Close friends of ours rented a 14th-century castle in Spain seven years ago where we stayed for a couple of weeks. It was dark, weird, full of stone and narrow passageways, and creepy historical secrets. Then, as you rounded the corner, the kitchen was flat panel cabinetry and stainless steel countertops. As an American, who doesn’t have to work with truly “historic” properties, this was unsettling. But this happens all over Europe – old building shells with contemporary vessel sinks and stainless countertops, offering the latest non-historic amenities. I think there is something kinda badass about it – as if historic homes are so normal there that you don’t feel this preciousness to restrain yourself and “reference the era”. If you want fresh and contemporary ya just do it. When it’s done right it’s SO EXCITING, but when it’s done cheaply/generically it feels sad and soulless like something was taken without giving back. Like a pop-up generic sunglass kiosk in the middle of a thriving cultural farmers market. No! Not here!
Another Example: When I revealed the kid’s fabric headboard wall at the mountain house (in a cute animal fabric) many readers commented that it was so not “mountain” and that it was more “safari”. It hadn’t occurred to me AT ALL until that moment and I remember thinking, “Are they right? Did I just do something weird and non-sensical? Does this fabric just not fit??” Ultimately it doesn’t really matter because life is a lot bigger than this, but at the same time when you walk into a space that has a clear, cohesive look, something about that clarity feels reassuring and calming. Is having a super cohesive themed vibe better for experiencing a space?
It just begs the question – how much do you have to reference the original architectural style of your home when doing an extensive remodel? Furthermore how much do you need to align the decorating and furnishing with the architectural style?
I LOVE A THEME… And Love A Mix Even More In My Home
I find that experiencing a room with complete design cohesion feels just so clear and calming. Your brain and eyes don’t have to “figure it out,” they just experience the intent of the space and enjoy it in its clarity. That sounds pretty great and is like most great hotels (and now that I’m thinking about it, the mountain house has a very singular vibe). But due to my natural eclectic nature, and my now very sentimental attachments to so many pieces that I have collected and loved SO MUCH over the years, one style isn’t possible over here. It’s a mashup, that without a lot of attention can look like a thrift store, but also feels like capital H Home.
When we bought the farm I knew that I wanted it to feel casual and solid, with some classic country motifs (plaid, stripes, wood, quilt). The real question was how rustic do we go? I look at Claire Zinnecker’s farm, full of so much rusticness and charm, antiques, chippy paint, and quirk, and at times I wish I had gone in that direction (it’s so good). And then I look at Sara Sherman Samuel’s home, also a very clear style and I want that!! Both of their interior styles matched the architectural styles so perfectly (as intended). But what about those of us whose style doesn’t totally match our architecture? I love the country/nature A LOT, but I’m not hyper-traditional. Sure, I love plaids and ticking stripes, but it wasn’t until I found “shaker farmhouse” that I decided marrying my love of simplicity and the warmth of country might be the combination. But even that I haven’t stuck to it! I have recently brought in some more contemporary pieces and it’s making this place feel alive in such a good way!
Those following along for a long time (thank you) have seen me design/decorate many houses of different architectural styles. They all tend to have an “EHD vibe” – but have been very, very different. I personally love to lean into the architecture and let it lead the design (especially when remodeling) because I get to play with a new style, a new point of view, and learn more about that design style/era. It’s an excuse to flex that muscle, explore that genre, and dive into something totally different. I used to say that my style was “Footloose meets Marie Antoinette meets Wes Anderson”. I’m not sure how accurate that is – I think we all fancy ourselves more interesting than we are, which is OK and probably just part of existing on the internet. But the “Footloose part” of it has always been plaid, leather, and casual woods (maybe worn brass like Kevin Bacon’s belt buckle?)
So today I’ll talk through some things that I did right, and some I’m certainly still learning about.
Lean Into The Architectural Style/Era/Location, But Don’t Fall…
Look at the architectural style as an opportunity (not all houses have them), a built-in point of view. Sure, modern farmhouse is everywhere, but it is for a reason – in general they are just warm, inviting, and homey spaces. I tried to marry what I love about the farmhouse (homey, casual, comfort, with farm motifs) with what I love about the mountain house (simplicity, minimalism, so easy to live in), but with all our stuff from LA and lots of stuff from the OG Portland project that I’ve been holding onto. So hilariously it’s a total mix of all the projects you’ve seen here. So yes, “shaker farm” was a jumping-off point, but let’s just say it’s a real mix from there.
Permanent Finishes Are PERMANENT, Y’all
I’m going to go ahead and rebrand that to “forever finishes” just to remind us to intend to not replace them. Listen, you can do anything you want, it’s your home but if you are worried about renovation regret, the safest thing to do is go classic (if in an older home) or streamlined/simple in a postmodern or contemporary home. And I’m hesitant to say this – but if you can, avoid going too cheap on these fixtures because that is really what dates a house. Ideally, those scary forever finishes (tile, flooring, plumbing) would reference, or give a nod, to the original style so that they look like they “belong” there. It does NOT have to match or be literal, and if you don’t like this advice don’t follow it. Also if you buy a Spanish bungalow you do not need bold patterned terra cotta tile, just lean towards a Zellige in whatever color speaks to you. If you have an English Tudor you don’t need old-world cross-handled faucets, but yes leaning “classic” will always work. It’s my theory/hope that if you try hard enough you can find a “you” version of every architectural style. Is our bathroom tile “farm” like? Not necessarily, but it’s simple enough that they work within a shaker farm style. Do I wish I had gone for the delft tile? Or done a custom floral tile? Put in a salvaged hutch in our pantry? I mean that all sounds so beautiful and I want to stay in that Airbnb really badly, but no, I’m still pretty happy that it feels quiet, simple, and layered. To be fair this could also be confirmation bias, snobbery, and fear of not getting it right so I took a lesser risk with our materials 🙂
You Don’t Need To “Theme” Your Furniture To Your Architecture (But Some Sort Of Cohesion Is A Very Good Idea)
Your house doesn’t need to wear a costume unless you want it to (again, which I think can be so fun). I kept falling into this trap with the pieces that we really did need – they had to be “FARM,” but I wasn’t finding what I actually liked. Don’t buy a Spanish-style sofa that you don’t like just because you live in a Mediterranean bungalow. I tend to bring some of the theme into the decor because it helps with cohesion (which as discussed can be calming), but after years of collecting my favorite pieces I would never not buy something that I love because it might not look or feel like a “farm”. NO. But would I lean towards a style more based on the architecture? Yes. Definitely.
