The Mystery of Home Decorating

I know nothing about making a home look beautiful or cozy. Decorating was not a family value. When we first moved to America, my parents were too busy and poor to worry about picking out shower curtains, and by time a little decor became financially feasible, years of thrifty practicality had turned shabbynot-so-chic into a permanent household motif: for example, all throughout my teens, our living room furniture consisted of two car seats taken from a minivan. “Why, these are just as comfy as any regular armchair!” my dad assured me. As the pace of life slowed down, my parents began to decorate, but it was too late for me to learn from them and their adorable garden gnomes.

A glorious decoupaged ceiling, courtesy of a DIY tutorial on Apartment Therapy. Probably outside my current skill level.

When I moved out, my underdeveloped sense of decorating received little nourishment in the college dorms or in my first apartment, a leaky two-bedroom North Philly. My roommate slapped up ’80s beer posters with chicks in gold lamé suits; I cut my favorite images out of a Werner Pawklok book, put them into $3 frames from CVS, and hung them lopsidedly nearby. My first “real” apartment never reached its full potential; I was too busy with my first “real” job. In LA, an array of confusing and bizarre living situations left little room for creativity. My first housemate on the West Coast turned out to be an animal abuser: I’d often come home to find her watching reality TV, surrounded by steaming piles of turds littered throughout the living room and kitchen, left there by her sickly animals, which were often dressed in ridiculous gowns that covered up oozing lesions. Decorating that place was the last thing on my mind. When that living room situation reached its inevitable meltdown, I started bouncing around from one sublet to another, moving from shoebox to shoebox until finally, through a set of circumstances that would take too long to describe here, I ended up living in a closet. Not figuratively – literally. It was there that I finished Issue 02.

Stuff I’d like to decorate with, in theory. Laura Zindel & Dylan Kehde Roelofs

But this post isn’t a solicitation for pity, dear reader. I’m writing to seek advice! For my luck has finally changed. The dream apartment has fallen into my lap: hardwood floors, a little garden, a bay window. Having a lair that delights the senses is all about inspiration and self-respect, and I don’t want to let this opportunity pass me by. Except – I know nothing about decorating. Walking into a person’s nicely-arranged space feels like wandering into a museum, full of wondrous objects mystically aligned through a studied science that takes years to master. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t even know where to start.

So I thought I’d start by asking you guys. What tips do you have for someone who has never decorated before? I don’t the first thing about painting a wall or figuring out where to hang a picture. What home decor blogs do you like? What cute Etsy sellers do you reccomend? But more importantly than that, I’m curious to hear about people’s decorating experience. How did you approach the problem of decorating your very own space, for the very first time?

38 Responses to “The Mystery of Home Decorating”

  1. David Forbes Says:

    Bookshelves, bookshelves, bookshelves. You can never have too many of ’em.

    Bit by bit seems to be the approach that’s (slowly) working for me. After years of uncertain, cash-strapped living situations, where I mostly limited “decorating” to a few signature items on the wall, I have a nice space (and all mine) worthy of attention. I sympathize, as my decorating experience is utterly nil. After several false starts over the past six months or so, I’ve decided that the best idea is to do one thing a month, a process better for my wallet, personality and work schedule.

    So one month I work on getting the lights right, the next I grapple with how to set out the living/entertaining space, another will be devoted to constructing something shelf-like to house the liquor and expand the cooking space a bit (power tools n’ booze; it’s gonna be great!). Lots of scavenging seems to be necessary to find just the right items at the right prices, but I’m learning to enjoy that aspect too.

    Slowly but surely, it’s improving, though I still don’t have enough damned bookshelves.

    Not being a decorator, I’ve kind of embraced my own hodge-podge tastes and scrapped the idea of any big unifying theme. I’ll settle for finding a way to get all the random crap I love to share space without too much visual turmoil.

    You’ve got an excellent eye for the aesthetic though, and any number of real experts hanging around here to advise you. I think things will be just fine. Congrats on getting your ideal place: it’s a simple but rich pleasure.

  2. What's in a name anyways? Says:

    I work doing a lot renovations and new construction. Tips for redecorating?
    Greens are my favorite interior colors. They’re relaxing and more than one shade in a space looks good. White trim is my personal favorite. Unless your furniture is red, green is a pretty forgiving color. When I hang pictures I measure down from the ceiling and make a mark so they all hang at the same height. I guess my advice is have fun and try to talk a friend of yours into helping you with the things you haven’t done before. If you’re like me (a visual learner) nothing beats hands on learning.

  3. Angeliska Says:

    What an opportunity you have! Your new place sounds like the perfect tabula rasa, a blank slate haven with good bones that you can turn into your sanctuary. I always start with color- choosing the right paint (muted milk paints are always safe bets, and do nice washes. Also they are not poisonous, hooray!) It’s hard to go wrong with pale greens and neutrals if picking colors gets scary. Silver or gold rooms are wonderful. Little shelves made from oddments (driftwood, old chairs or books are nice for holding trinkets. Window coverings! The first thing I do when decorating an apartment is remove the venetian blinds! Finding good curtains or shades really transforms a room. Part of my work is helping to create spaces and selling oddments + treasures, so if you need some more inspiration, or are looking for anything in particular, let me know!

  4. Morfydd Says:

    I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to wait… hold up… save up for what you really want and need.

    I tend to fill up my space with pretty, useless things, because I can’t afford the big piece I really want and need. My space ends up cluttered with little things that don’t really fit well together, and my wallet is drained along the way. Also, I tend to get sick of something not working, and impulse-buy a solution that ends up getting thrown out when I find the *right* solution.

    You have lovely taste, and you’re probably exposed through your work to a lot of really lovely things, so it’s going to be hard for you not to fill up your space with pretty trinkets. Be strong!

    I read:
    Apartment Therapy (they cover everything, at varying levels of interest and quality), also the Kitchn & ReNest on the same site
    Decor8 (she’s awfully chipper, but finds some interesting things)
    absolutely beautiful… (same as above)
    Chez Larsson (very practical, with a nice clean Scandinavian decor)
    Mogg Blogg (a mockery site, but fun)

    I’d also recommend Sunset magazine – most of the decor is going to be too California-white-walls-and-floor-to-ceiling-windows for you, but they really revel in living on the West Coast and have a lot of practical articles.

    Keep a notebook (online or paper) of pictures of rooms and things you really like. Throw everything in there, and every so often look through it to see what shows up again and again.

    Measure your space obsessively, (including doorway sizes!!!), map it out, and carry the map with you. Also carry a measuring tape with you. Then if you find the perfect piece you will know if it really is perfect.

    Carry swatches with you, if you’re trying to match something. However, different light can make colors so different that I’d recommend against trying to match. Go more for “contrast without clashing”.

    Remember that you can paint and reupholster almost anything. (If you can’t afford to reupholster right now you can probably throw nice fabric over it until you can afford it.)

    Read decorating books. (Alexandra Stoddard, much as she makes me grind my teeth, is probably a good place to start.)

    Understand the decorating “rules” the books will drill into your head. Feel free to ignore them, but recognize that you’re doing it. (For instance, I hate rugs. I know that one would make my living room come together more easily, but I hate them. So I have to figure out other ways to make the room come together.)

    Figure out where you want to be in the balance between your personal style and “normal” style, and between what makes you happy and what makes your guests comfortable. (For instance, you might decide that you love a harem-style living room, all violet silks and low silver tables and cushions on the floor. This is awesome until your first guest with arthritis visits and can’t stand up again.)

    Your new place sounds wonderful. Congratulations.

  5. PlanBVintage Says:

    Let it evolve organically. Visit flea markets, estate sales, Ebay, and Etsy and choose those pieces that speak to you and grab your attention. Over time you’ll have a collection that will remind you of the times that you bought them.

  6. natalya Says:

    your story sounds very similar to mine :]
    here are some sites i find inspiring & interesting to look at for ideas…perhaps they will be of some help:

    after poring over many books, magazines, and blogs on the matter in the past (mostly out of a lack of an actual place to decorate, hah) i think the best advice i can give is that the space you live in should most importantly feel right and comfortable. yes of course there are rules, like painting a small room a dark color will make it seem smaller…painting/decorating a space in yellow or tan will make it seem more warm and inviting…but i think the most creative and beautiful decorating solutions come from following your own aesthetic, and allowing your home to become like an exoskeleton, an extension of yourself and the things you are attracted to.

    good luck, and i would love to see what you come up with!

  7. Jason Juta Says:

    Good to hear about your great opportunity. My wife and I bought a flat in north London about 2 years ago, and went on to make a lot of mistakes! My main advice is without a doubt to take your time, it’s too easy to splash out on lots of things in a few months and make mistakes…you can do things at a huge discount if you shop wisely and slowly – I wish I’d visited an Ikea before we went mad (£20 persian rug has now replaced our original £200 luxury carpet which constantly shed hair everywhere, and looks awesome). And less is more – saying that goes against every fibre of my being, but having to dust around a million ‘cool’ ornaments and constantly sliding along walls to get around furniture that’s too big is becoming a real mental drain.

