working with your house

Marian ParsonsDecorating, My House137 Comments

Every home has a personality.  It might be quirky, conservative, playful, regal, humble, sleek…  The home brings something to the table.  While there are some homes that need to be stripped to the bones and entirely reworked, most homes just need for you to cooperate with them – let them be what they are and bring out their best qualities.

As I’m working on this new home, first of all, I’m falling more in love with it every day.  I was admittedly a little disappointed that buying an old house wasn’t going to happen at this season of life, so this house felt like a compromise.  A really good compromise, but a compromise none-the-less.  As our family and belongings have populated the space, I have come to realize I was selling this home short…misjudging it simply because it was young.

One of my wise readers put it well, “All old homes were once new.”

This house is already blossoming just by adding some texture, warmth, and personality.

I’m also realizing, though, that this house is not my last house.  I know that’s an obvious statement, but don’t most of us pack up our belongings and plop them into a new house, expecting it will all work?

What I mean by that is I need to decorate it differently.  What worked in my last house won’t necessarily work here.  Stacks of ironstone look simply like white dishes when put into new maple cabinets with glass shelving and a lit interior.

I need to work with this house, blending my style in gently and thoughtfully.  It’s not an old house and I don’t need to try to make it look like one.  It’s not a farmhouse and I don’t need to try to stuff it inside of that box.  Doing that to this beautiful home, which can stand on its own two feet quite well, would be a disservice.

That being said, this home has a lot of features that echo those found in old homes – the arches, the transoms, the back stairs.  I can highlight those traditional features and still embrace the newness of this home.

And working with the house might mean selling some of my most beloved pieces.  This house seems to favor woods sporting a warm patina and antiques that have a European style.  My more primitive, farmhouse pieces, like the blue step-back cupboard in the dining room, my pie safe, and the cream hutch, all feel a little out of place.

Maybe painted walls will help.  Maybe they need a fresh coat of paint.  Maybe they just haven’t found their perfect spot.  Or, maybe I just need to sell them and find something better suited to this home.  We’ll see.

Here’s what I’m learning, though…I’m not going to fight this house.  I’m going to work with it and let it be what it is.  I’m going to find a happy compromise that merges my style with the style of this home.

I can already picture it in my head and, it might take some trial and error, but it’s going to be really fun to see how it turns out.

So, how about you?  Are you working with the style of your home?  Are you fighting it?

working with your house

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137 Comments on “working with your house”

  1. I’ve been at it for 5 years. My home was originally our weekend place. It was filled with second hand everything when we first bought it almost 20 years ago. A table or couch we no longer needed in our permanent home. Then we moved from our permanent home to Ca. Where the style was totally different and rented our weekend place out full time rather than sell it. When it came time to move out of Ca. Our weekend place became our full time home. My mistake was not selling everything before leaving Ca. Now my home is really reflecting me one room at a time. I’ve accepted that my style is cottage, relaxed and friendly with the waterfront we are blessed to have held onto. We made wonderful memories for our children here and now my 3 year old grandson is enjoying our space these next 2 weeks. You will make your place the space you want your family to feel welcome in. Sometimes furniture and treasures fit and sometimes we let go to find the better pieces that give us that sense of calling our house our home.

  2. Maple is a very hard wood with a dense grain and not likely to take much of a dark stain.

    When I was building/renovating my house I chose maple treads for my stairs. I loved the smooth blond grain. Nearly 20 years on they are still in excellent shape, and I have finally come to terms with the fact that the dark floors I now want so badly are just not going to happen because of those stair treads. I can’t stain them dark, and I am not prepared to paint them dark because I don’t want to start the inevitable cycle of repairing the chipping that will happen. And I am not going to replace them with another wood that I can then stain. The expense is prohibitive.

    So, in the spirit of not fighting what you have I have made arrangements to have my floors redone with a lighter wood finish than I had originally envisioned. I console myself with the pragmatic fact that lighter floors don’t show every spec of lint and dirt.

  3. One of the things I most admire about your house is something you don’t talk about much – the way you combine different paint colors. I know you have your own gorgeous MMSP colors to choose from – but how many colors do you use in a room? How many different colors of furniture is too many? How do you think about combining wall colors with furniture colors? When do you use different shades of white, or decide to combine pales? This is one of those things that probably seems completely instinctive to you, but it is a great mystery to me and, yet, I love the subtle effect of combining similar but not identical colors in a space.

