Most Popular: Before & After

Before & After: The Den

Today I am going to give you the before & after on the sunroom, bar, tv room, den.

This room always leads to a bit of a “who’s on first” situation for me and Pete.

“Pete, can you get Gracie’s shoes from the sunroom?” -me

“What room is the sunroom?”-pete

“The TV room!”-me

“Oh! You mean the Den!!”-pete

the very next day

“Pete, are my keys in the den?”-me

“You mean the sunroom?”-pete

I think part of our confusion is because of how totally the whole feel of the room changed in our renovation, it was definitely a sunroom when we bought it:

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And well now…
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Not so sunny.

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Cozy and handsome and sexy, but a whole different feel.IMG_1470 copy

So why did we choose to go in the complete opposite direction of what was here?

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Like I have said before, the house to me just felt like it was in drag, or something, when we bought it. The decor before was lovely and pure, and VERY “Houston”, but the actual architectural style of the house and the exterior is a sort of olive green/gray and it just felt like a cozy sort of gentlemanly house to me.

The kind of home that is cool and shady in the summer and warm and snuggly in the winter.

(citing george stanley banks for that description)

Also- The cabinetry in here was kind of crazy.hr2924042-26 copy 2

It isn’t even that I mind the paneling, though that certainly was not ideal. It’s just like…what the what? There was no real structural reason why the shelves/cabinets were all lopsided like that. There was a slight bump-out from the living room fireplace that meant you couldn’t have full depth shelves or cabinets, but put a faux door on it people! That is why we had to do the two levels of cabinet doors, because the second level can only be about 4 inches deep. Too shallow for shelves, so we put doors on it and now they hide lots of little junk. And are symmetrical.

And the old furniture layout?

What, were you supposed to sit in on your couch 6 feet away, crane your neck up, and contemplate literacy?

It made no sense.

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But then OHay! There is the Tv! Way…Up there…In that corner?

So we knew immediately that we would be redoing the cabinetry. And then it was suggested that we rip out the paneling, and then I thought…lacquer.IMG_1496 copy

And because I am such a visionary genius, I thought BROWN lacquer!!

Inspired, right?Miles Redd-6

Oh. Yeah, well.

It is hard to be completely original and fabulous when Miles is out there doin’ the damn thang.

I didn’t actually start with the Miles inspiration, though. I ROYGBIV’D it. We wanted something a little grayer and muddier to work with the olive green and other muted colors we were doing in here.

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And if you have been reading here for any period of time (except for the 9 months I was housing Grace) you know that Pete and I avail ourselves of a beverage regularly. So we obviously put a bar in 3-1You can see here our backyard which is about to get ripped apart. You can’t see the guns on the chairs because I just can’t handle them right now. I go back and forth constantly of what they mean now, but that is a whole different discussion.

Opposite the bar we put a game table that folds out. Day to day it is Pete’s catchall table.

Seriously, how do boys have so many ITEMS!? Our house is filled to the brim with keys, golf tees, pens in various states of malfunction, golf balls, wads of $1 dollar bills, chapsticks. Is it because they don’t have purses? That these items find themselves all around? It is incomprehensible.

NOT day to day, like fancy entertaining days, it folds out and can be a card table for all those cards we play.
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The bar.

I kind of pride myself on my bars. People tell me I should specialize in kitchens and baths. But what about BARS?

Do most people not build shrines to alcohol in their homes?


Let’s do a little retrospective, shall we?38943980cbdf25f87856a9a9009cd7d9

Chicago. We really used this bar so much, probably because we were younger and childless and drank more, but I loved that we had wine and bottle storage built in. The mirrored backsplash added some sparkle.


Austin. Carried over the mirrored backsplash and some super sparkly wallpaper. We had the wine fridge and the ice machine, but no sink.

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My favorite.

That would be green leather on the countertop. Don’t even try to tell me that’s a Design Don’t. And the tortoiseshell wallpaper backing. And the brass. And the ‘cessories.

I am a self-proclaimed non-beige(r) but I really loved the challenge in this house of working within the neutrals and seeing if I could bring the same interest and sparkle that I am drawn to in colorful spaces in that palette. I think while working with neutrals and monochromatic spaces it is essential to bring it with different textures and patterns. Even though Kelly Wearstler can work a color like a boss, she is the queen of texture.interiors_hillcrest

I mean…Look at that biscuit. Narry a dollop of color, and yet so vibrant and lush and exciting. Wood paneling, brass accents, leather, velvet, silk.interiors_evergreen

Again, just a lot of black/gray/brown, but you have leather, and stone and matte and shiny and diamonds and stripes and wood and metal and marble and brass and metal. Not your average neutral.interiors_evergreen_4

Oops, she did it again.

See my point?

So we went with brown. The fabric on the couch is this awesome olive and brown houndstooth suiting type of fabric. Another texture in the same palette with the sisal carpeting. The back of the bar is an incredible tortoiseshell wallpaper from Schumacher. We have lucite, and brass, and wood, and lacquer. It all feels layered and interesting yet soothing.

But you might be like, where all dem pillars from the shoot? Those were on loan from my mom. Ours are very similar but still in sewing.

ABOUT to go into sewing. The crazy most awesomest window treatments of life.fd258_h22-e1355845025904

You knew this was coming, right?

