Appearance Matters

It seems to have become an annual tradition that the week before Memorial Day, we spruce up our outdoor spaces. The threat of frost has passed, the gardens are in bloom and we are ready to kick off some barbecues. Before we do though, our chores include weeding and mulching the gardens; as well as power washing the decks and siding and repainting the cedar furniture and deck.

Instead of seeing a dried out, tangled patch of assorted plants running amok, we now have  a weedfree garden, freshly covered in dark wood chips and bursting with purple orange and pink flowers. The difference in appearance is stunning!


Likewise, washing the cumulative dirt, leaves and cobwebs off the front porch and slapping a fresh coat of cheery almond stain on the rocking chairs and tables makes the space much more appealing- especially when I add the new throw pillows and a hanging geranium.

The work is time-consuming and sometimes messy, but the results are well worth it. Because I know what is involved, I dig out my sneakers with the rubber treads wearing off , a baggy pair of shorts which I don’t normally wear but saved for chores like this, and an old t-shirt already decorated with paints of blue, yellow and gray from earlier projects.

By the time I am finished with the front porch furniture, I have smears and speckles of color on my arms and legs. There is even a section of my hair that is clumped together by dried paint. I don’t mind, though. I have been working hard and these marks are proof of that. Besides, I am so happy with the results of my efforts that I decide to keep going and tackle the even bigger project on the deck.

Unfortunately, we are out of stain and I will need to go out for more. I look at my spotted arms and legs, the stains on my shirt and the stiff clump of miscolored hair. I would never consider going to the grocery store like this. With my baggy, unflattering shorts, my sweat-soaked shirt and messy hair I cringe to imagine what people would think if they saw me.

I know it would be a waste of time to shower and change, only to come back and resume painting, so I decide to wear this outfit with pride. Recognizing my smears, stains and unfashionable clothing as the attire of a DIY painter in the middle of a project helped me see my appearance in a different light. After all, I was going to Lowes. Wouldn’t half the people there look like me?

As you can guess, no one gave me a second look or raised an eyebrow. It was obvious I was just coming in for more supplies for my deck project. Going out dressed like this should never have been an issue in the first place. Why should appearance matter so much?

Anyway, I returned home and resumed painting my deck furniture. The new coat of stain hid all the chips, cracks and layers of color the pieces had acquired over a dozen years.


They are well-made  adirondack style chairs and now they look as good as new. Once the deck gets its touch-up, I’ll be able to arrange the potted flowers and tiki torches and make it look very inviting. Soon I will be ready to entertain guests and kick off the barbecue season.

I guess that means I better freshen up my pedicure. It is one thing to go to Lowes looking disheveled, but I could never look like that when I have guests. Besides, after all that hard work, don’t my nails deserve equal treatment of a fresh coat of paint? Then it will really feel like summer!

A Room of My Own: Lessons on Interior Design

I wish my community offered a continuing education program on interior decorating. I need help finding my own style of design. I still have a piece of furniture that my grandparents parents gave me when I first moved to my own apartment. Over the years, I received some more family heirlooms. Now I am at the point where my parents are downsizing and find myself accepting all kinds of furniture or artwork that are too sentimental to let go. It certainly is a home designer’s nightmare, trying to combine these old items with newer ones and somehow making them blend together in a way that is not overly eclectic.

Where was I to start? This is the before photo.   

I had painted the walls a soft peach color when we moved in 10 years ago, and been able to  in- corporate all of our reddish hues of furniture into the : the two bucket chairs we had accepted from parents during a move, the futon we had reupholstered to add a splash of color to the room and still was pulled out to accomodate guests from time to time, the 11×13 thick burgundy oriental carpet and an assortment of artwork highlighting shades of red. It had taken time to find the right window treatments. The unique shade was a gift from my mother in law and I had found the perfect swag to go with it.  We had purchased a Lazyboy recliner, as well as a large bookshelf; but the biggest piece in the room was a baby grand piano.

For 10 years, this arrangement was fine with me. I had other things to do and this room didn’t get that much use anyway. However, as the kids got older my husband and I started using that room as a retreat for an after dinner conversation while the kids did their homework. It wasn’t ideal, but I was not in a rush to do anything. That is until we received our latest inheritance of furniture- a marble chess table top and a grandfather clock. Maybe we could have stored the chess set in the basement until our son wanted it, but there was no hiding the clock. That was the spark for change.

I spent weeks trying to come up with a color scheme, floor plan and figuring what to keep and what to discard. Fortunately, fall is a big season for garage sales. It was pretty easy to give stuff away for free, especially after all the flooding this fall that created a need for cheap furniture. I took the room down to the basics: the two chairs, the piano, the book shelf, the grandfather clock, the matching end tables and the one piece of artwork I decided to use as the focal point of the room.

     Inspired by the golden colors of fall, I tried half a dozen shades of yellow before choosing the one that would adorn the walls. Next  I had to replace the furniture.  After shopping at several stores and online, I devised a plan for a sofa and wing chair which I thought would tie the old and new styles together- one in a neutral color, the other in a catchy print which would emphasize my nature theme.

               I had to find new window treatments. I couldn’t bear to part with the shades, but I was able to find the perfect shade of green drapes and a tassel that made all three pieces look perfect together.      At the risk of adding more furniture, my husband built a table stand for the heirloom chess board and I borrowed a pair of old chairs from my father’s house; but the bonus is that we now have an intimate corner for playing an undisturbed game of chess or assembling a puzzle.

Carrying through with the nature theme, I rearranged all the souvenirs and artwork that deserved to be displayed; eliminating anything that could be categorized as clutter. That was definitely the hardest part, but now the beautiful pieces get the notice they deserve.       We went out and bought a smaller area rug to replace our giant oriental carpet. This one creates a cozier seating area and is more neutral in tone, while having a decorative border that (I hope) goes with the new chair print.

      My husband’s steel and acrylic artwork create a major focal point on the modern side of the room, and an oil painting that I am pleased to have  recently inherited showcases  the more traditional area.


As of this post, I am waiting patiently for my new sofa and wing chair to be delivered (hopefully Thursday). Once that step is in place, I will decide whether to reupholster the matching chairs or not. Finally, I will begin adding artwork to the walls. But each step takes time and deliberation, carefully considering how each element contributes to the overall effect. That is why I need a design class. I don’t always trust my judgement; and according to my daughter who has impeccable taste, I have no fashion sense. I do know what I value and what makes me happy, though. Creating this new room in a cheery nature theme, being surrounded by family heirlooms or artwork I enjoy, sitting in comfortable furniture and feeling welcomed make this project what it is. I envision many relaxing evenings in my new room, sipping wine with my husband, and catching up on our days. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct.

Update (11/10/11): My new furniture came in.

 In case you can’t tell, they are just what I wanted except for the pillows (the one on the right is my fabric swatch I have been carrying around for weeks). Old Brick is taking care of the problem and I will be relaxing on my comfy couch whilst contemplating the next phase of this project.