

9) Visit museums galleries and open houses to see how others have handled space and texture and material. The pro’s know!

10) Use your cellphone camera every day. Whether you see a cool texture on the sidewalk or a colored wall in a store or restaurant that inspires you — or a scene you’d like to frame and display in your home — that little camera will keep your eye fresh.

Here are just a few images I’ve collected in the past year for visual inspiration.

Need help? I can work from photos! Email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com; $150/hour.

Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fresh flowers, always on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Isn't this gorgeous? It's a lamp on the Pratt campus, where I teach
Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a lamp on the Pratt campus, where I teach
A restaurant table in Brooklyn
A restaurant table in Brooklyn

 

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Making your home lovely — on the cheap

It’s an ongoing challenge for many of us — how to make your home attractive and affordably? Dorm room, shared flat or your very own first house, the basics remain the same: you need charm, color, texture, function and comfort.

The world is jammed with design blogs, like Design Sponge, so there’s no shortage of advice out there for the taking. I love this post — the Ten Commandments of Buying Used Furniture — from one of my absolute favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

For you Pinterest fans, here’s a post on using it for this purpose.

I’ve been making a pretty home since I left my parents’ house at 19. Few things are as nurturing and healing as a home that makes you smile every time you open the front door, and few as draining and depressing as hating your four walls, (and ceiling and floor.)

In the late 1990s, I also studied at the New York School of Interior Design, which I absolutely loved.

Here are some of my tricks, and some images from our home:

Consignment shops

You can find terrific deals in consignment shops, (places where people leave quality stuff and hope for a percentage of the sale price.) I snagged a glass pitcher for $12 and a reproduction wooden Pembroke table, at one of my favorite spots in Greenwich, CT, about a 30 minute drive from my home. Greenwich is one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, so their cast-offs are awesome! The table wasn’t super-cheap — $350 — but well worth it; light, versatile, classic and well-made.

Thrift shops

People give away stuff all the time without a clue as to its real value, just to get rid of it easily. Visit often and you’ll score furniture, lamps, china, cookware and linens for pennies.

Auctions

Not every auction house is as pricy or scary as Sotheby’s! I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire, and attended a weekly auction nearby for almost 18 months. I learned a lot — like how to distinguish between the real thing and a reproduction or to know that a “marriage” means joining together two pieces that don’t belong together but look impressively old anyway. Read a few books on antiques, and you’ll pick up the basics of what a truly old, (often valuable but underpriced), object looks like. Keep your eye out for lower-priced treasures like quality rugs, serving pieces and candlesticks. This is a fantastic list of every antique term, from a comprehensive British website all about buying antiques.

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I found this flat-weave wool rug for $125 in a Toronto antique store. It had raggedy edges so I bought some black Ultrasuede and had our local dry cleaner add it to each end, for an additional $30.

The wooden box pictured here was about $10 at auction — perfect size for magazines.

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Curbside

Our bedroom door came from the curb, i.e. someone threw it out! It’s probably from the 1930s or so. I like its round brass knob.

Fabric stores

They always have remnants, cheap. Even a yard or two of gorgeous fabric, hand-stitched into a pillow cover, can add pizzazz to your chair, sofa or bed.

We’ve had this Crate and Barrel china cabinet for ages. I got tired of looking at dishes, so added this fun fabric, for about $40, inside the glass. It picks up the room’s theme, which is photos and engravings of Paris.

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Paint

The cheapest way to make everything look fresh and new. A quart of paint  — about $20 or so — can totally change the look of a small bookcase, a stiff cardboard lampshade, stool, chair, table or chest of drawers. Consider adding a hit of pure red, creamy white, glossy black, chartreuse or tangerine.

Save up for the good stuff!

