What is a "Soothing" Space? And How Do You Get one?

Ah. The elusive "soothing" space. We all talk about it. Usually when referencing the ideal bedroom, but sometimes another space in the house. And it is usually characterized by the color blue...maybe green...or, most likely, "neutrals." Or even white. We like our soothing spaces to be clean, uncluttered, not fussy. We don't want bold colors and we don't want it "too dark". We want to feel calm and relaxed in the space, hence the descriptor "soothing". 

Sometimes, however, in an effort to create soothing we end up with boring. We often have the tendency to strip everything out of a space that makes it interesting in an effort to make it calm. We become so entrapped by the idea that a soothing space needs to be completely unstimulating that we can easily end up with a room that causes a sense of unease...because it's not stimulating enough. How's that for ironic design? As humans we need a certain level of stimulation in our environments. We thrive off it. Some of us can handle more stimulation that others - we don't all want a home designed to Liberace standards -  but most of us would benefit by more stimulation than what we think we need when we are aiming to create a soothing space. 

So what does this all mean? Is it really possible to create a space that is both stimulating and soothing at the same time? Yes, it is. And not only is it possible, it's necessary to create a space you love. But how, exactly, do you find the balance? How do you know what works for you?

The answer is not quick and it's not easy. It takes a little work and a little trial and error. The design journey involved in creating a space that is soothing to you may at times even feel overwhelming. How do you know where to start? And how do you know when enough is enough? Or when it's not enough at all?

I'm not going to give you the all the "right" answers here.  I could tell you that you always need three decorative pillows on your bed, and that you should always have an area rug under your bed that covers approximately 2/3 of the floor. But that would be arbitrary design advice and I don't think that helps you at all.

What I do think helps is asking the right questions. So let's start there:

  • How do you define the word "soothing"?

  • Are there any other words you can use to define your ideal space?

  • What don't you want in your space and why?

  • Are there any fears coming up around decorating your space? Are you afraid it will be "too dark", "too trendy" or "too busy"?

  • What don't you like about your current space? What do you like?

  • Why is "soothing" so important to you? Are you trying to escape from anything in your life?

The last question is a big one. Maybe you aren't trying to escape anything. But maybe you are. There is a reason many of us are drawn to soothing spaces. We want a place to unwind from all the crazy. And sometimes crazy is inevitable. But sometimes our need for soothing can be indicative of what's going on in the rest of our lives. It can be a clue that something else needs to change. Just something the chew on...

Regarding the physical design of your "soothing" space, there are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Do not, under any circumstances, have anything in your space that you don't love. If you don't love it, it won't soothe you. I don't care if it was a gift or it used to belong to your grandmother. Get. It. Out.

  • Fix anything that's broken. Broken things are not soothing. They create stress because they are a reminder of just "one more thing" you have to do.

  • Bring in your favorite colors. Not the ones everyone else is using - the colors that you love. Don't worry about if they are "in" or not.

  • Keep it tidy. Not necessarily Konmari tidy, but put your stuff away and organize it. Have a place for everything.

  • Leave some of the good stuff out. Like a pile of favorite books on the coffee table. Or a coaster for your teacup. Things that make you feel good or allow you to use the space with ease.

  • Keep it clean. Duh.

  • Make room to do what makes you happy. If it's playing the guitar, make a space to sit or stand and play comfortably and room for your instrument and music. If it's reading, have a proper reading light and a comfy chair.

  • Have at least one thing in the space that makes you smile. Maybe it's a goofy figurine...of Goofy. Maybe a quirky piece of artwork. Something that doesn't take itself too seriously.

And last but not least...

  • Bring in your authentic self. When you are in the space, you will feel most soothed if it truly lives and breathes your essence. In fact, isn't this is the very definition of a soothing space? A space that is so "you" that you are one with it? And you, my friend, are a very interesting being. For you to be one with your space means that your space needs to be interesting, too.

So, go ahead. Get to work on your soothing space. You might very well end up painting it blue. And that's ok. As long as blue is a color you love. 

Five Arguments for Painting Your Room First

It's no secret that there are a lot of design rules floating around out there. One that is most prevalent is that, when decorating a space, you should always select your area rug first. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say this is completely un-true. Selecting your area rug first can be a great way to start. But I have a real problem with using words like "always" when doling out design advice. It can be dangerous because it fuels the already-existing fear that many people have about decorating. With these rules comes the perception that, if they are not followed precisely, your design will be wrong. They limit our creativity, make us question our personal style and innate artistic instincts, and squash our confidence. Not very helpful for the design process!

