Yesterday, I told you about my embarrassing clutter problem and how we’re tackling it. The bonus of purging (thank you Craig’s List, local consignment stores and Goodwill!) is that now we get to make our rooms pretty!
This is another thing I couldn’t fully manage on my own. I’d done our house before, and invested in good furniture, but some things just weren’t working. Other decor I was just sick of after 13 years. We wanted to reclaim the living room from our kids, the dining room from my party business, and my library from piles of paper. I really didn’t want to make costly mistakes, so it made sense to me to hire a decorator.
Finding the right person was really easy because I adore my sister-in-law’s homes and I always believe in referrals from trusted friends. Kathy (my SIL) raves about Charlotte Calhoun, who is based in Columbus, GA. Charlotte is a master of a traditional Southern style: a little formal, a little modern and always comfortable. I knew she could help me create a kid-friendly rooms that would mainly geared to adults.
My big motivator was a baby shower I’m hosting this weekend. Of course, I host kids’ parties all the time, but kids don’t observe your decor and muse about the balance in your living room. Neat and clean is all you need to achieve for kids. But since this is a party for the ladies in our family and close friends, I wanted to spruce things up.
Here’s how our process worked. Maybe it can help you whip your space into shape for your next party!
1 – Share your current look and be clear about your priorities.
Charlotte lives two hours away from me, so we started with a phone call where I outlined our problems and priorities. I took photos of our rooms with my phone and emailed them to her with a little commentary. We needed to be budget conscious, so I told her that while we knew we needed to update our flooring and lighting, repaint, and probably replace the window treatments, we needed to make those “stage two” changes. We did need help finding a new media console, but that would be the only big ticket item.
Here are the “before” living room and kitchen.
2 – Be clear about what you are willing to spend.
Sometimes I have trouble making budgets. I feel like I need to know what something will reasonably cost, versus what I’m willing to pay. I guess that’s backwards, but does this make sense to anyone? Say I want to redecorate my living room and I know the cost could add up, so I’m OK with doing things in stages. I just want to have it look nice without going hog wild. It’s a feeling thing. That made me a good fit for Charlotte, who is just as happy to shop T.J. Maxx as ordering out of pricey to-the-trade catalogs. So instead of giving Charlotte a budget (which probably would have helped her), I told her what felt OK for me to spend on art or lamps. $300 for a lamp? Um, no. $40 for a lamp, fine.
Of course, I had to pay for Charlotte’s time as well, but that seemed like a great investment. She saved me time shopping. I love to shop, but I rarely have time for it. (And when I buy the wrong things, it costs me time and money.) Because Charlotte shopped, she was able to complete three rooms in one day of staging my house.
Here’s the new dining room. The table runner, candles and bowl are new and the rest I had.
3 – Do a taste test.
The thing that made me nervous about using a decorator is that I would wind up with a home that didn’t feel like mine. How could someone learn my taste and shop for me? The concern was largely put to rest because I knew Charlotte’s work so well from being in my SIL’s house and beach condo. But it still made sense to meet with Charlotte when I was in Columbus two weeks ago. She showed me some items that might work in my house and we toured her home. I was able to literally point out what I really liked and that gave Charlotte some helpful direction. (We tried to convince my husband to meet with her as well, but there was a UGA game on at the time, so that was a no-go.)
A sample grouping in Charlotte’s office.
4 – Prepare for decorating day.
Once we agreed on a date for Charlotte to come to my house and work her magic, I started cleaning out what I knew we wouldn’t use any more. Husband’s art that I’ve lived with for 13 years in this house? Down! (Insert happy dance.) Old lamps packed up for the consignment shop. New media console delivered and TV set up. New chandelier and sconces hung in the dining room. Carpet cleaned (because that’s cheaper than the new hardwoods I’d really like.) That pre-work let Charlotte descend and “fluff” as she calls it.
5 – Do a walk around.
I told Charlotte I was fine with her moving any of my art or accessories to any other room in the house. This saved us a lot of money, because she was able to use many of our own things.
In the dining room, we have a mirror over our sideboard, which Charlotte promptly declared too big. And because the mirror is too wide, she thinks the sconces are too far from the sideboard. Since I’d just paid for the sconces and for an electrician to hang them, I really didn’t want to replace them. So Charlotte grabbed the red transferware that’s been on top of my kitchen cabinets and re-hung them over the mirror in an arch. They provide balance that helps make the mirror work better.
Paintings from the hall, the power room and the dining room (recognize the cows?) now hang in the living room and I like them all so much better here! Charlotte would walk around saying, “That’s good, but it’s all wrong here.” After a while, I just had to laugh. Apparently, I have decent taste but can’t implement my decor!
Here’s the new entryway–all things I already owned.
6 – Charlotte’s rules.
Here are some things that made Charlotte say, “Oh no” when she saw them in my house. Don’t make my mistakes!
- No colored candles. Apparently, candles should only be white or ivory. (Someone needs to tell Target; they led me astray.)
- Silver should be out. Mine was tucked away in cabinets in those felt bags that are supposed to prevent tarnish. Vignettes need shiny things. (Who knew?)
- Don’t worry about matching wood tones. My living room and kitchen were all cherry, but Charlotte OK’d the walnut media console and was ready to hang a white mirror above the sofa (until it broke).
- Only candles in hurricanes. If you have those big glass vases meant for candles, don’t add anything else around the candles. My marbles and rocks were a no-no.
- No rugs on carpets. Anyone need a rug?
- Valances should be taller than 14″. Mine are too short and need trim. They are a phase two item and are giving Charlotte fits, but somehow she’s made them work.
- It’s all about scale and balance. Most of my accessories were too small for the space they needed to fill.
- Don’t have just one accent color. My old color was red and I was sick of it. Because the valances needed to stay, Charlotte worked in a few red accents, but changed the primary colors to yellow and blue. It all works and I would never have thought it could all go together.
- Curtain tiebacks are out. “Very dated,” said Charlotte. “Promise me you won’t put them back up.” I haven’t.
Here’s the new kitchen. I found the console on clearance at a local store. Charlotte added lamps, birds, and some of my silver. (I haven’t even taken the tags off the lamps yet!) We have deer and wild turkeys in the backyard, so the father-daughter binoculars are for getting a better look.
7 – A few things I was doing right.
- Combine antiques with new pieces. My desk was an antique store find that I had modified to accommodate my computer and peripheral cords.
- Buy furniture in neutrals. These are pieces you want to last for years. Accessories are relatively inexpensive ways to add pops of color.
- Invest in art you love. I had several paintings–some are family pieces and others I found antiquing or on vacation–but I had them scattered all over the house. Charlotte grouped them in ways that give these small paintings visual impact.
- If you love a traditional look, like I do, transferware plates are great for decorating and fairly low cost to collect.
- Group your collections to make a statement. I had my green McCoy pottery collection together, but it was upstairs where no one else got to see it.
- We built our house in the last year brass was still popular, so we’re slowly replacing light fixtures and cabinet hardware with oil rubbed bronze (which darn well better stay “in” for a few years).
Last photo: here’s our old sofa table behind my desk with new lamps. I didn’t get good photos of the rest of my library, but will try again and add them later.