13 May 2010

What does "too taste-specific" mean?

A client came to me yesterday with a photograph very similar to this one as one of his few inspiration images. The image is from Graham and Brown, the British wallpaper people. Further, the pattern is one by Umbra for Graham and Brown. The guy didn't know where to start other than he wanted the feeling of that image interpreted and extrapolated over his entire open floor plan condominium. Perfect, this is just the kind of challenge I love. I asked him what was it about the photograph he liked so much and without hesitation, he said it was the wallpaper.

So I started talking about wallpaper and how cool it is and how my great friend Given Campbell has some patterns he ought to see. He stopped me and said, "Oh I can't use wallpaper."

I reminded him that it was wallpaper that started our conversation and it was wallpaper that was so appealing to him. He went on to explain that he can't use wallpaper in his home because it's too "taste specific." Mind you, this is a man who'd also told me he had no intention of selling any time soon and he was interested in making his house really his.

So when did making a home "taste specific" to the man who owns it become a bad thing? Isn't my whole life spent helping other people make their homes taste-specific to them?

From Awkward Family Photos

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman about a year ago, I think I wrote about it in fact. Anyhow, she wanted to know if it's OK to hang family photographs in the "public" areas of her home. I explained to her that hotels have public areas but homes don't. She looked at me as if I were speaking Russian.

I hear things like that with shocking regularity. "I can't do what I want because it's what I like and nobody else will." Or "I can't leave to personal an impression in my living room." Or "I drip a little vanilla extract on a light bulb every night, how do I keep it from leaving a stain?" How about "I want to paint my dining room a bright color but I'm worried about resale." Has everyone become a home stager all of the sudden?

I know where all of this crap's coming from. It's that great Satan HGTV. I swear, they are the Fox News of the design press. Turn it off please. And leave it off.

Your home is your home and by virtue of the fact that you're an adult, you get to do anything inside of it you want to do. Even if it's stuff I find repugnant, who cares? I'm some guy with a big mouth in Florida, not some final arbiter and neither is anyone else. So go ahead, paint your walls with chalkboard paint, put a damn chicken coop in the back yard, hang exciting wallpaper and for the love of God, stop asking for permission to put photos of your kids on the mantle.

If you're going to put your house on the market sometime down the road, deal with it then but you can't live your life for a potential buyer. And seriously, when is the last time you walked out of a house tour because someone had a perfectly painted red dining room? People walk out of house tours because the place is falling down. Gah!

Don't be a Mr. or Ms. Cellophane. Hey! That makes me want to sing some Kander and Ebb!

Life's over faster than anyone wants to admit. Leave a mark already.


  1. *giggle* - Fox News of design press. I'm thinking it's probably all the same viewers anyway. And thanks for giving me the go-ahead to install that pearl-dripped octopus in my dining room. I feel like it's really "me".

  2. Resale value is a false god!

  3. Good Lord no! I think that it's an absurd trend. But what I am is pro-people doing what they want without apology. It won't stop the nay-sayers (including me) but so what?

  4. "So go ahead, paint your walls with chalkboard paint, put a damn chicken coop in the back yard, hang exciting wallpaper and for the love of God, stop asking for permission to put photos of your kids on the mantle." ... I'm giggling at this Paul! BUT, you should have added something about wall words and French phrases. Oh, firetruck bathtubs too. (See, I have been paying attention all this time.)

  5. Great post and great advice. Dare to be different and move on I say.

  6. I guess I just don't understand being afraid of one's own likes and dislikes. I suppose I play a role in bullying people into being paranoid about their tastes but still... Grow a spine already.

  7. Bless you, Preacher Paul. Now let me just...get...this sweaty blue polyester choir robe...off...erg...without messing up my bouffant. There we go.

    I'm the customer who argued with my "custom builder" to paint my interior trim gray green. He said no one would ever buy the house unless the trim was glossy white. I got my gray green trim, and I get nothing but compliments on it, 11 years and counting.

    Later that year I had to socially abandon and acquaintance who called in a panic and made me drive all the way to her house to help pick a paint color on the morning the painters were to arrive. The choices she gave me: off-white, or off-off-white?

