Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finding My Own Style

Awhile ago I wrote a series of articles about how I grocery shop and cook. People seemed to enjoy those, so now I am going to be writing about another topic that has been on my mind a lot - style. Specifically I'll be writing about the style of one's home and how to make it into a place that makes you happy. Why? Because this is something I am struggling with myself. Since these articles are coming from me - and you all know I have no money - this will also be on a very limited budget. Now, I know there are plenty of frugal fashionistas out there who write about how to turn a chest of drawers found on the side of the road into a beautiful buffet, and who knows? I may end up with a few articles like that too, but I am going to start off with something more basic - just trying to figure out what my style is. In between running to meetings and jobs the last couple of weeks, I've been turning off the car radio and musing about style and what it means to me.

See, I have so many friends with amazing style. In fact, I would say most of the people I know have great taste in either clothes, home furnishings, or both. I have three friends I want to tell you about who have homes that always impress me. Every time I walk into their places I just think, "wow." One is my mom. When my mom decided to sell my sister and I's childhood home and build a condo, she went all out and chose exactly what she wanted. I have to say - it is gorgeous, and I am talking modern home magazine gorgeous here. Seriously, her place could be right out of a high-end fashion magazine. If I were to give her style a name I would call it, "Clean Slate." For one thing, when she moved she got rid of pretty much all her old stuff. There is very little of my childhood in her new home. The other reason I would call it Clean Slate is because of the color scheme: her main living, dining and kitchen areas are in light and dark grays and the only color is splashes of deep garnet red. In fact, all of her color pallete throughout her house tends to be on the cooler side of the spectrum - even her yellow study is a cool, pale yellow. Now, I admit, the daughter in me misses the sentimentality of having things from my past in my mother's house, but the grown woman in me figures my mom should be able to spend her money any way she wants and have the house of her dreams, if that is what makes her happy.

Another person on my list with great home taste is my sister. Her house is warm and inviting and always very comfortable and yet still very hip. To me, her style is "Fashionable and Classy, slightly Whimsical - and Made for Entertaining." Okay, it is a clunky title, but basically, her home is a place you want to be and hang out in. It is made for entertaining. She has made it that way very deliberately, as her and her husband love to have people over. So from big parties to a few people over for dinner - her place is perfect. She likes classic lines combined with rich colors and her furnishings always have a touch of humor. I love it. She is so great at combining that element of fun with elegance. Walking into her house, I just smile. I also love how bold she is - my sister never backs down from a color, from chartreuse to slate blue to burnt orange to iron brown, she can pull it off and make it look like it was meant to be.

Don't think it is just my family that has style - you should see my friend Tracey. Tracey has incredible style from her clothes to her home, and I can't tell you how often I see something and think, "That is so Tracey." I've got to admit, I am envious of that - in fact, that is exactly what I am going for. Right now I can walk into a store and see things and know they would fit in Tracey's decor, but I have no idea what I want in my own! This whole quest is me figuring out my own look, my own style. To me Tracey's is "French - Napa Valley." Elegant and classy, her home is the best of the French stereotype. She, like my sister, is fabulous at entertaining and her home is a place you want to spend time in. She has a very distinct color palette, and though each room in her home is different, they are all very "her." She just recently moved into a new apartment and in her entry hallway is some seriously unattractive wallpaper, yet she hung her pictures on the wall updated some of the hardware, added her own touches and poof! It looks like it was meant to be. It works perfectly! She has such a sure hand and everything looks like goes together. She and I talked recently about all this and she gave me some great ideas. (I'll share more on that later.)

So, I have all these wonderful ladies in my life that inspire me, plus many other friends' whose homes I love, and I want a little of that in my life. Just to be clear, I am not talking about repainting every room and going through and buying all new furniture. I have neither the time or the money for that. However, recently I had two (store credit) gift certificates, one for Marshall's and one for Pier One, so I went shopping. I was thinking I would get a few items for the house, and you know what? I had no idea what to buy. I like so much that I ended up buying nothing. I feel like I have good taste, but I have no idea what I want. Basically, what I needed was a plan. So, let me tell you a little about what I am starting with and what have now...

