Google Breaking Out Is Hard to Do

One of the hardest things to do as a homeowner is to see your own home in a new light or in a way that is different to how you’ve lived in it in the past.  

Interestingly, this phenomenon occurs not just with people who have lived in their home for some time.  It also happens with new homeowners - albeit in a slightly different way.  Many new homeowners try to recreate the look and feel of the home the Real Estate agent sold them.  Clients ask if I can help them create the home that they bought ie the one that the previous owners, or owner’s stylist, designed.  (Hat’s off to the owner/stylist by the way for presenting the home in such an appealing way!)

What's Wrong With My Room?

The problem with both of these situations is that it can really limit your ability to make the most of your home.    A couple of examples:

Just because a room has always been a dining room doesn’t mean that this is the best use of the space for the way you want to live.  It may be that it would make a great home office or kids’ play room and, for the amount of times you use the dining room, you might not even miss it!

The home that you bought may have looked fabulous when you bought it but it doesn’t mean that this is the best style for your family and the way you currently live.  Remember, the best agents are looking to sell an aspirational lifestyle.  And don’t forget – before the open house, the previous owners had just spent several hours cleaning, organising and hiding the ephemera of life to help create the appearance of that aspirational lifestyle! 

Sometimes there is something niggly about your home that bothers you but you just can’t seem to put your finger on what it is.  The solution could be as simple as removing a door that you never use to make a space feel more open or changing the door swing to create more usable space.

See Your Room In A New Light
So, how do you get out of your own way and see things in a new light?  Well, hiring a decorator or designer is definitely one option.  They can help you see beyond what is now to what is possible.  It’s an advantage that designers have – we’re able to see your home afresh without any preconceived ideas about how it has, or should, look or function.   They also have the experience to know what changes will make the biggest difference and how to make them happen.

And, Designers are not necessarily as expensive as you might imagine.  Many offer one-off consultations and fixed fee design services which are well worth the investment.  However, if this isn’t in your budget, there are other options. 

One of the best ways to create your own “fresh eye” is to do just that - start fresh.  Pick a room and clear it of all art, accessories and at least the small furniture pieces, if not the large.  Open curtains or remove them all together.  Then, walk through the room and into connecting spaces, taking notes as you go.  Identify:

What is great about the room – is it the size, the light, storage, etc

How does it flow from other rooms – is there a natural rhythm, is it very separate, does it have sight lines from one space to another

What constraints does it have – does it lack natural light, is it small, can these constraints be an advantage?

Seeing the room empty can really open your eyes to how it can function and what the room needs.   Use this information you’ve jotted down to do some “what if” analysis.  What if this room was the guest room, what if the furniture faced the other direction, what if we used it for an office, etc.  

Take the Slow Approach, Design-wise
Even if you decide that the purpose of the room is right, don’t jump straight back in.   Experiment and edit as you replace your furniture and accessories.  Try placing the sofa a different way.  Consider leaving the window treatments off if privacy isn’t an issue.  Think about placing your art in a different location.   This is a great way to develop your eye and get comfortable with changing things up as you go. 

Interiors don’t need to be stagnant.  Just as we change and grow our interiors evolve and develop over time.  Embrace it and have fun with it – you should smile every time you open your door.    

Google One of the toughest jobs I have as a designer is not developing a great design for my clients or managing the myriad of trades and deliveries on a project.   Believe it or not, it's getting clients to let go of existing furniture (unless it's from Ikea!).

But this cost a lot of money!

The usual excuses are:

  1. It cost a lot of money when we bought it.

  2. It's still in good condition.

  3. It came from a reputable supplier.

These are all valid points and worth taking into consideration but, if the piece isn't working for you anymore and/or you really don't like it, than it's time to consider other options.  I don't say this flippantly.  I'm not one to toss something out just to have the latest and greatest.  I have a few sofas at home - one I've had for 25 years and two for about 16 - that have moved both houses and rooms over time.  On top of that, much of our furniture is vintage, repurposed or handed down.  In fact, I have 3 Bentwood chairs that my Mom picked up off the side of the road when I was teenager.  They have followed me around for 30 years and everywhere I've lived they have found the perfect home.  I have no doubt I'll have them for another 30!

So, how do you know when to stay and when to split?

There are a few things you need to try before saying good bye.  These include:

  1. See if the piece works in another room in your home.   Often times, furniture can take on a new role in a different room and fit absolutely perfectly.  A hall table can become a sofa table or a sideboard.  An end table can become a bedside table or office storage/printer stand.  The options are endless - it just takes a bit of playing around (and someone to help you move it all!).

  2.  Consider recovering, refinishing or repainting - particularly if the piece has sentimental value.  If it's looking tired or you've outgrown the look, consider giving it a facelift.  It does wonders for the spirit!  And just because it was grandma's doesn't mean it has to look the same way it did when she had it.  It will still have the same soul with new fabric!

And when is it best to just part ways?

  1. The piece is just too big for your home - it overwhelms every room it could go in.  This is a sure fire sign it's time to move on.

  2. It's uncomfortable or awkward.  Sometimes this can be fixed e.g. new cushion inserts but more often than not it's an inherent design issue and it's better to start fresh.

  3. It may have been expensive but it's not high quality and has become wonky and hard to repair.

Holding on to these pieces is a drag.  They don't work, you know they don't work and every time you look at them you'll feel disappointed that you settled.   It's better to let them go early and start fresh.  This way they won't inform the rest of your decorating or lead you to sub-optimal design decisions.

