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A Design Pivot – We Paneled And Repainted A River House Room Two Weeks Before Move-In (…And How I Feel About It)

Want to hear a joke I heard on set 20 years ago (by a photographer I’m sure)? “How many stylists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”. Answer: “Hmm… I don’t know… what do YOU think…??” We are notoriously indecisive and scattered, not to be confused with lack of confidence. It’s not that there isn’t a science to it all, because there can be – but often there are just so many ways to do the same thing/finish a room and therefore I’m not always sure there is just one BEST way to do it. While I’d love to prevent all major design changes, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than changing the design of a room to be better, then walking in after realizing how right that move was.

I recently toured a house of a friend’s in LA that was designed by one of the best, riskiest, and most experienced designers in the world (IMHO) who will remain anonymous for now until they publish the project (it’s insane, in such a good way). Seeing this designer’s work in-person was so incredibly inspiring. I asked my friend if there were any changes near or after the end (likely fishing for any major hiccups to make myself feel better about all mine). She told me what I wanted to hear, that there were a few big changes (mostly paint or window treatments) and explained that while they all approved and agreed upon them during the design process, once it was done it just didn’t feel as good as they all wanted it to feel. This is why it’s different than a mistake – it’s a pivot, an improvement (with a side of reversal). But these changes can be the hardest to make because they don’t NOT work – nothing is “WRONG,” they just could be better. That’s the story of this room, the home office/library at my brother’s river house.

photo by kailtin green

This room is right off the entry and the living room -i.e. you see it from most angles on the first floor. It has two sets of pocket doors but they are glass (and glass is invisible, so… ).

photo by kailtin green

The architect, Annie Usher, and Ken/Katie really made most of these decisions on placement, but when we were choosing all of the paint colors for the house there were a lot of cooks in the office. We were choosing these paint colors right as I was changing a few colors in our house, so I wasn’t feeling terribly confident in some of my decision-making. We hadn’t even THOUGHT about furniture or decor and barely had an overall “look and feel” for the styling (while I’m in charge of the rooms that are heavily partnered, my level of involvement in a lot of the rooms was little to none at that point- I was just too busy so they made a ton of decisions without me). We knew that we wanted warm, contemporary minimalism, family-friendly, PNW-inspired, calm open, and uncluttered, but we didn’t have an overall color palette. Max and I weren’t necessarily on the same page on every color and historically I have really liked a dark office/library (and have designed many). But I was super hesitant to paint this room dark and I voiced that.

photo by kailtin green

Why was I hesitant? Because I did something like this once and ended up repainting it and this felt really similar. I personally just like bright rooms to stay light or medium and let dark rooms go dark. I also get nervous about a dark room in such an open space plan because it can stop your eye and flow and make the overall design of the house more difficult. Plus it’s a real choice that you’ll see a LOT and the natural light can make whatever color it is look even more bold/bright. I, personally, like my dark rooms to be more contained and cozy (like our family room) and with less natural light, thus leaning into the darkness. BUT I’M ALSO “WRONG” A LOT. And most of this is subjective anyway, there really isn’t any “right or wrong” – it’s all about preferences and how you feel in the room.

What Color Did You Paint It?

We painted the room Rain Cloud by Sherwin-Williams and the color itself is awesome (dark but with a ton of different tones in it, and rich but not bold). When we first saw it painted we all liked it. Maybe even a lot. The color itself is awesome. I even remember texting Max a “You were right! It looks so good!”. But then there was something I didn’t love about it – not the color, but maybe the blue with the white oak? I didn’t know so I just shoved my feelings down and didn’t say anything to anyone (not even Gretchen or Kaitlin). Ken and Katie seemed to like it, so why make a stink and ask them to spend their money to change it? And change it to what??? White seemed boring, but another color seemed like it would be the same problem.

photo by kailtin green

The more I looked at these photos the more I realized that I had done what I try not to do (paint a big light room, dark). I KNEW that I could decorate and style it to look good, but I was liking it less and less. But I’m also trying to get better at not changing my mind and just being FINE with the choices that have been made. So again, I didn’t say anything….

Wait, So Why Did You Change It???

A few weeks ago we were doing a walk-through for our final punch list. JP, our contractor, said that we likely had to repaint this room because there were so many scuffs and dings from construction that it made more sense than trying to touch it up on smooth walls. My stomach/mind/mouth screamed, “WAIT!!! THEN LETS CHANGE IT!!” Also, one thing you don’t know is that we also painted the pantry and adjoining drop zone niche this color (it is a very good color) and you can see them both at the same time (which I hadn’t really predicted) and that bothered me as well. Seeing the same blue in two rooms felt really contractor-grade and not custom enough for this house. And none of us LOVED that you immediately saw this huge big color when you walked into the house. It was just too much, too fast.