Interesting Is Better Than “Right”
When buying something new that I actually need (i.e. a bookshelf behind our sofa for instance) I first try to make sure that it meets functional/practical needs (right height and depth, right amount of storage, complimentary finish, etc), then I look for a style that I think would be appropriate in the home. But if I’m shopping and fall in love with a piece that could go in a prominent place and it sings to me on a cellular level, I don’t let the fact that it would never have been in a farmhouse stop me. For instance, so many people are confused about the Fernweh chair on the landing of our stairs. And I get it! Who puts a large wood and leather chair on a stair landing? But the fact is that I LOVE that chair so much. It reminds me of the project I did with my brother (which was memorable because that house taught me how to renovate), and I just love looking at it so much. Would I have bought that chair just to live on the landing? NO. But I’m not going to let the fact that it’s not a chair that would be in a farmhouse deter me from staring at it all day.
Think About The Rooms Obituary….
Here’s a fun if not odd exercise: When designing a room think about the impact that this room might have on those inside it. What would you say about this room after leaving it? What starts a conversation? Creates a vibe or mood? Not every room has to be memorable, but if you are spending the time and money designing it what do you want people to remember about it? It can be that it’s so inviting and warm, or so exciting and fun, or the perfect mix of calm but interesting (maybe that’s what I’m going after all??). The guest rooms at the mountain house admittedly look boring, but in person, everyone remembers them as being calm, warm, so comfortable, and well-appointed. Everyone sleeps well there and that’s what they’d say at that room’s funeral. Told you it was a fun if not totally esoteric exercise.
To Avoid It Looking Messy And Hodge Podgy I’ll Control The Color Palette
I still, to this day, implement this, and when I don’t I end up shifting back to a more controlled color palette. The other day I brought in a bunch of art from the prop storage room and really went for it. It was exciting for a couple hours and then as the normal Sunday cleaning went by I was already done with how busy I had made it. This is totally personal and many people can handle more color/pattern and busyness/clutter than I can. So if you are a maximalist that likes an all-color palette approach, I get that and we’ve all seen it done in such exciting ways. But yes, I have found consistently over the years, that you can mix all styles together as long as you have a paired back color palette. Our living room is finally coming together, with so many different styles happening but all in the blue/green/brown/white/black world…
Lean Into The Theme For Newer Pieces (Should You Need Them) Then Mix In New/Contemporary To Create Contrast
When we moved here we didn’t have a lot of major furniture. Our “theme” (which admittedly we have strayed from a bit) was shaker farmhouse, so less country and more simplicity. So for the major pieces that we needed to buy I tried to stay within that theme at first (i.e. our dining table, our rug, our stools). But the dining/sunroom is a great example – mixing in the contemporary dining chairs with the classic oval farm table, made that room SING. They were so incredibly perfect for the room and created a new vibe. Once I brought in those chairs I realized that’s what the rest of the house needed – new, simpler, more postmodern contemporary pieces to balance out the sweetness and simplicity of the more traditional farm elements. And now I’m getting SO EXCITED.
So that’s where I am right now, trying to convince myself that I don’t have to be 100% farm in the house to create the experience that I want here. Just like I’m not 100% anything, none of us are 100% anything. I wear athleisure, overalls, drop crotch, sequins, cowboy boots, and princess sleeves – I’m all over the place and always have been – matching my outfit very clearly to the task/occasion to varying degrees of success. Does that mean that some rooms are going to be more themed farm than others? Maybe! I think they are all going to be a mashup of casual farm, some old-world elements, and some contemporary pieces all within a color palette. LET’S HOPE THAT IT WORKS!!!!
Opening Image Credits (From Left to Right): Photo by Tessa Neustadt, From: How We Styled Our Living Room to Sell | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, From: Portland Project: The Living Room Reveal | Photo by Kaitlin Green, From: My Journey To FINALLY Choose A Wall Color For Our Living Room (And How I Feel Now That It’s Painted)
Aah, thank you for this! We are in the process of buying a Victorian house in London, and it’s way more on my mind now than it ever was in my somewhat generic 1946-7 Seattle house. Maybe because the period details are more interesting and specific? But either way, totally top of mind right now and so very happy to see this post. Thank you! My instinct has been such a mix – any clearly architectural fixtures like corbels/moulding/ceiling medallions/fireplaces/historic windows/staircase bannisters/doors I feel like have to match the original style or come VERY close to it (and we’re in a recently designated conservation area so when we update the horrible old windows we wouldn’t be allowed to deviate from historical precedent anyway for those or any stuff you can see on the outside of the home), but I’m OK with lighting fixtures differing, and I definitely skew way mod with furniture, rugs, wall stuff, actual decorations. Kitchens and bathrooms are kind of their own special thing but I think I feel weird putting a super duper mod kitchen into a Victorian; we’ll probably go with painted Shaker (over here the whole deVOL looks is so common anyway). I’d love… Read more »
I think the nice thing about Victorian homes – I live in one – not a classic Brooklyn brownstone but the slightly more downscale row house – is that the Victorians were maximalist and eclectic. So you can get away with a lot of styles. They are also so damn cozy.