I couldn’t keep it totally neutral forever. We went back and forth on whether or not to even do a window treatment. We have a lot of privacy from the street with our landscaping and all the lacquer looked soooo delicious. But then Pete saw this post I did on the fabric and, surprisingly, LOVED it. We are going to do shades and the birds are going to look like the ducks are flying all about the room. Plus adding in another texture in the velvet and a bit of something unexpected and beautiful.

So some takeaways from this room:

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1. Neutral can be just as exciting as balls out color, but you have to bring interest in the form of texture, pattern, and a variation of material. Here we have the lacquer on the walls contrasting with the natural seagrass. Sparkly faux tortoiseshell with leather and brass. Woven wool with velvet and silk damask.

2. A note on brown paint: I included the color that we used which was Mink by Benjamin Moore, but brown is one of those colors that changes hugely in every room. I had tried to use mink when I did the Truffleberry Market tasting room awhile back and it looked completely different with all of the light in this space.

3. I had a comment on another post asking me how lighting affects my color choices. Lighting does change the color, but I tend not to obsess over every single time of day and how the color shifts. You have to like the color in full daylight with lighting turned off since that is how you will experience the room most of the time, but make sure to come see it at night with artificial light on it. Artificial light is easier to manipulate to make the color work than natural light. There are white, yellow, pink, blue spectrum bulbs that can help with any weird tonal changes lighting brings on. And dimmers, and lamps. However, if you are carrying a color from more than one room say into hallways or on trim, you need to test it in each space. I ran into this issue upstairs with our trim color. I have always used BM white dove for trim in Chicago, Austin, clients- it never changed that much on me as a trim. We tested it in our fairly bright entry hall downstairs here and it looked great, but upstairs the hallways have no natural light and it looks straight up beige.

4. Lacquer is a ridiculous process. There is a difference between high gloss and lacquer. Lacquer in a room is hugely labor intensive and not a DIY. I believe for this room they tinted a formula from Fine Paints of Europe to match the BM Mink because FPoE has a higher gloss. They would fully spray the room, let it dry for a full day, and then come back and sand it down to be completely smooth and glassy without drips or varying thickness- but that also took a great deal of paint off. So you do it again, and again. I think they fully sprayed and sanded the room at least 6 times to get the depth of color and finish. But it totally makes the room. And in a space like this where the wall space would have otherwise been an afterthought (with so many windows and cabinets, there is ilk 1 foot of actual wall) the walls literally shine.

5. I have also received a lot of questions of finding people who can make custom furniture for you. I have gotten trade recs from friends and colleagues everywhere we have gone, but there is no substitute for doing your own research. Google, ask around, see if any fabric showrooms have people they send fabric to a lot or that they will recommend.

If you saw a pretty picture in this post, it was taken by Emily. If you saw a crappy picture, it was taken by me. If you saw some design and thought GENIUS! It was by Kelly Wearstler and/or Miles Redd.

Y’all have been asking some legit questions lately, and I appreciate that. It is helping me come up with an editorial calendar of stuff you want to see- so keep it coming! I will answer everything I can in the comments, and have been pretty good at responding to emails as well. Loving all the feedback, so keep it coming!

What do you think about this transformation? Do you miss the sunniness of the original room, or do you dig the cozy? Anything I can help you with?

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It’s our favorite room.

Master Bathroom: Before & After

This might be my favorite room to show you, because 1. I love it and 2. I actually have the evolution of the plans to show you how I work with an architect.bailey-quin-mccarthy-matchbook-magazine-11

Our Master Bathroom “After”

So our original master bedroom had a largish closet on one side that was being used as the “hers” closet, and then a very very peculiar layout in the bathroom that included “his” closet. Here are the plans for what was there when we bought the house:

Before PlanOn the left was the “his” closet. that is about 4 feet of hanging space, and then a 6 foot long, 2 foot wide claustrophobic nightmare hallway space and another 2 feet of storage behind the toilet/shower. Then there was a whole lot of wasted space over by the sinks which was really wide and open. Then a kind of cute alcove for the potty, teensy tinesy shower, and tub. This is what it looked like.


At first we thought the tile might be original and wanted to keep it and work with it. But then we realized that no matter what, the space issue in closet and the layout were just not going to work for us. We were always going to want to redo it down the line, so we just went for it. Nothing was original, and no amount of wallpaper would have made it work so it was a good thing we did.

Now here were the plans I drew up and gave to the architect with my idea of how we could fix the space.My Plan

We decided Pete would get the former “hers” closet and I would take the new closet in the bathroom space. In my version, I don’t even know how to explain it now that I know what we went with this just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

Pete’s shower was tucked behind some closet space so he could get a long narrow shower with a bench like he had in Chicago. We had to have separate sinks, and a separate bath and shower. As I mentioned before, I had the potty right next to the sink- which, if you have a choice, isn’t the choice to make. The long hanging closet on the left would be open to the room, but with really cool doors and millwork like this all-time favorite by Celerie Kemble in Lonny.celerie-kemble-home-from-lonny-mag

SO amazing. But not right for this space, plus, she already did it so well! I still used this as a major inspiration.

The architect, thankfully, was much wiser and I was wise enough to listen to him when he suggested this instead:

Architect Plan

I immediately knew this was perfection for the space. Poor Petey’s shower has been continually downgraded every renovation, but he loved it too.

I made a few revisions and we had a plan. My RevisionThe left side closet would be long hanging on one side and shoes on the other. The right side closet would be double hang on one side and drawers/shelves on the other side.

I made the tub a bit smaller- I like a smaller tub. I am wee and hate when I am trying to sit up in a tub but its all slippery and I can’t prop myself on anything because it is too big and I am flopping all around. So I suggested the tub a bit smaller with the storage shelves on either side.

I also wanted bigger sinks, which would require us to move the wall back a foot but worked fine with shoe shelves in the closet. I already knew I wanted our sinks from urban archaeology. I had seen them when I worked at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago in their showroom, and like our kitchen island, I have been storing them in my brain to use somewhere ever since.IMG_1119

Looking into the bathroom/closet from the master bedroom before:


Same view “after”. My closets are on either side there, and I would show you but they were a mess this morning and you can’t even see what’s there and I didn’t have it in me to clean them. So that will be a separate post to come. We had to do little half doors because of the swinging space. There aren’t doors on my closet. I will probably eventually do some sort of curtain, but I don’t even have carpeting in there yet so that is not real high on the list right now.

Also- we just got those shutters on the window in last week. We had poster board taped up in there until then, and it fell down one day when Pete was showering. That window faces the street. Junk takes time and I am not a super-hero. So any of you wondering how we did this so fast…we are still very much in the process of doing it.IMG_1097

The tub before.


This is what occupies that space now. As I mentioned, Pete’s shower has been continually downgraded each move. Pete’s one request in each house is a steam shower. It is his favorite thing, and he is such a good sport it is the least I can do to accommodate him. In Chicago it was big but cozy, it tucked into the space beneath the stairs so it was really deep but had a sloped ceiling with a bench tucked in:


It was amazing.

Then in Austin he took a major size downgrade, but that shower surround was so amazing I think it balanced out:


I get more emails about this than anything. I don’t know where you can buy this. I drew it up based on another amazing shower, and our contractor executed it. It is anodized aluminum adhered to the glass, rather than a framework with the glass in panes. If that helps.

So in a lot of ways our bathroom was inspired by Pete’s bathroom in Chicago. That was the first time I did the brass with the black and white, and I loved it. We reused the marble subway tile, and added the more traditional hex marble floor tile. We were going to do the shower frame like that again, but I thought in that small of a space it would be too busy.

 The other big inspiration I mentioned was Celerie Kembles bathroom in Lonny:lonny18

Another angle of the space I posted before. I loved the black millwork in that bathroom. So sexy and cool. I think the best way to use inspiration is to really study it and boil down the elements you love. Sometimes there is a way to capture what you love without copying it exactly.

What I loved was the feel of the black and white through so many textures and materials. We did a different floor tile pattern, which is a bit more feminine and fit the style of our house better. I try never to “copy” more than one element in a room. Here it was the black millwork. We have marble too, but marble is marble. I also loved that her bathroom wasn’t so sterile. I love artwork and antiques and items in a bathroom, they give it character and interest since there isn’t typically a lot of “decor” in bathrooms.

Our millwork wasn’t as ornate as hers, hers is an antique apothecary cabinet that she had added on to. Incredible. Ours is really simple, but insetting the beveled mirror gives it a lot more “special”.

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We have his and hers sinks. I was concerned we would bump into each other, but that has actually never been an issue. The sconces on either side of the medicine cabinets are from urban archaeology and took the bathroom to the next level in my opinion. They are so deco and unique and different than what I normally choose, and really informed the rest of the accessories I brought in.

photo 4I love how cozy the tub is tucked in there. I was concerned about storage with the open pedestalish sinks, but with the shelves in the tub surround and the medicine cabinets, we actually have way more than we need. We still need a light fixture above the tub though- it’s a work in progress. I am having a hard time picking because I think more brass might be toooo much brass, and I don’t mind a mix of metals but I just haven’t found the right thing yet.

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Pretty pictures by Emily Anderson

I also think I want to get some sort of vintage or antique rug for in here, I love the sort of vintage apothecary feel of the bathroom, and I think bringing something old in would give it a lot.

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Photo: Emily Anderson

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Photo Emily Anderson

SORRY FOR CUTTING OFF THE WORDS THERE. I am taking Grace to “interview” at “school” this morning and have to run. I didn’t want to wait to post the pictures for people who are more interested in the pretty, but I will be back in an hour to finish the writing.

Ok- so I have thought and thought about what I can tell y’all that might be helpful. I think that the same things that make bathrooms hard to decorate for other people are precisely why I find them so easy. I like working within small spaces and with limitations. I think maybe all of the finishes and decisions within such a utilitarian space is what throws people?

To that I would say with bathrooms and any room I try to pick one piece or moment that I love and let everything else flow out from there. You don’t have to look at the whole room and all the things it needs at once, that can be really overwhelming. Pick the sofa or the sink or the window treatments, and make the other decisions relate off of that.

For bathrooms, like I said, I like to try to include elements that feel more like decor or furniture. I think the millwork around the tub does that here, in our bathroom in Austin the framework of the shower provided that element, and in Chicago the painting over the window and curtains around the tub.

I hope that helps, I think bathrooms come really naturally to me so it is harder to break it down, but if you have any questions I am happy to answer them. I am going to do the dining room next. Surprisingly, dining rooms are the spaces I struggle most with.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Living Room: Before & After

Friday is a tough act to follow, but I am going to try to give you some insight and pearls into the process with our living room.

So, here is our living room in Chicago:Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.07.08 PM

Which I show you because I re-used 90% of this room in our current living room, and yet, to me, it looks totally different. I drew up the tufted sofa and had it made to fit the Chicago living room, and found the wing-backs on ebay and recovered them. The lamb was adopted while we were in this house off of 1st Dibs. The consoles were some cheepies from overstock or something, that we repainted. The lamps are furbish. The ottoman was Ballard upholstered in tiger velvet.

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Then this is how it looked in Austin. From Chicago to Austin we switched the coffee table/ottomans between the living room/playroom. We added in two lamps, moving the side table lamps in Chicago onto the consoles in Austin. We also added a new rug and ottoman in Austin, and moved the monkey painting that was in the kitchen in Chicago to the living room. And, the pink. Colonial Rose by Fine Paints of Europe. Otherwise the sofa, side tables, lambs, consoles, and chairs are the same in both rooms.Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.16.04 PM

And now. I think it is kind of helpful seeing them all in a row like that. Same look, three ways, ya know? Trying to illustrate my point that if you invest in one really superb piece like our couch, you can use it anywhere/everywhere as your tastes change.

So here is the before.hr2924042-17

It is an awkward room because it is kind of long and narrow. 13×24. And there you see a pathway at one end connecting our staircase/powder room/kitchen to our den/library. The wall space where the fiddle fig was above is 5’4″ to the corner. Just enough space to be awkward when empty and not enough for pretty much anything. At the other side is our entrance hall, obviously another major pathway. So the layout is trixie.

The previous owners had dealt with the situation by floating all of the furniture in the middle of the room, and I don’t know if that was for staging or if that was how they really lived in the room. It just seemed like a really formal room that would never be used. Everywhere we have lived, Pete and I try to live in each room. Which means giving each room its time to shine. We did this the best in Chicago where our living room had a fireplace but no TV, and our playroom had a TV and no fireplace. We entertained a lot in our living room, or read by the fire. And watched TV and hung out at night in the playroom.

If you want to live in all areas of your house, try to save some activities for each space. If you have multiple living spaces, make one room the game room, or the TV room, or the music room. To me a house feels homier when there is life in each room, and you can’t really fake that. Don’t leave your room lonely, if you know you won’t use your formal living room then make it your office. Nothing makes a house feel spooky like abandoned rooms.

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So this is basically the same angle after. As you can see we dealt with the awkward space by filling it up with good stuff.

No stuff or wee stuff or not enough stuff makes you look outward at your surroundings, and here that means the weird dimensions and walkways. So we filled the most awkward of corners with a piano. Space planning can be hard. And putting the piano there was a big gamble. The piano was Pete’s great-aunts who he shares a middle-name with. And it meant SO much to Pete. When his parents told us they were passing it down to us it was really important that we find a place of honor for it.

It fits in that space with not even an inch to spare. I measured it out and put painters tape on the floor to make sure it would work. It is tight, but it gives that corner a purpose and visual interest. It is a total myth that small furniture fits small rooms. Bigger pieces anchor it and give the illusion of a bigger space. It’s like when Old Navy sells some of its size 12 pants as a 6 and you feel super skinny. Big ass furniture in tiny pants rooms makes everyone feel/look better. Sometimes. I’m not sure that analogy works, but a few bigger pieces can make a small room feel bigger. hr2924042-16

Lots of tiny furniture in the middle of a skinny room. Pure, but it feels to me like you would have to have really good posture to hang out in here.


Remember the fantastic Mr. Fox Fabric?fd261_v97

Yesss. Curtains in that colorway are coming. I chose it because I love it. And because in every room where I have some bizarre color combinations, there is always one piece- even if it is tiny- that pulls together all of the colors. I did have a hard time deciding between those two color ways. As it is the room kind of has a great monochromatic thing going with the browns/oranges, and the tan color way would have continued that. But in the end I felt like it needed a little bit of contrast that the purple provided. And believe it or not- Pete voted for the purple as well.Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 7.49.52 AM It can be a fabric or a piece of art or a rug. All of the colors come from somewhere. Here you can see the green from the couch, the gray that is in the chairs, the brown in the rug? Then the orange on the walls? AND it brings in some reds/pinks/purples that aren’t in the room that will add a lot, I think. It will give me a place to go from when I add pillows to the couch and reupholster the piano bench.

So here was the thought process that brought this room out of the two previous iterations.photokh 1

It started with..well it started with the furniture. I still love our couch so much. I thought about recovering the chairs and couch in Austin, and bought the fabric and everything, but laziness prevailed and I am so glad I kept it.

I have been obsessed with the Stark Antelope for a long long time, and I can’t remember if something clicked and I was like ‘STARK! You would be GREAT friends with my living room items. Wanna date?’ ORRR if I just thought it was hot and forced it on my living room furniture, but either way, match well made, right?

So then there was the issue of wall color. And that is when I called upon mah ol’ friend I introduced you to in the last post, Mr. Roy G. Biv. Does it make you sad that I am such a simpleton? That RoyGBiv is my secret trick to making weird color combos? So R. Red, No. I like red and pink and that is Valentine’s day, but red and green is Christmas and that is ridiculous. Red is out.

Orange. Or-ahnge. Hmm had never really considered orange. But something about the idea struck my fancy this time on my tour o’Roy. Tagged it. Went through the rest of the colors and none of them turned me on. And so I looked at my House Beautiful color guide and someone suggested Orangery.


Sounds FANCY!

IMG_1409 copyI like how it is almost beige, but not. It is orange as a neutral. Color doesn’t have to be so in your face, there are pinks and lilacs and muddy greens and pale yellows that all read very close to beige without being beige. You don’t have to go full on to get some color in your life.

So here we are going to play Good Cop/Bad Cop. Things that work/Things that make me angry.

Bad news first.

I hate the fireplace. It isn’t even a fireplace. It is a mockery of coziness and love. It is not real and there is no way to make it real. So I shoved a bunch of candles in it and it makes me a lot happier, for now. Good & Bad.

All that stuff on the fireplace? So good. So not mine. Well, like half of it is mine. Half of it is my moms. And half of it is stuff pulled from other places in our home to make some visual impact here. Which is three-halves and how you make abundance. Good cop? Pretty. Bad cop? Temporary.

Good cop? I found something at the very most last minute to hang above the fireplace. DO NOT FILL A SPACE WITH “ART” JUST TO FILL IT. If you don’t have a piece you love, find a mirror. You can always repurpose a mirror, but some last minute reproduction landscape print that you hate, but has the right dimensions? Just…go with a mirror. So I found a mirror. Good. Scale of the mirror, bad. The frame needs to be at least double the thickness that it is.

That’s what she said.

Ok, wanna know what one of my favorite random moments in this room is? Our blue and white stools. I don’t know why, but I rarely use blue. I love blue. But it doesn’t seem to be a major player in my repertoire. I was looking around and thought, this room is so random. It needs a chaperone. Someone kind and Grandmotherly. And I thought of blue and white. And it totally babysits that junk and makes it look so much right-er. To me.

So this was…less focused than the last? But hopefully gave you something you can use?

I think one of my big takeaways is in terms of color scheme: Sometimes I make a bunch of random colors hang out without precedent. But in that case I am always in search of something that has all of those colors in it to bring everything together. Like in the living room. Right now there is not one place all of the colors exist at once, but when the curtains come they will. Even if it is just a tiny little swatch on a pillow, if the colors exist together somewhere else I feel like that legitimizes it. Kind of like citing articles in a paper.

Other times I find a fabric or rug or piece of art and pull the color out in unexpected ways. Seeing colors together even in totally different scales and compositions gives me confidence to know that I can make them work.

Finally, I think this room more than any other shows how flexible great pieces can be. Furniture does not have to be neutral to be flexible. I am so sick of people telling everyone to do a neutral couch and mix it up by changing out the pillows. That seems like a great way to constantly spend money. I am not saying that doesn’t work- but I would like to offer another perspective for your consideration.

Our couch is not neutral at all. The style with the tufting is like bam, and it is bright green (bam) and velvet (bam). And yet it has worked equally well in a white room with yellow accents, a pink room, and now in this orange/neutral room. We don’t even usually have pillows on it and it looks great. You do not have to buy a beige couch because it is a neutral and will transition with you. Because if you do that, every time you transition, you are still going to have to buy or create your “moment” in the room. If you make the couch your moment, you have something you can bring with you anywhere that will have visual impact and interest. You could plop our couch in the middle of a dorm room and it would be fabulous.

Finally, a note on art.IMG_1528 copy

This is not one of my strong suits. Our gallery wall here needs work.

I had initially started with the idea of the living room housing portraits only. Our own National Portrait gallery. We had the painting of the gentleman that hung in our bathroom in Chicago, and the gentleman kitty. Pete’s mom gave us that drawing you see up there of her when she was in Paris in the 60’s, and my mom gave us a beautiful sketch/photograph of her from the 70s. Then I found that guy in the striped shirt and loved him. Love him or hate him, you have to admit he belongs with us.

But then it became harder and harder to find the right pieces. And I broke my rule and bought the picture at the top left from and I like but it was an impulse buy because the wall looked lop-sided. I think works best as a way to bring something great that you adore but could never afford into your house. Or something unusual that isn’t immediately identifiable as a reproduction (i.e. not a Picasso like I did).

So then I gave up on the portraits and brought in one of Gray’s pieces. The colors look so good in here. I don’t think all the frames need to match, but these need some work to at least coordinate and not be so distracting. I am planning to gold leaf the frame with Pete’s moms portrait, and paint Gray’s frame black with a gold detail. DIY projects, y’all!

So I think that pretty much exhausts the case of the living room. Sorry I didn’t include any gifs. But was this as helpful? It is time consuming so I want to make sure y’all continue to get something out of it and I am not just talking to hear the sound of my own voice.

As always, questions in the comments I am trying to keep up with and answer as well!

It’s Fearless.

In the midst of this before and after madness I received a thoughtful note from a blog friend, Alison, asking me if I would share more candidly about the design process:

“I was reading Erin Gates’ post about her kitchen reno, and as always, was drawn in by her candid details about how she’s questioned each and every decision she made about it. Consequently, she received a lot of comments from readers who, though not professional designers, can relate to her struggles to get everything right, and to feel good about the final results…Did you experience this with this latest (or any) home project? I know you said in the article that the house itself pulled your design senses a certain way but (for example) did you know you wanted a dark green, glossy kitchen before you bought or did you just know you were feeling the white? Did you ever doubt any decision? You seem so confident in your design choices, I just love the idea of getting behind the curtain. Do you feel like you have to hold back to secure the exclusivity potential publishers require, or is it a way to preserve your brand, and just keep some things ‘close to the vest’?”

We wrote back and forth a bit about it, but I continued to receive emails and comments from readers either praising my “fearlessness” or asking me to talk more about the process.

First of all, some background: I have never actively not talked about it. I just assumed the details were boring and self-indulgent and what you want is the eye candy and sources. I still don’t know how many of you are interested in what goes on in my squirrely brain, but I figured since some of you had asked I would share a bit and see if y’all found it helpful or if you want me to shut it and just bring the pretty.

I will say I have never considered my style fearless. My style has evolved over the years and I think it has gotten better and more refined, but it really is just my style. I am flattered that people like it but I am always a little amused when the work is called “fearless”- like maybe I should be afraid of putting it out there because it is testing the boundaries of good taste? Whoopsies.

I don’t know that I would necessarily call it a skill, but certainly one of my characteristics is that I am incredibly decisive. It is one of my most noted qualities by my husband, business partners, teachers, contractors, salespeople in stores. People always comment on how quickly I make decisions. I think that it has a downside too as I can be hard to collaborate with since I often go through the debating/collaboration process in my head and find it difficult to let other people in on that. But, at least in these intensive renovations we have done over the past few years, it has served me well.

I also make better decisions under some sort of pressure and within practical constraints. I am a better editor than inventor. If you were to ask me to design some sort of fantasy dreamhouse out of thin air, I would have a really difficult time narrowing it down. I like to work within the parameters of a renovation- where there are problems that need to be solved and you can be informed by what is already there.

Finally, while I have an enormous amount of self-doubt in most areas of my life- design has never been one of them. This is kind of personal and I don’t think it is appropriate to go into on the internet, but basically I have been in a lot of environments in my life that have fostered a negative self-image, but my taste or talent or whatever you want to call it was always celebrated and has always been a great outlet for me and source of confidence.

TIP #1: Learn to trust yourself and honor your own tastes/desires. Or- if you truly have offensive taste and cannot be trusted- hire someone and TRUST them. Decorating help is not a prohibitive luxury anymore, you can hire for e-decorating and consultations at anywhere from $75-$500 which is way less than the cost of the average decorating mistake. BUT! If you hire someone, trust them. A good decorator will respect and consider your wants/needs but you won’t get their best work if you micro-manage and second guess their expertise.

So the kitchen.bailey-quin-mccarthy-matchbook-magazine-7

How did I get there. Well you saw the “befores”. The first thing I noticed in looking at the space was that it needed more counter-space/storage and that an island was very obviously missing from the layout. I had posted a few years ago when we were in Chicago about being obsessed with this island, and it immediately came to mind. After considering its more practical perfection- its petite dimensions and lack of cabinet doors that would impede the walkway-it became the jumping off point for everything else.

The next element that fell into place was the oven. I had seen it in my internet travels and I immediately recalled the mix of metals that echoed the mix on the island and plugged it in to the wishlist.

Finally, I had just done two white kitchens that I thought came out really well and that I was proud of. One being super traditional, the other being more modern- I had gotten it out of my system. Plus, to me this whole house seemed to be much moodier and darker than it had been decorated, and it honestly just seemed obvious to me that I should go dark.

TIP #2: Look at a lot of good shit. I didn’t set out to find any of these things, and if I had I might not have known what to look for. I spend my time looking at design and thinking about it and recording it here on the blog, so when it comes to decision time there are a lot of short cuts I have created in my brain of things I love. Especially now with pinterest it is so easy to save special items that you never know when you might be able to use.

Now I don’t know if this is obvious or interesting to anyone but this is how my brain works: I knew I wanted dark and a kind of list of the colors of the rainbow then pops into my head. I can be very listy/robotic here, and every time I am picking a color for anything I go through ROYGBIV.

Red. I really don’t favor red. I wear it a lot but I typically don’t use it in my homes. Orange– I will get to that in the living room but again, not one of my go-to colors. Yellow. Too bright and we did yellow in our Austin kitchen. Green. Green is my most favorite color of them all. I love all shades of it equally and passionately. It can be bright and spring or really moody in the army/olive tones, or more traditional/british racing green. While I never use red, I use green in pretty much every room. So I flagged that as an idea. Blue– I remembered the hague blue kitchen Miles Redd did awhile back that has always been my favorite. miles redd kitchen Also tagged that.

Indigo– I’m just not a purple person and even though purple cabinets it would have really been fearless and ballsy and could have been amazing:8600807eac60c9c8abd6656508bf3494  I try to never do anything just in an effort to “push it”. I have in the past, and it always turns out a little obnoxious and insincere. Pink– again, too bright and not what I was feeling for the space. Brown/Black– black has been done a lot and I think was a little more traditional than I wanted here. Brown we had already decided on in the den.

So I had the hague blue kitchen Miles did as my major inspiration, along with my deep abiding love of green. I love hague blue and did our guest bedroom in it, and while I have no problem doing a trend if I really love it, the blue Miles kitchen was such perfection what would be the point of redoing it? What would that add to the conversation? If I ever want to enjoy it I can look at it on pinterest. I want to create some new good junk to look at. So green it was. And with the brass in the island and stove, a sort of hunter/evergreen seemed obvious to me.

I posted the plan here. I never thought of it as daring, although I did see an amazing matte finish dark green kitchen on a blog when we were in the middle of the process and everyone on this blog was trashing it being like UGH VOMIT!!! GREEN IN A KITCHEN?!? HOW GOUCHE!! And I was like, umm, shit? But again, though completely stunted by oppressive self doubt in literally every other aspect of my life/character, in this one thing:


TIP #3: That little color game is something I go through in every room. Even when I am already certain about the color direction I challenge myself to think through the rainbow and consider if there is a better less obvious option. A really great tool for this too is House Beautifuls Color Guide. I literally consult this every day. Paint decks are overwhelming and so blah. Their color guide sorts paint colors that have been vetted by designers first by color and then by room and room issues (small, south facing etc) and there are so many tones and ideas throughout, I often see a color that I had never considered in a new way. Probably the most helpful decorating tool I utilize.

Approaching the renovation I imagine what it will be like to actually live in the room. I think through daily tasks that will take place in there like cooking and Gracie playing on the floor next to me and getting under my feet while I am taking a hot pan out of the oven and tripping and at best wasting perfectly delicious baked goods and at worst really hurting her. So at least with the way my brain works it becomes obvious to take out the ovens and move them to one integrated cooking zone.

On the refrigerator, we didn’t have a lot of space and we don’t really use a freezer much, so I favor top/bottom freezer/fridges because I just think it offers more practical/useful fridge space. Both of these decisions were unpopular with my contractor who was in the doghouse about his bid and felt like taking out perfectly good ovens/refrigerators were wasteful. And in a way it is, but I didn’t like them and have found it is always more wasteful to spend money working around a big problem rather than addressing it head on. You will usually still hate what you hated at first and now you have spent more money disguising it rather than fixing it.

TIP #4: As much as you can, do not get bogged down by guilt at changing someone else’s idea of what is perfectly good. Homes should be personal and living with something you don’t like because it is fancy/nice is like living by someone else’s values/judgements. It isn’t always possible or financially responsible, but if you can change it don’t let guilt hold you back. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think creatively about all of your options- but if the answer is really that it doesn’t work for you, change it.

In terms of working with a contractor/architect, I have worked with both on all three homes. And in all three situations, for me at least, the contractor was way more important than the architect. You have to have an architect or accredited designer if you are going to move walls, and I do not have the proper credentials so after I have thought through all the changes I want, I draw them out to scale on graph paper and hire an architect to tell me if what I had envisioned works.

We have mostly ended up with proper versions of what I intitally drew, but in every renovation there is at least one big change that the architect suggests for better space utilization that we have gone with that has made the whole thing. In Chicago I had initially drawn our master suite occupying the entire third floor addition, and he moved it to the second floor and put our family room/guest bedroom on the third floor which was SO much better. In Austin I had his/hers closets on one side of our master and a shared bathroom on the other, and our architect suggested one space be used for a hers bath/closet combo and the other for a his bathroom/closet combo and again, it was so much better. Here the layout for the bathroom changed and made much better use of the space by hiding the toilet behind the shower when I had it right next to a sink. Eww.

TIP #5: Hire the right people. Listen to them but be prepared to illustrate what you want. Know when their expertise is better and when to trust what you know about how you live. Your contractor is everything. It doesn’t matter how highly recommended they are (and references are important) if they seem AT ALL arrogant, overwhelmed, frenzied, or lazy I would not hire them. The contractors I have had the best experiences with are super humble, super chill, and always say “yes”. That doesn’t mean that they can always do it- but they always say yes to at least exploring an idea. They have to manage a lot of personalities, so you want them to be tough and on it but not hot-headed. I have had really great contractors, and they have all been super respectful and listen to women (you would be surprised how many people in the renovation industry are not) and just sort of unassuming quietly confident people.

The glass cabinet doors were chosen because I thought it might break up the green and keep it from being too in-your-face while still creating a seemless flow of beautiful glossiness.

I wasn’t crazy about the color of the floors in the house, they are a little 90s orangey- but they are also wonderfully aged and beat up so they don’t look quite so cheap/outdated as that stain can be. Pete really wanted to refinish them but it would have added a month onto our renovation that I could not tolerate. I decided to keep them, but have added more rugs than I normally use to break it up and not make them such a presence.

