Design Dilemma / Part 3

This is the third and final Q&A in our series of design dilemma solutions, answering a stay-at-home-mother of three’s questions.

Design Dilemma #5: I know I get too in my head. I think the absence of friends who also love design stunts my creativity because I’m not inspired. I feel like the “traditional” home style is trendy right now…I don’t want my house to look like Pinterest, so I overthink it. I also stress about making the wrong choice because money is tight. It’s like playing chess with my home, money, time and deep love for homemaking.

Pinterest board - social media can sometimes create more design dilemmas than we had before.

Because we discussed navigating the time-cost/DIY vs. hiring out debate in a previous design dilemma, today, let’s consider how we find inspiration for our homes.

The problem of social media

Increasingly social media has become a place where large companies advertise to us. Certain accounts boost their posts either through company algorithms or paid boosts. If you like looking at pretty homes, you’ll see advertising tailored to that general preference but couldn’t capture the full range of the things that could strike you as beautiful.

We’ll miss a lot of captivating accounts in our feed. The ones we see are the ones that are trending or the ones with the big dollars behind them.

Direct marketing, likes, clicks, and shares become mental clutter or noise. Viewing similar videos and photographs often shifts our unconscious perception of what is expected. Our minds want to pick up on patterns, but the patterns on social media are not patterns in the natural order. They cannot capture the complexity of time needed, the slow pacing, and the personal cost of the natural process of home design, art, or even cake decorating.

For a person looking for design inspiration, I recommend getting away from social media.

Hit the books

I love the idea you mentioned in past conversations about buying books at yard sales. Design books are abundant and can be found at yard sales, thrift stores used book stores, and, of course, the local library.

Looking at books unhindered by digital interruptions gives you the space and quiet to finally explore what appeals to you. Take some time and see what you love; you might be surprised.

The same can be said of home tours, if you can find them, or walking down the sidewalk in beautiful neighborhoods and basking in their curb appeal.

See the sights

Finding inspiration in home decorating requires the same things as finding inspiration in any creative endeavor sometimes.

We need to get away from the project itself and reset.

Look at those books or houses for the sheer pleasure of it.

Go for a walk. Walk in places where you admire the architecture, visit an art gallery or a museum. Try to find those places that look like the books you’re drawn to.

For me, that means our local historical societies.

When your cup is full of images and ideas that inspire you generally, it gets those creative juices flowing, as they say.

And then return to the project at hand

You return to your home refreshed, your creativity cup filled and ready to see it with new eyes; your brain will be prepared to connect the dots.

That doesn’t necessarily make the process of the chess game more straightforward, but it can help give you a vision of where you want to go.

Continue to try to quiet the voices of those who have an easy time or easy money. Stay focused on the project at hand. You’re decorating this home for you and your family.

You, like me, believe that a house has something of a soul of its own. Part of living in it is listening to what will fit it best and the family within it. That requires openness and observation.

Give yourself the time and space to decide. When you do that, I am confident you’ll make the right decisions.

“Falling is part of learning”

When my kids tried to teach themselves to roller skate, I told them often “Falling is part of learning”. I said it so often that they repeated it for years to come.

All decorating comes with a learning curve and a few “What was I thinking?” moments. We might think something will solve the problems only to learn it won’t. But each time we go through that, we learn lessons that make a difference. Then, when you are ready for the big remodel, if you have that in your future, you will know what you like because you went through all these little small decisions discovering that you prefer spice racks out in the open, floor-length curtains, and open shelves.

Enjoy the process. Whenever you hear that doubtful voice telling you there is only one right decision, turn away and look at those lilies of the field.

Design Dilemma Part 2

Last week we looked at a few questions from a stay-at-home mother of three in Indiana, who reached out to me with a design dilemma. Some questions are easy to answer, but over time, we often find a trend underlying what we want to know.

Design dilemma #3: How do I pick the right size rug for my living room? I thought I knew, but it’s off.

If you have multiple seating zones in your living room, the best way to determine the size of a rug is to measure the area such that either the furniture fits all its legs on the rug or each piece’s front legs on the carpet.

Another approach is to measure the square footage of the room and reduce it by a set border, say two feet from the wall. For an exceptionally large room, this may lead to a big cost jump and might end up with some awkward or unbalanced furniture placement.

They say you can layer a smaller rug over a larger one if the space you need to cover is so large that a decorative rug becomes cost-prohibitive. I understand the reasoning here, but the small rug still needs to be anchored somehow with a piece of furniture or a zone. In that case, I would rather skip the rug altogether and know it’s okay.

In contrast, I know someone who took out all her carpet and gradually placed small doormats every place she walks in her house. We need to be aware of why we want to do it before we do it and take the time to shop well and prudently with our and our family’s interests in mind rather than so-called design rules.

Wool rugs are the most expensive. Rugs can be purchased second-hand in-person or online from Etsy or new from companies like RugsUSA. It might surprise you how affordable a natural fiber like sisal, low-pile or indoor/outdoor rug is. Indoor/outdoor rugs have the added benefit of being easy to clean.

Design Dilemma #4: I’m the only one doing the work. Should I just hire someone? I save time if I do, and I save money if I do it myself. So it’s the time or money I’m stuck between.

Last week, I discussed these considerations in the cost-benefit analysis of any project’s time and financial demands. They bear repeating.

  • How much do you hate the way it looks now?
  • How much work does it take to achieve the desired outcome?
  • Can you do the work ourselves, or is it outside your skill set?
  • Do you have time to do what you know how to do or learn a new skill and complete the project?
  • How much does it cost to outsource labor? 
  • What materials are involved? Are they worth the effort of restoration?

