Decorating with What You’ve Got

So a bunch of you have either commented or messaged me that you kinda dig my decorating style, and have asked for pointers.  I kind of don’t know what to say- I’ve always just made do with what I could find around flea markets and my own house and yard. Over the years, I’ve culled the things that were just place holders and kept the things that I really love. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be this: Make sure the things that fill your space are things that have personal meaning, and that you really love. That’s it. If you do that, it’s easy to make your house look like your home.

So here are a few photos I snapped tonight while the kids bickered and got underfoot. I create little vignettes with stuff I love. Here are a few…

This is my dresser. I got it from a curbside pile for the dump in Palo Alto years ago. I refinished it and it’s gone everywhere with me. In Little House, it was the boys’ dresser, here, it’s once again mine. Be flexible. There is a lighting conduit running up off-center of where I placed the dresser, so I intentionally hung the mirror and small pictures (belonged to my grandma) off center as well, making the whole thing look balanced. Don’t be afraid to toss convention to the wind. The silver tray belonged to my kids’ ggg grandmother, and in it are Christmas ornaments I like too much to put away. No joke.

My make-up table you’ve seen- but it’s an upcycled old sewing machine table I picked up at a garage sale. Toss a pretty lamp on it, arrange the cosmetics in vintage hobnail bowls, and suddenly your make-up doesn’t belong in a drawer— it’s pretty!

In the kids’ room, because I have all three in one room, I’ve tried to differentiate Abby’s space from her brothers’ by using color, flags and a canopy. Don’t be afraid of mixing patterns, color and textures— chances are, if you like my house, part of what you like is that nothing matches, but you can’t put your finger on why you like it. It’s because not matching gives visual interest and texture, and creativity. People like it— same reason they like a box (or bowl) of crayons.

My townhouse is small. And to make it look bigger, I presume, the owners blessed me with several walls of mirrors. (retch!) But, I had to work with it. So I got some Command hook and loop tape, and I hung stuff up anyway.  There’s more of that downstairs.

Also? Let your whimsy out. Flags are fun, and there’s no reason to leave them in a drawer until a birthday party.  They add color and they’re easy to make, if you wanna make some. I’ll teach you.

Because of how small this room is, and because I do want to have a non-kid dominated area, I stuck with a more subdued palette- but seriously, part of that was luck. Those are thrift store couches, remember. The polka dots lighten it up a bit and the rocker was mine as a small child. The table is from a yard sale, scuffed up on purpose. Y’all already know my typewriter. Cozy is good. Create little areas of gathering. A frequent mistake is to rally your furniture around the perimeter of the room, lining the walls, then wondering why it doesn’t seem inviting. Stop it. Bring it to the center.

I love decorating my bookshelves. Yes, I have lots of books, but a shelf packed edge to edge with books, while practical, isn’t as fun to peruse. Toss some stuff on there with personal meaning. This is clearly my Shelf of Mormon-y Goodness. I scrap the canned temple pictures, and framed one a Finnish friend took on a trip to Nauvoo. On the first shelf is a photo of the DC cherry blossoms taken by another talented friend. And so on. Make it personal.

Same thing here. Stack books in different directions. Intersperse with tidbits from your life. It even makes looking at the books more interesting.

I got this table at a yard sale for $2, because the edge was broken. So what! It’s charming! The lamp was $3, and the plant is from the local nursury. I left the tag on the birds nest because it came from a friends’ shop where I used to live and it’s cool. Doesn’t it make you want to look?

Here’s how the Chess Room finalized. It’s chaotic and busy and I love it. The chairs, table and desk are all thrifted or Craigslist. The photos, while busy, work because they are all black and white, matted with neutral colors and framed neutrally. This would be a nightmare if they were all different. Opposite the chess table was a nook where the piano fit perfectly:

Again, a tight fit, and the pictures are very busy- but in non-competing colors and styles. Also, since this room is so crammed with stimulus and chaos, the room immediately feeding it is kept deliberately simple and nearly stark:

A few more vignettes— the common theme seems to be keeping things in odd numbers, and keeping it very personal. You want your home to feel like you. Or… at least I do.

