Thursday, February 7, 2013

Design from Afar: Katie's Bedroom

Welcome to our first Design from Afar Challenge!

One dear reader, Katie from New York City, asked us to ZenShmen her bedroom from a distance.  Were we up for the challenge?  Of course!

Katie recently moved into an absolutely gorgeous home and made the most of its grandiose architecture, cook's kitchen, unified color scheme (brown and beige) and unique touches.

But lately, she felt her bedroom was a little blah and wasn't sure what to do with it.  There might be something missing...  but what?  She sent us tons of photos and was very open about her (in)decisions.  She shared what she felt might or might not work and why and, given all the options, was now stuck at a standstill.  How does one get unstuck, without spending a fortune?

Here is the challenge she threw down for us:

1.  How to work with the existing colors?  A total repaint job isn't in the cards.
2.  How to add more color(s) that won't overwhelm?  She recently added the teal curtains and felt comfortable with the choice.  Both she and the hubby liked them!
3.  What to do with the blank walls?
4.  What to do with the original chandelier?  She is torn between repainting it and leaving its original character intact.
5.  What to do with the antique sewing table in the back corner?  It's cool to look at, but kind of lost on the dark wall.

Considering all the delicious features and details in this room - the brick fireplace, huge windows, cowhide rug, the corner office - it's a creative challenge we can really sink our teeth into!  Here are our recommendations.

1.  Pick your favorite color combo.

Choosing colors isn't nearly as intimidating as one might think.  You either like 'em or you don't.  Forget what the designers say - the way colors mingle together is either pleasing to your eye or makes you cringe. 

One tip-off was the teal curtains.  Teal is a beautiful choice - deep and rich, it also plays very well with others.  Above are a few combinations that can work with teal.  I noticed a mustard-colored throw blanket on the bed.  Combined with the teal, brown and creme, they're already well on their way to a great color scheme.

Picking from one of the above combos will make her next decisions easier.

2.  Spice up the walls

As for the blank walls, this is where it gets fun.  Katie mentioned she loved tinkering with her photographs and having them framed.  That's one of my favorite solutions - both affordable and very personal.

I suggest Katie goes big and bold on her wall next to the door, and over the fireplace.   She can look into having large-scale "engineering prints" made on the cheap at Staples, although they are only black-and white.  In addition to art, I included a few photo-based options in the suggestions.  Other budget-friendly options are framing a beautiful piece of fabric or even wrapping paper (especially the hand-printed kind you buy one sheet at a time in a stationary shop).

The key is finding a design you find visually interesting, that somehow speaks to you.  This will introduce color and texture and you may quite find that this was, quite simply, what was missing all along.

If it were my house?  Framed photos of my littles.  And they don't all have to be smiling faces - I get a real kick out of daydreamy poses, blurry arty stuff, and even crying shots.  They've got to make you smile and feel warm inside - that's the only rule here.

For photo-wall inspiration and photo ideas, check out my Pinterest board Awe - Photo Love.
To learn a super easy way to put up a gallery-style grid of photos, check out our recent post, Gallery Wall How-To.

 3.  Add (impermanent) color with pillows and blankets

Pillows and blankets are a super easy way to inject a shot of color and personality into a room.   My favorites here?  The octopus and cassette-tape pillows.

Katie mentioned she has a top-quality desk chair that she absolutely loves.  However, it's bright red and she's not so sure it fits with the overall scheme of the room.  Quick fix?  Toss a throw blanket over the back and minimize the exposure to the red.

4.  Consider BIGGER color

Last point on introducing color: Think bigger!  If they're feeling a little bold, they can bring in a whole other large-scale focal point.   Pictured here:  a bedspread, new (or newly painted) table or even big ol' chair for that dark corner.

Not quite ready to take the plunge?  Maybe there's an item from elsewhere in the house that can be reassigned to this room for a few weeks, to feel it out?

Perhaps an upholstered chair that can benefit from having its seat recovered in a fresh new fabric.  (It's not that hard, promise!  Check out this Ugly-to-Nice piece on redoing an old chair)

These birdcages were included following Katie's inspiring comment:  she and her husband decided early in their marriage that they didn't want a house crammed full of stuff and decorations, but rather they wanted to collect a few worthwhile, meaningful things on their journey through life together.  I love that. 

The Chandelier

The chandelier does pose a unique creative challenge.  I'll admit I'm also kind of torn.  While I love staying true to a house's original character, I don't love living with things that are 'so not me' because they've been there longer than I have.  I like to love my surroundings, and that often means giving them my personal touch.  That may mean something drastic, or something quite subtle.

If this were my house, I would paint the entire thing a creamy ivory color and replace the shades with some in the same color that are a tad more contemporary.  My thinking is, the drama and stature of the thing is in its imposing size and shape.  Unifying its colors isn't going to make it any less striking, but rather a little more elegant and subdued.

The corner with the sewing table 


Last but not least, the sewing table corner.  Depending on whether Katie wants to swap it out for something else in the house, it may not be a permanent part of the bedroom.  If she keeps in here, she could paint the legs a different color (like mustard yellow, like the blanket on the bed) or leave it as is and work on the wall.

One thing is for sure:  I'm a big fan of symmetry.  I suggest adding more bookshelves on the blank wall that will mirror the ones on the right on the fireplace.  On those shelves, treasures collected on life's journey, special photos, books, storage boxes like the ones already in the room.

 * * *

That concludes our first post about about helping design a room from a distance!  Katie, we can't wait to hear what you think of our suggestions.

My dear readers, what did you think of this project?  I had a great time working on this, and hope you had a great time reading about it.  Should we be doing more of this stuff?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

If you're curious about anything on the inspiration boards and would like to know more about them, you can find the original sources as individual pins collected on my board called Katie's Room on Pinterest.
(Disclaimer: these images are strictly used for inspiration purposes and I make no ownership claims whatsoever on them.)

Until next time!



  1. This is without a doubt the coolest thing I've ever seen. Design from afar is revolutionary!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to really think about what I wanted. I love all the suggestions. You really have an eye. The most interesting point, to me, is about symmetry. I never thought of it, but now that you say it, I think that's been what this room is missing.

    We're on a budget crunch so I'll have to do your suggestions over time. However, after the symmetry reveal, I did find two lamps at Target on the clearance table for 13.99 each. Just the simple addition of matching lamps on either side of the bed make a huge difference. They are 70's green with cream shades. I may paint them, but for now...

    I will probably also install the shelves on the left side of the fireplace because it's easy to do and we already have the Brown paint. So much brown paint... The colors are going to take me longer because the way you laid out the concept is totally new for me. I want to take my time to find the colors that make me as happy as laying in bed on a Sunday morning. I actually moved the blue curtains into the kid's room and put up the old beige ones that were there from previous owner. They are boring, but it's better that way, for now. They don't fight for attention from the massive lamp- so it's just more peaceful in there.

    Next step: make some prints for the walls and replace those horrible Ikea rolling filing cabinets we are currently using as nightstands. Damn nightstands, why you got to be so expensive?

    I'll keep you posted!

    1. Katie I had a great time putting this together! I'm happy to venture into more of this. If you know anyone who's interested, send them my way ;)
      I completely understand about budget constraints and moving slowly -- the beauty of taking your time is that the look will evolve organically.
      I was sure those excellent photos of feet underwater in Mexico were going to be a future project!
      Keep us posted on your plans and (no pressure) we'd love to see some pix as things change.
      Val :)


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