We need to see this!
We have a Victorian that has been partially modernized over time. Our kitchen is lovely in a classic, cozy shaker way but the bathroom feels very modern IKEA and I want to renovate it when I get the chance (and budget) but it’s functional for now. But generally our home has been forgiving of our slightly eclectic style, and we have high ceilings, lots of moldings, and stained glass.
I grew up in a Queen Ane style home in small town that had a lot of Victorian homes as well. Truly you can embrace what you love and want and feels right to you. I’ve seen the museum approach where everything feels old timey. And I’ve seen more European approaches to bringing in contemporary and modern elements as a deliberate contrast to the ornamental vibe. It can all work. DeVOL nails the nostalgia and practical needs of modern kitchens. And totally agree on the un lacquered brass. It might be fun to have a high maintenance faucet for a minute but I’m already predicting this phase will be short. No one polishes silverware anymore. For a reason.
I think your conclusion is sound. I’ve always been of the mindset that anything done to the home, should honor the home’s history. If you have a vintage home, try to keep the fixed features (kitchens, baths, windows, stairways, trim) in line with the home’s heritage. But when it comes to furniture I think about how even though I live in a house built in the 1940s, the original owners may have brought furniture from earlier decades with them and subsequent owners have certainly decorated it with furniture from later decades. Would I put something french baroque in my house? No. But something mid-century or that leans into current trends, sure why not. A home is meant to be collected, not a museum.
Emily I like this confident vibe.
My husband has Italian citizenship and we’ve recently gone down a wormhole of Italian real estate videos. And every time I point out to him that with very rare exceptions, the decor is either super dated (so kind of 70s mixed with rustic Italian) or so brashly out-of-context modern, that I find it super jarring. I think you’re totally right and they’re so used to the historic homes they don’t feel they need to work around them, but for me personally, a bright red high-gloss kitchen with stainless steel counters isn’t the perfect fit for part of a Florentine palace 😉
you’re looking at the wrong videos then 😉 follow Paolo Abate on instagram, look up Villa Valguarnera, Palazzo Castellucio, Ebbio in Tuscany… it will certainly change your mind!
Yeah we’re looking at ones we might one day have a chance of buying 😉
Haha there’s no wrong in daydreaming though! And prices are so low in some parts of Italy. I’ve just come back from Puglia and there are still so many old palazzos for sale for very little money (but a lot of work). Same in Sicily
Those bright red glossy Ikea doors will never die! LOL I think Italians tend enjoy a level of flamboyance not seen in the US. They are also much more flexible about tiny bathrooms, drying laundry indoors, and lack of closet space. I learned a lot about ways to live when I’ve stayed there.
One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of, alongside our cultural and political shifts over the past decade plus, is
Oops haha! Is the possible sort of colonial vibes/cultural appropriation inherent to so many decor choices. When I lived in Seattle I thought about making a “woodland” themed nursery for our first kid, in keeping with PNW nature. Instead I went “safari” because I fell in love with a beautiful wallpaper. But nowadays, I’m not sure I’d do the same – it sort of has this vibe of like colonialism, basically, wealthy white oppressors cherry picking the aspects of another culture that they’ve systematically oppressed for aesthetic reasons. I dunno. I don’t mean it as a “you did the bedroom wrong” thing, after all I did basically the same haha, just as an evolution of my thinking. I’ve long thought it was odd to have, like, Chinoiserie decor if you’ve got no connection whatsoever to Chinese culture, and lately that extends even further. Nowadays I don’t like using things like mud cloth, faux “tribal” motifs (uh what tribe?), ikat, toile patterns that have colonial or exploitative vibes… tons of very famous and well known designer stuff (Schumacher Dragons for example) has these kind of roots, and in the past I’ve embraced them but I’m more considered about this stuff now.… Read more »
“The privilege to truly decorate how you choose is inherently something fairly upper class.”
Maybe that used to be true but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. In our era of Facebook marketplace, of countless thrift stores, and of many affordable home decor stores, we are in a very egalitarian age when it comes to decorating. Anyone today can truly decorate how you choose, and find great stuff for very low costs. Some of the most interesting spaces I see are tiny homes and apartments decorated on the cheap.
I get what you are saying. But to me, rather than feeling like appropriation it feels like a celebration of all the ways different cultures create beauty with what they have where they live using their traditions. We humans the world over are amazing at creating and its all worth embracing and celebrating. It’s why I continue to collect hand made items wherever I go. I admire and love the inventiveness and creativity and need we humans have for embellishing, and elevating the things we need in life to an art form and not just keeping them in their utilitarian versions. I don’t think this means if I’m American I’m only allowed to collect things from the culture I grew up in (rural North Woods Midwest). That would be boring and sad to me.
This is still half formed, so bear with me, but I like your point about collecting beautiful objects wherever you go (my sister just brought me back some pottery from Osaka, Japan!).
I think that maybe the point OP is getting at is this idea of mass-produced, impersonal appropriation, which is also something I try to consider and avoid when decorating.
And I like your counterpoint about how maybe it’s the personal nature of an object — something you pick up because it has special, inherent meaning, as opposed to something mass produced at Home Goods or Cost Plus — that gives it meaning in your home, even if it’s not from your own culture. IDK, lots to mull over, in a good way though 🙂
Wow that’s a lot of serious thinking, and a bit of self-shaming!! Why do you think it would be offensive to have mud cloth in your home for instance? Can’t you have it because you are aware of other cultures and arts, and you show appreciation for it? I see it that way at least. But it’s true that it’s better if you have a little background about it, like how it’s made, what specific country it comes from, what is its purpose there. I personally was lucky enough to travel to Uzbekistan and went bananas over there with their gorgeous crafts and arts. I feel no shame at all about the suzani hanging above my bed (I got to chat with the maker, so I have actually memories related to it other than seeing it on Etsy, I know what’s its purpose, and what its motifs represent), and a miniature painting which depicts a scene from the Coran. Same, I got to chat with the painter, he gave me framing advice etc. So I think the important thing is to have an actual background to those foreign items, as opposed to buying it online without knowing anything about it… Read more »
Virginia, this is a thought-provoking and thoughtful comment.
