15 Existential First Steps To Redoing Your House

As I delve into what we might call, “Conscious House Decor,” I believe I find myself in the same situation as some of you re: clothing. Let’s see. Does this sound familiar?

The Privilege[d] 15 Steps To Redoing Your House Decor [It’s Kind Of Like Building A Wardrobe]

  1. Take a look at your house (closet)
  2. Find it comfortable, for the most part, but clearly lacking
  3. Wonder how it happened, how you have lived so long with cracks in your walls (ill-fitting clothes), rooms with no rugs (no dresses to speak of), and a complete lack of finish (accessories? what accessories?)
  4. Pore through Pinterest boards, unearth online magazines and other resources, find small blogs where the author’s aesthetic and voice appeals
  5. Do this again.
  6. Do this again and again and again
  7. Realize that all you are learning is what you don’t like
  8. Realize that everything you do like costs enormous sums of money that you do not have
  9. Become profoundly overwhelmed

And then, tell yourself you are in your 6th damn decade and you need to put on your big girl pants and find a place to start. Anchor your learning. It’s easier to learn small than learn big.

10. Review Priorities To Sidestep The Overwhelm

So where to start? Even though the kids’ rooms are most in need of help, and therefore tempting to fix, I have to remember that my children live elsewhere, and I haven’t yet settled on just what we will make of that space. My living room/dining room/kitchen room, for it is all one, is good enough for now. Which leads us to the master bedroom.

I made a list of what I don’t like in bedroom decor, because it amused me. Laughter is good for perseverance. Let me point out that these are personal tastes, not broad judgement. Because I am unlikely to ever see your bedroom, you get to do with it exactly as you choose and I have not one word to say in the matter. The High WASP voices may boss me, but they aren’t allowed to speak to you at all unless you issue an invitation.

11. What I Don’t Like In A Bedroom

  • Distressed surfaces
  • Round mirrors with sunrays
  • Curvy headboards
  • Too many pillows
  • Totally neutral/monochromatic because, drowning
  • Pops of color because, startling
  • Words on the walls
  • Too much stuff of any sort on the walls, including twinkle lights
  • Chandeliers, which I love everywhere else
  • Fur or skin with hair or leather
  • Most importantly, anything that hints at Trying Too Hard including but not limited to: overly artful piles and vignettes; swags of matching fabric; glitter As I said, the High WASP voices may talk to me. In fact they will.

Then I remembered that I already know what I do like, at the highest level.

12. What I Always Like And Why Should This Be Any Different?

  • Comfort
  • Serenity
  • Simple elegance
  • Nonchalance
  • Intent (That’s the hard part. Nonchalant intent, as though I meant my life, and the house just followed.)

I simply need to figure out how to implement my abstractions into actual furnishings. I say “simply,” you can and probably should laugh out loud. I think it looks like this:

  • Lots of space to throw clothes on – upholstered chairs, chaise longues, even a sofa if there’s space
  • Bedside tables for books
  • Good lamps on those tables
  • Serene but textured linens
  • A beautiful and very quietly patterned rug
  • One more pattern on some cushions, possibly a toile
  • Just a few items on surfaces, often glass, meaning- or use-ful
  • Minimal framed artwork, probably photos since that’s what I’ve got
  • Lots of light, high ceilings, and hardwood floors. That part’s done already.

13. Gathering The Resources For Knowledge

When faced with a new project, one should always acknowledge how little one knows. Done. And understand how important it is to gather resources. Here’s where I’m starting, in alphabetical order, taken from my Feedly sidebar.

And one book. I admit to never having read anything about interior style until Reggie Darling introduced me to Maureen Footer. This is on my coffee table and has been opened. Review to follow.

14. Admit To Constraints

I have a budget. There. I said it. It’s not nothing, and it’s not unlimited, and there’s the rub. I know how to Spend Almost Nothing; I know how to spend all the LaLaLaLa Money. But the realistic, You Are Financially Comfortable Albeit Constrained, Therefore Plan Wisely money, that will be new. Also known as Why Every Rug May Not Have To Be Tibetan.