    So here is my request – as you make decisions about what to paint in your new house & and what color to paint things, could you talk about what your thought process is and how you decide what to do?

    Pretty please.

  4. I too have carpet and I disagree that it cannot work with Marian’s style…my home has slipcovered neutral furnishings and milkpainted furniture along with an antique piano and solid oak antique library chairs and it works for us. Whenever my husband voices a solid objection to an idea I have I tell myself – This is OUR home, not a furniture showroom or magazine layout. Not to mention new flooring isn’t in our budget right now.

  5. I had the same builder bookcases in my home and the light wood was not my style at all. I didn’t want to paint them so I used Howard’s Restore a Finish in Walnut, now I love them. It was so easy I lightly sanded and then applied the finish ( directions on bottle). I also finished up with the bees wax finish, they look rich and more to my taste. I can picture this house with a more refined vintage dressing.

  6. This posting was an ahh-haa moment for me. We moved into a 1960’s ranch a number of years ago. I’ve never liked anything I’ve come up with for decorating, etc. When reading your post I realized that I’ve been fighting my house all the way. We lived on a farm amidst corn fields for almost two decades of our marriage. Had a house in between that I loved, but was getting too small. We had to move again to a still different locale and chose the ranch because it was in the best neighborhood we could afford and a solid house.

    But, I didn’t like the 50’s and 60’s decorating styles when I lived through them the first time! I’ve tried to keep lots of my furniture from our farmhouse type home, but things just haven’t worked very well. So, I’d come to hate my house. Now, after reading your post I realize why. Somehow I heard what you said, even after reading interior design book and magazines for years.

    I’m going to try to listen to this house and our lives in it (with our children on their own) and, see what I can come up with. Maybe I’m even ready to part with some of those things I had in the farmhouse…. I can see that I’ve been holding onto the past too hard to enjoy this house. Thank you so much for this reflective, important post.

  7. Wow. so many comments. You really struck a nerve. We live in a condo (three units side by side per building) built 10 years ago. Neighborhood is maturing and becoming more permanent looking. Two years ago my husband developed heart failure, and we have been pretty much home bound since then. So I decided to fill my days with redecorating (or decorating) my condo. It’s almost finished. Have been following MMS all this time, and have incorporated many of her ideas in our home. Blue and white French country cottage style. Love, love, love it. I’ve never really decorated before, so this was quite a learning curve. A neighbor told me today that she has heard my home is beautiful, which I attribute to all the ideas and advice from Marian. Couldn’t have done it without her. Now I sit in the living room and just feel that the house is enfolding me in comfort and peace. It was well worth all the effort (even making slipcovers out of drop cloth with blue/white gingham piping). Don’s doctors are in Nashville, and every time we go, we hit the antique shops – especially love Gas Lamp and Gas Lamp Too, and all the shops in Franklin, TN. Anyway, a big thank you to Marian. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with your “new” house. If I can turn a new condo into a cozy French cottage, I’m sure you will find just the right mix to Mustardize your new digs.

  8. First off thanks so much for this post and sharing all the details so personally about it! I so agree with you on letting the house speak to you, I moved in to a newer home with tons of character but it has been a struggle. My style has developed over the last 6 years to a much more eclectic look from more of a cottage style. I am now really falling in love with what it looks like and really am feeling at home, but it’s taken 6 years!! I am also more of a whimp about changing things that are fine just not my style. My kitchen cabinets are maple and I have been wanting creamy white ones but have struggled with should I paint them to my taste or leave them. So I’m eagerly watching everything you do as it may be the nudge I need-Thanks! Lovely new home by the way!

  9. Fighting it no question. House is only 10 years old but former owners installed red oak kitchen cabinets. I’m told I’m crazy to paint them and that it wouldn’t look right. My compromise will be to find some sort of aged hardware or something. I struggle in the idea department and have no idea what would look nice….

  10. When I moved I used an antique china cabinet that was just too short for my tall ceilings in my walk in closet to hold scarves, etc. Can you use any of the hutches in your closet by chance? I didn’t want to get rid of mine and I love that I still get to use it. 🙂

  11. Thank you for this insightful comment. Marian’s article and ALL the comments are food for thought for me as I am trying to re-evaluate my style in this home of 28 years. It is in this non-descript 60’s ranch style home where I have raised my children and come to know myself and my style. But this conversation is confirming to me that my style will be different if and when I no longer live here. We are all so complex that there is room in our home and hearts for several styles.

