Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One decade, four houses, 520 columns

From page HS4 | March 14, 2014 |

For 10 years — as of this week — I have been writing a nationally syndicated self-therapy column masquerading as home improvement advice. One decade and 520 columns later, this much I know for sure: Whatever remaining sanity I have, I owe to you.

We have been through a lot together: four moves through three states, the building of one home — from bulldozed lot to built-out basement — and more domestic disasters than the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Together, we dealt with the California carpet man I paid in full up front, who used my carpet money to pay off his tax debt and then declared bankruptcy. We survived the new paver patio that didn’t just settle unevenly, but caved 3 feet like a mine shaft when the ground burped.

We shared a Maalox moment when two living room sofas I custom ordered came back upholstered with the fabric inside out. And, the sole fact that I had a column to write stopped me from jumping off a freeway bridge when I learned that my landscaper had installed a backyard water feature over my property line and onto the city’s land.

You were there when my living room décor consisted of a Barbie Jeep and a fake ficus. You understood my desperation when I dragged the UPS man in to help me pick a wall color. And you stood by when I coaxed an amazingly talented stone mason with a serious drinking problem to please stay sober and show up to finish my fireplace.

Together, through good real estate markets and bad, we’ve upsized, downsized, capsized and ostracized. We’ve created doghouses, playhouses, treehouses, nut houses and student houses. We’ve designed to sell, dwell and live well.

Along the way, and I will speak for myself here, we have gone through enough bottles of wine and Advil that I could use the empties to erect an Eiffel-tower-sized sculpture to serve as homage to home improvement in the first decade of the 21st Century.

And while my houses and living circumstances have changed over the past decade from a family of four with two dogs and a horse, to a household of one, for now, the driving question behind all my columns has never wavered. The same question I started with still drives me today: How do you get to live like this?

“This” being better, beautifully and on a budget.

That quest and a press pass have granted me access to some of the nation’s best and brightest home improvement experts, whom I continue to shamelessly tap for ideas and advice to use and share.

You have listened in and learned with me as I talked to design experts who have changed how America lives and looks: Architect Michael Graves, domestic doyenne Martha Stewart, America’s favorite carpenter Norm Abram, “Not So Big House” author and architect Sarah Susanka, “Designed to Sell” TV host Lisa LaPorta, organizing guru Peter Walsh and many other far-less famous — but equally inspiring — designers and artisans.

Like the woman in Braintree, Mass., who knows more about braided rugs than possibly anyone living, and the man in Castle Rock, Colo., who can look at a piece of granite and tell you where it came from.

As long as I keep learning each week, and you keep going along for the ride, I will keep the columns coming. Thank you for going with me on this journey, and for the therapy.

Here are some of the lessons in living I’ve learned over the past 10 years, and, to quote Oprah, what I know for sure:

  • Homes are alive. Homes are not static museums to preserve. They are living organisms that need to adapt and evolve to fit the lives within.
  • Keep the good stuff skin close. The closer something is to your body, the better it should be. This argues for wonderful sheets and cheap drapes.
  • Buy it once. Buy it right. This is the key to not having clutter. If you buy the right furniture, dishes, glasses, towels and sheets the first time, you’ll have quality not quantity filling your home, closets and cupboards. A few simple classics trump a lot of novelty any day.
  • Aim before you shoot. Don’t make a design move until you have the whole picture. When you do have the aim in mind, start with the shell — walls and floors — and work in. Accessories come last.
  • Go slow. This is hard for folks like me who have the patience of a hummingbird, but the best decorating evolves. Don’t buy furniture for an entire room one day from one store. Half the fun is the hunt. Plus, your rooms will have stories.  
  • Mix don’t match. Avoid the set rut when assembling furniture for a dining room, bedroom or any room. That goes for dishes, too. Mix them up.
  • God is in the details. The right button on the throw pillow can matter more than the whole sofa. The contrasting welt can make the entire drapery. Napkin rings at the wedding shower that bear the bride’s monogram will be a touch remembered. Details make the ordinary a whole lot better. Pay attention to them.
  • Live in your home. Homes should look lived in, but not slovenly. They should invite life, not make those in them afraid to put their feet up. But the home is not center stage, we are. Homes are but the backdrop for the loving, living, laughing  and the relationships they support. At their best, they are beautiful places we want to come back to again and again.

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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