Warning: This is a long post – in case you were wondering what took so long!
It has been a crazy few weeks – I visited my sister in Minnesota and it was such a week! My family planned to all be here this same week- some to go up to North Dakota for my Grandmother’s 99th birthday (really!!!), and some for a wedding trip, so I felt it would be a great time to work and get a chance to see my family. I was excited to get back to visit!
My sister has been lucky enough to score an adorable little cottage in the lakes district of Minneapolis – just a quick walk to the lakes/creek/park and the same to many adorable shops and restaurants. Such a fun place to live! But the cute little cottage has a few quirks and needs a few updates, so we are looking at some remodel plans, and also in the meantime, she wanted the living room to finally reflect her personality and be more livable. Her furnishings from a previous place were not fitting (not in style or size) and she has spent two years here, not really using this room (as beautiful as it is) because it didn’t serve her lifestyle.
A lesson: If you have a room that doesn’t have what you need to feel comfortable in it, the space will be wasted because you will avoid it!! In this case, a lonely sofa, no tv, no drapes, and little lighting made for a space that was best used for sitting quietly in the dark! With an echo to boot!!! This was not her idea of fun – and not her plan for a major space in her home. Her only television was in another long narrow room that the sofa is so far away from the screen that you have to sit on the floor to watch television. Not fun for her or having friends over. She wanted to be able to enjoy the room while she was at home by herself, as well as have the ability to have friends over to watch movies, play games or just visit. That meant a good conversational arrangement and more textiles to absorb sound and create comfort. My sister requested a sectional because of the lounge/comfort factor.
We were starting with good bones – a simple white slipcovered sofa, a white Expedit bookcase, and a very nice dining table and chairs, and a console table. She also has an old chair that needs re-upholstery, but the lines and comfort are worth keeping (also a sentimental value – from Great-grandma’s house). I will admit here that two years ago when she purchased her home, there was next-to-no budget for new furnishings and so when I visited her then, we had a rough plan and I helped her pick the sofa, bookcase and console table. We scored Grandma’s chair last year for her (I would have it with me if I could have shipped it, but she really needed it more than I did!) Also a little Thonet side chair from the local antique store last year too (needs some help though, but amazing for $25). The room has great light with walls that are a nice neutral light sand color, with white trim and light oak wood floors. BUT – it is an L-shaped room and has a bay window, a fireplace and front door – a puzzle for furniture arrangements!
I also knew that the key to getting this area to work was an area rug to ground the conversational space, since the room is long and L-shaped. A flat screen television would be mounted over the fireplace (the only wall space possible) and then, turning the sofa and float it in front of the bay window, with the seating to the focal point to make the most of the long space. Adding functional storage and a surface near the entry door makes the best use of the back of the living room, and finally gathering all the memorabilia and books and curating the shelves for interest will personalize the space.
I had made a plan for her based on her requests – here is what we wanted to do:
Now I know that there is an intense argument out there for no TV over the fireplace, but let’s be real. In fact, some people even say why have a TV in your living room. But, I have found also that most people really don’t use a living room that doesn’t have a television. So have one if that is going to make the room more friendly to use, and by all means mount it over the fireplace if you don’t have another spot for it. Let’s not get judgmental, but instead realize that design should first and foremost be about making your life better by providing spaces that enhance your lifestyle!
So I flew in to Minnesota on a Friday and after a quick lunch at Pizzeria Lola’s (Oh So Good! Check them out on HGTV’s DDD – we had the Xerxes and a salad) we were off and running – this was about what I could help her find and bring home in 3 1/2 days or it wouldn’t happen until my next visit (did I mention that my sister doesn’t like to shop for her house – only shoes!). The challenge is ON!
So off to Ikea we went. And then the plans changed (cue the sad music here). Here is why: originally, the sofa was purchased with the idea of maybe adding on later (as budget permitted) and having a small sectional. But the slipcover was discontinued and the corner section is no longer sold separately, so on to a new plan (small rant and rave inserted here – aaaarrrrrgggghhhh!)