Katie, my SIL, immediately agreed that she wanted it changed, too and she saved the day by asking if we had enough wood to clad the walls instead of paint (!!!!!). My heart raced with excitement. It was always a vision of this house to have a ton of wood, but since there was wood on the floors and ceiling, I guess it was nixed on the walls?? Probably would have been really expensive, too. But once we realized that we had enough wood left over (from Stuga, called Drift – it’s STUNNING) we all erupted in universal agreement.

A week later it was DONE. And honestly, I think it might be my favorite room in the whole house (although I’m LOVING the family room design and that paint color is ridiculous). That Stuga wood on the floors (Shell) and walls/ceiling (Drift) is just soooo stunning. It also made the Blueprint Lighting chandelier pop so much more.

But What Color Do We Re-Paint The Bookshelves??

We all agreed that the blue on the cabinets and shelves was too strong. Katie and I had the same thought at the same time – to choose a taupe that would complement the wood but kind of “go away'” So I chose a bunch of samples and threw them up and stared for an awkwardly long time.

It was super hard because the dark blue of the current cabinets changed the color of whatever neutral was up there, so we tried them on the opposite wall that was just wood to help. We ultimately all decided on Natural Linen (which strangely looks a bit green in this photo and it’s not).

First Round – Natural Linen

We happened to be at the house confirming other things when we saw that the first coat was done. We didn’t know what we thought about it (which can very well mean it’s fine, but it’s not the BEST reaction). After an hour, I spoke up and said that I thought it was too light, reading almost white (but not at all). The painter had already done a cabinet front so he brought it up from the basement to show us.

I don’t know. All of us just thought it was too white and drew too much attention. Remember our goal was for the wood to be the star and the cabinets and shelves to go away.

So before the second coat went on we asked them to change it to Malabar, which was just one shade darker on the paint deck. We had to choose it quickly without getting a sample, just based on the big paint deck which isn’t ideal, but often what you just have to do.

Our hope was that it would be dark enough to still contrast with the wood but we really didn’t want it to look like it was trying to be the same color otherwise you’d almost just want it to be wood. And no, we weren’t going to redo the cabinets:)

Painted And Done (But iPhone Shots, Sorry)

It’s now done and looking awesome. When Katie first sent us photos with everything taped up we were again unsure. The painter’s paper was green and it kinda made it all look muddy and green. But I was in the middle of a four-hour meeting and there was no way to go over and look, and the painter was leaving the next day for a week so we just had to call it. We said let’s go for the second coat and I popped by the next day to see it and thank god we loved it. It’s warm and still contrasts with the wood, but in a quiet way that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I think don’t have a lot of experience in the taupe/beige world so I was teaching my eye. SO happy and excited to be even closer to the finish line. xx

Opening Photo Credit: Photo by Kailtin Green

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1 day ago

Oh thats so good!!! I too love a dark blue office generally but hot damn does that wood look worlds better here!!!! I LOVE IT!

1 day ago

Love the wood. The taupe looks good. I think I would have gone dark, black or charcoal, to go with the pocket doors.

23 minutes ago
Reply to  Ali

this! black would recede more in a way since it ties in with the geometric panes of the doors. LOVE the paneling though — GORGEOUS and so excited to see it done.

1 day ago

The wood paneling and the fresh paint on the built ins looks stunning! A well done pivot 👏

1 day ago

Lovely when the room ends up exactly as it should have. The wood is beautiful!

Roberta Davis
1 day ago

I like the change! Paint colors are hard, even for those of us who have education and skills, right? Can’t wait to see everything all done!

1 day ago

Looks wonderful! And yes, that final beige for the shelving is great with the wood!

1 day ago

Incredible transformation & absolutely the right call! Bravo

Cici Haus
1 day ago

Oh man a billion times better! This wood-clad room is WOW, the blue was fine.

1 day ago

I love this! I thought the previous color was pretty, but totally agree that it drew the eye in too much, as dark paint is prone to do in an open space. This looks fantastic. What a great last minute tweak!

1 day ago

The wood walls are SPECTACULAR. I love them so much. And that chandelier! Stunning.

1 day ago

I like the wood, and the switch to Malabar was the perfect choice. But, in my heart of hearts, I loved the dark blue room best.

2 hours ago

Love the wood and the paint. but how on earth will anyone dust those shelves?

2 hours ago

What will be stored/displayed on those 2 high shelves on top of the cabinets? Looks like they were made for a collection to be displayed. Looking forward to the reveals with furniture and styling. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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