I sense a spreadsheet in my future. How do you guys budget for house decor? Consciously?

15. Feel No Shame In Enlisting Support But No Guilt In Sticking To Your Preferences Either

Finally, I ask you all, of good taste and experience, “Any more preparations to make?” And I thank you for reading, for lending your voices, and for understanding those occasions when, despite all good advice, I persist in my sometimes unique preferences.

Just as with clothes, we may not always follow generally understood best practices, but we do want to know what they are.

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  • I would advise you to choose the rug first, and the rest should follow pretty easily.

    6:44 am
    Lisa said...

    That makes sense.

  • I love this post. I’m of the research, research, research, get intimidated by what everyone else has, get overwhelmed, quit…variety. But, you’re right. Redoing a room is like choosing an outfit… if it feels good..it’s good. Your post reminds me that years ago while shopping for a particular piece of furniture at antique shops for a couple of years…I found the one I wanted only to demur at the price. My wise friend said,”Would you pay that for a dress?” Hmmm. Good point.
    Thanks, Lisa. I feel a “project” coming on and now I know how to start.

  • Ha! Number 7! That’s me. Our bedroom is serene and calm and BEIGE.

  • You might want to add – Have Fun – or perhaps this point is already assumed. I redid my house several years ago and while stressful at times, it was a lot of fun, so enjoy!

  • thanks for this. i too have been carefully honing a list of things i don’t like. much more productive to focus on what you do like. :)

    good luck + keep us posted on your progress!

  • Lesson I’ve learned the hard way: the more money = the more neutral. Remember those beach house stripes popular in the 90s? I bought a very good quality chair and ottoman in beachy stripes which has now been haunting me for, hmmm, 25 years. Can’t wait to get it slipcovered.

    10:18 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan w, I have slipcover plans too:).

  • And, let’s not forget the most important (but least seen) feature of a bedroom, the mattress. No matter how beautiful and serene your other bedroom choices may be, if you end up with an uncomfortable mattress nothing but nothing will fall into place after that.

    10:19 am
    Lisa said...

    @Chronica Domus, Yes, and I now believe I need a non-petroleum mattress, so the search is on.

  • A rug as a starting point is a good idea – and the best thing about going rug shopping is that they let you take a few home to try out in your room – no waiting 10 weeks for delivery!

    When you are getting ready to look at art, I would suggest the Lost Art Salon in San Francisco. They have original art at reasonable prices. Another benefit – they are like the rug stores in that you get to take a few pieces home to see how they fit. That can be dangerous, though. We took four paintings home to find just the right one for our second floor hall, and ended up keeping two more to put in our bedroom!

  • I learned a lot about colour from MariaKillam.com even though her style is not my style.

    10:21 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sharon, Subscribed!

  • Lisa the rug and the bedding really set the stage to reflect the beauty of your other furnishings in the bedroom and special accessories/ momentos.

    I am featuring Maureen Footer’s fabulous new book the first of the week.

    The Arts by Karena

  • Thank you for the mention…
    Please share before and after pics with us as i am a very visual person. Have fun with your project!
    Love what Janet at the Gardener’s cottage has done in her home with all the whites and serene spaces.
    Our dark arts and crafts bungalow is decorated in mission style furnishings in keeping with the era of the home. We need to redo our bedroom soon and I have been looking at ideas too, first we need to refinish the floor and redo the closet, paint and buy two small rugs which I find expensive because of our tastes.
    Happy pinning!

    10:23 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, I have a reluctance to show photos of our bedroom:). Cultural, probably. So I am figuring out how to take some partials that will be sufficient for the highly visual to build their own mental pictures of what it looks like. I look forward to your suggestions.

  • My advice (because I used to do this for a living) is to shop without buying at as many places online and nearby as you can. Learn what you like. Learn what things cost. For instance, the size and quality of bedding that you want.
    Then I would try it out on a Polyvore board, crunch the numbers, add and remove as per your budget.
    Then I would start with a rug or fabric as a jumping off point. Rugs are best because they cost the most and its easier to match the paint to the rug than the other way around.

    10:25 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kerry Steele, Thank you!

  • If you are doing this all by yourself, do paint colors last. We can match paint to anything and as Kerry said, it’s not so easy the other way around. The furniture layout comes first; no point pining for a chaise if there’s no room for it. Then I can go either way on jumping off with a rug or fabrics. Budget? I prefer the term invest. How much to invest? So many factors to consider but put the art part in a separate category. You’ll thank me later. And so will the artists.

    10:26 am
    Lisa said...

    @Linda @ a design snack, Thank you! I feel lucky professionals are here to help me out!

  • #6 and #9: guilty!
    I have trouble getting started on decorating projects because I am an Optimizer, not a Sufficer. I am plagued by “But what if I buy X and see something I like even better a month from now?” And “What if I make an expensive/difficult-to-fix mistake?” I’m a DIY-er as far as decorating goes, so this is a real and compelling issue (especially since I love bright color and mixing styles).
    Having said all this, I used my collection of Deruta-ware and a painting as the starting point for the color palette downstairs, and a gorgeous duvet cover from Anthropologie as the starting point for the master bedroom, and so far, so good.
    I second the motion for before and after pictures.
    Loving all the posts on home and garden!

  • This will be such fun to follow. I also need to work on the bedroom so I’ll be interested in your progress.

  • hello lisa, what a surprise and honor to be mentioned here. :) i’m afraid that my bedroom meets all the criteria that you do not want in yours, which is cracking me up. although i’ve not seen much of your home i picture it as quite serene and pared down…a look that i love. x

    10:27 am
    Lisa said...

    @the gardeners cottage, Ha! I am sure you could use all my dislikes and still come up with something beautiful:).

  • PS–I will check out the Maureen Footer book. If I were going to choose an “inspiration” book to guide me, it might be *Katie Ridder Rooms* by Heather Smith MacIsaac.

  • As far a budget goes we do one room or area a year and are attempting to freshen up everything we did after moving in thirty years go. Therefore we already have the core pieces. The problem is that back then I knew exactly what to do and liked what we did then so this time round it’s like learning a new language. I’ll be interested to see the outcome of this topic!

    10:31 am
    Lisa said...

    @EH13, I should have mentioned – it’s reasonably likely we will only be in this house for another 3-4 years. So I’d like to do whatever we’re doing in this year, and make sure that much of the budget remains useful for resale. Might be too many constraints.

  • Interior designers often suggest to start in the bedroom, rather in the “public” spaces, as that’s where you begin and end your day; the last thing you want is to go to bed or wake up annoyed by your surroundings! All good advice by the responders here. I would also suggest choosing whether you like “warm” or “cool”, both for colors, finishes (shiny/lustrous, or matte), texture, and overall feel of the space. Another suggestion regards color: even though you’re sharing the space, pick the color that looks best next to your face. It will make you feel and look fabulous as you lounge!

    10:33 am
    Lisa said...

    @Gretchen, Cool/warm balance, matte, lots of texture, and looks like there is blue in my future:).

  • Humm, we started with our children’s rooms which were in dire need of paint and clearing out. That generated a lot of new space. It will also give you a place to stage while working on the master .

  • A facinating post. I share some of your preferences, but not others. I just did a little dream room here: http://birdybegins.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/oh-for-room-of-ones-own.html It’s like a bedroom without the bed ‘cos I’m yearning for space!

    We’re in furnished rented accomodation so we have done basically nothing in the way of decoration, but I’m starting to feel like I should try a bit harder. I can buy storage solutions and sort out some messy bits. We bought new light fittings to replace the original 1980’s horrors we had. There are no picture hooks in our bedroom so nothing on the walls – I can get some stick-on hooks.