The dining table was chosen for practicality- dealing with legs in an awkward space really limits you & a pedestal allows for unfettered movement. Also, I feel like family kitchen tables are a kind of defining thing. People usually have kitchen tables that seat exactly the number of people in their family, sometimes +1 but think about it. Because who wants to sit at dinner/breakfast with your family with empty chairs at empty tables.tumblr_mghurlRyGP1qcrfp8o4_r1_250

Sooo in my overly analytical brain that also makes a tulip table a good choice because you don’t have the defined places for chairs that table legs create. We want a lot of children but don’t know how many we will have, and the table looks just as good with the 3 chairs we have now as it would if we added two more. I wanted a mix of materials, and we didn’t have any wood so I choose the dark stained top. Now- if I am going to be candid here is one area where I had some self doubt and made the wrong decision.

While most of our pieces have transitioned with us throughout our moves, we have gone through a lot of dining tables. We purchased a dining room and kitchen table for our house in Chicago, and replaced the kitchen table in Austin. In this house we would be replacing both yet again and even though I have been able to sell them, I felt wasteful. And I always get nervous showing our houses anticipating the inevitable negative comments about how young I am and money and all that (listen, I get it, but it is what it is) and this was one time when I could just hear the criticism and I wanted to be able to be like, Look! I got a deal! I can be frugal! And so I bought this knock off version of a tulip that at the time was about ¼ of the cost of the real deal.

I had used the marble top version in client spaces and it was great, but this one is…not. The grain on the top just looks super cheap and is rough to the touch. The color is uneven and it arrived pretty banged up. I think because the top is janky I now notice how the base is not quite as elegant as the real deal, and the whole thing just pisses me off. And it pisses me off because even though it was ¼ of the real deal, it was still a lot of money. And because I chose it out of a fear-induced desire to please others rather than sticking with what made the most sense for us.

So there is that.

TIP #6: Don’t be a poser in your own home. It is hard enough trying to conceal our true inner freak with instagram/twitter/facebook documenting every moment of our lives. At home? Give it a rest. Let your freak flag fly. Whether that means risking judgement from others on how you spend your money, or hanging a painting with the word “pussy” on it in your living room, just do you. I promise you will be happier.phoseto

Finally, I will say whether or not you love my style or is a little too fearless/out there for you- let yourself get excited in design. It costs money whether or not you go for it, so at least enjoy it. Reconsidering what I said earlier, maybe on some level I do feel the fearlessness of my design.tumblr_lzo6dfUikI1r473uyo1_500


I have never thought of it like that, but I do find it truly exciting and invigorating. Maybe that is the test to push yourself a bit without going too far out? It should feel like a first kiss and the first day of school and like having to give a speech in front of an auditorium.

A first kiss is nerve wracking and its hard to make the move and there is a lot that can go wrong- but when it is good and comes from pure desire, it is always worth it.

The first day of school was always scary, but it was also full of possibility to be the best version of yourself and while for me at least I never quite got there because I was so scared of what kids would think about who I really was, don’t we all kind of wish we could go back to highschool with what we know now? Being the more interesting, confident, empathetic people we have become with age? Decorating authentically is kind of like that. Don’t let the bullies or the popular girls convince you that your denim leisure suit is anything less than fierce.

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Choose confidence.

And giving a speech in an auditorium, or a toast, always something I struggle with. But when you nail it? And you are able to communicate honestly, openly and effectively and make those connections with people? It is such a breakthrough. And that is probably the closest way I could think of to describe what it feels like when my work is published and I get such incredible support and affirmations from all of you.

And that sounds ridiculously self-important. But if I am honest and own up to it, my work has given me a confidence and joy that does not come naturally in other areas of my life. It is a way for me to communicate who I am and who I want to be in a way that people seem to respond to, and with the perspective that it isn’t life or death, it is still pretty wonderful and I would hope everyone has something in their lives that does that for them, and that they get the same pleasure and comfort out of their home that I have found.

So…what do you think? Was any of this helpful? Would you like a less intensive/wordy version of the process when it is applicable for the rest of the before & afters or have I completely overreached? Have you ever read so many adverbs in one place in your life?

Mr Banks Before&After Playroom and Laundry Room

I love the before and after of the playroom because it shows what a big difference some paint can make, and also because I basically just reused the concept I came up with for the family room in Chicago, and took it to the next level. If you want to see our first go at this, here is the post on our Chicago playroom.




And a close up…

…and another angle


After…The gold disco ball is everything.



Laundry Room

Before: Our garage is attached and you enter into the house through the laundry room. Before it was just poorly laid out, and there was oddly a toilet in there with no door that was open to the playroom. We closed off that access and changed up the floor plan…

After…So now the wall that it shares with the garage has the washer, dryer, and sink. Obviously these aren’t styled and pretty. Laundry room is for real life, always.


After…And this side has a mudroom bench with cubbies. I am showing you this to keep it real…Not everything is perfect and finished. I want to get a cushion made for the bench, and hooks…And to clean all the junk out of here. But I still love this room, it is so functional, but still not bad to look at! One of these days I will get it properly fluffed and show y’all. And then I will be one of those people who even my laundry room is fancy like in those show houses.


As always, I will do my best to answer whatever questions you leave in the comments.

Monday we will do the upstairs guest beds and baths!