  8. "He said no one would ever buy the house unless the trim was glossy white." I hear that crap all the time and it drives me nuts. Bully for you Julie, it's your home.

  9. You know I'm a big fan of wallpaper (BIG fan) and I frequently spec it for clients' homes. Usually, most are reticent, but then I give them the same reasons you've just outlined.

    They always give me a sneaky smile like they're about to indulge in something forbidden.

  10. *grin* Too many good quips to quote. Just imagine me laughing and keeping my coffee cup firmly on the counter.

    His (and your) dilemma sounds familiar. Sounds like he needs more shopping and ideas to reassure himself before coming back to what he liked in the first place, no? ;)

  11. Maureen Lucas13 May, 2010 12:57

    Well put paul. You should be on HGTV setting everyone strraight. Save us! :)

  12. Ahhh, this was such a refreshing post! I could not agree more. I am SO SICK of people asking me what they "should" do.
    Did you read the interview with Interior Designer Suzanne Kasler in House Beautiful a few months (?) back?
    Here's an exerpt....

    House Beautiful:
    What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about redoing a room?

    Her answer....
    "Be true to what you love. That's really the key to creating a space that feels personal. Buy things that you like, and don't worry about wheather or not they match. Matching is overrated."

    House Beautiful:
    But how do you know if it will all go together?

    Suzanne Kasler:
    "You don't. You may have to add or subtract once you get everything into the same room. But somehow, if these are all things you love, they will just naturally come together and complete a certain feeling. And that will express you and your style."

    Anyway, thanks for saying this Paul. It needed to be said and you always say it so well.

  13. Yes to personality, but do not go to the extremes like one gal I know of did (I'm looking in the mirror, so no finger pointing, please). Since she's European, she hates all walking closets and decided to remove them in her house (just so you know, whole wall wardrobe systems work great).
    The problems started when (I) she decided to put the house on the market. In this part of the world a bedroom is not considered a bedroom if it doesn't have closet. How do you sell a house without bedrooms, Paul?
    You can play personality game with paint, carpet, heck, even hardwood or tile, but not with the space plan itself. This is the lesson I've learned the hard way (but still, it is me who tells the contractor what to do ;))

  14. Thanks for the plug, and thanks for trying to get him to do what he originally wanted to do in the first place. Some people kill me, they are so worried about what everyone else says/thinks/feels about them/their home/their taste. Suck it up and do it for cryin' out loud. Why would you waste 10 years of getting what you really want simply because you are waiting for a buyer. Sheesh.

  15. Wow, I seem to have hit a nerve. Raina, Kelly, Maureen, Steph and Bozena --thanks! I say do what you want to do with your own home and in answer to Bozena, just know that there are consequences if you decide to sell down the road. I think people get too caught up in those potential consequences though. Removing wall closets is an extreme example. If you do something like that, don't act surprised if you can't find a buyer later. Even so, I still say that making your house yours, and making your surroundings reflect your life trumps every other consideration. You only live once and the only thing you have is right now.

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  17. I've been looking at a lot of houses lately. I could care less if the walls have purple polka dots --'cuz I do know how to remove wallpaper or wield a paint brush if I want to. I'm sick to death of white walls, oak cabinets and everything else builder beige. What's more important to me is location because I can fix superfluous things --moving a house is a bit tougher. I'll do what I need to do to "make it mine." Whatever I do I'm sure will become dated at some point and go through the process all over again --that's just the way it is. In fact, I think that's the whole point of decorating and designing to make something "fresh". But then I'm a designer and this is my idea of a good time. =)

  18. Oh my God, thank you so much for this post!

    I decorate my home the way I want it to look. I call it "Louis the XVI's Beach House". A former neighbour of mine, who hasn't seen my house for a while, came over yesterday and said, "Boy, do you ever have weird stuff". I replied, "No, YOU have weird stuff (department store furniture, Walmart dishes, etc.). I have stuff that makes me very happy!"

    Forget about resale value! If you decide to sell your home at some point, you can always paint it beige THEN. But why live with beige for 20 years when you'd rather live with chartreuse? Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh!

  19. Amen, Paul! I am so over clients' quoting someone or something they heard on HGTV. That is not the real world! Kitchen renovations DO NOT happen in 24 or 48 hours! It just isn't possible! Unless you are putting your home on the market in a month, who cares what anyone else thinks about your choices! It's your home, do what you want and what makes you happy! Sheesh!

