In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jen's Memphis Living Room Redo

Jen of, an artist in Memphis, asked for my thoughts on her large, cathedral ceiling living room. To orient you:
And here are some pictures of what she wants it to look like:

And I added this one because it includes chairs that are similar in tone to two that she has.

And I checked with her on this one. She likes the mix of the ornate mirror and the contemporary table, the airy feeling, and the pops of color. But she wants more color. So!

Here's the room she is redesigning, and my running commentary.

It's got high cathedral ceilings, which works for what she clearly wants - heavy on the white, contemporary but not slick. The red walls HAVE to go, and I would recommend getting rid of the crown molding at the ceiling line. It just brings down the cathedral ceiling. I think the point of this architecture is it wants to soar. So let it. Paint everything white (Linen White? with a little warmth in it?) including the beams (which already are white, but we want them to match the newly painted walls).

She should add more molding around the doorways and windows -- its not chunky enough to stand up against the large beams. It could even be salvaged wood, left in its raw state (I'd do that to the doors only, not the windows.)

The floors seem fine -- two of the photos she chose for inspiration above seem to have similar toned floors.

That ceiling fan should be replaced with something more modern. The current fan is really really busy and dated and I hate it. But Jen herself seems very nice. :)

I'd go for something either from the modern fan company ( or from the big ass fan company -- very cool industrial fans. Might be too big ass, though

I'm not super juiced about the spot lights, but for the moment I'll let them stay.

She should get matchstick blinds for the lower part of the windows. Ikea sells 'em cheap.

Again, get rid of the red walls (or are they orange? ) and the dark couch, unless she can get it reupholstered or slipcovered in white duck. The two yellowish chairs can stay.

Everything in the room is so LOW to the ground and a bit timid and why is it hugging the walls so? I'll be looking for some bigger pieces -- a big mirror, large art, tall cool... things. Something substantial and tall is needed to balance out the massive stone fireplace you are about to meet.

Now this fireplace wall: the easiest thing to do would be to get rid of the mantle and all the bits and pieces up there -- they are too complicated with the already complex visual pattern of the stacked stones -- give it another coat of paint, white to match the walls. I'm considering some other options, though.

If Jen wants the room to be a bit more modern she could have a carpenter cover that wall in drywall to the ceiling, then wrap it in zinc sheets (with little brads hammered into rivet together the pieces.) It would look something like this, only not really because that's a stove not a fireplace. But if you squint you can see what I am envisioning.

Or cover the stones in wood all the way around, even into the dining room on the backside of the fireplace. This is a modern version, with the wood left unadorned. It could also be made really cheaply, and with more of an edge, from wood pallets, torn apart and nailed up on lathing. Jen could also get exterior wood siding and install it with an overlap between the boards -- that would be cool. Then that could be painted.. maybe a light grey or a dark charcoal. Or if she wants to go bright, a canary yellow?

Or she could cover the stone with plaster and make it smooth like a kiva, or just it give it the kiva treatment at the top and keep the rustic bottom. But you have to like rustic. Which she might.

In all but the last case I would get rid of the mantle. Jen I think is responding to the crispness and simplicity of the rooms above, and mantles are often just temptations to clutter. I say: make the architecture the art -- the height, airiness, the beams, the fireplace -- and get rid of all those little framed things. Busy busy busy.

So that's the envelope of the room. Paint out all the distracting details, let the room soar a bit, and begin to fill it -- but not too full -- with great pieces, mixing slick and shiny with patina and natural finishes, and ornateness with simplicity.

Now for some furnishings. She's in Memphis, and Craigslist is some slim pickins there. But there's a town called Jonesboro, AR, which Craigslist assures me is nearby (I checked a map) so I included some finds from there.

This couch and chair set are slipcovered in white -- perhaps off white -- and they are just $250. Jen's checking them out as we speak. They are a sight better than what she has, though not perfect. I'd like to find her something a bit more sleek and modern. These are screaming shabby chic and I'm pretty sure that's not what we are after. But for $250... they are a sight better than what she has now.

Together with the two chairs she has -- they appear to be pale yellow leather? -- they could make a fine conversational grouping, pulled up closer to the fireplace. and gathered in a U shape.

This cypress side table is a must. I think its $125, and if she doesn't immediately get in the car and go buy it, I might pass out from fury. need. that. table. The organicness of it! and it's graceful... like an old airplane model on a stand. I super heart.

This table is made of bamboo -- the picture is terrible but the top is bamboo cross-sections. It's 29 inches tall. It could be left as is or painted something glossy and wonderful.

On top of it, this birdcage. It is $75! needs a good cleaning of course. I like the shape and airiness. She could put a candle in it. She should put a mirror on the inside bottom of the cage to reflect more candle light up and around.
For the television, I want to bring in something slick ... something like this bureau (I would ignore the armoire below. We are not doing matchy matchy. I suppose they could go in different rooms. OK I changed my mind. One in the living room, one in the dining room, unless they are terrible in real life. But you see what I am going for: simple, glossy, bold, a little touch of metal.)

This is just a start... some retail choices to come in the next post. Given the paucity of used choices -- at least those available on the Internet -- Jen is going to have to be patient.. the more patience, the cooler and cheaper the stuff.
Let me know what you think, Jen!


  1. All I can say are the BOMB!!! I love, love, love the fireplace in wood!
    The fan is waaayyyyy cool. I am so ready to get this going! I am really loving the chest first I thought no...but then I started seeing your vision..and yes...I like. I am going to check on those. I totally agree with you and white it is! I love your stylish advice...keep up the great work! First on the agenda will be the painting which will start this I will keep you posted!

  2. eeeep! so happy! The white will make an ENORMOUS difference. If you dont want to go to the trouble of tearing down the crown molding at the ceiling line, just paint it the wall color.

    the chest... it may be cheesy in person -- and if it is, pass on it but look for something slick and clean with some shiny metal on it. You also need a really tall, perhaps very primitive, corner cabinet to the right of the windows. And let me know how you feel about the sideboard you currently have -- love it? can it be painted? A good rule of thumb: furniture that is not so great can be painted the same color as the wall (in semi or high gloss of course) and it will fade from view, but still give you the functionality you originally had it for.

    In siuch a big room, you need to make sure you get some large pieces. You dont want to have a million little and medium size pieces.
    I'll post some more fireplace inspiration for you as I find it, now that I know what you like.