My Actual Design Process (and Yes, a Mountain House Update)
We spent over two weeks up there over Christmas and I can say without hyperbole that it was the best two weeks of my life. The energy was so good and calm. The kids didn’t fight and barely asked to watch TV. We crafted, had scavenger hunts, went on one million walks and bug hunts, made forts, cooked so much soup, hung out with friends, and I took 8-10 micro bubble baths. I didn’t open my laptop except to order vacuum bags. At one point, I realized that I hadn’t been in a car in FIVE DAYS.
The point is, that house is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing for me: forcing me to relax and unplug, and providing a space away from LA to connect with my family. Also, let’s face it, the sweet, sweet satisfaction of being done with the most stressful renovation of my life doesn’t hurt, coupled with the fact that I truly love, love, love the design. I suppose I felt a lot of pride in it and the only pain I felt was fulfilling your survey request to NOT show you too much on social media.
The day before we moved in back in December, my team and I went up there to set it all up. We brought up a combination of leftover furniture from my house, the Portland project (that I had shipped down) and then we brought what was over from our storage unit up in the mountains. We placed it all and I realized that it looked PRETTY DARN GOOD. Was I expecting to use my old sofa up there? No, but I really loved it in the family room. Did I think that my wood armchairs that were originally in LA would be so comfortable and feel right in the living room? Nope. And while all of it might get moved around, it made me really reconsider something…wait, why am considering replacing all these pieces that I actually like? Why not just see if I can make these work in the design of the house and then if they can’t, move on from there?
It was such a relief to make that decision, and little did I know that it was aligned with the feedback from you about more approachable ideas and less “look at my custom sofa that took six months to design.” But this does mean something else and I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about it…
…We are officially done with the “I Design, You Decide” series for furniture and decor (of course the Vacay Giveaway will still happen and everything that has been recorded thus far will still count). There might be some projects along the way to vote on, but it stopped making sense for where we are right now because I really only wanted the house to look and feel one way and creating two design plans that look almost identical just seemed like a marketing gimmick. It was awesome for bathrooms and somehow made more sense, but showing you two very similar white rugs and being like “I don’t know guys, I just can’t decide” seems well, offensively obvious and condescending.
So I’ll be approaching decorating this project just like I do with most—using my three main steps. I’m starting from scratch in a way, but loosening up the perfection reigns for what I have that already works.
HOW DO I WANT IT TO LOOK & FEEL?
I already knew the style: the Rustic-Scandinian-Modern-Mountain-Minimalist-Contemporary-California-Chalet-Cabin look. It only took me one year and 82 “debates” with Brian to figure that out, and I’m literally an interior designer that should win all design wars (except Brian is typically right).
As a reminder, here are some reference photos (some you’ve seen, some new) for the vibe I’m after:
Most of the time, your style is derived from a combination of a few things:
- The architecture of the space. Sometimes a house wants you to lean in a direction but do NOT let your 100-year-old English Tudor bully you as mine did.
- Your own personal style. Your aesthetic preferences and what feels like “YOU” is very important.
- How you want it to “feel” versus look. Maybe your style is one way at work but you want home to feel different, so it’s not just your style, it’s the feeling that you want to get from your home.
For me and this house, I want it to feel the following things: Calm. Quiet. Relaxing. Airy. Full of space and light. Comfortable. SO COMFORTABLE. Happy, but not loud. In fact, so, so, so quiet…but interesting, with some quirk and unpredictable moments.
So I created a fantasy mood board that we love…let’s call this a “feelings board.”
Great. I’ll take it all.
A huge part of the design process is this step because it really to helps you understand what you are going for, EVEN IF you/I can’t actually purchase all or any of those things. It’s aspirational and it’s important to do because it’s a good reminder of how to stay on track, and, of course, to remind me to search and find the more affordable versions of those things.
That was our first board, but as it felt a bit unattainable, we redid it to feel more achievable—something I might actually be able to do.
It’s not totally different, and yet it’s more realistic for me right now.
Next up is…
CHOOSE YOUR COLOR PALETTE
You have your “look and feel” and some style semantics to help you explain it to others, so next, it’s time to come up with a color palette. You might actually be able to pull your palette from your inspiration board, with some tweaks, so let what you’re drawn to in your aesthetic vibe guide you if you’re stuck. For me, well…before you see mine you might want to alert the authorities but please don’t bother because the Associated Press has already ran the “Emily Henderson shocks nation with revolutionary color palette” story.