In Australia, indigenous art is experiencing a flurry of interest.
Itson waterbottles, tea towels, throws, cushions… BUT … it MUST be an actual storyline (original, cultural vusual story ‘pattern’) by an actual indigenous artist.
Not anyone copying (appropriating) a design to produce cheap, attainable decor, because they like it and want it. There was an avalanche of (NOT) Australian indigenous art being made in Indonesian sweat shops and sold in Australia! This is NOT okay, in my books. It has been stopped and rightly so.
I wish more people actually thought through the choices they make about cultural backgrounds of products.
With awareness, we can have beautifully decorated homes, on budget, with culturally appropriate respectful choices.
Very well written Rusty, and so cool that your government (?) has been able to put a stop to it.
Yes. Appropriation of indigenous art/culture is against the law now and carries hefty fines for the producers and sellers.
This is a law in the US too. It is illegal to falsely suggest or misrepresent Native American art and crafts. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.
Why can’t people like stuff from other cultures anymore? I think that it very flattering and speaks highly of the other culture if you want to emulate or bring in a design element from another culture. Should I be shamed for the things I pick up on vacations or trips abroad because they remind me of happy memories or I really like the design element? I honestly think that 99% of people do not collect or display things from other cultures to subtly exert superiority or appropriate from other cultures, they are actually showing respect and endearment by wanting to have a reminder or design element that evokes special feelings. It seems sad if something so innocent as a little kid’s room can’t have a safari theme with cute jungle animals in it without people associating it with colonialism. Sometimes it actually IS just a kid’s room and, guess what… kids like animals. That should be OK!
I grew up in an area where it was bog-standard for white people to spend $$$ collecting Native artifacts – often dressing up in them for photos – while refusing to drive on reservations at night because it was “dangersous” and actively engaging in racism towards Native people. So the idea that it’s just “flattering” to enjoy/collect another culture’s art or design objects really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Enjoy what you enjoy! But buy from local/Indigenous artists instead of getting a cheap knockoff, be mindful of historical context, be aware of the history of collecting objects or buying a design you like that is lifted with no acknowledgement from another culture and manufactured by white people for profit. Ideally your intentions will help shape your choices, but even if people have perfectly good intentions they can engage in really harmful practices out of willful ignorance.
Not sure I’m fully on board with this sentiment. I think for many, many people they are completely unaware of what their actual heritage is (especially in the States which has so many generations of immigrants). Does this mean doing a DNA test is a prerequisite before it’s OK to decorate a home? Surely enjoying a print or being inspired by another culture’s art is something to celebrate. Acknowledging crafts as beautiful and surrounding yourself with them is positive – rather than being told you can’t because it’s not yours. Quite obviously, I wouldn’t want to have anything around me that represents oppression or authoritarianism but suggesting that all toile patterns have colonial or exploitative vibes is a bit extreme – especially when its usually some French maid on swing being pushed by a shepherd in a bucolic field in deepest France.
Sorry for posting again, but I’ve been thinking about “cultural appropriation” a bit more and have questions especially its relevance to interior design. For example, in the States is it OK to use Tartan / Plaid if you have no Scottish heritage or is it OK as it was used by cowboys as workwear? Should the US give up the Stars and Stripes as it’s national flag as it was appropriated from the medieval Washington family’s coat of Arms, and the melody of the Star Spangled banner is from an English drinking song. As Puerto Rico is effectively a US colony should you not have anything from there in your home etc. etc. The challenge is – what exactly does “appropriated” in this context mean and where do you draw the line? Apologies for becoming all political on what is an interior design blog …
I’m not sure if this comment is meant to be snarky or genuine, but in the interests of assuming the best, it might be helpful to remember that cultural appropriation refers (broadly) to using elements of a *non-dominant* culture in a way that reinforces stereotypes, doesn’t respect their original meaning, or contributes to oppression. For example, big box retailers profit off of artistic motifs, like mudcloth patterns, taken from non-dominant cultures that do not receive financial compensation for use of these motifs, contributing to economic oppression. But Scottish people are generally not known as being oppressed (and certainly belong to a dominant race), so use of a pattern like tartan plaid wouldn’t typically meet the criteria above except maybe in rare circumstances. Similarly, use of wallpaper featuring animals found in tropical environments in a children’s room would usually not meet the traditional criteria of cultural appropriation unless, say, the artwork in the wallpaper was particularly crudely drawn (reinforcing stereotypes), or the artwork was originally drawn by an indigenous artist (or any member of a non-dominant group) who was not appropriately compensated for their work. Just my two cents, I am no expert but appreciate this thoughtful conversation!
Yes, exactly. This was really well explained.
And I’m not Scottish (though Scottish heritage with Scottish relatives), and the only people who have effectively oppressed the Scots are the English. And I DO feel that it’s weird when the British monarchy wear plaid. Not claiming actual Scots feel this way, I really have no idea, and I’m sure there are lots of royalists in Scotland…but there’s a long history there. I mean, they only got their coronation stone back in the 90’s. I’m sure other people don’t feel this way, and I do feel like plaid is fair game for everyone else!
