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, October 26, 2010

How to Get Over Your Fear of Decorating in 4 Easy Steps

Watching dreamy Nate Berkus's new show (hot men in tan, bare feet, as above: Yes Please). He featured a guest who has a hard time making decisions to the point that she still hasn't furnished her dining room. SUPRISE! (must be pronounced with a French accent. Rhymes with "two PEAS!" ) he ended up giving her a table and chairs (that she selected from another set of table and chairs.)

Such indecisiveness makes me crazy (as you can imagine from a woman who tells strangers How to Run Their Lives). Herewith, 4 easy steps to decorating any room. (sort of. I mean you still have to find the stuff you want and decorate, but this is how to get to that point without collapsing into a puddle of indecision).

1. Educate your eye. Figure out what you like. You can do this with design magazines, or via blogs on the Internets, or go to and click on the Look Book thing on the right, or go to the Googles and google image "black and white dining room" and see what comes up. Collect images that you love -- print them or bookmark them or turn down the pages of the magazine (I worship design magazines, these curated little walks in wonderland, and don't think they should be torn up. But you can do what you want.) (I suppose). (If you enjoy ragged edges and not knowing the provenance of something or how to track it down, have at it. But I think those tear sheets are just more trouble then they are worth, and invariably get crumpled, and you can't remember which side of the page you liked). Anyway: line 'em all up. See what you like.

2. Look across all the things you love (and perhaps you clipped a few things that you loathe?) and figure out what the most common elements are, among them. What they share. For me it's strong shapes and contrasts, white floors, white walls. Like this but with less crap all over. Though lord knows I do have my share of crap.

No I take that back. I like this one, which is a good thing because I am about to paint the floor white in a room with dark overhead beams. And I want a stuffed white bird. There's one for sale in Georgetown -- a very angry goose -- but it's $900, which seems excessive.

It's the airiness and the space in the place and between the pieces, and yes, the contrast between dark and light.

That doesn't mean I don't love the green wall and Chinoiserie credenza:

Cuz I do. But always when flipping through magazines -- it's the white rooms, with black and brown touches, that get me.

3. Embrace Editing. You know how design magazines are always interviewing designers and they are always saying "edit edit edit"? Well, this is what that means: you can't have everything. Don't try to make a room both airy and cozy, crisp and warm, bright and neutral. Edit your IDEAS, before you begin to edit your stuff. Let a room's design be one thing, maybe two. Don't try to make it be everything. You can decorate another room, or redecorate this one next year (or next week.) But if you are going to be happy with the end product, you're going to have to rein yourself in or you're going to be Crazy Old Matilda in Chez Hodgepodge, and all the cool nice stuff you've been collecting on craigslist, like the Fabulous Lucite and Cherub Lamp of a previous post, is going to be lost in the space.

4. Now that you have a vision, sift through those images again and see which of the rooms within your edited vision you really love. You're not going to copy it, per se, but you are going to use it as a starting point.

Let's do me as an example! I'm making my current living room into my dining room -- it's right next to kitchen, it's the biggest room in the house (and my dinner parties are almost never fewer than 12, and cramming them into my existing 9X 12 dining room is a non-starter).

So this picture is a reasonable approximation of what I want (truth be told I've already bought an awesome 9-foot library table from Housewerks in Baltimore (see my Yes to These list on the right), and am busily spray painting white 7 chairs like the above off craigslist, and I will paint the walls and floors white. I already have a wonderfully distressed armoire which will serve as bar, linen closet, and oversized platters, and a huge old mason jar that I am going to turn into a lantern for over the table. And I have some cool African antlers that I picked up last summer from an antiques store. So we're not actually doing this in real time. We're kind of reverse engineering what I've already got. I also have 12 stackable white pleather and chrome dining chairs for big parties that will hide in some corner.) But! Here are some table choices.

In Purcellville, Va, this one practically does the work for you. Clean lines, good colors. Not quite as rustic as I'd want but still. Only $200

Or this one:

It's $250, and you'd want to paint out the red with white, and paint the chairs black.

Now you need some beat-up shelving. This isn't exactly on point but is wonderful -- aged and metal, and if you don't have a lot of room might be exactly what you need. $195

You could also go the Ikea route: these are already painted black and might be perfect. There are two of them and they are like $30, and once loaded with cookbooks and white ceramic platters, you'll never notice they are from Ikea. You could hit them with a little bronze paint, too, if you must approximate metal.

But really, what could be better than this which I think I need need need.

$299 from Madison and Mabel OMG. need. perfection.

Now a deer head. You can do the real thing -- they sell them at antiques stores willy nilly -- or do a couple of these ... more appetizing, unless perhaps you like venison:

A couple of large glass cylindrical jars, a spray of green and a great old pub sign from Great Stuff by Paul -- (trust me he has them) and you're done.

How you stock the shelves, set the table... that's up to you. But you will definitely be happy with the outcome if you use a room that you love as a broad visual guide. I promise it will morph into something that isuniquely you -- but having a good image in hand will keep you on track and editing. Edit edit edit.

As for me, I'm going home to start painting the new dining room floor white.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. And the indecisive one is definitely me! I am still agonizing.