Design Personality Disorder

 Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

So, this is embarrassing. I'm going to describe a décor trap that I am all too familiar with, because it happened to ME (quick side note – many of the issues in my blog will be about lessons I have learned not only through years as an interior designer, but through experiences with my own home). Okay back to my story: when my husband and I were married in 1994 we bought our first house. We were enticed by the neighborhood and the views, and despite having a degree in architecture, I was young and new to being a homeowner. The house was lovely but spec home quality, and very traditional. I didn't really make a conscious recognition of the style of the house at the time.


After a few years the trends in design changed and I began to think that I liked Mediterranean-style (probably because I saw it in all of the magazines and stores!). I started decorating my home not thinking about the architectural style of the house, but just buying things that I thought seemed cool. I ended up with curvy iron light fixtures, terra-cotta planters, and I even replaced our tile (yep – LOTS of it!) with a cheap version of something meant to look like saltillo tile. In a traditional brick house. What? (I told you this was embarrassing!)

The result is what I will call a house with a “personality disorder". It had veered from it’s true identity, and the mojo of the house had definitely gotten lost along the way...


After years of trying to figure out what wasn’t working, one day it hit me - I needed to get back to the roots of the house! Unfortunately some of the changes I had made were not inexpensive to fix, but I vowed to get back on track with each small decision that was made, hoping that one day I could make major progress.

Then a few years ago we committed to a major renovation. Out came my ‘inspiration’ notebook (many years of clippings had accumulated before Pinterest came along!) and the vision in my mind became a reality. Now I really love my house. It’s not fancy, but it makes me happy and it finally feels cohesive.


Take some time to think about the architecture of your home. Is it Traditional? Contemporary? Ranch Style? For those of you who don’t know I’ll provide tips on that down the road. Then consider the interiors and take note of fixtures, finishes, or furnishings that are in conflict with the style flow. Now, there is a chance that some of you might say "my house is traditional, but I prefer modern". That's okay! Aim for a "sleek and simple" version of traditional. Whether you have sights of remodeling or just occasionally like to tweak your surroundings, think about what the house wants to be, and with each change you make strive to further develop the core style of the home.


Your Interior Style

 Photo by An Indoor Lady

Photo by An Indoor Lady

In the last post I suggested that to feel satisfied in your own space you have to stop chasing after what other people want in a home, and get to the bottom of what’s important to you. I know that’s easier said than done. Frequently when I meet with new clients they say “I don’t know my style”. It’s probably because for most of us it’s not cut and dried, and it’s easy to be influenced by trends and what other people think is “stylish”. That’s why I’m going to guide us through it in a way that is inward focused and independent of trends. Now, get a cup of coffee, something to write with, and find a cozy place to settle in. This is going to be fun, but you have to be free of distractions.

Finding your “Happy Place”

Let’s discover how you are affected by your environment. Think of a favorite place (it doesn’t have to be a room. It can be a childhood meeting spot, a friend’s house, a hotel, etc.). What did you like about it? How did it make you feel? Was it open and light? Or warm and cozy? Perhaps it was a bed and breakfast with crisp white sheets and beautiful views. Or maybe it was your dad’s study with dark wood paneling, a worn leather sofa, and the smell of pipe tobacco. Take your time and document everything you can think of, being as specific as you can. Make a list of at least 5 physical descriptors, including colors, smells, etc.. Then out to the right, list the emotions evoked.

Conversely, think of a place where you did not feel joyful. What was disturbing about it? Was it cold and sterile? Cluttered and claustrophobic? I often hear references to hospitals or to grandma's house for this part (sorry grandma!). Describe the space in detail, including sensory perceptions and how it made you feel. Make the list again, of at least 5 physical descriptors and the emotional associations.

This is YOU!

Now, imagine a place where your closest friends would walk in and say “Wow - this is so YOU”. What would it look like? Would it be casual? Formal? Spare and neutral, or colorful and adorned with interesting items at every turn? If you’re unsure then think about your wardrobe. Do you lean toward neutrals with “go-to” basics and little variation from day to day? Or do you love fun, colorful prints and wouldn’t dare be seen in the same thing twice? For me, most of my closet is white and denim - and if it were socially acceptable I'd wear the same thing every day (please tell me it is!). These are clues to the fact that you do have a style, even if you might not realize it. Use these ideas to make a list of the 5 adjectives that others might use to describe your ideal space.

Assessing your Current House

Think about how that “perfect you” compares with your current home. I realize it’s complicated, because many of us live with a companion, or have inherited items we didn’t select, but try to identify which elements of your space don’t jive with your taste. From there you can develop a grand plan for your overall direction, because for most of us re-inventing our environment is a gradual process. Admittedly, I have never really liked most of my furniture, but I haven't had the opportunity to buy more than a few pieces at a time. If I'd had a master plan I could have been wiser about my purchases. Instead when replacing worn out items, I let the style of the existing pieces drive the process. I wouldn’t have even picked those to begin with!

The Bottom Line

Now let’s create a summary. Review the descriptors and emotions you wrote for your favorite and least favorite environments, and how your closest friends would describe your ideal space. Pick 4 key words to describe the physical qualities that you gravitate toward, and 3 of the emotions you strive for. My list looks like this:

Adjectives: 1) Comfortable 2) Simple 3) Fresh 4) Natural

Emotions: 1) Relaxed 2) Cheerful 3) Calm

Write your words in bold letters at the bottom of the page, and let them become your guide. The next time you consider ANY purchase for your home, ask yourself “does this purchase fit my ideal description?”. Every item you bring in, whether big or small, will either contribute to the end goal or detract from it.

The Jones's

 photo by fine focus photography

photo by fine focus photography

Party at The Jones's

Does this sound familiar? You go to a party at a friend's fabulous new home. They have everything you ever imagined: high ceilings, exotic materials, a fancy wine bar, top of the line appliances, and giant windows overlooking a zero-edge pool. And they can't wait to tell you about it! At the end of the evening you walk back into your own home to find dingy baseboards, dated paint colors, old windows, and piles on the countertop for lack of storage. You think to yourself "I need a new house".

Every House Has Potential

So here's the deal – every house has a personality, and every house has potential. In twelve years of doing remodels I have yet to find one that doesn't. The challenge is tapping into which unique qualities of your home should be preserved, and which should be changed. The key is to appreciate what your house is rather than trying to make it something that it's not. Make it the best it can be and embrace it! If it's a traditional red brick home, play up the qualities that give it character and create a charming and functional version of itself. Is it a nineties spec home that seems to lack soul? Inject some! Identify it’s core style, and then head to Pinterest to get inspired. There are millions of fabulous and fresh ideas out there!

What’s Important to You in Your Home Environment

There’s a lot of pressure in our world today, and we carry the burden of high expectations and a desire to be successful. It's overwhelming! Your home should be a place to renew and recharge. Often when I find myself caught in the mode of running hard and struggling to keep up, I try to take a step back and say "what am I doing this for?" It's a vicious cycle and it's easy to lose sight of what's important. In light of that, the same applies for the vision for your home. What's important to you? I urge you to let go of any competitive feelings about this and do some true soul searching (I have a questionnaire I give to my clients to help them with this exercise).  It may seem impressive to walk into a friend’s house with high ceilings and fancy finishes, but is that really what's important to you? For me it's not about square footage or expensive things. It's about flow, freshness, and livability. That's me. What makes you happy? Is it natural light? Warm and cozy textures? Getting in touch with that is how you can express yourself through your environment and learn to love where you are.