    A new mattress would be dreamy as even an underlay isn’t doing much for the worn-out bed. Don’t know if we can manage that, though.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Here I indulge in stating the obvious: remember this is a room which is seen mostly under artficial light. Dress it accordingly. Not for this lady of the Frozen Midwest a Swedish menu of pale floors, walls and painted furniture. Me for a cozy nest in a fabric equivalent of a berry crumble. When the Midwest roasts, I switch out bed linens, towels, and pillows for as much white as one can see in a sailboat marina.

    In an ideal house, I’d have a winter burrow bedroom and a summer treehouse bedroom, just as I have seasonal closets.

    10:35 am
    Lisa said...

    @Beth Waltz, Yes! The California impact is huge. There’s so much natural light, so much of the time. Really calls for a neutral palette, in my over-sensitive eyes.

  • My don’ts echo yours, although another caveat for me always involves a hard look at what I already have. I am from that old WASP stock that always is recycling old family things, and mixing them with other styles and eras. Ditto for the rugs: old and frayed is fine if its my old and frayed.
    For me, its all about the bed linens; I hate it that it is now harder and harder to buy single sheets, and that so many of them are white, and that so many of the sheets labeled “king” aren’t big enough for the new taller beds with higher mattresses. And if you are strange enough to own a California King while living in the midwest, there are no shopping choices for you!
    I,too, now live in a semi-open floor plan ranch, and I am gradually trying to create unity between all those rooms opening onto each other, but in the bedrooms, I feel I can go off the path with style and color (although I firmly believe that all my bedrooms have to be some shade of blue!). We purchased our home from a 65 year old single man, and it is SO beige, that I still feel ultimately, paint witll be our salvation…but so many choices!

    10:36 am
    Lisa said...

    @Ellen, Always recycling indeed and agreed.

  • If you are guided by a wish for serenity in your MB, finding “lots of places to throw your clothes on” will cause the opposite effect: clutter and mess. Instead, you might think of how to create ample space for putting them away.

    10:37 am
    Lisa said...

    @Duchesse, It’s just practical. We will throw the clothes, that’s a pattern that can’t be eradicated without suffering. So I’m looking to degrade gracefully and have the throwing supported:).

  • I look forward with great interest to your house decorating posts, since for me style has to include how we live at home. My bible is Wharton’s “Decoration of Houses” .. and isn’t she another of your tribe’s sturdy gals? Although most of us don’t think in such grand scales these days, the philosophy translates pretty well to smaller spaces imho.

    I like consistency of finishes, colors, styles throughout my house. For me that is calming. In the bedroom, only white linens of the best quality I can afford. I like to bleach linens. No extra pillows because they equal clutter to me. Hooks on the back of doors for temporary storage of clothes perhaps still in use. Bedside tables. Blanket chest at end of bed to hold extra duvets, blankets and make them easily accessible. Rugs where my feet will be bare. A chair to sit in to put my shoes on or take them off. I can no longer put socks or stockings on in mid-air either. White ceilings, pale walls, white muslin curtains, brass chandelier, brass tie backs, mirrors, because I am trying to capture as much light as possible. Dark floors and rugs because I don’t want to worry about stains. Beautiful art on the walls. Surfaces as clear as possible. On my chest of drawers: jewelry box & photo of kids. On the bedside table: reading lamp and books, canton saucer to catch my rings and watch, photo of our kids, cell phone, spot for my glasses, coaster for a nighttime glass of water.

    10:40 am
    Lisa said...

    @anon, This sounds beautiful, and although different in finishes, i.e. brass vs. chrome, glass vs. china, light floors vs. dark, very similar to the bedroom of my imagination.

  • Delicious, succulent and wise. Especially the “intent” part. Well done, Lisa, once more!!! Really god job!!