Okay, I have a thing for birdsnests. I’m outed. And I love rannuculas. Those are Bean’s first shoes, and how cute are they under a cloche dome??

There is a story behind everything. Maybe someday I’ll tell you them. Odd numbers, different colors and textures and heights. On the wall in the background is my grandmother’s bapstimal certificate from 1920. Personal.

The entry had more hideous mirrors, but I just ignored them and hung my picture anyway. The bowl of rocks are from specific camping trips over time.

I like to leave creative stuff out so making-stuff can erupt spontaneously. Also, coloring calms me down too. But who wants to dig for colors in a box? I empty boxes of crayons into an old enamel bowl and leave it out with coloring books and blank paper. It’s kind of amazing the conversations that start when one person sits down to color. The kids inevitable join.

Don’t be afraid to be silly, to leave subtle hints about who you are and what you love. It’s your HOME. Let yourself out of the box and make it feel like you! Have some fun! I hope that was helpful and not too bombastic. I love being home, and I hope it shows.

14 thoughts on “Decorating with What You’ve Got

  1. I’m moving soon and hoping I’ll be able to make the new place more my style than the place I’m in now. Hard to when you can’t even really afford thrift store furniture! But I’m crossing my fingers. So this post was great inspiration, thanks Tracy.

  2. But what if you just don’t care about objects? I am not a collector of things and don’t really care for knickknacks. My brain just isn’t wired to desire such things. So, how do I decorate in a personal manner when I’m not sentimental about objects? You are so artistic and creative but I feel very analytical and pragmatic and the opposite of you! I wish I could change my stripes, but I can’t.

    BTW, I love your blog. I was raised by a divorced LDS mother so you have my respect and admiration!

  3. I couldn’t agree more about having things that mean something to you and are personal. We have only one piece of art in our home that is a common picture and it was given to us as a wedding gift. Everything else is something I love and love looking at because it means something to me – I made it myself or someone else made it for me or it’s from someplace I love. It makes all the difference in making me feel like a place is mine. I love the photo of the Nauvoo Temple. I have issues with generic church art so it’s refreshing to see a beautiful and interesting shot like that. And yep, I love the pig, too!

  4. I love your house! Like I said when I visited, it has a warmth and spirit to it…a friend inviting you in for a hug. I was just sad to see your art easel down…where did it end up?
    After visiting you I am looking forward to decorating our new house once our stuff arrives. If it goes poorly be prepared to hop a plane to Bulgaria!! 🙂
    Love you my friend!

  5. I’d love a bonzaii trip to Bulgaria!! The easel is still there, just in the opposite corner, near Bean’s hidey-hole. I just have to pull it away from the wall when I want to use it. I will never get rid of it- it’s one of my favorite things.

    As far as decorating with knicknacks— I have always seen myself as “Not A Collector”, as in, there are no shelves of pigs, or lighthouses, or Mickey Mouse, or any other discernible theme (minus the 3 nests). I guess it might not seem that way to someone looking in, but I grew up with mom who COLLECTED, and I have refused, though perhaps less successfully than I imagined.

    Fairchild: If you’re pragmatic and logical and don’t attach sentimentality to things, how about photographs? You can frame them and dot your bookshelves with them, instead of knicknacks. Do you have any tools from your trade/concentration that you enjoy? A metronome for a music person, a triple beam for a chemist, cameras for a photographer…. those things are all beautiful and reflect who you are. You can absolutely decorate with them. Think outside the box- you may not see yourself as creative, but as HairyShoeFairy said, even artwork on the walls can be how you express yourself. Email me if you want more tips.

  6. Oooo! I would LOVE a tutorial on how to make the flags.

    I prefer clean surfaces in my home but am inspired to make the walls of my new place as busy and as homey as possible. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. I love the personalization in your home. You’ve given me some things to think about. But my favorite spot is your “Shelf of Mormon-y Goodness” – the Nauvoo Temple, sunstone, and brick. I nearly cried; I miss being able to call that area “home.”

  8. Pingback: AHOOO – The Living Room and Some Rambling Thoughts on Decorating « hairyshoefairy

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