by Guest Blogger, Lisa Calef
Creating a dream home is exciting, but translating a vision into reality takes effort – and that is sometimes a dispiriting process. I have twice owned homes I believed were within my capacity to stylishly curate, sans professional expertise, and twice I was wrong.
My first effort was a trendy mid-century perched in the hills of Portland, and my second a darling log cabin at the edge of a lake. Though poles apart on the genre wheel, I had carefully done my research to be sure I was acquiring homes with the architectural significance I desired as the backdrop of my life. And home shopping was great fun! I relished wandering the rooms and grounds of other peoples’ homes, contemplating their design choices and savoring their style. At turns, I would admire the chic or admonish the errors, gathering inspiration and visualizing my life evolving in a new space.
Tragically, the fun stopped right there. Move in day arrived and it was all too clear: the imagined felicity of decorating my new home was colliding with the avalanche of evidence that I had no idea what I was doing. After a great many sleepless nights, I had to accept that I was out of my depth – that creating truly beautiful interiors requires real skill. Overwhelmed, I formulated an ethos to guide my style-weary soul.
Three sensible reasons to hire a decorator:
1) If the aesthetics of your space really matter to you and you want a particular outcome, hire a designer
2) If you have a budget and you can’t afford to make mistakes, hire a designer
3) If you enjoy a collaborative process, hire a designer
When I bought my Portland home, I was utterly confident – brimming with zeal. I wanted a certain look that I was sure I could accomplish with what I already owned and a little imagination, so I took to the graph paper and sketched a plan for each room. When the furniture arrived I directed according to my space plan, but the results lacked panache. I had failed to account for the probability that furniture and accessories bought for one home would simply refuse to live in another. (How can a pillow defy you? But it does!) The contours were too disparate. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Oh, did I try. I spent weeks styling different arrangements. This, of course, led to nightly bottles of wine while I destroyed perfectly pristine sheet rock moving art and smacking things around . . . hanging it higher, then lower, then behind the sofa . . . no wait, what about over the bed . . . I was out of control. After a month, crestfallen and with badly damaged walls, I had to admit: I cannot sort this out. I need a designer.
But the cost, my husband fumed! I had to talk him off the ledge; paying a professional is a strategic expense that insures against outright disaster. The decorator’s wisdom was evident at the first meeting when she told me: do not buy anything “off plan.” This, it turns out, is kind of like being on a diet, which is basically wretched, but also a kind of relief. It became her task to source the right pieces. In my design hysteria, I had been scouring magazines, books and blogs searching for inspiration, and this had led to erratic acquisitions, anything I fancied – mirrors, tchotchke and way too many period lamps. In the quest to decorate my home, I was behaving like a food restricted maniac, except that instead of pinching cookies for my coffee, I was bingeing at Design Within Reach.
My decorator put an end to this and mercifully plugged the money drain. She was able to cultivate ground rules for my shopaholic creativity and formulate a plan. Together we decided what we could re-purpose and what needed to go. The net result: savings. Designers add a layer of cost, but the money saved not buying things you don’t love and can’t use allows you to hire a partner who can bring the surety of a fitting outcome.
Acknowledging what could be accomplished with competent help, I shifted attention to my Christmas cabin nestled in the woods of Montana. My log home had been particularly difficult to style. I had owned it for several years and had gotten quite used to its existing state, largely unchanged since it was built. With storybook charm, I grew attached to all things red and plaid. The more woodsy a vignette appeared, the more I felt it must have grown into the floorboards and hence “could not be altered.” Again, I was wrong!
I began with something I felt I could manage and had the old pine floors refinished. They turned out so beautifully that for a time, I didn’t even want furniture to come back inside. I just plunked two folding chairs down in front of the TV and opened a bottle. Rustic Minimalism seemed like a thing! But the furniture piled on the porch didn’t fit the woodland vibe and was also in danger of being eaten by raccoons. Decisions had to be made. Wiser now, I knew I needed guidance and called my neighbor, Jennifer Wright, of Alexandra Lauren Interiors. An accomplished local designer, and kindred cabin dweller, she understands the power of plaid. Repurposed Rustic emerged as she eliminated clutter that stole the show from the glimmering lake outside the windows, expanding interior vistas and illuminating the view.
One piece at a time, we brought the furniture back. Taking cues from the habits of my lifestyle, she began making suggestions for altered layouts, grabbing pieces from other rooms and swapping out dated bits that were not adding any spice. Items I did not think could live together began to sing in harmony, and I began to trust her instincts as I refined my own. This is collaboration that works.
A designer need not supplant your own ideas, but she can edit in a way that a homeowner often cannot. She knows when the tableau is complete. When we fall in love with the beauty of our space, it can be difficult to say “no.” But with everything beloved, nothing stands out. Design Rule number one must be: If it looks better with one less thing, you have to get rid of that thing. Style-Ninjas definitely police our indulgent impulses!
Still, my cabin-cousin was open to suggestions because she understood that repurposing older things adds joy for a homeowner and layers of emotional texture. When the cedar planks came off my weathered dock, I knew those old boards had value and I wanted to use them as wainscoting for a bathroom remodel. My idea and my designer’s know-how resulted in a collaboration that produced a showcase master bathroom and the reuse of perfectly good trimmed up wood. Eco-chic is on trend!
Do not fear: using a decorator doesn’t mean you don’t have good taste or a sense of style! You do! But the discernment and distance a designer can bring will save you hours of agony – and piles of dollars. With my three guidelines in mind, my home smartening projects provided an outcome I loved, at a cost I could manage, and threaded the joy of creating a sacred space – a life to cherish – in a home that reflects my heart.