Each project can be ranked based on the answers to these questions. Outside your skill set means it costs more in time. Depending on your circumstances, it may be worth it to pay someone to do it.

If you hate the way it is now and need it to change so you don’t groan every time you walk by, then a shortcut fix may be called for. So long as no safety questions are involved, it’s okay to plan on a shortcut while planning the whole and thorough project in the future.

The only right answer is the one that is based on the answers to the above questions and your stage of life. It doesn’t matter what so-and-so in your life says you should do. The only perfect way forward is the one that works for you/your household, your house, and the project itself.

And whether or not to hire out.

There are some jobs we can learn to do, there are some jobs that are going to be outside our skill set without extensive training or might be dangerous.

There are some jobs we’re perfectly capable of doing but don’t have the time for or that we are perfectly capable of doing but hate it to no end.

Then there are the jobs we love. For these, we don’t even ask ourselves. We know that we will do it ourselves.

Knowing that you’re the only one who will be able to do the work, it’s worth it to give all new projects to try or research the ones that would require considerable learning and see if you’re interested in learning more. We are usually capable of doing more than we realize. We only need the push to do it. 

Generational perspective

We live in a world where great-grandparents built their barns or tables, placed their plumbing, doing every scrap work themselves come hell or high water, while now many a millennial hire someone to change out a light fixture or hang a shelf.

When a person doesn’t grow up seeing their parents or grandparents that these projects or saw strict gender division in the jobs that were done, it can be hard to feel like the skills are accessible to us.

Consider the above questions. Do your research. Be prudent with the budget. And give it a go.

Design Dilemmas Part 1

A friend reached out to me with a design dilemma. In answering her, I thought it might be fun to share these questions and answers here in case other readers have similar dilemmas. She is a 30-ish mother of three young kids living in Indiana. And she loves design. Her questions have been edited for length and clarity.

Design Dilemma #1

My blue living room wall is an accent wall. I wonder if it makes the room feel dated instead of timeless, or maybe the navy blue with white trim makes it look dated.

old-fashioned television

My response: Trends come and go. The key to discerning if something makes a room feel dated is to look at the room. Look at all the details and see if they all perfectly correspond with a particular moment and time, like a movie set. That is where the dated feeling comes from.

You seem to be asking more about following a trend than how a specific color looks in a particular room. So I’d like to respond to that.

What’s in a trend?

Great design will take from an array of periods because great home design has a curated look, items collected over time that somehow fit together. The unifying factor may not be as apparent as the color scheme, metal finish or a catchy name like farmhouse chic.

While it’s true that the accent wall had quite a moment in the earlier 2000s, it can still be done without looking dated. But here’s the catch. People often painted an accent wall because they were afraid to paint the entire thing some wild, dramatic color. Four bold walls went against the grain of the longstanding minimalist trend that we are in now and have been for some time since Fixer-Upper came on the scene.

Ask yourself, why do you have the accent wall?

Was it because you thought a navy blue room would be too much? Or because you wanted to make this a focal feature and minimize the rest of the room? Those questions can help you know whether or not this is dated or part of the bigger picture of a home designed with the things you love.

Design Dilemma #2

I’ve noticed that previous owners have painted the window trim over and over. I want to paint the trim, but do I need to sand them? Is it a must to make it clean? Same with our doors. Do I need to sand them or use paint thinner? I want to make quickish updates, but it may add to the layers of paint look, but sanding will take forever.

Design Dilemma: how to strip paint

My response: Oh yes, paint over paint over paint. There comes a time when something must eventually be stripped away. Because imperfections in the paint grow with each layer, you will never get that smooth, clean look when there have been too many layers or poorly done paint jobs.

While I have yet to restore trim, Marian Parsons from the Miss Mustard Seed blog has some great advice. She writes, “You can strip off a paint finish manually (through sanding) or chemically (through strippers.)  There isn’t a right or wrong way to remove the paint. It depends on the desired end result and which kind of mess you prefer.” In a recent project, Parsons began with an orbital using finer grit (120-220) sandpaper and alternated between that and a chemical stripper. She recommended the paste stripper Ready Strip. Check out her blog for more detailed instructions and recommendations.

But your question isn’t just about how to do it, but what to do.

With wood, you can take the paint down to a preferred degree or all the way to clean wood. If you’re repainting it, you really don’t need to take it back to its tree-like state.

The same goes for the door. How bad is the paint? Can a little sanding knock it down, or do you have time to do the whole project the “right way?”

It’s all a cost-benefit analysis—cost factors in both financial and time costs. I wish I could write this as a math equation, but I studied psychology instead.

  • How much do you hate the way it looks now?
  • How much work does it take to achieve the desired outcome?
  • Can we do the work ourselves, or is it outside our skill set?
  • Do we have time to do what we know how to do/learn a new skill and do it?
  • How much does it cost to pay another person? 
  • What materials are involved, and are they worth the effort of restoration?

I cannot tell you the correct answer, but overspending on time or money will not be it. Sometimes the answer is a shortcut in the project now and patience for the long haul when there is more time and money.

No right or wrong…exactly

The critical thing to remember is that over time, there isn’t a wrong decision for these little projects because your paint can be stripped away just as quickly as the previous owners.

In a total renovation, you must make priority lists and consider these questions, ranking the projects accordingly. It’s a long and thoughtful process that will help guide you on where to save and splurge.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.