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Going green (ish)

I have been working with a client lately who is fabulous in that she doesn’t want to just wipe the slate clean and start over. What I like about this is that she is considering how she might be able to save some - or most- of her furniture and simply repurpose it into something new. Several years ago the chalk-paint industry took over our lives showing us how to renew old pieces with a few coats of paint. Suddenly chalk paint stores were cropping up everywhere and then there was a new industry, born on Craigslist, of old crappy furniture with a bright coral finish, being sold by DIYers who were willing to pick up abandoned dressers and slap a coat of paint on them.

It got overdone pretty quickly and then there was no where for those pieces of furniture to go, except the dumpster. There is a way to reuse your old furniture so that you can still enjoy it without having to do much to change it. Perhaps even just trying it in a different room is your best bet. What I’ve noticed about my generation is that we tended to splurge on a few larger items early on, knowing that we’d get the mileage out of them. In my own home, for example, my dining room table is a very high end Ethan Allen and my chairs are custom made from the furniture mart in Hickory, NC. My sofa is a custom made Bernhardt and our master bed is a very high quality wood sleigh bed. Basically, everything else is either from a flea market, antique store, or IKEA. I know that no matter what, I will be designing around those key pieces with everything else being flexible, or worst case scenario, disposable (and by that I mean donated or sold). As an aside, please do not ever put useable furniture in the dump. There are several places to donate it and many will pick it up for free at your home. Start with Habitat for Humanity.

When we redid our dining room in grey a few years ago, I recovered my dining room chairs in the most decadent grey cotton velvet. It completely changed the look of the set and now they are freshly updated. Who knows, in a few years I might try painting those chairs if they start looking dated to me again. The table is a work of art that will never go out of style. Plus, on one end are the scratches where my son, at his first Thanksgiving at the big table, ran his butter knife over the wood and gave it a lovely patina....I was horrified then but now that he’s 14, I see those and remember his sweet toddler face. My couch is looking pretty dowdy these days but it has great bones and will, at some point, simply be reupholstered into something fresh.

My client is facing the dilemma of what to keep and what must go to make room for more updated items. Every time we look at a piece that no longer seems relevant, we walk through her home and try to imagine it in another capacity. Her daughters are grown and their small writing desk can be moved into the guest room as a nice bedside table. With a coat of high gloss white paint it will be a standout. Chairs can always be helpful in the corner of a dining room or guest room and bookcases know no boundaries.

Where it gets tricky sometimes with my clients, as is the case here, is that they have spent a small fortune on something that is now outdated and letting it go is difficult for them. Two examples that I consistently run into are window coverings and wallpaper. My current client has large draped swags at the top of most windows and they are covered in fringe and tassels. They are a heavy brocade and are Hunter Green and Burgundy - Tuscan style if you will. They simply no longer work in her home with the changes we’re making, but because they are quality and were expensive (probably a huge splurge fifteen years ago for her and her husband) she cannot part with them. I am gently working toward the removal of those swags but the going is slow. In the end, she might not be able to part with them and I’ll have to respect that.

My advice to you, decorating DIY-er reading this blog, is to put your hard earned money into things that you know have a timeless classic design and that you will be able to use in any house, no matter the style of the home. Even if it’s an upholstered piece, you can either change the colour of the walls to suit the piece (cheap!) or you can have it reupholstered which, although not as inexpensive as paint, is still better than replacing it or tossing it.

Do not spend a ton of money on window coverings, unless of course, you are in your forever home and you know that you will always want the exact same style for the rest of your life - highly unlikely. There are a million options out there for great window coverings (,, or even big-box stores that will cut prefab blinds to a perfect fit). Wallpaper you ask? I say go for it and the reason why is that you can get the most fabulous wallpaper online now at a fraction of what it used to cost AND it strippable! If you’re really unsure about the commitment, there’s even wallpaper that is stick-on. I don’t know much about the durability but with the low cost, it might be worth a try in a small bathroom or an accent wall.

You are most likely going to live in many homes in your life and your tastes will change over time. Don’t lock yourself into something by over spending and then feel like you have to drag it with you forever. As my client is walking me through her home she mentions that once the kids graduate and are off to college, they will be downsizing and all I can think is “You can’t take those expensive window coverings with you.” Maybe then I can convince her to take them down!

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