Another rule that I hear often is that you should always paint your room last. Again - I don't necessarily think this is bad advice, except for the word "always". Yes, it can be a good idea to select your paint color after everything else. The biggest argument for this "rule" is that paint color choices are infinite, whereas sofas, rugs, and window treatments are only available in a limited color supply. By saving your wall paint selection for the end, you won't be limited by any particular color or colorway. However, this approach to a room's design can lead to color becoming an afterthought. Something that is selected just because it goes with everything else, as opposed to a hue that is consciously vetted for is distinct mood, characteristics and our personal relationship with it.

I actually think it can be a very smart design approach to paint your room first. Before any other major design decisions are made. Not always, but it can be. And here's why:

Five Arguments for Painting Your Room First

1. You Don't Know Where to Start
If you are struggling with a hundred other decisions in the design of a space, start with the paint color. This selection will help you make other decisions because you've created a constant. Something to refer back to with all your other color and design decisions. Yes, you are sort of taking a leap because...oh my god, how will you know that you'll be able to find furniture that will go with your wall color after you've painted? What if you can't find anything? Then what - will you have to repaint? Maybe. Maybe not. But try to calm down and trust that it will all work out. And if you do have to repaint, remind yourself that it's not the end of the world. At least you got started!

2. You Found a Color You Love
You've had your eye on a room you pinned to Pinterest for about a year now. You are obsessed. There is nothing you want more than to paint your room that color. Paint it. You will be happy. Yes, you will have to hunt and test a few colors to create the right version for your room and your lighting conditions. You might even need to hire a color expert to consult with to achieve that very particular look and mood that makes you drool. But once you do you will wonder what took you so long. And instead of staring at your computer screen admiring someone else's color, you will be admiring and living in your own beautiful space. Take that, Pinterest!

3. You Want to Create a Very Particular Mood
Maybe it's a moody Mad Men-esque office. Or a dainty, feminine powder room. Paint color is the strongest player in the mood game. Use it first. Get that mood thing going. Nothing will change the feel of a space more than paint color. Well, maybe a full, tear-down remodel, but then we're comparing apples to oranges. Or reds to oranges. Either way, designing a mood is definitely a reason to select paint color first. And, once again, if you are having trouble equating a mood to a particular color, bring in a color expert. It's what we do. 

4. You Are Stuck
Maybe you are remodeling. Maybe you just moved into a new house. Maybe you need to buy a few new pieces of furniture. Maybe you're bored. Maybe you just lost your job. Or a boyfriend. Or your mojo. Paint color can get you unstuck. In design and in life. If you don't believe it, try it. Then get back to me. There is magic and power in color.  Embrace it fearlessly and I promise you'll get things moving again. You may have to repaint that kooky lime green wall that you thought was a good idea right after you were dumped by what's-his-name, but big deal? It's cheaper than therapy, and the upside is you may come up with a really cool design idea through your broken-hearted artistic angst.  

5. You Have Extra Paint in the Garage
Ok - this is probably the last thing you'd expect to hear from me. And I do include this argument with a cautionary warning: don't use a color you don't like just because you have an extra gallon lying around. But do re-use a color if you have an extra gallon lying around AND you still find it beautiful and amazing and it fits the desired mood and function of a space. Here's an example. I had extra paint left over from our previous house. We lived there only a year, and painted six months in. So, we really only got to enjoy the color for about six months before we moved out. When we moved into our new house, I still loved the color and wanted to use it somewhere. We had just enough left over to paint the hallway, so I painted it. It looks great. And I have one less paint can in the garage. 

If you need help selecting the perfect colors for your space, call me or email me. I can help. 

Warm Colors, Cool Colors: What Are They and Why You Need to Know About Them

What are warm and cool colors? And why is it important to understand them when painting your home?

Warm colors are typically reds, oranges and yellows, and tend to advance toward our eyes. Cool colors are typically blues, greens and violets, and tend to recede when we look at them. However, there is such a thing as “cool” warm colors, and “warm” cool colors. It’s important to always work with colors in context. Because, for example, a burgundy red can look warm next to a navy, but cold next to a different shade of red. 

Warm and cool colors matter because we make different psychological associations with different colors. It’s kind of like the weather - warm, sunny days make you feel differently than cool, grey days. 