But it’s different this time, I SWEAR…
The blues are muted and more grayed out. The grays are softer, more heathered. The whites are creamier. There is more black but in tiny moments (well, except for that sexy black bathroom), and the green is more earthy, less poppy. There will nary be a bright color in this house, with the exception of the kids room.
That is a pretty paired down palette and I know there will be some blushes and warmer tones involved, but you get the idea.
BRING IN TEXTURE
Besides colors, you have the all-important textures that round it all out, that can add depth where colors can’t. Our wood is light, reclaimed and with a matte finish. The black iron is thin (and also matte). The schmear on the fireplace and the plaster is soft and even the stone is subdued and softened by being leathered instead of polished or honed. I forgot to put the brass up there, but hopefully you can get it (and we’ll edit it).
SHOP WHAT YOU HAVE
Use what you’ve got. Before you start all over, assess your situation. I ALMOST FORGOT THIS STEP.
Instead of ditching everything I have, I took an inventory of what I was already storing in my garage or in my house that really fit the mountain house vibe. Sure, I shopped some at the flea market, but at first, I pulled from what I already had and brought them up there. I didn’t know where things would go or in what room, I used my “pretty looks good next to pretty” rule and brought up anything that I loved in the vibe/feel, color palette and look we were going for.
So here is what I have up there right now. Maybe all of it won’t stay and maybe it will be moved around and around and around, but I was shocked at how great it all looked together.
The vintage Børge Mogensen chair and ottoman looked bad in its original fabric in our LA house, but up there near the family room fireplace, it sings. My Target tripod lamps (both floor and table) are great. I shipped home the most beautiful mirrors (from Thos. Moser) from the Portland Project and last year, I snagged the Rejuvenation tables for a makeover that never ended up happening. The tall blonde one looks so great with our sectional.
The soft rug from Dash & Albert that you might recognize from the Portland living room is looking great in the family room. The Article chair is next to our master fireplace (although I think it would shine more not so close to a big black steel square) and the Katy Skelton sofa is currently trying to find a home up there (but I might just put it in Birdie’s old room down here since they share a room now…more on that later). Oh, and that little black table from Target, which I’ve used all over so far…I just love its updated traditional shape and matte black finish.
The navy sofa (from Interior Define), wood armed chair, vintage Saarinen coffee table and Schoolhouse lamp are all things I’ve had FOR YEARS. I’m SO glad I kept all of them. They are honestly looking so good up there. They are all so practical and comfortable (and kid-friendly) and yes, in my color palette. The one good thing about being consistent in color palette is that things date a lot less quickly.
Lastly, the world’s most comfortable shag rug (it was Brian’s only real demand) will likely make its way into our master bedroom. I’ve used this I think five other times in a project and I can’t wait to dig my toes into the cush of it in the morning before having to have the “awful” debate with oneself of whether I take a bubble massage bath or a steam shower…Also, the universe’s most beautiful chair (by Fernweh Woodworking out of Oregon) was a gift from the Portland project that will likely don the most perfect corner near a window somewhere.
Regarding the Article sectional…I have shopped and searched for something super interesting and conversation making, but ultimatley this one that already sits in the room is kinda perfect for the vibe and style. Plus, it’s VERY comfortable. Someday I might find that perfectly weird low ’70s sectional that steals all of our hearts, but until then, I love this guy. Honestly, sometimes I wish it were in my living room here, too, but then I think “surely I can’t use the same sofa twice…” But can’t I?
So that’s where we are. It’s furnished, but not finished. It’s comfortable but not perfect. It’s getting there and throughout the next 6-9 months, we’ll be finishing the rooms and revealing them. As much as I’d love to wait to reveal EVERYTHING all at once, I just don’t think I’m willing to wait that long to start showing you (and I doubt you want to wait that long either).
I literally can’t wait to show you. As a massive over-sharer (duh), it’s hard to keep it all to myself so instead, I’ll just do my best to finish it more quickly so that you (and I ) can get the satisfaction we both need. Okay, fine, here’s just one little sliver shot I took on my phone a few weeks back, because I can’t help myself:
Thoughts? Comments? Opinions?
*And again, we are working out what the rest of “I Design, You Decide” and Vacay Giveaway’ looks like but the more you comment and share, the more entries you get and YES that will still happen. I can’t wait to host any of you who have been invested enough in this project to share it…and trust me…you’ll have a good time at this house. It’s my absolute happy place and maybe yours.