  8. Patricia Says:

  9. lonelocust Says:

    I am a decorating junkie. White walls drive me into a rage (though not as much as yellow walls. The color yellow makes me irrationally angry in 90% of circumstances). While I’ve had a glut of luck in rentals with landlords that allow me to paint, I’ve lived in a few areas that did not, and I’ve found a slew of abilities to make due. Since you mention not knowing the first thing about painting a wall, I’ll address the situation in which you’re able to paint, and then tack on ideas in which you’re not.

    To start off, pick colors. This is applicable whether you can paint or not. I’m going to pretend that you’re as unexplainably emotionally effected by colors as I am, for the fun of it. I find it pretty easy to stare at a wall full of paint chips and pick out 5 complimenting colors that will soothe my savage color-beast. However, that’s not a necessary skill; pick something with colors that speak to you, and match to that. An outfit or a painting is probably a good plan. If you love the colors that appear in something, you can translate it to room decor. Monotones – like black and white or sepia tones indicated in your photos – can work for that, though I suggest if you want to do that picking a single bold color not represented in the inspirational item and using that for accents. A bright jewel tone is best for a black/white/gray and a dusty muted color (say sage green or slate blue) is best for sepia/brown/ivory. If you’ve picked something with lot of color – say a Klimpt painting – just stick to the represented colors and don’t throw in that extra piece.

    If you feel unconfident, stick to having all of your walls one color – the most prominent color in your inspirational item, say (but if you’re not down with very dark walls, go with a more neutral accent color). Differently-colored walls is VERY EASY to do wrong. So, go with your main color on the walls. Take another color from your inspiration piece for the trim – this would be door frames, floor molding, windowsills, etc. Take another, similar color from your inspiration piece, and use this for the very small trim pieces, such as the window casements. It is possible that a place with all recent construction will not have any such sub-trim. Additional ranges of colors from your inspiration piece can be used on fabric in the room. This would be things like the upholstery for furniture or the bedspread for a bed. Other colors in the same range should be used for accent cushions. (YOU KNOW YOU WANT ACCENT CUSHIONS! YOUR LIFE IS MEANINGLESS WITHOUT ACCENT CUSHIONS!)

    In the mentioned case that you want to use grayscale or sepia tones as the main theme of the room, I would suggest your one throwing-off color (jewel tone for grayscale, muted tone for sepia) be used for the sub-trim (window casements, small accents) paint and for accent fabric pieces.

    OK, I was going to say more, but I’m already rambling a huge amount as one of a ton of comments. I think this is a great method for picking color schemes for a room if you feel like you want something beautiful but don’t feel confident about decorating.

    Also, decoupage is easy. Really, really easy. I promise.

  10. Kambriel Says:

    I remember two of those places!

    Hmmm, invite a dear friend from the East coast to come and help you out? ;)

    You already have such an eye for the visual regarding creating a striking image and balance of items versus the importance of some empty space to balance it all out and keep it from getting too cluttered. Perhaps your roadblock is in viewing it all as home decorating… perhaps it might be worth seeing if you can instead look at those walls as pages of a magazine or the blank canvas in which you are about to pose a model in front of and set them up accordingly.

    Don’t worry about having a mishmash of styles either. The way I see it, if certain diverse things hold an appeal for you, ultimately they ~will~ all go together in a way that creates your own individual style. Mine is somewhere along the lines of Japanese/Gothic/Art Nouveau/Near East! Most people would think those are rather dissonant, but for me they work :)

    Good luck dear, and may you have many happy times to come in your new home!

  11. h3llc4t Says:

    It’s a simple suggestion, but: find one thing that makes you incredibly happy to look at, and place it somewhere that you’ll see it every day. Whenever I enter my office I get an eyeful of a painting by a dear friend that still makes my heart light up. All the other decorating happened kind of haphazardly.

  12. lucylle Says:

    My first foray in decorating was when I finally got a room on my own at 14… the best thing I can say about that room now is that with all the clothing heaped up hapazardly, books in rickety shelves contending for space with action figures and poster and gig covered walls it didn’t look anything at all like the typical room of an Italian female teenager, but rather an American male metalhead.
    Fast forward to me finally leaving home, headed to the big city (well, the biggest city in my country)…. after living from a suitcase and futon surfing for a year or so, I finally got the room I’m currently haunting. And boy, did I appreciate all the time spent playing with power tools and hoarding instructions as I never thought assembling furniture could be so overwhelming.