But that is also an incorrect narrative. It was the lowland Scots and the English that fought against the highlanders. And the clearances were carried out by absentee Scottish landlords who identified with Westminster/ London. So it’s not that clear cut – the Scots were oppressing the Scots with the help of London. As for the Queen, she had a Scottish mother. And apart from that, it was the King of Scotland (James) who inherited the English throne via his mother, Mary Queen of Scott’s. Queen Elizabeth 1 was his mother’s cousin back in Tudor times and she died without an heir. So it’s all very complicated and difficult to identity clearly what is the minority / oppressed culture and at what point in history and who claims ownership! The plaid pattern after all is not exclusively a Scottish thing but appears in many countries but the tartan and kilt is particularly Scottish.. So – I think it is important to recognise different cultures and appreciate authenticity but where to draw the line is tricky and constantly fluxing in terms of appropriation. For example Chinese dragons are being appropriated (bad thing) but buying an iPhone partly manufactured in China is… Read more »
Thanks for your reply – and the questions were genuine (with perhaps a tiny bit of snark!) because unfortunately I don’t think it’s as clear cut as the OP suggests. For example, Chinoiserie has been popular in Europe since before the USA even existed as a country but China was far superior culturally and had a much longer civilisation than the West. They weren’t a minority. They still aren’t in terms of global population. It’s an interesting discourse and has broadened my understanding of what cultural appropriation is but I don’t necessarily agree.
Chinoiserie is actually a “Western Art” style that imitated decorative arts found in China. So you could argue that Chinoiserie was always an appropriation in that the European production of copies of this style replaced the import of the more costly originals from China. But these copies did more than just imitate, they interpreted through an uninformed Western gaze and some would say (and I agree) objectified the culture. A good example is the Art Deco style of “oriental” lamp which consisted of an exotic figurine with a socket attached to its head to hold up the shade. And then there are fabric and wallpaper prints depicting pagodas, geisha and peasants in conical hats in paddy fields – all Western interpretations. I think in this day and age, most can agree that these are not examples of appreciating and celebrating another culture, even if that was the original intent.
But at what point are you objectifying and at what point are you inspired by? On the basis of your description, no one should hang a copy of Van Gough up on their walls as he was heavily influenced by Japanese art. Should we rip down the Brighton Pavilion as it is full of Regency orientalism (they didn’t have the internet then or the ability to travel for tourism so weren’t able to experience the “real” thing.). Were they not inspired by the novel and new and desirable but very expensive stuff from Asia. They saw something they admired and wanted at a more cost effective price point. As for women wearing kimonos and rice farmers with conical hats, why not? The did and they still do! I lived in Japan for five years and it was a very common sight. Japan is not a minority culture nor is the rest of Asia. They may laugh at our interpretations and consider it barbaric but their culture is so much richer than a wall paper or lamp and in my experience they don’t feel it has been appropriated.
This was such a thoughtful comment.
I agree. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more too. Particularly with indigenous art – I’m not indigenous, and have only a superficial knowledge of the motifs and themes that are depicted. Because not indigenous, I can’t answer the question of what is or isn’t ok, but I feel that, like anything, there is probably a diversity of opinions because that’s just what people are like. But I think this needs to be the main non-negotiable: indigenous art needs to be indigenous made. I also think an effort needs to be made to understand what the art is depicting, and its cultural significance. Broadly speaking, artists are proud of their art, they want their art to sell, and they want people to love and appreciate it. There are also certain items (eg ribbon skirts) that are not ok if you are not in that community.
The podcast “Stuff the British Stole” is a great overview of how a lot of cultural significant items ended up in museums and stately homes in the UK (and as a result decor- eg chinoiserie).
I wrote a whole essay about Buddha heads once. They do not exist in Asia, except where they might be manufactured for tourists. They hearken back to the Victorian colonialists, when having an elephant’s foot table was the height of chic. It was literally the foot of an elephant, chopped off and used as an end table. It’s that whole “collecting” ethos of that time that is still with us. The head of a Buddha is actually a representation of colonial violence. Someone went to a country and chopped off their god’s head and took it home with them.
What to do? Curate what you want ruthlessly. Self-examine why you want it. No guilt necessary.
Thank you so much for raising this issue – if you’ve read Orientalism by Edward Said, you can’t help but be feel uncomfortable with some chinoiserie pieces. This would be a great topic for an EHD blog post! Speaking of blog post topics, what ever happened to the house the Emily’s brother bought in Portland?
I think there is probably some common ground I’d agree with in your comment, but o also think that design is literally all about being inspired by the world around you, which means designers constantly looking through art from different cultures, different eras and translating/appreciating it in new ways. I’m from Oceania, with European ancestry and have lived the last 15(ish) years in the Middle East, with a good thwack of travel through Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa over the years. So that is my “world”, and I’ve seen (and collected) so many bits and pieces along the way. My Asian, Arab and African friends don’t have any issues incorporating “European” design into their homes and equally I don’t feel I can’t have a Turkish rug, or an African basket, or Indian teak/brass cabinets in mine. I think it’s great that we celebrate and elevate the art from every culture and community. I also frankly would have no clue what to pick if I avoided any non European influences, because the east and west have influenced each other for centuries. What I would say though, is that you should feel a connection to the objects in your home. It doesn’t… Read more »
And regarding the “what about tartan” comment. I do have quite a lot of Scottish ancestry. Actually some of my family are sent from Scotland to Australia as colonial slave labour. I would feel completely disconnected to tartan though, my association witu it is my old school uniform 🤦♀️
I live in an arts and crafts bungalow in St. Louis, where the majority of housing stock is 80+ years old. Our house has been loved on and cared for for over 100 years! But it’s also seen a lot of changes. This made me think about how we’ve approached our home. Our key to keeping our furnishings in line with the house is 1.) function—making small spaces function to their fullest, 2.) minimal clutter—there’s so much more stuff now than there was 100 years ago, so aligning with a more minimal lifestyle is very helpful, 3.) things we enjoy, people we love—every family has brought themselves to this house in different ways, and now it’s our turn. 💜
I love this post! Great energy and I can’t wait to see you implement this in the farmhouse!
When we moved in to our 20s apartment I kind of thought I had to match that in styling. But tbh that’s not my style. And when we instead went for 70s lux it all came together perfectly. I really think juxtaposing styles and eras are a great way to go as well as keeping it in line.
And for the Spanish castle example, the thing is, we can never recreate an old era like that. With all the practicalities needed it’s impossible. I often feel like that’s a problem, trying to fit fridge, running water, oven, microwaves, storage, reasonable working heights etc in a place that never had that. It can even come across as less genuine than to put in a contemporary kitchen. Like you are building a theatre set and not a working, functioning home.
I’ve really enjoyed the ride as we follow along with your renovation — including all the bumps in the road. I am Team Eclectic. Sticking to a theme in an entire home is … kinda boring (although I know it can be done well). I mean, I love Shaker furniture but not a whole house of it. Mixing it up is the way to go. You have the bones of a gorgeous home. You do you.
I’m team eclectic, too, but with the key foundational pieces being within a whisker of the origin of the house/building.
Ah! Loved this post. Have been admittedly a bit stumped by the interior style of this home, and your words make so much sense. I’m a long-time follower, and I have been fascinated by your style evolution. Thanks for this thoughtful, authentic insight!
I’m so excited to see how it is all coming together – sounds like the creative juices are flowing! I know you have deadlines for shoots, etc. so I am really glad to pick up on the joy in your tone as you lean into the excitement and challenge of it all.
this is a great post, thank you! I really hope you explore different layouts in your main room. multiple seating areas where the furniture is grouped closer together for a more intimate feeling. that will ground the room and help it make sense to be in.
I think homes look more authentic with a mixture of styles and things of different time periods. If you go into a real family farmhouse, you will see generations of influence. My great-grandparents’ farmhouse (they actually lived on a real farm : ) was built in the late 1800’s with lots of additions and styles that go back from then to now. It’s always been one of my favorite places to be. But then no one ever labeled it a ‘farm house’; neither was the house I grew up in called a ‘mountain house’ even though it was in the mountains. I think if you stick to closely to themes then you lose something genuine and the house starts looking like a sitcom set. All that to say, do what makes you happy and don’t worry about the title you gave the house.
I came to say basically this, especially in response to “I’m not going to let the fact that it’s not a chair that would be in a farmhouse deter me from staring at it all day.” I get it, but most real farmhouses WOULD have a “generations have added to this” thing going. I say mix it up as you feel comfortable, especially since this house didn’t have particularly strong historic bones and has been so thoroughly renovated!
It’s really interesting to read your explanation of the expedition you’ve gone on to get to here, now, Emily.
For me, I’ve been more than a little surprised by the sheer weight of MCM input after the much announced and explained “shaker farmhouse” didn’t show up, much; and heavier, chunkier MCM filled in many spaces.
I think the backstory experience for many readers was much more what is represented by the photos above, from “The New Design Rules”. That’s what was described before the furniture filled the ‘farmhouse’.
So, nuthin’ wrong with loads of MCM and dome 90s throw-backs, instead of farmhous-shaker-esqueness; simply different to stated and expected outputs or corporate-speak wanna-be KPIs.
It’s your house and always interesting!
That’s why we’re ‘here’.
Yes, I feel this too – I’ve been scratching my head what with the simplified-homespun vibe we were given to expect, and the mod pop items showing up. The mudroom and the kitchen feel as-expected to me, but the living room and dining chairs were perplexing. Thanks for clarifying what’s happening!
I think what’s hard for readers is you spoke so definitively on what the style of the “farmhouse” was going to be and then kept switching up things. Maybe don’t do that on the next house.
I mean, my 1890s mill cottage is a mix of midcentury modern and farmhouse antiques, amongst other random vintage pieces. I would never say I am rolling with one style though because I think houses look better and more homey with a mix of styles.
I can see how people can be confused, but it’s because those words can mean something else to every person. For example adjectives like breezy, happy, simple, can be manifested in many different ways, depending who designs the space. I can still see a farmhouse in the current design. My family’s country house was in a fully operational farm/homestead. Cows, pigs, horses, chicken were all walking by the house daily as the water hole was right by the front door, cows were milked by hand on the other side of the property. The house itself has a mix of solid wood door, double doors, cheap particle doors and curtains in the doorways. Today, I’d source old doors to replace the modern ones. I’d remove all particle boards and replace it with wood furniture. But my family bought things as they renovated each of the rooms. It took them a few decades until they put a bathroom into the original house too, and even though bath is more MCM style, it’s still a true farmhouse. One one hand it’s kinda painful to see renovations to old farmhouses that include cheap particle board. But people do what is functional and what makes… Read more »
This is so exciting! Can’t wait to see things evolve. I love it.
Pet peeve of mine. Design can be solely visual, no “theme” at all. I feel like Havenly’s design site brought the “theme” to its apogee and we can now all stand down. Similar to what if the theme of your wedding is, “wedding,” the theme of your house can be “I like this shape with this other shape, this color with that one, and btw let’s follow a texture thread throughout.” Design for the limbic brain rather than the neocortex. (I think that’s right. Neuroscientists?;)).
Oh, and to add, because I am so intense about this, often a “visual design” theme will lead to some kind of historical coherence, at least at base, because era designs often shared an aesthetic. (Not always, nor can we really know, I mean, how many photos do we have of 18th and 19th century farm interiors?)
I think anything permanent–floors, tile, etc. Should have some kind of nod to the age and style of the house. We own and are remodeling a Folk Victorian home, and I would never put zelliege tile or wide plank floors in my home. It would feel discordant.
Our theme/style was “Minimal Historic.” Tile, cabinetry, light fixtures etc that all feel like a modern/updated version of something that is from that period. To us it feels fresh without being stuck in an era. And our home is being updated to be have more natural light and better function. win/win.
