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.

Fall Decor

I grew eager for the beginning of fall. I decorated early last year as a way to protect myself against the fear of being gone from home. This year has been leisurely, still eager for the end of hot weather, but calm in decorating.

Routine decorating both gives me something to look forward to and makes execution easy. I hung our Beatus Autumn banner, which means “blessed autumn.” More seasonal than “Happy Halloween” and less cheesy than “welcome fall” since it is not routine for me to talk to the seasons. But you know, Lorelei Gilmore talks to snow, so who am I to judge?


I love the pop of orange against the neutral space. This rectangular tablecloth came from TJ Maxx years ago and still works well on a round table which finished with blue placemats from Crate and Barrell. The candlesticks are a combination Good Will and Ikea, with a marble compote that came into my life as a Christmas gift. And garlic, you know, for the vampires.


To the left of the table is my Hoosier style cabinet I use for my china. With a couple pumpkins and another pop of orange from 1960’s art class, it feels like fall to me.


We have a smaller table near the entry with a drop-spot tray and small succulent. A few details make it festive.


Turn from there and you see the living area. My husband cut the crows for the window. The leaves outside have not yet learned it is fall, perhaps because it is 90 degrees today.


Detail of the mantle. I used lanterns that work for every season, fresh pumpkins and gourds, a few springs and antique broom. I favor decorations that pack easily. I want all my specifically-fall decor in one box and no more.


Our home comes with a silly nook for a television for those who are so inclined. Right now it houses some art, a small table, and floor pillows. We have plans to build a bench the kids can sleep on. I made blankets last year with flannel and no-pill fleece backing as Christmas gifts and kept a few for myself.


I was pleased with the look of the couch one color was added, orange from West Elm and blue from last year’s batch of blankets. The pumpkin on the table is so heavy the kids do not try to move it.


I like my seasonal art spot. It is another way of marking the changing time. Below is an art print from Pat Palmerino whom we met at the Alexandria Farmer’s Market in Virginia. I framed it myself with a frame I took from my mother and blue matboard from Michael’s (custom cut with my Logan mat cutter).


I tucked our “Pumpkins for Sale” sign in the window behind the couch, hopefully, to be used streetside next year.


A little touch outside the door to welcome guests.


I seek a moment of beauty wherever I look in my home. There might be dust or toys underfoot or crumbs beneath the table, but beauty speaks louder than the mess. If it weren’t for crumbs and toys and a little dust, it would not be lived in, it would not be home. It would be incomplete.

I would like to add more pumpkins to the outdoors, but there is no telling what the children will do with them.

Blessed Autumn.

How does it feel to be home?

How does it feel to be home?


The long answer:

I go from being afraid for his life to seeing him run down the hallway, squealing at his siblings’ antics.

I go from him being watched by brilliant medical professionals to being the primary eyes on him.

I go from loneliness of wandering and sleeping in a city by myself to togetherness, the reunion of a broken family.

I go from a bubble personal space to the strong shoulder of my husband, and the cuddles of my children.

I go from meditative silence to multiple children, screaming and whining.

I go from isolation, with friends only in touch by email, to seeing and connecting with a husband and friends I love.

I go from a daily routine of reading, writing and learning to endless interruptions.

I go from a terrible mattress as bouncy as the floor to the greatest mattress in the world, 100% Pima cotton sheets and a colorful fluffy bedspread.

Basically, I go from sacrifice to another,

From loneliness to fear,

From contemplation to the busy life of a housewife parenting four kids.

Still, I would rather be home.


The short answer: Good.

A Clothesline Way of Life

Published this week in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

I just saw an advertisement for a washing machine with two washers in one machine so you can wash light and dark at the same time. Let us pass over the fact that you can wash light and dark together on an energy-saving cold-water setting and consider what this means. How many housekeepers face the mountain of laundry in that one spot that always seems susceptible to the plate tectonics causing its growth? Do we really need to do more laundry at once? It is time-saving, so instead of spending all weekend doing laundry, you can spend one full day doing nothing but laundry.

I’d like to propose a different way of life. I discovered it through my clothesline.

Lack of financial resources during a particular period of our life had me searching for whatever ways I could to be conservative with our money. Though we owned a drier, our rented home sat atop a large hill with a massive clothesline shared with our adjoining neighbors.