    To me, the most important thing is making a little list of my priorities and what I expected from the place.
    – it had to be cuddle-friendly so the single bed morphed into a double.
    – I had to work there (I take pictures and do graphic design) so the walls and ceiling got a shitload of white paint. A whole wall was furniture-free and the frames I hung there are easily movable whenever I have to set up a shot. I also have a full figure mirror and makeup station for prepping (and for me, hehehe!)
    – I’m a bookworm and a kitsch collector… the first item I bought, even before the bed, was a bookcase capable of containing most of my collection.
    So on and so forth…. second part was set a mood for the whole place. I wanted something muted and minimal, because once my stuff was in place it would provide enough eyehurt, so I went with matte brownblack furniture that was a good base and and red as an accent colour to tie everything up (rug, bedspread, cushions)…
    Most of the walls feature prints… as I have access to a good printer and a plotter, I make and mount my artwork. The theme changed through the years but I favour monochrome or black/white photographs. Currently, I have posed xray compositions, Terra del Fuego turn of the century daguerrotypes, a line of space invaders as a border near my bookcase and of course, a picture of me and my significant other in the very best spot ;-)

    A website I found was quite useful was especially when it comes to small decorations rather than bigger projects. Ikea parts are more or less like furniture lego: you can do practically everything with them :-)
    As stupid as it might sound, Martha Stewart has proven quite useful when it comes to decorating projects… the techniques explained in her books/website are excellent… you just have to make some style changes on colours/patterns ;-)

  13. Fangsticks Says:

    I am currently helping a friend redecorate her room. It is changing from Japanese/Asian theme to Holy Crap colors everywhere!
    The trickiest thing i am finding in this project is the color scheme. Finding a base color to match the furniture and decor can be a pain so it is important to find a good match between what you currently have or want to place in your apartment versus the wall color etc.

    Here is one idea that you may or may not want to consider:

    If you like themed rooms, then you can easily group colors and decor together based on the theme. Even if your not the person who is “THEME ROOM AHOY” you can always make up your own ridiuclous theme. This can help you group furniture, colors and decor around what you already have or what you want and give accents to various rooms or certain spaces in your apartment.

    For example, say you want a reading corner in your place, you can pick the furniture you want to go there, the decor and some colors that would mesh well with that idea.

    One thing that’s for sure, decorating can be as fun as it is frustrating. Eventually, if you play with ideas and plans, you will gain insight, learn to compromise some of your ideas that just don’t seem to work out, and find something you can really enjoy living with. At least, this is the wisdom i have gained thus far.

    Good luck on the decorating!

  14. Ashbet Says:

    I am made entirely of FAIL when it comes to decorating, but the thing that has made me happiest was my decision to paint my living-room green — not a pale green, an intense but natural green, like the inside of a kiwi.

    When paired with white trim and hardwood floors, it makes EVERYTHING look good — even my mismatched furniture and my displays of Creepy Asian Dolls and giant movie action figures! ;)

    Best of luck!

  15. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Hehehe. I’ve tried, time and again, to stick to something minimalist. Hanging a choice few belongings. But in the end, my walls become covered, quite literally, in anything and everything that strikes my fancy. My tastes running so wide, this happens so quickly, I run out of space. Now, I’m set to alternating bits.

    I’d say this gives me license to give you advice, but typically people hate my decorative sense. But good luck! If it feels right, it probably is.

  16. Vivacious G Says:

    We are paddling the same river, my friend. I have been too busy being a mom and now working odd job after odd job (thank goodness for Coilhouse!) to really sink myself into decorating. I just haphazardly throw some fabric up here and there and tape up some postcards along with my kid’s pictures. However, as things are settling into a sort of routine and I’m back from vacation, I want to decorate too, painting, cabinets, houseplants, you name it. We should compare notes. I like everyone’s helpful comments…

  17. Eve Says:

    My best advice is to start very simply: if the space is already beautiful empty, you don’t have to do too much– and clutter is a huge pain, especially if you’re not used to dusting. I agree with the person above who said “bookshelves”– they help tame clutter, and take up wall space so walls don’t look bare without having to hang tons of pictures. In fact, you can put pictures ON the bookshelves! Soft things are good to have– big squashy pillows and pashminas– and boxes and bowls come in very useful for putting miscellaneous sundries like keys and pens in. In short, don’t worry about a lot of knick-knacks and try to find things that have at least a marginally practical purpose as well as being beautiful (pashminas, for instance, can be draped around one’s shoulders or over one’s lap when one is watching TV at 2AM). I’ve always been a fan of deep, rich solid colors– a lot of burgundies and dark greens– but that’s entirely a matter of personal taste. Definitely paint over wallpaper (by which I mean paint is preferable to wallpaper, don’t literally paint OVER wallpaper– take the wallpaper down first if it’s there…) and pick a color you could happily bathe in.
    Hope that was helpful.
    PS The story about your housemate’s animals made me very sad. :^( Did she ever get reported?

