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.

The heart of hospitality

Before walking out the backdoor I grabbed the pair of toddler size, navy and white spats. I circumvented the puppy, closed the gate, and escaped. All she asked was that I text when I was on my way.

She heard me open the gate at her house and make my way through their front yard gardens, one within another, something either from a leftover British sensibility of defined garden spaces or an in-town pet owner’s necessity.

Opening the door, my friend welcomed me, thus avoiding the spine-chilling parental response to a ringing doorbell in a house with a toddler or young children who set upon a houseguest like coyotes to a roaming flock of chickens. Setting the toddler shoes on top of the player piano adjacent to the entryway I observed the wooden figurine of a player piano and complimented the mini-me moment of design. After greeting the toddler, I hugged my friend.

She welcomed me into the house. On the kitchen peninsula there lay a tea set of “made in England” antique teacups, a teapot from her grandmother and a silver platter of cookies, the kinds one only sees at Christmas time: palmiers, miniature cakes, and chocolate dipped Belgium shortbread. The presence of cookies was coincidental to my visit but fortuitous.

My friend invited me to sit and choose a teacup and tea. I smiled, my insides skipping a little bit at the thoughtfulness and decadence of being treated to tea unexpectedly. We discussed flavors and I chose the Bengal blend. I lifted the tea pot. The water was piping hot.

She wanted me to text when I was on my way so the water could be hot and ready.

This is hospitality.

I made myself at home and recalled silently the way with another friend, who has since moved. There were always home-baked cookies, or at least dough in the ready, and a specialty milk. We did not fuss over the house, the children, but stayed in the moment of two friends together, one escaping briefly the responsibilities of home, the other escaping briefly the solitude of being the only adult in a house with children.

At an earlier date, this new friend and I discussed this idea of hospitality, a concept apart from entertaining. Entertaining seeks to impress, to dazzle, to serve an Instagram-worthy moment with a flourish. It serves the hostess more than the guests by showing her domestic prowess.

Hospitality on the other hand, in its humility, seeks to make space. To carve out a moment from the day, the house, the routine, to welcome the stranger and friend. It sets aside the cares that grow up around us and tells the other, “please, come inside.”

One week prior my aunt marveled at our home improvements, new puppy, growing children and, and after asking what I do for myself, made the oft-repeated comment, “not that you don’t have enough on your plate.”

Two days later I read a Facebook message from a local farmer offering us a bottle-fed baby lamb. We moved the old dog house into one of our barns, set up a heat lamp, and piled in some straw. My husband purchased a new bulb for the lamp, milk replacement formula for the babies and we joyfully accepted not one, but two baby lambs. It was our plan for over a year to move in this direction, we simply had not done it yet.

Hospitality sees these moments not just as one more thing to do, but the thing that matters right now. Making space, building a boundary around the moment, protecting it from the stress of the world and our lives.

We do not neglect the other very important things. The doctor appointments, the existing pets, the children who expect to eat after feeding their lambs, grading the math assignments all must still happen.

But rather than allowing all these things to the pile, one on top of another interiorly taking up space in our minds and hearts, we learn to mentally and emotionally step away, take a breath, and say,

“Hello! Come on in.”

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash