While I hate holding you hostage for real design information, today’s post will be in the form of a long Uber ride where you’ll learn the proverbial life story of the driver (me) and you might be even entertained for a while. But unfortunately for you, you don’t have wifi, I have child locks on and this lady (me) seems eccentric AF and wants to take the long way if you know what I mean. So BUCKLE UP BUTTERCUP.
I used to write/joke for years that my style is a mix of “Kevin Bacon’s Footloose + Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette but in a more Wes Anderson way”. I more recently felt that didn’t quite encapsulate my truest love so I added “with a heavy dose of ’50 shades of Blue'”. I long to be as interesting as that, truly, but I’m only 27/41 years old so I’ve got time (and since you are stuck in the back seat until I take off the child locks, so do you). Listen, “Uptown Prairie” will always be in me – which in a way encapsulates both country (casual, plaids/leathers, utilitarian, a bit rough if not feminine) and Victorian (understated ruffles, princes sleeves, florals, and a hint of brass buttons). As you know I love “the good” of every single style, truly, but my preferences shift based on the style of home, the time in my life, and simply whatever I’m currently fancying (with some consistencies, obviously). It’s like all of life – the older you get the closer you become to knowing who you are and what you want. All the “trying on” of styles that is a super fun part of your teens. Then you see in your twenties and thirties what has worked and you can hone in more and more on what feels really ‘you’.
But, I’m not invincible to the zeitgeist and can definitely be swayed towards and away from styles or pieces based on what my eyeballs are being inundated with. And yet I have some consistencies that I haven’t really strayed from over the years (I still love my first few living rooms before Design Star, like this one). So when we were in the process of wishing we could own this farmhouse I was like, ‘Sure, I love country style, right?’ but meanwhile we are living in this pretty minimal neutral home full of straight lines, mid-century or contemporary furniture, NOT a lot of architectural quirk and frankly loving it. This house (the mountain house) was designed to be a retreat from city chaos and while we didn’t predict that we’d live here full time, turns out maybe designing your home to be your own retreat is not the worst idea – THESIS ALERT!!!! – maybe we should all be designing our home to be our own retreat. OH HELLO.
So when designing a long-term home as we are, how do you make design decisions you’ll love forever, while in a current, yet always changing season of your life??? Even if I do think I know “who I am” now, I still actually don’t (nor do I want to be done with that process – it’s FUN). How do you design for future needs and wants, and give yourself room and flexibility to change? Sadly I don’t think I have the answer for everyone, but I do have a strategy that has led us towards the style direction of this home to work long term. But it’s been a quest. A journey, with a lot of questions, wine, and pinning…
I had a ton of pins, but Anne (Arciform) asked Brian and I to conduct a family meeting with our kids, to answer the following questions:
Ask Yourself These Questions:
- What do YOU/WE love about this current house? The kids answered quickly, “I love my family”. While it might seem like they didn’t understand the question, I think they actually answered it perfectly. They are feeding off our energy and responding to how we live here. Unmistakably, the fact that we are out of the energy and pull of a large city is something we love more than we ever thought (and they sense I’m so much more present). So that is a decision that I’ll have to continue to make once we move – lots of social boundaries, rejecting the need to fill my and the kids’ schedules, etc., because while our property does feel isolated and ‘in the country’, it’s *dangerously* close to many friends and family and the city. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to balance some social interaction while still maintaining this calmness that myself and the kids have so desperately come to need and love from me. They get so much of us here and we all want to preserve that in this next house.
- How does this house make you feel and what do you like about that feeling? Elliot’s answer; “calm because there is a lot of brown and white”. Then when I pressed she said, “….Because when it’s calm it looks better”. This was the first time I had heard this as Birdie had been asking me “why isn’t there any color in our house?” for a while. So when I followed up she said that she wants color in her room (pink and purple) but not a lot in the main spaces. (I’m fully aware that she might be just regurgitating what I’m saying all the time, that this house makes me calm, but I’ll take it). She seemed genuinely earnest that she loved how calm the living room in particular is.
- What word do you want to describe the next house? Elliot’s answer: “Fun” (she is my daughter after all), “Calm” says Brian, “Warm” says me, and “Pretty, like, nice to look at” says Charlie. Once you have those adjectives you need/get to figure out how to bring in those feelings by way of design. “Fun” doesn’t have to mean color and pattern, I think Birdie actually means a place to create art with friends and have dance parties with us. “Calm” doesn’t mean neutral or boring, it just means stress-free and low-maintenance. And “warm” doesn’t mean beige on brown and upholstered everything, it just means physically warm and cozy = inviting and comfortable. And Charlie’s “pretty and nice to look at” I think means clean and pulled together (not messy, that kid doesn’t like living in a mess).
It should be noted that my kids ALSO requested the following:
- “A small pool by the fireplace to stay warm,” (I mean, yeah, I want that, too).
- Charlie wants “A bed in the floor” and when I pressed, it was clear he meant inset into the floor or flush, with a hiding spot underneath.
- Birdie wants a shower in the bathtub (she doesn’t know this is a thing – so that’s going to be easy).
- They both want a giant patio so we can “bbq and party so we can buy flashing lights that when we turn them on they go different colors”. See? FUN (I left in the grammatical mistakes because how kids talk is just so cute).
While I love their adjectives here’s how I see it – There are reasons why we love living here and things we want to bring forward:
What We Love About This House (And What We’ll Repeat)
- Simplicity in minimal design – With a “retreat” in mind 3 years ago, I challenged myself with fewer surface areas or shelving to style, opting for closed storage over open and negative wall and window space over pieces of furniture. The idea was to come here and not fall into patterns that led me all weekend to rearranging the house. I succeeded (for the most part). If there is a surface, I feel the need to put stuff on it, so less surfaces = less stuff = less stuff to put away every time they are moved. The result is this fantastic feeling of ease with a clear focus on the natural surroundings and so much comfort. There is a lack of ornamentation, of “decorative detail” that is very calming on your eye. Duly noted. While some rooms could have been more “designed” for photographs, they are honestly all just so pretty, simple, and warm. Easy to maintain, but still feel special. I will echo this style in our farm.
- Natural light through windows and skylights – If minimalism sounds boring to you I get that, but not with the natural light that flows in through all of the windows and skylights. Even in the rooms that don’t get as much light (like the family room because of the covered porch), the windows themselves become a cozy feature, with the pretty wood framing around it (all of ours are from Marvin and you can read about them here).
- So much natural, reclaimed beautiful wood – Without ‘decorative details’ then what makes it interesting? That beautiful wood grain everywhere, and my eye is NOT sick of it (all from Ross Alan Reclaimed – the loveliest people in town). It’s so warm, adds so much texture and a subtle pattern. And while the walls are just simply white (which gives my eye a great break) the wood pops as this subtle feature – everywhere. I definitely want to design with this in mind.
- It’s easy to clean and maintain (for the most part) – We are notoriously not organized people, but we designed this house to help us – with a lot of closed storage (in kitchen and baths) and wipeable (or dark) surfaces. And we learned about what is harder to clean or why a room is harder to keep tidy – so we are employing a lot of these tactics in our next home.
- So much warmth + comfort – Almost every piece of furniture is super comfortable and most rugs are super cozy. I’ve found (late in life) that the rooms that are the most comfortable get the most use – DUH. It’s obvious, right? And yet as a stylist/designer I still fall into the “but it’s so cool” emotional response to an uncomfortable but beautifully sculpted chair. For this home, while we might have some cool pieces in corners that bring my eyeballs joy, comfort and practicality will be highly prioritized so we truly live in every single room of the house. Oh and we use all three fireplaces whenever we are in those rooms. You BET I’ll be designing this farmhouse in rainy PNW with multiple fireplaces.
- Sense of expansiveness through amazing flow and layout – It just feels so airy and like so much room to breathe – this is likely due to the light and flow of the house (and tall ceilings). We LOVE having the kitchen be in the center of the home – with the living room on one side and the family/dining room on the other. For whatever reason, this ensures that all rooms get so much use and all of them have different purposes. While the view outside our kitchen window is to our lovely neighbor’s house, the location of it in the middle of the home has proved to be incredible to live in. Having two “family rooms” – one more for grownup hangs (or Brian and I just to read or work by the fire) with the other one being more of a playroom/TV room has been GREAT for Covid.
- Lots of texture and softness in fabrics and wood – While there isn’t a lot of “stuff” there sure are a lot of textures and the energy is SO GOOD HERE.
- So much soul and full of happy/calm energy – In short this house was made with love. This is the WOO WOO side of me coming out, but anyone who has hung out here says the same thing – this house has such amazing energy. It’s a happy calm house, and I think it’s because A. it was made with such love and good intent by me (and my wonderful team – big kisses to Julie, Emily B. Velinda, and Grace) and B. all the reclaimed wood that we used had 100 years of life in it before it came here. By embracing the nature around us and caring about every detail this home feels like eating homemade pasture-raised chicken soup. If you ever wondered how I was going to merge my two loves – design and soup – I think we just did it. There is a lot of original art, vintage pieces, and sentimental art from my kids. It’s simple in photos, but full of so much soul. I want that again.
But we can’t replicate this house, nor would we want to stylistically. Our goal is to bring what we love about this house to the next one – in a new and fresh way. Besides, this house isn’t perfect…
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THIS HOUSE (AKA MISTAKES WE WON’T REPEAT)
- We are all the more desperate for a mudroom + a laundry room – Not having one here means coats and boots just pile up at the back door (and it truly didn’t make sense anywhere to add one when we renovated). We only have the upstairs laundry closet right now which is fine because we turn the guest room that has no guests into the folding room… but obviously, it’s not ideal. We don’t need a huge laundry room but just a room would be nice 🙂
- With pets, we have to rethink textiles and flooring going forward – No more dark rugs (in the main areas) or dark sofas that collect hair. While we don’t know what these dogs are (the rescue we adopted them from thought husky-poodle) it’s clear that if there is any poodle in them, they didn’t get the “non-shedding” gene. The good news is that you can’t see their fur on this floor (they literally are the same color and tone variation as our flooring and sometimes we almost step on them because they are so disguised). However, our navy blue rug and even the dark sofa in the family room aren’t exactly disguising it (we swapped rugs around and put that one in the lesser trafficked guest room). Lesson learned.
- The kids want more color and pattern in their rooms and I think a little more “fun” in the main rooms – So for the farm, I want to bring in colors in a soothing way (likely blues, greens, rusts, rose, mustards and ochres, etc) but of course not try to predict their wants in their room. Brian and I do agree that because of the lack of bright sunlight year-round, some happy, more colorful pieces of furniture are a good idea (so excited to see our floral chaise lounge in this house!). More pattern, a bit more old-world charm through furniture and salvaged pieces.
I’ve been picturing our lives in all of our friends’ homes, including all of our past homes, and collating all the pros and cons of each to create a big document of “learnings”, while keeping in mind that our lives have also been changed, and fundamentally/permanently reprioritized. AKA it’s still hard to predict the future. It’s actually a GREAT exercise to do when you are starting a renovation.
GET ON WITH IT. WHAT IS THE STYLE OF YOUR FARMHOUSE???
Right! OK! So we bought a mini-farm and we want to make it modern – therefore it’s a “modern farmhouse”, right? Well, perhaps it’s the ’90s rebellious anti-establishment girl coming out, but that doesn’t quite feel right. Listen, I love a modern farmhouse – they are extremely warm, comfortable, and casual to live in – I’m a fan. But as an interior designer and even more so a cultural style anthropology enthusiast, it’s always a great challenge to take what is popular and challenge myself to have a fresh spin on it. Of course, the real risk is how to design a 100-year-old farm in a fresh way, without being trendy or dating itself immediately NOR being boring and safe. But that’s why they call it a challenge 🙂 And I didn’t win Design Star without trying…
Well, in the name of thanking all of you who have stuck with me thus far, I’m going to tell you the style right now – written in words, but not visually (that’s its own beast coming very very soon)…
It’s “Uptown Prairie” personified – but wait. Sometimes I think that “Uptown” is even wrong. More like “Downtown prairie”. But imagine if she (me) time-traveled through stones to the 1970s to grab a red leather hoop chair and a Borge Mogenson sofa. Paul McCobb makes a cameo. Yes. It’s Little House on the Prairie + Outlander + Steel Magnolias + Bridgerton + Marie Antoinette + Goonies + A big splash of Amish + the spirit of Wes Anderson (less artsy, more random) + a little dose of “eccentric PNW grandpa”. I think we all knew that I would land there eventually despite my “singular spouse” general philosophy. All set to a background of simplicity and calmness. I told Arciform this and Anne actually kinda acted like she got it (we are SO similar, it’s wonderful). As you’ll read in the next post – the foundation and the architecture will be calm and soothing, but the decor will take the risks and be more exciting and fun. Not a surprise as I’ve been touting this philosophy forever, but know that when you see something that seems “boring” I’ve only just started layering. And when you see something loud, know that it won’t be dominant.
Is hard to be someone who loves so many styles, so deeply. Thus is the plight of the stylist – aesthetics hit the serotonin parts of the brain before we sit down on a chair. Thank you for being on this adventure with me. I could cry, thanking those of you who actually read this whole post. But I did just have my first glass of wine in a month (dry January was long) so maybe that’s it 🙂
STAY TUNED FOR THE REAL ART DIRECTION (with the real label and lots of inspiration photos) POST COMING AT YOU V. SOON. (AND THANK YOU – seriously. xx).
Opening Photo Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Light-Filled Neutral & Textural Living Room