I knew this would happen because I know myself pretty well – that my love of Victorian can overwhelm my love of minimalism – because IT’S WAY MORE FUN. Let me be more specific – I LOVE looking at Victorian tile, florals, embellishments, lace – it’s how I dress when I want to dress up (princess sleeves and bright colors). I love staying in weird old Victorian hotels (just stayed in this one recently and LOVED IT) full of wallpaper, weird toilets, and so many florals. I mostly read historical romance novels set in, you guessed it Victorian-era England, and heck I got my degree in history. It all tracks. But I PREFER to live in a more minimalist home. You might wonder why that is or maybe not even believe me – and I would never have believed it myself. But my day-to-day feels so busy that I like my home to be not busy, super calm, and easy to maintain/clean. I love stuff so much, but the more ‘stuff’ you have the more ‘stuff’ you have to put back in its place. Every color, stripe, and contrast excites your eyes which excites your neurons (definitely fact check me there) so while I LOVE IT, I simply don’t want to live in an ‘exciting’ home right now. This could change. And maybe it’s also because I work from home most days and will continue to likely for years, so I’m here all day every day. I love looking out the window at the trees in between paragraphs, staring at the wood grain while I’m thinking. This could also be because I probably have ADD and get easily distracted by things to fix, things to put away, credenzas to style perfectly. So after living at the mountain house and loving the visual calmness so much. Very little that’s “decorative” (beyond art, of course) and just so easy to maintain. So the original art direction was a shaker-style farmhouse – minimal, utilitarian, egalitarian, focusing on natural light, cozy colors, and nothing too ‘decorative’. It was a clear vision. I wrote about it here – but you can see the general art direction:
In fact here is a little art direction brain dump I wrote up (including my typos) a year ago when I first started working with ARCIFORM (some of it is admittedly dumb/pretentious).
I just found it and like an old journal entry, it is A. Very cringy and B. We have strayed a lot from that! Whoops. My favorite is how I want to make sure that they know that we are NOT elegant (nothing is wrong with elegant, it’s just not a word I respond to but it’s all just so silly to identify as ‘not elegant’). Also ‘high quality but humble’ is also admittedly kinda annoying, but you get the idea – well-made finishes that don’t scream loudly in any way… I don’t know if I ever actually even sent to this anyone, but I just found it and thought it was hilarious to share. 2020 Emily really wanted the farmhouse highly informed by the mountain house. Likely because I didn’t really want to leave here.
Then in late August we actually moved to Portland, left our minimal mountain house and I started shopping at antique stores and driving around all these incredible Victorian neighborhoods. Slowly more decorative elements started creeping into the design – more color, more pattern, more whimsy in the permanent finishes even. It’s like I couldn’t help myself. Vintage-inspired floral fabrics replaced the vintage plaids and ticking stripes I’ve been collecting. Simple handmade tile was given a decorative border and stripes in the shower – leaning towards, well the word ‘carnival’ even came up.
And listen, the house, while technically it a 4 square craftsman – was really just a box and the only the original things worth saving were the windows, the living room ceiling, the brick fireplace, the interior doors upstairs, and the soapstone in the renovated 90s kitchen (the kitchen cabinetry was painstakingly dismantled and salvaged and donated to the ReBuilding Center who will find it a new permanent home). So I honestly didn’t understand why we had to stick to “Crafstman” finishes when there really weren’t many original elements that felt “craftsman” to me.
I also want to say something that might be controversial – I know intellectually that busier rooms – rooms with more whimsy, color, pattern, and oddness – WHEN DONE RIGHT – are generally more exciting to look at, they are real feasts for the eyes. And I really want our home, to be so fun and exciting to look at. And that might sound shallow, but I think it’s pretty darn natural especially as someone who has spent their entire adult life styling rooms for still photography. It’s like wearing a safe dress to the Oscars – no one wants to look at that for long. But a home remodel isn’t a one-time event and you’ll have to live with these permanent bold choices forever. The Chief Architect renderings without pattern or boldness honestly just look boring because you can’t see any of the texture and the quality of the finishes. And no, we haven’t even started putting in any furniture, textiles, or art which will make a huge difference and add a lot of excitement. So, I think I was also tempted to, I don’t know, just be more exciting and bold than my dumb ‘simple but special’ minimal mantra (DRINK! :)). There are times when even I’m bored by photos of my own house even as I love living in it so much (TBH I think some rooms of the mountain house were just too minimally styled for the reveals and I should have made them more loose and editorial). So between seeing Victorian houses everywhere, having loved it visually for my whole life, then being more attracted to whimsical interiors in photography I think I lost track of the original intent. So here are the places where I took it too far…
The Guest Bath Nutty Border
It’s a real case of the ‘I like too many different styles’ which is NOT a bad thing, ever, but it can make a house a little chaotic, which is FINE if you are a maximalist. But it’s definitely against that initial word dump above. I freaked out and so did Anne when we saw that vintage tile installation (in a good way). It’s incredible and fresh and perfectly weird. We figured the new bathroom upstairs would be a great place to have more fun and implement this idea. I knew that I would rarely use this room so I wouldn’t get sick of it quickly.
Fun Fact: the more your eyes are confronted by something busy or loud, the faster you can get sick of it which is why people take more risks in more temporary spaces like hallways, dining rooms, and powder baths.
So on a call with ARCIFORM they painstakingly “built” this border from small pieces of tile in order to put it in the rendering. Stephyn did this before our call so that we could just move it around and decide where it should go. And yes, the tile is pink so there’s that.
This is also the bathroom that at the time we were going to work with the original window location which meant that the vanity and the toilet would be in front of it, but not in a nicely centered way. We decided to embrace the awkward and I truly think it would have ended up being really cool. But you get it. It not only has the most vintage-y whimsical style plumbing (which is so pretty) but it now had this odd window/vanity/toilet situation and a pink tile with a striped border. We loved it. Closed the meeting for that day and went about our business. But then after really thinking about it and my original vision the border was taken out and I feel very good about that decision.
The Mosaic Floor Tile
I’m going to write a whole post about this from start to finish because it was a really great creative/design process and there were MANY iterations, most of which I made with painted paper on the loft floor in the mountain house. But the last iteration – the most Victorian of them all – was A LOT. Even for me, honestly. It was my idea. I wanted a slightly ‘larger scale’ of a diamond pattern but since Pratt and Larson only goes up to 8″ I wanted to visually make it bigger (10″ – 12″) by doing one of the above. But once I saw it on the rendering (which I’ll show you later) Brian and Anne were so enthusiastic about it that I caved, questioning myself.
It was about 2 weeks later that showed it to Brian with fresh eyes and we both realized we had taken it too far. Now it’s still Victorian, but just less busy. And by the way, the reason that it’s ok that this room has Victorian elements when the rest of the house is a shaker farmhouse is that that sunrooms or conservatories were added on all the time (and still are) and often have a different feeling. It’s a step-down, it’s going to be clad in brick instead of siding and definitely ‘looks’ like it’s a special room. It’s perfectly ok and lovely to put a PAST permanent design element in your home, one that might have been a holdover from the era right before. IMHO (But Anne and ARCIFORM agree with me). But I wouldn’t put a ‘future’ tile design element – like retro 1950s Atomic tile, something that wasn’t invented yet in a much older home. But that’s just me 🙂
OH, and I want to point out the obvious, by simplifying both of these tile designs – getting rid of the mosaic stripe and border in the guest bath and the mosaic on the sunroom floor we saved likely THOUSANDS on tile labor. Seriously. Thousands.
The Floral Tiles
Remember when I was (still am) on a mission to bring some sort of contemporary/floral delft tile into the farm? Well, we ultimately didn’t have the right spot that felt appropriate and maybe we could have found the right place but honestly, it was just going to set us back time-wise. Between getting the samples to my probable indecision, making sure it works with the already chosen finishes… it just felt like we were forcing it. Plus the cost. The one place where it might have made sense (if it had worked with our floor tile) was the mudroom, behind the laundry machines. But it’s a pretty big wall and I’m still scared of ‘accent tiles’ so I likely would have done the whole wall when the plan right now is just paneling which is obviously way more affordable.
The Corbels On The Exterior
For some reason, Brian and I were worried that the house was just going to look like a white box again, especially from the outside. We don’t have an opportunity to do different paneling, or switch to shingles or anything – it’s not pitched enough. And while I didn’t like how small the shutters were I liked the idea of them. What we landed on was a white house, with white windows (already ordered), white brick, no shutters, standard craftsman railing, etc. I showed Brian a few really classic white farmhouses that had white windows and white railings and while I loved it, he was like ‘no, that is way too stark’. Meanwhile, he’s pretty inflexible about it needing to stay white, so without changing the color of the house we would need to add, ‘decorative elements’ – AND BOY WE DID. On one of our Wednesday meetings, ARCIFORM and I put back the shutters, painted them blue, put corbels on the posts added copper gutters, all the things.
Now before you judge or think we are nuts, this is the actual design process. All of you designers out there know when a client (or even yourself) wants to entertain something and you spend hours trying to make it work, just to realize the first plan was actually the best. You take it too far in one direction and then pull it back. It is not ‘wasting time’. We are paying hourly for Stephyn’s design and rendering time and I know that all the tile drawing work has taken her hours and hours, but it’s not ‘wasted’ it’s truly how you get the closest to the ultimate home you want – by experimenting and pushing yourself a little too far. It’s also made us super sure that we want it to be the pared-back version.
What I realized through all of this is that I REALLY NEED to find and restore a distressed Victorian house at some point in my life, and bring all of these ideas and this obvious passion to that house – somewhere I can visit and act out all my Duke fantasies, but not live there day to day. But it’s just not this house and that’s ok. I feel SO GOOD ABOUT IT. Now I know that some of you might be sad but fear not because I’m going to bring in a lot of eclectic furniture – some definitely more whimsical and Victorian like my chaise lounge in the House of Hackney floral and my weird plant stand. I’m not denying my love for this design era, but just NOT taking risks through the permanent finishes in what was supposed to be a shaker-style farmhouse.
And by the way, you want to know the most expensive permanent design element to “change out” is if it’s wrong? TILE. Faucets and sconces? Easy – which is why it’s ‘visually’ more accepted to have crazy 60s french light fixtures in 200-year-old Parisian apartments – it’s more of a layered on style choice, but tile? Be careful. Tile is no joke, especially in large quantities. So while I don’t want to scare you, to play it too safe and be boring (hell, we are so excited about the pink tile in that guest bath), definitely weigh that risk and be reminded that you can bring in so much color, pattern and risk in every other element and through styling/decorating. I have to remind myself of that all. the. time. 🙂
So we are back to mostly a Shaker Farmhouse. We still have some contemporary elements here and there, as well as a claw foot tub, a border in one of the bathrooms and yes, still a mosaic tile sunroom – but it’s just quieter now. And while I know that some of you hate minimalism, it’s our house and I can’t wait to show you how it’s going to come together to still be warm and interesting. Design plans for each room coming at you soon!! xx
Opening Photo Credit: Photo by Suraya Barbee