I call my style "Uneeda." As in, "You need a chair? I gotta chair you can have." "You need a dinning room set? My aunt has one you can use." My house is almost entirely furnished with the following:

- Other people's furniture/decor they no longer need
- Gift decor from my family
- Furniture my father built
- Antiques, some of which I bought, some of which were handed down
- Items bought with my ex-husband, which meant a fair amount of compromise

It's pretty much a hodge podge of things I didn't pick out. In fact, recently I sat in my living room and looked around and realized that of all the furniture, art on the walls, decor items, throws, pillows, window treatments and so on... I had bought 2 things. One was a plant stand. The other was a plant. Even the color on the walls was painted by the people who owned my house two owners ago. This doesn't mean it doesn't look good. For one thing, as I said, my friends and family have fabulous taste - so what has been handed down through the Uneeda network is great stuff. Secondly, if I have any skill at all, it is taking disparate objects and putting them together in harmonious ways. I am really good at taking furniture in different color woods, styles and shapes and making them work together. Yet, I still feel though that something is missing, some element of "me-ness."

So, I am on a quest - I am on a quest to figure out what I like and what I want. How can I make my house feel like "mine" and what, for heaven's sake, is my style?

Thinking about the conversation I had had with Tracey, I decided my first step should be figure out what colors I love and want in my home. I considered going to a home improvement store and looking at paint sample chips, but I felt like that would offer far too many choices. I needed to narrow it down first. So, the first thing I did was to walk through my house and look at the things I had actually bought or picked out myself. The result was a little shocking. I found over and over again that I bought one color above all -

Red. Specifically dark reds, everything from true red to brick, to Merlot to what a friend of mine calls Venetian red - red prevails everywhere in my house.

Honestly, red is not one of my favorite colors. Nor is it something you see a lot of in my wardrobe, but I love it on home furnishings. It just "works" for me. That wasn't the only color, I found these shades also show up time and time again:

School bus/Sunflower yellow - not light yellow, not soft yellow, but bright in-your-face deep yellows.

Tangerine Orange - I have a surprising amount of orange in my house, usually paired with the yellow. I have two different sets of orange and yellow artificial flowers, for example.

Olive green - Somewhere between fresh avocado and bright olive, I love this shade of green. My dining room, one of the two rooms in this house I have painted, is an olive green below the chair rail and bright yellow above it. The artwork in there is red, yellow, orange and green.

It was like an epiphany, figuring this out. Here I had been instinctively doing something, without realizing it. Then something else fell into place - even though my dining room is yellow and green, it doesn't mean I'm going to go around the house and paint every room in one of these colors! These are the main characters, but they don't make up the whole play. I needed backgrounds for them. Once again, I felt something "click." I like warm neutrals - everything from ecru to oatmeal, cement to taupe. Already my library room, the other room I've painted (when I moved in it was painted hot pink... with black and white splatter paint) is painted taupe and the main accent color is dark brick red. It is already happening! Okay... now I felt like I was onto something.

Then something else fell into place. I have been wanting to paint my bedroom since I moved back in, back in June of 2008. I have had paint chips hanging on the wall since just about then... but I haven't bought a gallon of paint. Why? Well, I have this fabulous sunflower print my sister gave me that I was planning on hanging on the wall. I had envisioned painting the room around that, and the walls were going to be pale blue. So I picked out 5-6 pale blues and hung them on the wall - and was never able to make a decision. All of them were nice shades that I likes, but none of them "sung" to me. Why? Well, now I see that the reason might simply be that blue is just not one of my colors. When I imagined instead painting the room a soft beige and then using the sunflower yellow and green from the print as accents, something went "bing!' In my brain - now that I could do!

I also have two bathrooms that need love, but I haven't started on them. Oh, part of it is a lack of funds, but another part is simply that I haven't known where to start! So, this is my goal - to create a plan for how my ideal home would look. Before I pick up one brush or buy one gallon of paint, I want to have a road map of where I am going - for the entire house. That way I can make an effective budget and pick and chose projects that will have the most impact. I also want to see if there are things I can do, right now with what I have, that will make things work better for me without spending money. Already in the last few weeks I've made several discoveries - all of which I will write more about soon.

Photo by: 1zzy5
via flickr


Frugalchick said...

Great post! I have also been trying to figure out my decorating style over the last couple of years. When I was growing up, I had a very definite Victorian/historic style, but I have changed a lot since then. And I wasn't really sure where my style was headed. So I just kept looking--at photos, homes that I loved, objects I found beautiful. And the images that kept resonating with me the most are what I'll be building my home around.

I'm also working on a road map for my home. If there's anything I'm bad at, it's throwing together items that I like without thinking about cohesion. So I am working on that and can't wait to experiment some more in my house!

Dawn said...

Actually, you are quite an inspiration to me, Frugalchick. I love the way you make exactly the furniture you want with your thrift store finds. It is fabulous!

Building a road map is exactly what I am doing. I want to use it to help me prioritize. There are so many things I would like to do, but since time and money are such big factors (and I have so little of either) I am hoping that a map can help me make the best decisions.