The Heart of the Home

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The kitchen of our current home featured 1970s-era dark cabinetry, a linoleum floor, dated wallpaper and an adorable french chandelier. There were stainless double ovens, a black dishwasher and a white refrigerator. And despite its dated decor, there was something intriguing about this house. It had soul, I suppose. History.

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The adjoining Keeping Room ‘before’

It has taken a good long while to reach a point that I was willing to reveal pictures of the remodeled version of our home. Every inch of space, inside and out, seems to need more work. And work is not something that always happens fast.

We spent the first few weeks living in this house with no kitchen at all because the cabinets were delayed. Even after they arrived, we spent a few more weeks without a sink or countertops. When all the pieces were finally in place, it would be another 6 weeks before the backsplash was installed.

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I saw the refrigerator on Pinterest and we ordered it immediately. It was probably the first thing we bought. My husband picked out the stove, which was more modern than I anticipated. We picked out the countertops together, but he was almost ambivalent toward the cabinets. I, on the other hand, spent hours ensuring there was a drawer or cabinet for everything: deep drawers for the pots and pans, shallow drawers for the utensils, two pullout trash cans – one on each side of the kitchen because he’s always standing in front of one of them.

It took awhile to find that perfect color of gray cabinet, and when I brought a sample door to the house to see it in the room we realized it was the same gray that was in the original linoleum floor. I had also wanted to use a dark gray for the backsplash grout, but was overruled. He realized I had been right all along when the grout was still wet and looked dark gray. Of course.

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Gold seemed to be the right finish for everything in this house, although it was a little tricky to find a matching faucet, soap dispenser and filtered water dispenser in a style we liked. The light fixtures came from Pottery Barn in antique silver. We sponge painted them gold, including the chain.

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I thought the keeping room would be one of the most used rooms in the house. It hasn’t worked out quite that way, although it’s still one of my favorite rooms. We mounted the tv so that it pulls out and swivels toward the kitchen so my husband can watch the news while he cooks. The sun shines so bright in that window that the begonias I put in the planter over the summer actually bloomed.

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It’s always a mystery to me how a room becomes the first room to be finished, and it’s no different for the Keeping Room. How it came together so quickly I’ll never know, but it has looked just the same until a few weeks ago when we found the andirons at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for $4 (they’re solid brass!), and I found the animal print pillow on Amazon for $7.

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My husband found the muntins for the windows and the sliding door in an upstairs storage room, and we thought they changed the room. The hydrangea along the patio just outside the kitchen door swallows the other plants all summer, and in less than a years’ time it has provided enough dried flowers to fill every container in the house.

The kitchen is the heart of our home with memories to last a lifetime.

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After I snapped this picture I realized Bentley was in one of his favorite spots – under the table by the window watching for the neighbor that walks her dog every morning.
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Bentley

 

Making A Room: the living room.

The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that we build our buildings and then they shape us. It remains to be seen how this house will shape me.

I wish I knew what makes one home come together easier than another. Most of ours have required some amount of renovation, which you hope produces the perfect blank canvas to launch the ideal interior design. It does not always work out that way.

Sometimes there’s rooms of furniture to be purchased, which should make for the perfect layout. Or maybe a home requires serious downsizing, which almost always leaves me with mostly perfect choices, and a few of something I should have gotten rid of but didn’t.

Design is definitely the process of solving problems.

I have realized that by delving into the world of interior design on a running blog has created two distinct audiences. It’s my husband’s fault. He encouraged me to write about the things I enjoy most when he said, “It’s your blog. You can write about anything you want.”

So for this (non-running) post, I thought we could document the evolution of one of the rooms in this house. For whatever reason they seem to be taking their dear sweet time to reach a conclusion, giving us the perfect excuse to tag along on their journey. Take our living room, for example.

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Bodies were placed in Parlors when influenza ran rampant after World War I causing it to become known as the ‘Death Room’. The Ladies Home Journal suggested that with the return of socialization and happiness after the outbreak subsided, the room should be ‘livened’ up, and thus the term ‘Living Room’ came to be. This is the story of ours.

Design Rule No. 1: Deal with the elephant(s) first. 

How wonderful when a room has a focal point – architectural windows, a brick wall, or grand fireplace. Focal points should stand out, although they should only be noticed after one has laid eyes on the one design element with the most dominance in the room (or, however many design elements of dominance one might possess).

There was no construction to be done to this room, so the most important decision was the furniture layout, including three elephants: an oversized armoire, a piano and a herd of wild horses.

IMG_3166.JPGWe found the horses on the third floor of an antique store in New York City in 2000. Two strong men can barely lift them, and you can’t imagine the terror they’ve brought to the eyes of movers everywhere.

They’ve been in storage three times while we renovated, on a boat to Ecuador and back again, and have dominated a foyer, kitchen, and six living rooms during my lifetime. Finding the perfect spot for ‘the horses’ is one of the first decisions we make in every home. Sometimes a design element can become a burden.

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The only time the horses resided in the foyer was in this house. We found the perfect round table for this perfectly square foyer, and that table became the best spot for the horses for several years to come.