Paint colors in our homes can have the same effect. As humans, we are naturally drawn toward the sun, and colors that create that same warmth are just as enticing. When creating a color palette for the home, keep in mind that colors that have an overall warm feeling are going to, in general*, make us most cozy and comfortable. However, you don’t want the palette to be too warm, because too much warmth can be overstimulating. So don’t go crazy with tangerine orange ceilings and fire-engine red walls, or you’ll be running for the door. And that's not to say cooler wall colors won't work - I spec them all the time! It just means if you do opt for cooler paint hues, you're best introducing some warmth through other design elements to keep the space from getting too dreary.

And if you think sticking with “neutrals” or “white” is the safe way to go, and you’ll be able to avoid this whole warm and cool issue, think again. Every color, even beiges and whites, have undertones. Some are pink-y, some are green, some are yellow. So-called “neutrals” are anything but neutral. 

*Yes, yes, I know. There are also personal associations and preferences that can throw a kink into this whole thing. But, for the purposes of this post let's keep this in general terms, ok?

The Ten Commandments of Paint Color Selection

An old post from 2010. You may remember it; you may not. Some things just bear repeating. Oh - and feel free to add to the list in the comments section! Who says we need to be limited by just 10 Commandments? 

1) Thou Shall Not Refer to Colors as "Right" or "Wrong"

There are many color options for any given space. It's important to let the idea go that there is just one "right" color and you must find it. In attempting to search for the perfect color, you may fail to recognize some very beautiful possibilities for a space. Additionally, many colors you think are wrong, aren't wrong at all. They simply create a different effect.

2) Thou Shall Not Select Paint Colors Based on a Tiny Paint Chip

The color chips you pick up at the paint store are not a fair representation of any color. They are very, very small, and are surrounded by other colors that make them more than difficult to visualize. Use the small paint chips as a starting point, but always work off of larger samples before making final color selections.

3) Thou Shall Test Colors

Lighting always changes. Day and night; cloudy day and sunny day; south facing windows and north facing windows, etc. It's imperative to test colors before you go all the way. Painting sample boards is the best option, because you can move them around easily, but painting test patches on the actual wall works, too. The point is...TEST.

4) Thou Shall Not Go on Vacation While the Entire House is Being Painted

The colors you may think you like might not appear how you anticipated once an entire room is painted. It's important to be available so that you can check in on the progress of things. Even if you are working with a color professional. Because we all have different relationships with different colors, the approval of your designer may not be enough. Only you can determine whether or not you like the final effect of a color.

5) Thou Shall Not Rush

Do not wait until the painters are scheduled to begin selecting colors. Give yourself time to explore different options. Selecting paint colors is not always an easy process and the last thing you want are the painters standing and starting at you while you try to figure out if you want your kitchen to be Honeysuckle Gold or Pumpkin Brulee.

6) Thou Shall Not Panic

If you have waited until the last minute, don't panic. Stay in control of the situation. If the painters are scheduled and you don't have your "perfect" colors selected, reschedule them. What's the worst that could happen? Panicked decisions are usually not the best decisions - especially when it comes to color.

7) Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbors' Colors

Just because a color works on or in your neighbors' house does not mean it will work for yours. Be original. Find your own palette of colors.

8) Thou Shall Not Obey Color "Rules"

Most color rules are usually color myths. So many of them are based on uneducated opinions. Yes - opinions. Break those chains and live in color however you choose. You'll have a lot more fun if you forget about all those rules and do what you want.

9) Thou Shall Not Fear

Do not fear your color decisions. Remember the First Commandment? There are no right and wrong colors. And don't fear others' judgements. If you select paint colors based on fear, you will never be truly happy with any color selection.

10) Thou Shall Trust Thy Self

Above all else, trust your color decisions. Don't let anyone else bully you into going whiter, brighter, softer, less muted, more muted, etc. Don't let anyone, designers included, talk you into using colors that you don't like just because they "look good." A color only looks good if you like it. Trust your relationships with colors. If you base your color decisions on trust rather than doubt, you will have a much happier connection to your home because it will reflect confidence and authenticity.


How To Shop Flea Markets and Estate Sales: My Tips Featured in Vintage Style Magazine!

Have you seen the new Vintage Style Magazine? It's a good one, and I'm not just being biased because I'm in it. I swear. Ok, well maybe just a little. But it really is a cool publication. 