I once waited for years, literally, until I could afford exactly the only lamp I wanted, the Tizio by Richard Sapper, a classic. It cost me a staggering $500 in the mid-1980s, (today, a small version is $300+), but I still use it every day and love it. I’ve never once regretted buying quality. I’m still (!) sitting on the sofa I bought in Toronto in the 1980s, slip-covered. It’s not cheap when you buy it — but if you amortize the cost over 10+ years, it is.

English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972)
English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shop everywhere

Garden stores, gourmet shops, sporting goods stores. You never know what you’ll find. I snagged a pair of fab pierced metal lamps at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis — for $13.50 apiece. I’d actually just gone there for lunch, but decided to poke around. I discovered sheets of soft, pliable, versatile copper at a local yacht supply store, a great material for lamps, votive liners, even covering a kitchen countertop. Jose was in Tucson teaching a workshop when he found some spectacular talavera planters and plates he shipped home. I hand-carried small framed prints home from Stockholm.

Including places you think you can’t afford

Everyone has sales sometime. Anthropologie has lovely homegoods, often on sale, as well as these sites I love, Mothology and Wisteria.

Use your imagination!

I found an old Chinese wooden frame ($75) and ordered up a custom-cut antiqued bit of mirror to put behind it from a glazier. It’s now our bathroom mirror; total cost $125.

Antique shows and flea markets

I scored a fantastic Moroccan metal lantern for $15 by arriving early at a local antiques fair. I had it sand-blasted smooth for $50 by my local auto body shop and painted it a delicious red from Farrow & Ball. (The coppery metal one beside it is a $12 on-sale find from Pier One.)

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Stock a tool box and know how to use it

Hammer, pliers, staple gun, screwdriver, small saw, wood glue, nails and screws. A small hand-held sander is a great help, easily stored. Keep a supply of plastic dropsheets and foam brushes. Be ready to sand, stain, re-size and re-paint your finds as needed. Or make your own stuff to fit difficult spaces; Jose created three fantastic planters for our balcony from sheets of plywood we cut and painted.

What cool things have you done to make your home lovely on a budget?

Oast Houses, Orangeries, Ha-Ha's, Bubble and Squeak

A horse in a field of buttercups in the Cotswolds
Image via Wikipedia

For someone who lives in a 60-year-old red-brick apartment building in a New York suburb, I spend a lot of time reading about — aka swooning for — the rough walls and whitewashed wood and wide plank floors and 500-year-old cottages featured in British shelter magazines. I can practically smell the old stone and the hear the horses whinnying from the paddock. Few things slow my pulse as effectively as sipping from a bone china mug filled with steaming Earl Grey tea, and leafing through $8 worth of fantasies.

Partly it’s my British heritage, with an aunt and uncle, cousins and dear friends living in England, a country I lived in for three years as a little girl. Partly it’s missing the British-isms I took for granted in conversation growing up in Canada — bubble and squeak (food) or a dog’s breakfast (not food, a mess) or tea towel (dishcloth). Canadians use British spelling and say “zed” for “zee”, so reading British magazines (Canadian ones are almost impossible to find here) offers a taste of familiar comfort. One columnist in Country Homes & Interiors describes a day spent “pottering with mum” — which, translated, means hanging out with Mom. British recipes call for caster sugar or courgettes or piccalilli, all words I find oddly soothing.

It’s a quick, lovely escape.  British interiors use softer colors, weathered even further by the accumulated wear and tear of large, hairy dogs and kids — an outdoorsy, active family life is central. British colors and scale, the light, the sizes and shapes of the homes are all quite different from those in the U.S. or Canada, a refreshing change from what I see here every day. I studied interior design, planning to leave journalism, and have long been passionate about visual beauty and the thoughtful, considered use of materials and space. I like things that are weathered, worn, elegantly chosen, whether a flower in a vase or the placement of a chair. If it’s got patina and provenance, I’m there.

I love learning things like what an oast house is — with its distinctive conical roofs — a place for roasting hops. In my next life, poppets, I’m ordering an orangerie — and a ha-ha.