  18. Jami Says:

    I read:
    (This one is completely amazing and has a great collection of archives.)
    It’s sister:

    Those are great places to find inspiration and they feature tutorials once in a while as well. As corny as it is you might also look at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s hardware stores for days that they do home painting tutorials in store that you can check out. :)

  19. Jessica Says:

    Wait…is the new apartment in the UK, or is this going to be a very short-lived experience of domestic bliss?!?

    I’d say that the first steps should be music, cut flowers and lamps (overhead lights are sooo depressing). Once those are in place, it’ll be cozy enough that you’ll *want* to hang out and do more nesting.

    Other quick fixes: lots of plants, pretty tea cups (because with the little things, if it’s really special you’ll always notice it. Laura Zinzel=oh yeah!), bookshelves (David is right on target with that one! IMHO, it’s worth investing in good ones. If it’s particle board, it will warp drastically within a year, guaranteed)
    …and lots of ART!!!

    Random art installation tip: do it like the pros…hang everything with a uniform center height, rather than by matching the top or bottom of the frame. It looks much better and if it’s a bit askew, it’s not as noticeable.

    Personally, I’ve always been partial to mounted insects and taxidermy. ;)

    Another random suggestion: How about offering ad-space in trade for merch to shops & etsy dealers & artists whose stuff you love? That way you both get a deal!

    Natalya: Chintz of darkness has some *killer* images, thanks for the link!

  20. Kiwi Says:

    Having done the same situation of running through tiny NYC apartments and sublets – once, a giant apartment already finely furnished by the owners to an 8×10′ room I shared with someone already living there who had bunkbeds, to now being in a 2br railroad apt that’s been my hive for the past 3 years, I never really learned the finer parts of furnishing. Oddly enough, my boyfriend has been the one taking care of that.

    He’s the one who has always lived with a red room ala Twin Peaks – he hung deep red bed sheets along the walls of our reading room, now his studio, picked up a black leather futon couch and selected a geometric plush carpet.

    Basing rooms off of movie sets is fun.

    We also took to covering a plain Ikea bookshelf with the most horrible images from pornography.

    Our kitchen/dining room, which is also my studio, has plastic ivy covering the entire ceiling. We covered one wall with a quaint pink plaid wrapping paper and spray painted the moulding gold then put up framed artwork in brown wood frames to have a sort of rustic appearance. All of our framed artwork is torn out of magazines or printed off the internet. Any other art in the apartment are our own canvases nailed to to wall or taped up. Since we’re poor artists, we usually take it upon ourselves to draw the art we want – we have an 18×24 charcoal drawing of an Archimbolo painting in the kitchen.

    So mostly our decorative sense comes from not really having everything pulled together, but a sort of thrift store of wonders appearance to it. Tiny details thrown into corners for people to study as their eyes wander around. It’s always a hit at parties since newcomers find something to talk about.

    Painting isn’t necessary – like I said, we tack up sheets and patterned papers because we have too much stuff already settled in to go about painting anything. And it makes it easy to completely change a room if we get bored of what we’re looking at.

    I suppose it’s getting a feel of how you want things to look – minimalist and modern or old and jumbled. Everything gets thrown on the walls because we have limited storage space (a pantry for a closet and the rest is just armoirs in our bedroom). Carnivale masks we picked up for a masquerade wedding, a burlap sack mask from an old halloween costume thrown onto an empty milk jug and hung from the ceiling, posters tacked to the ceilings and shelves everywhere with a million different objects in them.

    Our chairs are plush, huge things out of wonderland we picked up from the local thrift store and rickety wooden things we found on the street.

  21. May Says:

    OMG! I LOVE decorating – especially when I can use things in unexpected ways. My suggestion would be to find either a paint color your really like or a distinctive piece like a chair or a piece or art or whatever grabs you and to build up a room from that, using pieces and colors that either look nice with or perfectly match your distinctive color or item.

    I like to let my decorating naturally evolve over time by leaving rooms somewhat incomplete so that I can find little nick nacks or new art to put in them.

  22. Faith T Says:

    –Go slow. Don’t buy things just because you need something there.
    –When shopping for comfy chairs, never shop while tired. Anything is comfy when you’re tired.
    –Hang pictures at eye level.

  23. Faith T Says:

    Ugh! My comment was accidentally submitted before I finished.