So now we brainstorm. Do we find a new sofa too? Or can we figure out a new plan? Due to budget, we decide to stay with the sofa, but add furnishings that would accomplish her requests in a different way – a really great chair to create a comfortable L-shaped conversation area and a pair of ottomans to create a long coffee table that could pull up on movie nights to become a lounge. Now even the chairs will be in reach of foot-propping space. This will be a great entertainment area and movie lounge with flexibility. We go back to the house and rearrange whatever she has to give her a visual idea and then sigh heavily when we realize that we still have a lot to do!! But we take a break and meet my other sister for dinner at WiseAcre Eatery. Nothing like dinner and inspiration together – love the creative décor and fantastic food. We laugh and catch up over a few glasses of well-deserved wine. I am so lucky to have sisters!!!
Let’s talk about how to find your style – my sister is such a beautiful girl and very stylish, but when it came to her home, she struggled with liking many styles and wasn’t sure what to commit to in her home. I have noticed that you can tell a lot about how a person will be comfortable in a home design by looking at what they like in clothing. Patterns, solids, bright colors vs. neutrals, how accessorized they usually are, are all clues to a person’s personal style for their home. Identifying the character of the style is also important – how whimsical, classical, romantic, fun-loving, etc. There is a great book called Thom Filicia Style that talks about “moods” and he identifies a number of them. This is a great starting point for someone who is stuck.
I believe that knowing your character style and knowing the functions you are trying to accomplish is the preparation for your design. Measuring, doing a bit of research on what grabs you helps narrow down the search – eliminate what doesn’t fit or doesn’t appeal. Also, what stays? How can you make that work? Identify your shopping list. Here is a secret – what will the design start from? Is there something you already have that makes you happy that will stay in this space? Maybe it is not something you have, but an inspiration – take the picture with you and start shopping with that as your guide.
With list in hand we started. Early! First a stop at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market for a quick breakfast and coffee; I had to pick up some honest-to-goodness wild rice, and wished I could bring back home soooo much more. I really want to write about going to the local farmer’s market again sometime because it fills your soul up, while you get such great food AND you help local business. WIN for all!!
We decided to start with shopping for the chair, since it was really going to be the more expensive piece and also because the seating area was limited in arrangements, this piece had to fit a set of measurements, as well as style and comfort requirements. Starting here would be smart since the rest of the pieces would be found to work with this choice.
She had seen a chair that she liked at Crate and Barrel, but it was crazy-money expensive and she wasn’t sure. So we hit a favorite outlet store (Room & Board Outlet) with that inspiration in mind and we found pay dirt!! Here is the hard part – how do you know? We had pictures of what was staying – our pay dirt chair had style features that were a total fit. The chair was comfortable, good quality, a solid, neutral color, and ON SALE! That being said, it still took an hour and a half to sit, ponder, color-match, sit again, worry, and finally get her to take a leap of faith. She is lucky to have me as a sister/designer at that moment! But now we really have made massive progress. It’s loaded in the car and off we go. We bring the chair back and WOW! Even better at home! Yeaaahhh! The back swoop of the chair is similar to the antique chair and the button style on the back is a match – bonus!
Out we go again, and we stop at one of my favorite Minneapolis antique stores Hunt and Gather – I find a set of deer antlers and a beautiful sparkly geode rock, and my sister realizes that she also really likes the antlers too. She almost buys some cool sign letters, but we decide to wait on that since we don’t have a plan for where they would go. The antler will most definitely be on the pile of books on the table – great organic touch and it goes so beautifully with the soft mushroom grey leather of the new chair.
Back to Ikea – two simple ottomans (we upgraded the feet to the silver ones – sooo cool!). Also, simple tab-back curtain panels. Can’t beat the price here and you can customize them later (just use iron-on hem tape to shorten as needed) with ribbon or fabric, and if you replace them later, they were so low cost, you won’t feel guilty! Some simple window hardware from Target (we had our measurements with us!) and we are knocking it out! I wonder who will be installing all of this? We find an amazing lamp at Target too – picks up on the driftwood color with the wood base.
We are on a roll now – we stop at the actual Room and Board store for some inspiration – so beautiful, but a little out of budget, or is it? The pillows are really great and might be worth a little splurge to pull together some great high-low design. I notice how calm and happy walking through this store my sister seems to feel – I think it is the simple classic design and neutral colors – it makes me happy too. But I make a note of it and along with some end table ideas, pillow ideas, and some amazing rug ideas (another trip to the outlet?) we hit up West Elm next.
