Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I Learned From Decorating a Rental

By the time we moved to Boulder, I had been a homeowner for 10 years, living for 5 years in each of two Brooklyn homes. I took decorating them very seriously (despite an utter lack of budget). When you're settling in to a place that you own, there's this idea that you need to get it just right because it is permanent. Of course, the upside is that you can do whatever you want without asking permission: Calypso Blue living room? Sure! (Did it in Park Slope when Dave moved in). Paint the vinyl tile in the kitchen? Of Course! (Did it when we moved out of Park Slope). But there is an inherent freedom in decorating a rental. It is temporary by definition. In Boulder, we knew we would be in that house for one, maybe two years before moving on from Colorado or settling down and buying a place there. While I knew that it didn't make sense to invest much in decorating a temporary place, I'm also not a person who can just live in an unfinished space, so I went to work making it feel like home using (mostly) things that I had.

And you know what? Just by easing up and playing it fast and loose (SO not my usual style), I learned some great lessons that I have brought into our new, "permanent" home. The main thing, of course, is to trust what you love and to try not to worry too much about what it is "supposed" to look like. Believe me, this was a HUGE lesson for old rule-follower me.

I started this post a month ago with so many "lessons," I got kinda overwhelmed. So lets consider this the first in a series. Who know is there will actually be a second.

Create Drama
Most rentals don't have much in the way of dramatic architecture or fabulous features. Create them! In Boulder, the girls were sharing a pretty tiny room, and to create visual interest and give a bit more separation to their sleeping spaces, I hung a $19 mosquito net from Ikea over Clio's bed. Instant drama.

While our new house has loads of light and great space and good, simple choices in fixtures and is really nothing like a rental, it is something of a clean slate: white or gray walls, pale wood, no flourishes, doo-dads or whimsy. The dining room and kitchen are one big room in the middle of the house, with somewhat awkward lines. The room, where we spend an awful lot of time, needed drama. To anchor the space, I turned to Ikea again and hung this enormous chandelier.

It's not to everyone's taste, but it's hard to deny that it offers some drama (a real conversation-starter, too!) Now, I love coming in the front door and catching a glimpse of this around the corner of the stairwell.

I love sitting underneath it's largeness. I love that Eleri calls it "Big Ball" and that Clio says it looks like snowflakes (I think so too.)

And it didn't even take all that much to convince Dave!

Structural Improvements

Dave and I have never really been ones for making improvements to a house of any lasting nature. I think we think we're all DIY, yet the first house we chose to buy together had just been renovated and the next was brand spankin new. I'm hoping we're staying put for a while, and because we set aside a little budget to decorate, we decided to invest in some strategic upgrades. Like having an electrician work some magic in adding a chandelier in the middle of all the can lights in the dining room and tiling the backsplash in the kitchen.

I had never seriously investigated tile before, though I do know that the first time I went online to look around a bit, I chose a gorgeous limited-edition gold-leafed tile that retailed for about $200 PER SQUARE FOOT. In Boulder, our friends Amy and Justin did a gut renovation of their kitchen, and when deciding on tile they went for an option more in the $2/SF range, and Amy installed it herself. Our backsplash is 2 feet by 12 feet, and we settled on $5/SF for our budget. I found some tile outlets in Plymouth, MN, and away we went.

And get this: we came home with tile the very same day. You may or may not know Dave and I well enough to know that this is nothing short of a miracle. With no advanced research, we went into the field, visited three stores, and MADE A PURCHASE. Truly amazing.

Here's the thing, though. There are about 3 options for tile in the $5/SF range if you do not want white subway tile. (We are certainly fans of white subway tile, it's just that we needed a little more life back there.) We found these pretty glass tiles in the perfect shade of green, but I was almost positive that I did not want squares.

When we came across a glazed ceramic hex tile for $5.20/sf, it was only a matter of deciding between the smaller and larger sizes and the "moss" or the "milk." I found a birch cabinet in the store, plunked our countertop sample down, and proceeded to stand about 10 feet back while Dave switched samples back and forth. (Sometimes I do this thing where I turn around or go around the corner so I can "walk into the room" and let the material take me by surprise. I swear, it works.) Here's the penny tile from the same line.

(I will also point out that Home Depot had similar penny tiles for twice as much money. Home Depot! And they did not have the fabulous hex.)

And here's Dave with the small moss hex tile.

I loved the moss color, but ultimately felt the larger tiles were better and they didn't come in the greenish tone. Ultimately, viewed from a distance of 15 feet, we realized that the small tile would just read as a wash of color, whereas the larger tile would read as a white wall with a delicately drawn honeycomb pattern, and the answer was clear.

Install is tomorrow.

Related to this. We had been discussing some under-light cabinets, and realized we would have to put them in before the tile, so we scrambled and headed out to an electric wonderland where we picked up some stainless steel 40" xenon lights from counter attack. (get it? clever, no?) THEY went in this morning, and now I can actually see the dishes I am washing!

I never think of these practical things. I'm all: wallpaper! upholstery! let's make headboards! And Dave's all: wouldn't it be nice if these things functioned? Or, it's broke, let's fix.

We make a good team.

Now, if we did it ourselves, that would really be something. But that's the other thing about a nice, brand new house: it makes you nervous to go messing around.


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