  • Take a look at Design Sponge. On Monday’s they feature the interiors of homes that have been remodeled/redesigned etc. Some wonderful and unexpected choices from far and wide.

  • After the analysis, let yourself fall in love with something…a rug, bedside chest, chair shape, and buy it. Use that as your starting point and filter other items through it. For your described likes, look at Vincente Wolfe’s work, it’s elegant minimalism but with a boho twist

  • So much good advice here! We’ve lived in our house for fifteen years and we’re still in the flailing about stage of decorating. We made some poor choices when we first moved in that I’m trying to rectify now. I wish I’d had your existential guide back when I color-washed our front hall with terra cotta paint.

  • I discovered http://myscandinavianhome.blogspot.ca/ and have found lots of images that inspire me there. I have been in a big white phase and crazing simplicity and calm. Good luck in making changes in your home to update it to what fits you and your partner! Enjoy…

  • Hello Lisa
    I love how you plan on paper your likes and dislikes. As I was reading along I had visions of a toile in blue for your bedroom.

  • Now is the time for the midsummer sales. I’d pick one piece to start with, or even if you go with inspiration in terms of paint color… I’ve found that my eye gravitates to colors that look well together, for the most part. I also have a lot of “family furniture” which I inherited, including rugs! I did buy an expensive couch, (and need a new mattress as well, I was thinking Ikea, they have one that they tout as “all-natural”). I tend to find things as they call to me. I’ve got lampshades from Target, etc. I do tend to go for color, as it makes me happy. Any tips on finding someone to make a slipcover? I have a couple of older chairs which need it. I found a lighting fixture for the dining room at Pier 1, of all places. I also am not a big fan of fussy, though. I don’t like 10,000 pillows on the bed. Haven’t found a good overhead for the bedroom yet…. Maybe take a day to walk around some of the sales? It is also yard sale season here in CT, I have found some nice pieces in yard/apartment sales.

  • Thanks for the mention! I hope I can live up to the others with whom I was mentioned!

    (and I agree 100% about too many pillows: where the heck do you put them at night?)

  • I’m late to the party, as usual, but I appreciate the fact that you can be overwhelmed and yet find a way to get started. My “don’ts” are pretty similar to yours, although I’m okay with distressed finishes and not okay with photos of people except in small pictures on my dresser – silly, I know, but I don’t want the kids staring at us in bed, even if it is only from photos. Many years ago when we did our bedroom we started with the rug and the bed, and the rest fell into place. For many years we had had a blue bedroom – my husband’s preference. Now our bedroom is what I describe as the color of dawn, which I really like. But I think that you should choose a color that is flattering to you, which may well mean a cool blue.

  • I discovered a few years ago that I love having a sleeping room instead of a bedroom. We sleep in the loft in our house — it’s just a bed, two side tables, two lamps, a couple of robes. That’s all. And I love having space that is only about sleeping reading relaxing love etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m glamping at the top of my house and it’s so cozy. All the rest of our “bedroom” stuff (clothes, rugs, etc) are in another room.

  • Number 8 is always a big problem for me. Add to it the feeling that I don’t know if I am going to be in this house for a long time or not, and I am unwilling to spend on things that might not make the possible transition. I find it hard to find the balance between my extremes of “must love it before I am willing to spend money” and “something is needed in this space”. I am finding the process, as I am currently going through it anyway, surprising at times.

  • Oh my, I finally surface from my own move/remodeling and find a shout out here in this wonderful post–thank you! I’m sure your bedroom will turn out as elegant and personal as your “sturdy gal” wardrobe. In redoing my own bedroom, I’ve found I want fewer things on the walls and night tables (including lamps–I’m experimenting with wall mounted reading fixtures) to give me a sense of calm and possibility. I’ve considered all white bed linens, but frankly they bore me and feel too impersonal now that every hotel has gone that direction. As to mattresses I like European Sleepworks in Berkeley. I’ll look forward to seeing what your research turns up.