About 4 years ago, I went from a 2500 square foot house to a tiny apartment, with very few possessions carried with me. I effectively started over, needing even dishes and forks, along with beds, a couch and almost everything else. I have always loved putting together found objects, antiques, yard sale finds and hand me downs and making design from them, so it was a little disorienting to have to choose how to fill my new little place all at once. Fun too, but more of a challenge than I thought it would be. “What do I like?” was a question that ran through my head, over and over, on everything from plates to bedding. What I like was of course limited by budget and practicality, but it had been over a decade since I had made those kinds of choices alone, and it was harder than I thought it would be.
When we moved here, I had a little time to start to think about what I like, and I found myself influenced by the house itself. Built in 1850 as servant’s quarters, the house itself is not very big, and while largely modern, still carries with it a sense of stepping back in time. The rooms are comfortably sized, but still somewhat delicate-seeming. I decided to let the house dictate the design as much as my own taste, and the smallish people weigh in too. Eventually some things from my previous life came back here, but each time I touch a space here, it is tailored to the house itself. In doing so, I found myself drawn to smaller, more delicate pieces than I might have, and a touch of the fey everywhere – birds, vines and even some magic, all the while covering for the fact that shelves and closets are sadly lacking.
I add and change a little at a time, as budget, time and inspiration allows. I don’t want it all done at once. Making an old home beautiful again doesn’t need to cost a fortune either, it can be done slowly, a small touch at a time.
The first room to be changed was the dining room. One of the Moms did all the work, and it is all beautiful as a result. It is waiting for me to make valances from some bolts of fabric I found at a yard sale, hopefully by Christmas.
The red ceiling was my daughter’s idea, based on a picture she saw. The table had been a hand-me-down from my older sister, and the only furniture I’ve added is the bird etagere, which goes with my antique dishes, a favorite find.
Pretty and practical, the etagere holds things that I didn’t have a good spot for, but loved too much to get rid of.
The landing for the stairway was a large blank wall. Up went a wallpaper mural which makes me smile every time I see it, a touch of watercolor whimsy. At about $125 for the custom-fit paper, it was a deal, and if I ever tire of it, off it comes. But I won’t.
My son’s room was next. The supreme act of maternal love is letting your child pick their room color, but in this case I happen to love the bright orange for his small angled room under the eaves. His room is loosely designed around the world of Peter Pan, with a mural of the Lost Boys tree house, and the Jolly Roger as a light fixture hanging from the ceiling. His bed is shape like a cabin, with canvas window and door coverings that roll down for playing fort.
An oddly shaped corner of my room has been turned into a desk/vanity area, a perfect resting spot for books we are reading before bed, and Kiera Dolly, my daughter’s most prized possession. The mirror is an antique meant for a fireplace mantel. The vanity table top opens up to a secret mirrored compartment, where I often find things the smallish people have hidden.
In the living room, a corner cabinet, found and refinished in grey and blue chalk paint, has been added for more shelving space. I grouped things that are generally blue and white, from the tea set made by my great aunt to another teapot, found for $2 at a yard sale. along with a lone ginkgo leaf saved from our time in Florida.
Throughout the house are tiny framed prints of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies – gorgeous antique pictures of ancient flowers and trees. . Each print costs little, and they add touches of color to various corners. When I find frames and more prints, I add them, a little at a time so as not to clutter the space.
I’m working on the guest room now, tying in birds, flowers and watercolor designs, and my daughter’s room will follow that. There’s so much to do, but that’s the fun of it. Just a little paint, a few spots to put things, and a touch of whimsy make me happy to be here every day. There’s lots of stores, TV shows and websites that will make you believe that renovations are all-or-nothing, but sometimes little modifications – color, placement, style, are all that you need to make your space just a bit more homelike.