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We sold the round table before we left Ecuador and for a few years the only place for the horses was on the bottom shelf of the island in the kitchen (next to the pig who lived there first). It was not their most dominant years.

Design Rule No. 2: Be sure you can walk around the room.

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We used the living room for storage while the rest of the house was being renovated. I had put the piano by the front windows where I thought it would remain forever. After renovations, I asked my husband to help me move it to the back of the room just to spot check how it would look there. I wasn’t sure that was perfect, so we moved it back to the front of the room, which confirmed it for me – it looked best at the back of the room. (Yes, he’s a saint.)

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The horses found their perfect spot, the armoire started feeling more comfortable tucked away in the corner of the room, and positively amazingly – we could walk around the room.

Design Rule No. 3: Add the human touch.

Fabric, more than any other tactile element in design, has the ability to humanize our interiors.

Interiors by Karla J. Nielsen and David A. Taylor, McGraw-Hill

Fabric adds depth and texture to a monochromatic scheme, or it can create a dramatic, even theatrical design with intense colors or interesting patterns.

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We bought the sofa and a pair of chairs to furnish our previous living room, which also included the same rug, cocktail ottoman, and all the same elephants from our current living room.

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I love colorful rooms – whether multiple shades of the monochromatic scheme, or the expert combination of every shade on the color wheel – and if you can swathe the room in fabric? Even better.

When my son had an unavoidable meeting at work during my visit a couple of weeks ago, I searched out the nearest fabric store – and spent the entire day there. Most of my hunt revolved around fabric for the upstairs window seat cushions, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had needed nothing at all. The hunt would have still lasted all day.

The Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago, Illinois has been in business for more than 30 years with over 13 rooms and 75,000 sq feet of fabric. I never made it to all 13 rooms, but spent a good deal of time in the upholstery room where every fabric was on sale for just $5/yard.

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There were hundreds of full upholstery hides. I carried the green one around all day (on the top shelf between the red ones), but ultimately put it back since I couldn’t think of a thing to use it on.

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These boxes held a gazillion million slip covers and pillow shams. I had to stand on my head several times to reach the bottom of the box, but eventually found two pillow covers for the living room sofa.

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For this living room, we used a bold drapery color that’s repeated other places throughout the house, such as on all the doors, the chairs in the keeping room, the refrigerator, and even the ottoman under the horses.

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The Berber Kammlah Baby Mac Ottoman by E.J. Victor is upholstered in shaved hair-on leather, which we always thought was black until we saw it in the direct sunlight of this living room.

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It seemed to be the little things that pulled the colors of this room together – the blue plates on the wall, touches of orange in the flowers, vases, the chairs by the horses, and the miniature fish prints by the sofa. Then I realized it lacked a critical color – my favorite color, green. Plants, pillows and the green shagreen on the sconces by the fireplace helped solve the problem.

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It is definitely our ‘living’ room.

Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

 

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.

 

Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).

A Powder Room Remodel

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Long before the news broke across the country, I already knew there was a serious shortage of trade workers in the home remodeling industry. They agree to show up next week, re-schedule, work a few hours, disappear to another job – they’re juggling dozens of projects all across town. Once in a while we actually finish a room. . . although finished does not necessarily mean done.

Last July when we first started remodeling this house everyone decided the first floor powder room would be the first room to be finished. It was small, only needed the sink and toilet replaced, a new light fixture, and a fresh coat of paint. Then the tile crumbled when the 45-year old vanity was removed. Okay – we’ll replace the floor. Even better. 

The sconce was on backorder, the electrician was delayed, other rooms in the house became a higher priority, but finally (and with the help of our contractor’s adorable baby girl) this little powder room was finally finished. Meanwhile, those walls began to look very bland.

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After a great deal of research, thousands of photos searched on Pinterest, and a can (or two) of antiquing glaze, I decided to add a ribbon with upholstery tacks just above the tile for a punch of color in this sea of blah (actually, I couldn’t find ribbon in the exact color as the new paint on the doors, so I used a decorative, self-adhesive tape from Michael’s.)

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We fell in love with the color of paint on the front doors (more blue than reflected in this photo) so I decided to use it on all the interior doors as well. The doorknobs, by Nostalgic Warehouse, were on Amazon last September at $15/each – 90% off retail. I bought every one available, which was just enough to replace every doorknob in the house.

My inspiration photo (from Pinterest by LisaMendeDesign.blogspot.com)

There are risks to actually finishing a room. For one, my family claims I grow restless when I’ve finished decorating every room in the house, and then it’s only a matter of time before we move on. If you stick around long enough though it’s fun to look back and see how a room evolved over the years. Maybe tweaking a room is the best part of the design process – adding a plant in a found container, changing the pillows, adding fabric to the ceiling.

I was a bit intimidated to put a lovely piece of fabric on the powder room’s ceiling, but it was in my original plan. Let the tweaking begin. . .

It was just a cabin.

January 2016: we bought a little cabin in the mountains to escape summer’s heat.

If home remodeling projects could be called children, our second project of this past year definitely fits the mold of the middle child – plain, drab, neglected.