  12. Yes, I can certainly relate to your words about not having “my dream style” fit in with the home. We remodeled our kitchen in 2003 and my husband wanted cherry wood cabinets. My dream kitchen was white cabinets, butcher top counter tops and white beaded board backsplash. We just had mold removed from the kitchen so I replace the beige tiles with white subway tile and a lovely light colored granite. Now the cherry wood cabinets don’t seem so dark. I do have the nod of approval to paint them white, but still thinking about that.

    Marian, in looking at the outside of your wood sided home, it feels like farmhouse style – perhaps a modern farmhouse. The walls will look great grey and I think that if you add items to the top of the white cabinet (like that great painting sitting on the ground next to it), the cabinet wouldn’t seem small in scale. A big basket sitting on top of it would be great, too. I can see the wood built-ins in your formal room painted a lovely ironstone white. They would look terrific filled with old leather books, baby ben clocks, trophies and ironstone mixed in. It could have a library feel to it.

    Your new home has great bones that I do believe you can make look like your style. I can also see your kitchen cabinets white and add some great school house style pendant lights over your island.

    But then again, it is lovely as is, too. Just have fun with all of it. I really love your work room with the ship lap walls. So, so awesome!!

  13. My last home was a 5 acre 12 year old home designed after an 1800s farmhouse. That right there proved to me that it was possible to get the dream farmhouse without the major fixer upper part!

    That said, my current home wasn’t hugely planned. It was an assertive choice (due to the tight timeframe) and one within my budget. The blessing with it was that it was a suburban home that needed a lot of work. So whatever I chose for finishing was farmhouse styled anyway. I just flat out refused to replace it with stuff that I didn’t like.

    The elements ended up marrying the interior really well. I seem to be able to get by with my rustic pallet creations against new looking clean walls. However my heart still said it wasn’t quite enough.

    So when I redid my bathroom, I pulled out all the farmhouse stops. Planked ceiling, board and batten walls with an attic twist, and my first farmhouse moulding around the window.

    That test proved to me I could get the look and feel that I adored. So I’ve been hammering towards that ever since.

    I will say this… I was in your place 8 years ago. This home provided everything under one roof to run my now blog business, which has never been easier. I had the outside shop in my last home but it was always a pain to run out for stuff. A home that can house your entire business inside it is AMAZING.

    Your current move is encouraging me to rethink my own future dream plans. I already have a gorgeous view out back and love my little town and neighbours and would be hard pressed to give up my bike trails along the river. If I quit traveling for a year or two (not promising!) and spent it on the outside of my home instead, I’d bet I’d get that little white farmhouse with a front porch with a suburban twist yet!

    I think the deciding factor to where one lives forever is, does your current home have limitations you can’t adjust yourself? I use to think yes. But that really depends where I take my business… and I’m thinking I’m already doing just what I want to do with the space I already have.

    To answer your question? Yes, I am fighting my current home. But for all the right reasons I think. If I stay here through retirement, this place will look like the house of my dreams. And I won’t stop until it does.

    Love watching your new journey Marian! You may from time to time internally fight the suburban thing like I am, however there’s nothing to say you can’t invent your own suburban Mustard Seed twist not yet out there. Just like I am doing with mine.

    Now.. whatever will the neighbours say about the tin porch roof I desire?

    To be continued…

  14. I moved from my “dream house” in our small town – A century old humble Victorian with a deep front porch and gorgeous mill work, banister, etc. We moved to a 1990’s bungalow in order to gain acreage (30 acres of forest!) for our 3 boys. Thankfully the lady we bought the house from had good taste. So, while dated, it is built from solid materials. Wood doors and trim. Hardwood and quarries tile floors. I’m decorating as a cabin with a modern, rustic, cottage feel. 🙂 it’s coming together slowly, but nicely. I wouldnt have chosen it but I’ve surprised myself with how much I like it and how happy I am here.

  15. Ugh…I am coming to the conclusions that I will have to sell my things, as you mentioned in this post.
    My beloved pieces are never going to work in my new home. I remarried 3 years ago and went from a 136 year old home, which fits my true nature, to a lovely home that has a flair for elegance. Mostly, I’m lost.
    I like what you said, “I’m not going to fight the house”. I’m trying to learn how to decorate and come to peace with where I am because there’s always that possibility that this is my last home. I needed to hear what you said.

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