I love that you are deciding to be more eclectic and just decorate how you want to live, what you are interested in your eyeballs seeing everyday and always keeping in mind comfort! I’m glad you aren’t going with just one vibe. I have a postmodern home and I have to be careful about decorating it with too much mid century modern which I love, but I think looks overboard! Too much vintage or too much new- I think if you just go for it, the balance happens, and it works!
I’ll admit that I was at first confused by your style in this house because I thought you WOULD go more the direction of the chippy farmhouse you linked to, but lately I’ve been realizing that that’s simply not what you are trying to do– you are putting your own fun, funky, modern style into a traditional farmhouse in a way that feels harmonious, and I’m getting very excited to see where it ends up!
Such a beautiful share with such wonderful insights, Emily! I love your style (in its various, ever-evolving iterations) and love how you share it and your creative process with us. Thank you!
This is a valuable post. It seems to me you are on the right track with decor decisions.
In terms of a restrained palette – I know both artists and designers who need that restraint after full work days spent immersed in color, texture, styling, etc. That seems like a good impulse. Plus, probably also more husband friendly.
And it also seems right to bring your aesthetic in, it makes your choices interesting and draws us in, more than a formula ever would. There will always be times when you want to change an approach in a physical space, that is something that is hard to completely envision in 2D.
We have all seen formula design. It gets old. The things we love give such a warm feeling to a house. (Think of Mole describing his house to Ratty in The Wind in the Willows.)
Keep up the good work. I know sometimes we readers tend to land on you with both feet when you share your process, or rethink choices. Thank you for being gracious about that.
I really love these deep-dive philosophical posts. As a designer, I feel like I need a sounding board to
sort through these kinds of thoughts, and I love that you use these blogs to “meander” to get to a
thoughtful and helpful conclusion.
I’ve loved seeing you add back some quirkier pieces to invigorate the Shaker/farmhouse background.
All great reflections, thanks for sharing!
I have a question about coffee table placement in the living rooms pictured. They are all positioned in the middle of the seating area, not easily reachable from sofa or chairs. To me, the function of a coffee table is to hold coffee cups and feet, so the table needs to be placed fairly close to the front of the sofa, but that’s not what I’m seeing in stylish photos over the last few years. Is the function of a coffee table changing, to be for display only?
I notice it in EHD rooms. Everything is positioned equidistant from everything else with the coffee table floating in the middle. It’s odd to me, too. It’s like furniture gets moved in, but not really arranged.
You are absolutely right. The coffee table should be close to the couch. It’s a rule broken just as hanging art too high is wrong. A coffee table should never be an island in the middle
of a room.
Why not just for display? Just like a shelf can be for display of books and things, a table can serve a similar function. I mean not just to show off, but to keep a pile of books one is reading, a big candle one is lighting once in a while, maybe a vase, and some favorite objects. Side tables is where one can place a coffee cups or put aside something else. The LR here is huge and appears for conversation and rest, and maybe reading too. Some people have smaller tables they move around the room as needed in addition to the big coffee table. Some don’t have a coffee table (I don’t).
I’m glad to see this shift toward confidence in mixing things up and showing your personality, Emily. It has been interesting to see how you have struggled with this house, seemingly much more than your past renovations, and especially the living room. The number of choices you have had to make has been overwhelming, not to mention on full display for critique to your many followers. But you have nailed it in several rooms, like the kitchen, where your vision seems to have been more clear. Maybe it has taken this long to access how your personality and that of your family members can express themselves in THIS house. I live in an 1850 farmhouse, fully renovated but not slavish to the era, filled with furniture I love and treasures from travel and work abroad. One of the most loved by all pieces is a modern yellow italian leather sofa that somehow works perfectly in an old farmhouse! So, go with your gut, trust yourself, and PLEASE replace that living room rug with something warmer in color and texture.
As I sit here in my worn out 1967 split level house, on my busted, dog-smelling second-hand ikea sectional, looking across the sreamer trunk-turned-coffee-table that accompanied my mother-in-law on her childhood world travels and beyond, at a beautiful but uncomfortable vintage Eames aluminum group lounge chair and ottoman, with crudely drawn plans for a modern Scandinavian longhouse-inspired new build (ADU? Main house? Corrugated black metal siding ala seemingly every house built in Australia that Dwell cares to publish?) littering every surface within reach, I say “big-ups” to blog-as-chronicle-of-process-and-evolution. Someday I might DO something with all of my ideas but here you are actually making it happen WHILE SHARING YOUR WHOLE SQUIRRELY PROCESS WITH THE WORLD. It’s insane, and you know that, but I’m here for it.
Where do you keep your Gladys Goose lamp?
The premise of this blog entry is so interesting, but I don’t believe that the thinking makes much progress beyond that. Sure, not one of us is 100% a single style, as evidenced by our dress choices. But when we are mixing things, are we doing it intentionally, or are we doing it because we happened to find the white sneakers in front of us this morning, and we are comforted by the idea that “they go with everything anyway”? Are we borrowing an element from a different style to answer a need, or just because we like farmhouse and chrome at the same time? Or, to give the opposite version of this question, are we holding on to a detail of the house because it is architecturally “original” even though it has outlived its purpose and might be, let’s just admit it, kind of ugly? Yes, the Europeans mix the utilitarianism of 14th century stone walls with the utilitarianism of modernist drawers, but they do it because they find connections in shape, structure, approach, and function (and sometimes color palette). Or, to go back to your dress analogy: not one of us is 100% single style, but we might… Read more »
Honestly I think the difference is bones (trim, window styles, flooring) should remain timeless and true to the house. Then the furniture and stuff is how you live in. It should evolve over decades, and not feel like a time capsule. I hate when people decorate a Victorian now with dainty unlivable Victorian furniture. But I also hate when people strip all the Victorian period details out to serve a decorating style. I grew up in an 1800s farmhouse with a mix of traditional and MCM furniture. It can all work and feel like home. It’s the white boxing of everything that doesn’t work for me.