    –Go through at least 10 of your favorite magazines as quickly as you can, stopping only to rip out the pages that seem attractive to you. (It’s useful to buy old magazines from used book stores for this project.) The more images you get, the better. Once you have them all together, spread them all out on a table and look at them. What do the pictures have in common? Are they all light and airy? Or are they all cozy and warm? Do you gravitate to sleek and modern or traditional?
    –Make a look book: Draw a picture of each room the way you might like it to be. Add fantasy elements (like looms, anatomy charts, red curtains, whatever). Get paint chips from the hardware store, make collages, and use your crayons. This is to help you dream. The rooms don’t have to look like your drawings, but they can inspire you.
    –Go slow. Don’t buy things just because you need something there. I spent 2 years with bare dangling light bulbs until I found a fabu copper chandelier for $5 at the thrift store.
    –Try not to spend much money unless you really love something. This is related to the “Take your time” advice. My mom made the mistake of dropping a ton of money on her house, and although her house was beautiful, it was cold because too many things looked “purchased.”
    –But when you see something you really love… and you’re still thinking about it a week later… and it’s expensive… buy it anyway if you can.
    –You don’t have to spend a lot of money on furniture. My mother-in-law’s house is fabulous, and she rarely buys expensive stuff. Instead, she paints old stuff or (for upholstered stuff) throws a shawl or rug over the stains.
    –When shopping for comfy chairs, never shop while tired. Anything is comfy when you’re tired.
    –Hang pictures at eye level. In other words, if you draw an imaginary horizontal line 1/3 of the way down the picture, that line should be at the same level as your eyes.
    –If you have bookshelves, arrange your books by color as well as by topic… for example, all of my poetry books are together, but the spines are arranged in rainbow order. This is especially useful if most of your books are paperbacks… grouping the colors together diminishes the pain of the loud colors.
    –If you can’t paint the walls, go to a discount fabric store and buy lots of cheap fabric to cover them. In fact, go to a discount fabric store anyway, if you have a good one in your area.
    –From the pictures you’ve displayed, your aesthetic reminds me of mine… I call it “eighteenth-century biology lab.” Good decor includes: white walls with dark woodwork; big tables; books piled everywhere; anatomy charts; jars full of snakeskins, rocks, glass, doll heads, whatever; old rusty bits of iron; etc.

  24. Faith T Says:

    PS: For cheap gardening:
    –buy cheap mirrors and hang outdoors (try the dollar store); put candleholders in front; at night add candles, then drink wine
    –get an old nasty card table and cover it with a nice plastic tablecloth… no one will know the difference
    –buy plastic pots that are terracotta colored instead of the real ceramic pots (they’re cheaper, easier to move around and pretty)
    –start easy things from seed to save money. I liked nasturtium, balloon flowers, scarlet runner bean, mint and other herbs (can’t start these from seed, but perennial and easy to grow), sunflowers (dramatic, easy, but can’t go in pots)
    –add height with cinderblock/board shelves (you’re outside so it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit ugly)

  25. Bryan Bullock Says:

    This is going to sound obvious, but a lot of people pass it over: buy, and decorate with, things you like.
    In the end, what matters is that you are comfortable in your place. That means having things that you enjoy being around, whether… I don’t know, Russian nesting dolls, or giant posters of Warren Ellis.
    Certain things are essential, though: bookshelves, or something where you can easily access your books; a comfortable place to read; a bed that you can sleep in, along with any animals/people you may desire to share it with; sufficient space for the things you will want easy, continuous access to.
    Anything you want to keep, but don’t need much, can go into storage. But you have to be able to reach the things you want on a regular basis, or it’s just a pain in the rear. So, a place to keep those things.
    I’m fond of “re-purposing” furniture, where a small bookcase can be flipped on its face, for instance, and a glass top added: boom, coffee table.
    And consignment stores can be your friend.
    Long-winded and probably not helpful, but there you are.

  26. kc Says:

    I came from the same background – no real money or sense of what decor is all about, but in the end it was probably a good thing. No conventions meant that you didn’t know ‘the rules’.

    My first inclination is to tell you to sit down in the space and just…look. Envision what it would be if you had absolutely no limits. Then write or sketch what you see and post it somewhere you’ll be able to look at daily. Revise as needed.

    Then it’s a matter of discovering how to do it. This is the best part. Experiment! Look up info on the internet about painting techniques. You’ll often find that new ideas will come to you.

    You love photography, so check out, as they have acres of amazing projects with photos you can do on the cheap. Making things yourself, for me, tends to be more rewarding than buying something.

    For instance – the vases in your post could be done with decoupage. It’s SUPER easy. The ceiling you point to – piece of cake. Seriously. There are several methods this could be done, all for under $20. Look up ‘image transfer techniques’ for a host of sites on how to do it. Finding info on how to decoupage is easy, too – you’d be surprised at what you can do once you dig into it…

    If you’re ever in Oakland again, let us know!