Combine this set up with the wisdom gleaned from A Mother’s Rule of Life and I discovered a slower way to live. Her recommendation is to set a structure for each day, an order of events that may or may not be on a timeline, that follow a similar approach as a monastic order. The routine stays the same. The sequence depends on the family. It may be wake up, dress, breakfast, school lessons, chores, lunch, rest, hobby, dinner, clean up, bed; or wake up, dress, breakfast, leave for school, errands, return home after school, snack, homework, play, dinner, clean up, bed. A simple routine spelled out in more detail: clean a different room each day, wash a different load of laundry each day. Never more than one load of laundry per day. Otherwise, the day can become consumed with laundry, neglecting other areas of life.

Over the past wet winter, at our home-in-town with our average-size fenced-in yard, I gave up using the clothesline and used the dryer instead. When I finished one wash and put it in the drier, it seemed so simple to add another load to the wash. Soon I was completing three loads in one day and had a great deal more laundry to fold, with more places to deliver it to. Even though I did laundry on fewer days, it felt more exhausting. Like having to deep clean once a week rather than clean small, quick messes daily.

Winter passed, the clouds dried up, and I took out my clothesline once again. I am back to one load or one type of laundry a day (sheets) and at least two days a week without washing anything. I make sure to have one day of rest from all chores. For us, as Christians, that day is Sunday. There is something fulfilling of going out into the sun, hanging the pieces with care, and folding that fresh-smelling crisp wash at the end of the day rather than after the huff of getting it all washed and dried within three hours.

We have to guard our lives. Faster and time saving may be better, but what do we fill the time with? Do we just end up doing more? Do we end up losing the time to social media or some fabulously written Netflix show? It can be good and necessary to spend a day doing laundry, that’s true. Not all lifestyles allow for a slow approach to chores. Still, I would like to advocate for the effort. The effort to slow down, do a little less and enjoy a little more. Whether it is with a clothesline, a slow cooker or a storybook, I think it is worth a try.

Today is Clean-up Day!

I grew up outside city limits. In my upbringing, there were no baseball evenings, annual yard sales or citywide clean-up. Now that we live in town, I look forward to these things immensely. When I described this town to a nurse in San Francisco, she said, “oh my gosh, you live in Stars Hollow.” Which is to say, we live in the dream town: a small town, with third places, where people gather, know each other, support each other, mourn for each other and have unique city events that could only happen in a small town. Last weekend we saw the citywide yard sale and Fruit and Nut Festival take place. This weekend, it is time for the citywide clean-up. It is a busy time of year.

When I was away from home in early April, I felt eager to get my hand back into my art. I could, at the time, do little more than sort photos. It is wonderful to think of how far we have come in our home. To design is a process. You can take steps in the beginning and if you really know your taste, your way of functioning and color, you might not need to make any changes for a long time. More likely, you will make decisions and change your mind in the future. But every step in decorating one’s home is a process. The home represents those who live in it. It has a soul just as there is a collective spirit to the family. Our town is a larger version of a home with municipal codes instead of rules and a much larger family.

It takes time to develop a home as a marriage takes time and as a family takes time and a town takes time. With each additional to the family, the home must also change. It grows. It goes through trauma. You can mark the growth of your children, not just with measurements on a wall, but also with photographs of when that bed was there and that room was overwhelmed with baby things and when you tried to organize all those clothes. If you are involved with your home as you are with your family, it becomes an embodiment of your history. And that is a beautiful thing.

It is not always the case. Sometimes we neglect our home. Sometimes we neglect our family. The two are not equal. Even in a neglected home, where you did not give a lick about decorating, you will still have memories. When we did not have a bed frame…when picture frames sat in a shopping bag on the desk for a month…when the living room was nothing but boxes. Even then it can still echo the activities of our year.

There is no perfect home and there is no perfect family. There is no perfect town. If your home is perfect, I suspect it is impersonal, or a vacation house you just arrived to but have not lived in for some time. Because when people live in the home, it must change as much as we do.

And so it is time for the annual clean-up day, when we wander our property for those neglected pieces whose time has passed and must be let go, for the appliance boxes we held onto in case of a return, to trim the trees and haul the brush. This weekend, as well as last, you can invest in your family, your home, and your town, as can only happen in a small town like this.