Monday, July 28, 2014

Friend’s fresh eye can make good room great

From page C4 | April 16, 2012 |

Every house can use a frank friend.

Just as every woman needs the kind of friend who will tell her when her shirt looks like it belongs to an inmate or that she’s exited a public restroom with a toilet-seat cover tucked in her pants, every house needs a friend who will flat out say, “That art looks like it was painted by a drunken blind dog,” and, “That chair would look best in the garage.”

For me, that friend is one in the same, Susan. Among the many interests Susan and I share is a passion for home design. When we get together to do anything related to home décor, the town could burn down around us and a herd of buffalo could stampede by and we’d still stand there holding our chins, debating the hair-splitting merits and demerits of flooring samples.

We don’t just care; we obsess. We don’t just look; we laser focus. And we don’t stop until we’re satisfied.

So I was delighted that right after I’d moved into my new (old) house last week, Susan flew in to Orlando from Denver to help me with the finishing touches. We set to work before her suitcase was out of the car.

“I thought you two were going to go have some fun,” my husband said.

“This IS fun,” we said in unison. We are sick.

He shook his head knowing what was in store, namely no cooked meals any time soon.

Before Susan arrived, I had gotten the 130-year-old folk farmhouse — which I’m living in and staging to help sell — to that point of almost-but-not-quite there. Most rooms looked good, but not yet great.

In the entry Susan considered two matching, armless upholstered chairs I had spaced apart. She pushed them together to create a makeshift settee, then set a pillow in the middle to unify them. Turning two pieces into one made the space feel less busy. Brilliant.

In the guest room she lit on a quirky oil painting of Queen Elizabeth that my daughter made in ninth grade. I was about to stash the painting under the bed, but Susan hung it over the bed. The touch of whimsy in the serious dark wood room was just what it needed.

And so we went, room to room, tirelessly fussing and fiddling. When a large marble-topped dresser needed moving, we proved once again that when women want to relocate heavy furniture they have supernatural powers. We summoned the strength of the Hulk and heaved.

We would have continued like this all night if I hadn’t reminded myself that she was an out-of-town guest, and insisted we get out for dinner.

Even then, we couldn’t turn off our decorating drive. As we walked into the restaurant I said, “You know that throw blanket we put over the leather ottoman in the office?”

Of course she did.

“I think it’s too much.”

She looked at me as if I were a mind reader and said, “I was just thinking the exact same thing!”

And this is why we’ll be friends for life.

Having just rediscovered how sometimes all a room needs is a small move or two to go from good to great, I was intrigued when I heard that HGTV Design Star winner Meg Caswell was coming to town to talk on that subject. (Caswell, who hosts the HGTV series Great Rooms, will share her good-to-great room ideas at the Epcot Festival Center, at noon and 3 p.m., April 20 to 22.)

So I called her up and she shared these solutions for common problems that hold good rooms back:

Problem: The space is nice, but it could be anyone’s.

Solution. Inject personality. Caswell has a client couple who love to snowboard. To bring their personality into their great room, she had two snowboards cut down and turned into coffee tables. Now the room reflects them.

Problem: The focal point throws off the room.

Solution: Most home decorators know to design a room around a focal point, say a picture window or a hearth. But when doing so messes up the traffic flow, say your sofa blocks the stairs, it’s time for a new arrangement or a new focal point. Caswell shifted the focus of one client’s great room to a new wall by putting a waterfall on it.

Problem: Colors are so safe they’re boring.

Solution: Go bold. Somewhere. The right pop of color gives a room that wow factor. The best way to add impact color is with paint. It costs less than a sofa, and is cheap to change. “When people use a bolder color than they’re comfortable with they often find their room suddenly gets exciting. Push color. It will pay off.”

Problem: Space is too small to function.

Solution: Knock out a wall. For instance, if your kitchen is too small and it’s next to a den or office, take down the wall in between. You’ll open up the tight kitchen, and you can turn a corner of the enlarged space into an office nook or a sitting area. Define the spaces by adding architectural details such as half walls, corbels or moldings.

Problem: You can’t see your own decorating problems anymore.

Solution: Bring in a friend who cares. Often what a boring room needs most is a fresh set of eyes.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through





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