February 2016: furnishings were gathered.

Taking pictures helped us remember what we had bought (and which store we had left it in!).

March 2016 – construction wraps up.

A new roof, new windows, remodeled floor plan, insulation, and running water.

Move-in day was on the last day of March. . .

April 2016: spring had sprung.

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May 2016: lazy, happy days.

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Dudley and Mr. Boggs

June 2016: back on the market.

How could we leave these beautiful mountains at the end of the summer? Instead, we hatched a plan to sell both homes (the cabin and our home in Greensboro, N.C.), and move back to the mountains permanently. Our trusted agent’s photographer captured our renovation efforts on camera.

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July, August, September, October 2016: showing, after showing. . . after showing.

A showing request comes in – at all times of the day or night. Spiff things up, sweep the porch, check for cob webs, dust the furniture, put away the dog bowls, hide the dirty laundry, turn on all the lights, drive the dogs away in the Jeep. . . wait, wait, wait (sometimes an hour, sometimes 10 minutes). Two days, or two hours later: repeat.

January 2017: SOLD!

This little cabin proved to be a determined little house. It was brave, willing to think outside the box and open to compromise. It may have felt neglected for a long time, but when the time came for it to shine, it embraced the opportunity. A classic middle child indeed.

 

Through My Windowpane

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It was the windows of this home that first stole my heart – casement style with a crank handle that go beyond stylish; they’re downright romantic.

Maybe it stands to reason then that the first ‘decorated’ space in this home would be one of these lovely windows. While unpacked boxes were everywhere, and we could barely move around the misplaced furniture, I found a pair of drapes and immediately installed them in the keeping room. It did not escape my notice that there were no kitchen cabinets, stove, kitchen sink, or master shower at the time, but we had one beautiful window – then another, and another, and another. . .

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The leopard print drapes with black velvet hems were the first to go up.

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The tie backs combine stripped goose feather fringe and bobbles covered in alcantara suede by Spina Design, London UK
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The kitchen before my husband found muntins in an upstairs storage room.

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Those muntins transformed the sliding doors into a big picture window.

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The living room still in progress.
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Okay, I know these drapes are a departure from the home’s predominant color scheme. I still love them. Sometimes you just have to make things work (wink wink).

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The Universal Promise of the Home Contractor: Mañana

There’s a good bit of evidence, aside from my own experience, that suggests home contractors fit nicely into distinct categories. These categories are given affectionate labels: The Dog and Pick-Up Truck, Salt of the Earth, the Professional, the Enterprise.

While one wonderful soul prefers to work alone, others build large companies. Some work six days, and six nights every week; others have employees that keep the work going while they enjoy flex time and vacations.


Dog and Pick-Up Truck:  has a heart as big as the outdoors and likes working alone, easy to get to know, probably has a pick-up truck or van with a dog. Takes great pride in their work.

Salt of the Earth: also has a big heart; just not quite as big as all outdoors. They like having employees because they do not want to work alone, and because they like taking vacations.

The Professional: also has a big heart; they just keep it under cover.

The Enterprise:  with 100+ employees, the life span of the Enterprise owner may be shorter than any of the other contractors. . . due to enormous stress.


Different situations call for different contractors. The bigger the job, the more I lean toward the Professional. The pressure of regular county inspections seems to keep them on their toes, and juggling more than one job at a time can keep the schedule moving. The best Professionals also seem to attract the best ‘trade’ labor – those folks that are impossible to hire on your own.

Our last Professional employed just two people: a very talented carpenter, and what she called “the clean-up guy” – the one that really kept things running smooth. He made endless trips to the hardware store, finished odd jobs around the house, and cleaned up after the trade. But it was the trade that cycled in and out of our house on a regular and, maybe more importantly, a predictable schedule. Our Professional ran a tight ship.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those contractors who follow a well-known, and highly frustrating schedule. . .

ma·ña·na /mənˈyänə/ adverb 1. in the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination): Powered by Oxford Dictionaries

With all the best intentions, things happen. Days are missed, hours cut short, schedules fall behind. They play the catch-up game, make excuses, blame it on something, or somebody. They say they’ll show up tomorrow (mañana). They don’t show up. I quietly put them on notice.

They say they feel your pain. They don’t. They go home and use their own bathroom. We have buckets of muddy water sitting in ours, the shower’s a piece of rubble. That’s precisely when they ask for another draw ($$$).

One of our Dog and Pick-Up Truck contractors has been in our house for seven weeks. The first electrician hasn’t been here in six. We hired another one. He was delightful and finished everything, save for one light. The first electrician wrote me this week asking to come back to finish the job. He’ll be here mañana.

To date, we have used one Professional, one Enterprise – who subcontracted to a Dog and Pick-Up Truck, one Salt of the Earth, four Dog and Pick-Up Trucks. . . and we’re not done. It’s fitting that we’ve labeled this our ‘forever’ home because it will take forever to finish it. Mañana!

Merry Christmas from our (unfinished) house to yours.

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(Image courtesy countryclipart.com)

Reference: Four Types of Contractors