Oh my goodness I LOVE that chair on that landing!! It’s one of my very favorite parts of your home – it’s absolute perfection and I have imagined myself sitting there reading a book or paging through a favorite magazine more than once! 🙂
What I love is that it encompasses so perfectly the blending of your styles – the combination of the farmhouse-y blue staircase with the modern leather/wood chair has such beautiful interest and contrast.
A little off topic, but that shot of the living room gave me an idea for the fireplace – paint the fireplace AND the wall above it. OR paint the fireplace and put some similar shade wallpaper above it. That will create the focal point the room is missing without adding the floor level busyness that painting the fireplace alone would do.
Or … just install an aged piece of wood as the mantel and ground the fireplace – the all white makes it float.
Emily…It seems this eclectic, extensive project for your new home in Portland deserves a new description other than ‘”farmhouse” – because it isn’t a farmhouse. Might you invent a brand new name to give tribute to your new home and this unique, blended design style you have selected for it?
Personally, I’m not a fan of slavish adherence to any given architectural style. When I walk into a Victorian house that’s 100% kitted out in period-appropriate wallpaper, lace curtains, and uncomfortable horsehair sofas, it seems gimmicky and theme-y to me in a way that doesn’t feel homey. I mean, if you love those things, go for it; at the end of the day if it feels like home to you I’m all about it. But I like to see a mix of periods and styles that reflect the interesting, multifaceted people who *live* in the house rather than the house itself.
That said, I do appreciate it when the “permanent” things are thoughtfully chosen to harmonize with a home’s architectural style; I wouldn’t want to walk into a Victorian with gray LVP floors and white lacquer flat-panel cabinets. I don’t think you have to stick with whatever would have been original to the house (I went with natural stone instead of linoleum and formica in my 1948 PNW bungalow), but I do think it’s best to try and play nicely with your home’s architecture when you can.
More, more, MORE of this! More *Emily* writing on *design*. I’ve been following for years and it’s why I came in the first place. I love your staff and their posts on design as well, but YOU are the thrust of this operation and I’m here for every single word of it.
Love this! I have a 1933 English Cottage in ATL. It’s sometimes difficult to not fall too far into a theme. I mainly go for a traditional modern approach with a touch of minimalism. It straddles several styles, but seems to fit well with the house and me. It’s a tad Parisian, some English, some MCM, and just keep it interesting. Go for timeless!
Emily, definitely one of your better posts in awhile. It really speaks to what you are feeling and how to translate it. I feel that the readers are forgetting that this is your home, not some house project. I recently bought a Spanish style home in the Sierra Foothills in Nor Cal. In all my previous homes, I love to paint the walls, throw color all around. However, in this home, it doesn’t work. I’ve actually painted the walls a lovely cream (they were this horrid blue/grey), accenting the wood beams and floors and slate fireplace. I love it! I am actually leaning towards more wood cabinets, in the kitchen etc… The best part is that I haven’t lost me in the process. I just listened to what the home was whispering in my ear.
Emily, if you can’t pull it off what hope is there for the rest of us LOL! I think keeping the permanent elements in line with the architecture is a good start, and a tight color palette is key. Like if I want to install an over-the-top contemporary light fixture in a vintage living room, I might try to match the color/tones to the original stone of the fireplace so the elements all reference one another. And use a light hand, limit yourself to 3 or less contemporary hits in a vintage space. Also, trial and error, a lot.
I love this post because so much of it is exactly why I have been following you for so long. You embrace a lot of basic design rules but then you show us how to break them to find our own personal style. This is how we make a house a home. When I moved into my house five years ago, I painted most of the walls white because my furniture collection is SO eclectic I knew that I had to balance it out; I learned that from you. Trying to decorate with a theme, and rigidly sticking to that theme, demonstrates nothing but an appalling lack of imagination. 😉 Love this post, love those green chairs, love you Emily.
What a great article! I had a teacher say once that traditional is not a set, immovable style. Rather, it’s a way to connect us — to our history, to a sense of place, a way to ground us and make us part of our community and where we came from. She said that tradition is a reference point and we modify its meaning all the time, sprinkling elements of it into our forward-moving lives. Your sun room is stunning — that exquisite shape language assures me somehow that all is right with the world. The diamonds in the tile picking up the window pattern, the curves of the chairs reflected in the pendant, all balanced with the straight geometry feels both exciting and extremely reassuring and calming. What a wonderful idea to bring those contemporary lines in to balance the sweetness of the farm. It’s a great mix of your love of clean and modern with the “tradition” of the farm. Thanks for being so brave to share your personal style journey. Finding that mix that says “I love this. This is me.” is not easy. Finding our place in the collective and yet still having our own personality… Read more »
Emily, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE everything you do! Also your blog posts are ALWAYS a good a very helpful read, thank you!!
A bit late to the conversation here, but I’m strongly in the “respect the house if possible with fixed choices” camp, while feeling that decor and furnishings should reflect the way we live now. Historic house museums do a great job of letting us see intact houses as they were once lived in, and I often get loads of inspiration from them! I’m secretly a little relieved that when we bought our funky 1892 victorian/colonial revival mashup, enough stuff had happened over the years that I don’t feel like I have to restore it to historic perfection. The choices we are making are certainly more classic than the 1980s renovations, and I am absolutely anguished when I think too much about the original built-ins, marble mantles, and woodwork that were torn out in the 1960s to make way for mid-century poured concrete hearths and so forth. We are working on replacing a bunch of wacky late-80s windows with options that make more sense, but will restore the remaining original wood windows (some of which still have their curved glass). My goal is to make it feel like one house, instead of three or so mashed together. But on furnishings,… Read more »