  27. alumiere Says:

    all the people who talk about slow and not spending money right away are the best advice i can give

    the combined style t and i have is so quirky i cannot describe it more than creepy modern minimalism

    but while the apartment itself isn’t terribly pretty, the furnishings have been slowly aquired and are fairly inexpensive but work together well; when i finally get around to re-finishing the cabinets and repairing the piss-poor paint job in the main room the walls will be pretty much covered in artwork (mostly book size pieces, but a few larger ones as well); and there are bookshelves everywhere

    oh yeah – more shelves are always a good idea

    unless your landlord is truly ok with paint (as in, you don’t have to repaint, and they won’t dock your deposit) if you aren’t terribly unhappy with the base wall color you may want to leave it alone (especially if the lease is only a year long) and instead do some large wall hangings to add color – fabrics can be hung as tapestry (staple them to dowel rods and add some fringe/trim, then hang from a small hook) or blocked a-la canvas; framed oversized prints or original artwork are good, or build up a mix of smaller pieces in groups to add color

    the other thing that i find most important is lighting – not only lights that look good, but that give the proper lighting (and for me are dimmable – i hate bright light unless i’m sewing) are a must

    congrats on the new place!!

  28. AngelusNoir Says:

    I think all your faithful blog readers will be frothing for pics of your gorgeous-sounding apartment!!:D[and the animal-abuser story was so sad,you poor darling?]…a piece of advice[as an artist/designer..who sadly has a dull day job in retail and decorator!!?:D]….that many customers later thank me for…is that,if you have absolutely NO idea[and you have no statement pieces with which to start from]…choose a painting/photograph/print you absolutely adore and cannot live without..and decorate the room using shades and tints found in the painting…it’s an easy and painless way to choose a palette to decorate a room with,and ensures your room looks wonderfully designed and artfully coordinated :) I decorate rooms around my own paintings,and I get compliments on how artistic and attractive they are[despite being full of junkshop finds and overpainted shabby pieces!!]. You also should get some great old bookcases, as books & magazines will feed your soul and give your guests an opportunity to analyse you as they leaf through your choices!! And a really comfy chaise…..the best of luck in your new place!

  29. Tequila Says:

    I’m still too much of a gypsy to be much help or add to this excellent discussion. I will say though I’m bookmarking this for future use…lots of fantastic information.

    Good luck with the new place Nadya! I will get you a houseplant of some sorts…a fern maybe. :P

  30. Nadya Says:

    Wow – thank you for all the great tips, everybody!

    I am still going through all the comments, but for now I just want to say how humbled and grateful I am that Coilhouse has such a helpful, creative readership! Thank you, guys.

  31. Mer (the second) Says:

    Mh, what I would suggest, if you don’t have a very clear image in your mind from the beginning, is to start with the foundation: the furniture. If the furniture is crappy or not to your liking, there won’t be any amount of small-item decorating that will make the whole pleasant to the eye.

    I second flea markets, estate sales, Ebay, Etsy, etc, especially if you like antique furniture, but not limited to that, you can find almost anything for very decent prices. The only way to have a tidy place is to have a place for every thing and then some extra, so storage space is very important. Bookshelves are good, but covered bookshelves (cabinets? I’m unfamiliar with English terms) are even better (less dusting and visible clutter). And many drawers.
    Only get pieces that are not only practical, but that you really like. Invariably these end turning up, even if it takes time.

    Once you have a foundation I think your “theme” will be more evident, you can paint and decorate accordingly. Although I am also partial to mossy green walls, this is always a question of personal preference after all.

  32. redex Says:

    I am only a student in rented student housing, so I can’t really do anything special – I’m even borrowing furniture. But I grew up reading my parent’s Architectural Digests and they built our home so I’ve always wanted to put together a house from the walls in so to speak even if I’m not very “crafty”.

    One handy tip is that you can easily buy prints and post cards of your favourite artwork from museums and then you will have a memory of your trip and a cheap piece of art for your wall. Frames that don’t have an actual frame are an easy bet because then you don’t have to worry about matching the frame to the print if you don’t have an artistic eye.

    I recommend figuring out what kind of atmosphere you want in your house before buying anything – shinynewmetal&glass or warmrichwood&velvet. I am sure a local hardware store would be willing to help you out in picking a colour that reflects what mood you’re looking for – but for the love of god avoid red, pink, or anything strong along those lines for a bedroom. Colours do actually elicit responses in the brain and you don’t want your flight/flight response triggered when you’re trying to sleep. I am personally all about functionality, so figure out what you’re going to be doing in each room before deciding what you’ll need for it. Buying a beautiful chair on impulse and then having nowhere to put it and then never using it is kind of a waste.

    Good luck!