So, lighten up and let go!  Donate, auction, eBay - whatever works for you.   Or, roll up your sleeves and repurpose - Easter is the right time to tackle that renewal project!   

PS - There are some iconic Ikea pieces you should hold onto!

A few before and afters:



I have a gorgeous client that I've been working with over the past year.  Originally I was engaged to design the layout of the unit, including the kitchen and bathroom, as well as select materials, finishes and fixtures and oversee the renovation or her 1-bedroom unit.  The key was to create the illusion of more space by opening up the unit and incorporating lots of storage.  At the time of completion, she decided to rent the unit out for a short period of time before moving in herself.  Well, the tenants have gone (after inflicting a surprising amount of damage in a short period of time!) and we have recently started working together again, this time to furnish and decorate the unit for her to move into.

When we first started this phase of the project, she wasn't sure that she had a particular style and couldn't see how to pull together a look that she would love - hence asking for my help.  While she had a comfortable budget for the project, it didn't stretch to all new furniture and accessories so we have needed to incorporate new furnishings with items that she already has, much of which has been in storage and sight unseen for quite a while.

After a quick run through of inspirational sites like Houzz and Pinterest, the client shared with me a number of images that had at least some elements that she liked.  This allowed us to loosely define the look she was after as "classic lines with a relaxed feel and a feminine touch".  Still a pretty broad definition but certainly enough to begin creating her new home.   Off we went shopping to pick a few of the big pieces, like the sofa and sideboard, as well as some key accessories.  We ended up with what seemed to her to be a very disparate selection of items including a camelback sofa in teal blue velvet, a tasselled-bolster cushion in springbok hide and an art deco sideboard in walnut.  These seemingly unconnected pieces are now beautifully morphing into the relaxed classic environment she wants.  And, a few of the initial ideas she originally threw out, such as accents in chartreuse, are coming back into the design as the perfect solution.

Even better, as she unpacks boxes of belongings that she hasn't seen in a few years she's finding accessories that work just perfectly with her new home like her beloved Jasper Conran chinoiserie china set with an accent of blue relating to the sofa fabric, a brass ornament that picks up the brass detailing on the sideboard and a mix of artwork with colours that just work.  And, voila, just like that her style is clear, recognisable and distinctly hers - not a copy of anyone else.

This is all to say that everyone has a style - it just may not be immediately evident.  It's the whole forest for the trees thing - it is sometimes hard to see, amongst everything you own and everything you could own, what your look really is!  So, how do you begin to uncover it?  One way of course is to work with a designer to help define and created the style with you.  Alternatively, with a bit of research and building an inspiration or mood board, gaining an outside perspective from a good friend and some editing of your existing items you can really begin to see the style that is lurking there.  A great place to source inspiration is your wardrobe - it will contain the colours, shapes and textures that you love.  

And, once you identify your style, you can begin to build the environment around you and that's when your house really becomes your home, your castle - the one place you love to be over any other and that makes you smile as soon as you walk in the door. 

Image courtesy of Domaine Home

For many homeowners, selecting paint colours for the interior or exterior of their home can be a confusing and exasperating experience.  Painting is either time consuming, expensive or both and making a mistake by selecting the wrong colour can be costly (see last post!).  Even with careful consideration, mistakes can happen.  

So, when test pots arrived on the market a few years ago there was a collective shout of hallelujah heard from homeowners everywhere.  Finally, a simple and foolproof way to make sure you'll love the colour you select. Or is it?  Confession time - how many of you have dozens of tiny little pots of paint hidden away in a garage, shed or basement and how many have gone on to paint one of those test colours only to find out it didn't look the way you wanted?  We test and test and then test some more to get the colour right and for some reason it goes wrong.

So are test pots really a life saver or are they just another money spinner for paint companies?  

How Not To Use Paint Test Pots

Like most things in life, it depends.  Below are a few images that show how not to use sample pots.


What I do recommend about the approach used on both of these houses is that the "swatches" are quite large. The larger the swatch the better you are able to really see the true colour.  The problem is that the colours are painted next to each other and on top of the existing colour.   Colour is a promiscuous thing and it tends to "infect" it's neighbour with it's style meaning it changes the way we see the other colours(s) that it's adjacent to. As an example in the photo to the left, rather than seeing "IC5" as a colour in it's own right we see "IC5" compared to all the other test colours and to the original paint colour.  

Is There a Better Way?

Glad you asked.  There definitely is.  The easiest way to see the true colour is to paint each sample onto it's own separate board.  You can use ply, heavy card stock or really anything that will hold up to a few coats of paint. You'll want to paint an undercoat first because the real trick is in leaving a generous border around the sample colour.  The border should be white, black or neutral grey as this will give you the truest read of the colour you are testing and it will create a "no go" zone between your test colour and any other colour.  The bonus with this approach is that you can easily move the sample board around to see how your colour looks on the other side of the house or room.  Now, for a real trick of the trade.   If you use a white border the paint colour will appear darker than it actually is, if you use black it will look lighter and the neutral grey will present it largely true to it's real colour.  This is a great little tip if you're trying to convince other interested parties of your colour choice and you get told that "it's too dark" or "it's too light".   Try changing the border colour before buying another test pot!

So, absolutely get those test pots and try out your chosen colour(s) before committing to a long term relationship with them but minimise the risk of test pot overload by using sample boards. 
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