West Elm is a great place for finding the tray for the ottoman(s) – we have decided silver to pick up on the brushed nickel in her dining room light fixture and the legs on the ottomans. One large tray to unite them – and easy to move when movie night requires more leg room. We also find a really cute glass paperweight with her initial in it. A letter will be part of the design! A pair of graphic design pillows in a silk, pull all the colors together, plus a large super-soft pillow to be an assymetrical element and Oh-so comfortable watching movies!
Then, we see it. The rug. Will it work? Right size, right price – and we can return it if it doesn’t work. And then, another deal – a simple 3 drawer chest on clearance. Perfect size for the entry area. Has legs and will clear the heat register too. Take some photos and measurements. That is a definite possibility. No room in the car, so we will come back for the rug and chest.
A quick note: we are still on day two here, believe it or not. Tired and heads spinning with so much shopping, we head back and assemble and install until we can’t see straight. We also gather every single possible accessory in her house, and evaluate their value for her. Some are winners, some will get a coat of spray paint, and others will make the trip into the box for a future garage sale. We totally arrange the bookshelf unit – now her treasures look like art, gathered together in little “stories.” We sit and stare in complete exhaustion, and finally go to bed, knowing we have so much more to do tomorrow!
Design challenge continues on to Day Three:
We have our plan of attack in list form, and as soon as we can, we strike! Off to West Elm for the rug and the chest. It just barely fits in the car, but we get them back to the house and with a bit of sweat (no tears) we get them in place.
THE RUG!! A beautiful, soft gray (not to dark, not too light), beautiful textured boucle rug! And the price is right. And it is beautiful. Did I tell you how beautiful this rug is? I have to tell you that online, it is nice, but the picture does not do the texture justice. And that is really it’s beauty. I have seen lots of natural fiber rugs and some are so flimsy and scratchy – this is not. It was similar in texture and color to a rug that was drooled over previously, but not possible due to the price tag. Exactly what we needed and it looks so great with the walls, chair, sofa. And the 3-drawer chest will work too! Bonus – the darker wood is the same as the darker wood legs of the chair – NICE!
Mom and Dad arrive and we head out for a family visit. My brother-in-law is a barbeque specialist and we enjoy his all-day-smoked ribs (both beef and pork), along with all the fixings. My niece and nephews entertain, and everyone talks a lot. A great end to a productive day and weekend.I put Mom and Dad to work the next day as my design assistants – what a great family I have that chips right in and helps out. My mom is the queen of cleaning and organizing, and so that is a super bonus. We hang mirrors, finish drapery hardware installation, clean up all the packaging, re-pot plants and get things ready for another arrival – another sister (I have 3) and her fiancé. Now my mom and dad and sisters are in one place for the first time in 4 years! We get to have another celebration, catching up on birthdays, anniversaries, etc. We also get to test out the new space – it is so nice for my sister to have enough seating for everyone and she is sooooo happy. But we are not done yet.
The next day, we are all in force to finish the job. My almost-brother-in-law is a tech wiz and helps with the television purchase (yes, we found and mounted the television too – talk about full service!) We manage this while preparing for a party for 25-30 that night, this time for all the old family friends of mom and dad’s. Nothing like testing the entertainment function of your design!
So how is that for crazy?
Now for a disclaimer: Due to difficulties in the decision-making process (for my sister), multiple installations (with multiple tools required), and things just plain not going as planned, we have had to make multiple trips to multiple stores. THIS IS NORMAL. It is just not normal to do this in 3 days. Also, only so much fits in a small SUV in one trip. So here is the tally: 1 trip to Room and Board, 2 trips to Costco, 3 trips to West Elm, 4 trips to Ikea, 5 trips to Target and an assorted number of trips to fabric, hardware and antique stores, and I think there are even a few stops that I can’t even remember! Can’t believe I can say I am shopped out – but I am this week! The design is not absolutely complete either; we still have to have her chair recovered and the other chair painted and recovered too. We planned a small side table for next to the antique chair, but it was not in stock. There will probably be more tweaking of accessories too. But, all in all, a pretty good upgrade for just a few days.
I am so excited for my sister. I caught her early in the last morning before I had to leave, just sitting in the chair and looking around with a big smile on her face.
And now I’m back home, with a big smile on my face too.