  33. Heather Says:

  34. Allie Says:

    Congratulations on your digs! I can endorse some tips others have left wholeheartedly. Number one is to get some curtains, they don’t have to be print or ruffly or complex, but something about having panels of fabric covering a window makes the space more humane. Hanging pictures etc. – if using nails, be sure to put them in a wall stud and not just in the drywall. The trick is to tap on the wall, and when you here ‘tok tok’ instead of ‘tunk tunk’, there’s the stud. Also fabulous are Hercules Hooks, which let you hang things without finding the stud. And definitely get rid of the contractor’s white wall paint. Even if you start with just one room, it makes a big difference – and carefully consider how colors affect your emotions and energy. I love green or yellow for the kitchen, my bedroom is a hydrangea blue-purple, and our entry way is sunflower yellow. You might also look into some basic feng shui ideas about mirrors, windows, and doors to help with furniture placement. And above all, buy, collect and display what you really love, and it will all work together. PS Vinyl wall decals are awesome!
    Good luck – please show us photos of your progress as you make your nest :)

  35. Alice Says:

    I still live with my parents (the poor little college student that I am), but I regularly take inventory of the objects that are really mine, mine, mine, and which I will therefore be taking with me when (if?) I eventually move out.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that I have a color scheme going for my kitchen already (black and cream), and I think it is extremely important to have a similar theme for each room/area and really stick to it. I find that a little bit of restriction like that really allows creativity to blossom, and as tempting as it is to just haphazardly collect awesome antiques and doo-dads, it is REALLY important to restrain oneself and keep your domicile’s color scheme or general theme in mind.

    Also, something that I’ve found to be true—when hanging framed images, make sure that in each room all the pictures are either of the same theme or have very similar frames. It’s a fine line between pleasantly eclectic and crazy-cat-lady-looking.

  36. E Harris Says:

    Decorating should be about the outer expression of the environment your soul longs to inhabit. Start with thinking about the places and things that make you happy, serene, peaceful, loved, energized, creative, etc. Decide what vibe you want for a given room, then just pick up things as they make your inner self dance. If you pay attention to your reactions and “decorate” based on colors/objects/themes that move you, it will all go together eventually. As for HOW to paint, place objects, etc. trial and error works, but so do the plethora of decorating sites, as you noted. I am a firm believer though, that the best spaces are those driven by our internal needs/dreams/desires/preferences – not by catalogues or rules of aesthetics. Enjoy the experience and freedom of decorating your space – Good Luck!

  37. Arinna Says:

    In the end, all that matters is that you are happy, inspired, and comfortable with your surroundings. Use and do what you like, not what some website, magazine, or person tells you. Paint can be changed if you decide you don’t like it, curtains can be changed if they no longer match, rugs can be changed, furniture can be moved, and moved again. It’s all very well if your bedroom looks like something in a magazine, but it’s all for nothing if you wake up every morning and feel like vomiting all over the place would be an improvement.

    The only bit of advice that I recommend following is to invest in sturdy, neutral furniture that can be made to work with any style. Don’t screw yourself by buying the pink and purple leopard print sofa when you can buy the neutral coloured one and throw a slip-cover over it.

    You’ll do fine, just have fun. =)

  38. jennifer jane Says:

    I’m a big fan of feng shui and have redecorated many homes using it as my guide.
    I have designed a map of the “bagua” which is the skeleton of feng shui. you can read about it here:

    i like feng shui because it provides me with a simple and easy lay-out that i can build upon as time goes by.

    aside from that –
    white is in right now.
    I personally love the antique white look,
    with insects and diagrams.
    It allows me to easily change and add a pinch of colour
    here or there if I choose.
    I also love multi-coloured bohemian
    prints and patterns and use those when
    i need a bit of happiness.

    with furniture, multi-purposes pieces are the best.
    especially if you can find something that
    works as storage. This is where I’ll stash my odds and
    ends so I can rotate through my collections and
    please my inner gemini.

    Large pillows or “pouffe” make great additional seating for
    when you have guests. When your guests leave just store them away in a chest!

    I LOVE chalk board paint!
    I usually get black and then mix it with white
    to create different shades.
    This is how I made my calendar –
    an idea i admittedly stole from miss martha,
    but worked wonders!
    I can’t deal with date books because i either lose
    them or just don’t use them.

    this post shows both dry erase and chalk board paint,
    but it includes some greats ideas that i found.

    I’m ADD when it comes to decorating and get teased at constantly about how i’m constantly rearranging and redecorating.
    Sometimes that’s just what it takes before you find the right
    set up. Or maybe I am just that chaotic *;D

    have fun with the decorating and please share your outcome with us!

    i love
    for inspiration