For the Spring 2013 issue (yes, it's Spring already on newstands. how did that happen?) I was asked to share my insider tips on shopping vintage for the "Tag Sale Gold" article. It's a great guide, with contributions not just from me but from interior designer Elaine Griffin, Jason Nixon & John Loecke of Madcap Cottage, and Mary Carol Garrity of Nell Hill's. 

Most of my suggestions were included, but I'm giving you a few extras here on my blog. Because you are special and I appreciate your readership. Well, that and I'd hate to waste good shopping tips!

1) Cabinet and Door Hardware

I’m always hunting for knobs, pulls, hinges, towel racks, and door knobs. Doesn’t matter is they are mismatched or odd sizes, because I don’t necessarily use them in the traditional way. Cabinet and door knobs, for example, make excellent purse hooks when attached directly to the wall.

2) Lighting

Vintage lighting is not always easy to find, but when you see something you love, grab it quickly! I’ve got a few fixtures I’m using now, including a $3 Mad Men-esque lamp from a recent garage sale. If it’s in working condition, great. If not, you can always have a fixture rewired.

3) Vintage Linens

One of my favorites! I don’t look for fancy linens so much as the everyday pieces. Tablecloths in fun colors and patterns quickly liven up a table and you don’t care if one gets stained because it only cost $3. And I never pass on a good set of cloth napkins. They are an excellent “green” alternative to paper napkins, and many times they haven’t even been used.

4) Jewelry

I’m a sucker for vintage jewelry. At least half of the jewelry I own and wear is from estate sales. I love it because it’s completely unique and there is a sense of story behind each piece. It also looks great on display. I actually have created a jewelry art piece that hangs in my bedroom and was inspired by much of the vintage jewelry I own.

5) Ephemera, Wallpaper and Notecards

Ephemera is any printed, paper material that was never intended to be preserved, such as ticket stubs, movie posters and restaurant menus. This is one of the most interesting items to comb through at an estate sale. I found some 1958 SwissAir menus awhile back with the most beautiful bird art. They cost 10 cents a piece and are now framed and hanging in my living room. I’ve also framed old wallpaper, Con-Tact paper, notecards and color charts. Almost anything can be art when you make it art.

6) Furniture

Of course, I always keep my eye out for a good piece of furniture. Some days I’ll have something specific in mind, but most of the time I just look for something to fall in love with. One day I came home from a sale with a $65 pink velvet wingback chair. Definitely not what I had in mind to buy that day, but it has now become a favorite piece in the house. I’ve learned not to edit myself too much when shopping for furniture. Buy what you love and you will find a place for it. At the same token, don’t buy something just because it’s a good deal.

7) Kitchen Utensils

Estate sales are an excellent place to find all sorts of cool kitchen utensils you never knew you needed. I recently picked up a Kitchamajig for 25 cents. It “strains, drains, beats, blends, whips and mixes.” And it’s made in the U.S.A. I’m convinced that these utensils were made better 50 years ago, which is why you can find so many of them. They were built to last. And even if they don’t, I only paid 25 cents for it! 

8) Dishes

I can’t remember the last time I bought a dish anywhere other than an estate sale. I’ll pick up anything from serving platters to mixing bowls to tiny ceramic plates. Some I use for kitchen purposes - colorful Pyrex is so fun to bake with! - and other dishes are used to collect jewelry, hold a bar of soap or organize office supplies. And I’m keeping my eye out for a cool set of china. I haven’t found it yet, but someday...

9) Household Tools

Staplers, tape measures, ladders, hammers...why buy these things new when you don’t have to? I pick up household tools all the time. How can I resist when they cost a quarter? Staplers are one of my favorite finds, especially Swinglines. I have started a mini-collection and have enough staples to get me through 2050, I’m sure. But I do use them. And if one breaks or gets lost, I’ll always have a back-up. And did I mention the colors? Where can you get an avocado green stapler any more?

10) Books

I am a bit of a book hound. Specifically, I hunt for cookbooks and books on design, decoration, color and “keeping house.” I am completely fascinated by the culture of home and domestic arts. These books give me a glimpse into how things used to be and how far we’ve come...or not come. And I always get a good laugh from some of the recipes. Goose Livers in Jelly, anyone?

Do you shop tag sales, flea markets and estate sales? What are some of your favorite finds and strategies? Do share!