  20. My grandmother's house was beautiful and full of beautiful things, but no one else could have combined an American Gothic farmhouse with mid-century modern furniture, and a mixed bag of antiques. She had an incredible aesthetic sense but it was absolutely not informed by any trend and her home was part of her life's work. I definitely appreciate the life lesson that you put things in your house that are good quality and that you like.

  21. Pam, Squeak, Anon and AmyM: Thanks for weighing in. This one really tapped into a pool of HGTV resentment. Even the folks in Kohler marketing were cheering this on via Twitter today. Let's start an alternative network.

  22. Each post in this thread has me grinning so I'll add my thoughts to the pool. The Disciples of Resale doctrine has started to worm its way into the minds of new home owners. As in: owners of brand new, still-smells-like-grout-sealer houses! Last fall a friend of mine contracted her home to be built and asked me to "help decorate". Her only mandates were (i) stainless steel appliances; (ii) neutral wall color w/ white trim; (iii) carpet in lieu of hard surfaces, except wet rooms; (iv) matching satin nickel fixtures and hardware; and (v) glossy black/taupe granite vanities and countertops. These items aside, I was told to "go crazy" and help put together something "cool" and "personal". I told her that although (in my opinion) her house was going to be perfectly attractive, it was not going to reflect much in the way of "personal" if it looked like every tract house built within the last 8 years. Her response? "I know, but I don't want to listen to any sh*t from a real estate agent when I decide to sell at some point down the road". Oh, and another thing...I suggested that she enlarge one of the guest bedrooms by removing a wall (basically joining two small bedrooms to make one). She nixed that idea, because "a house with 4 bedrooms is easier to sell than one with 3 bedrooms". All this before the builder even broke ground for the damn thing. Oh, well. I guess I'll find her some funky throw pillows and call it a day.

    And by the way, here's a fun idea for the next time you want to tap into your inner college student. Assemble a selection of adult beverages and not-adult-all-the-time friends. Tune the idiot box to Holy God That's Vile (HGTV to the uninitiated). Back to back episodes of 'Design On A Dare' or 'Colon Splash' are ideal, but any show will work. Knock back your beverage of choice each time you hear "pop of color", "accent wall", "under $10", "zen vibe", "fun idea", "a simple can of spray paint", whatever phrases your group decides on in advance. Cab service will replace car keys within 90 minutes. Guaranteed.

  23. Okay, I have to chime in on this one. I have two points.
    1. I am going to take this one step further and talk about the client that is so worried about what all of her friends think about her up and coming remodel that she asks everyone of them their opinion on what she is doing. You know where this is leading. Everyone has a different opinion!!!!! ( I say as I think of the old joke about opinions and everyone has one! I am trying to keep things clean here) Now she is so confused that the project is going in ten different directions and it is up to me to steer her back on track. Only to have the next friend come along with an idea. Needless to say after 5 months we still have not broken ground. People, stop worrying about your friends( do you like everything in their home?) This is your home, for your family, do it the way you want.
    2. Talking of HGTV, these design shows that have a budget of $2,000.00 to completely redo a room are crazy. First of all they are only paying for materials, not labor. Second they take furniture that the client has and cut it apart and reshape it to make it into something different. Have you ever seen some of these things in real life. Looks good on TV but up close, pretty Mickey Mouse. So I have a brand new client that we are doing a complete remodel for. New kitchen, living room and dinning room and exterior. The Bathrooms and Bed rooms are phase 2. She has old furniture from her Mom that she has had for 25 years and has always hated. But it was expensive furniture in its day. ( In its day being the key) So she doesn't just want to throw it out. Can't I remake it or repurpose it ala HGTV to make it something she will love. I say it it was ugly when they got it and no amount of band aids will make it work. If you are going to spend good money on something use the money to get the exact look you want. Don't compromise on your look. Yes there are ways to get a look for less, buying knock offs of designs, but not refurbishing old tired stuff that doesn't fit with where you want to go with your design. And that old guilt thing about it was Mom's. She would be mad if I got rid of it. Well she got tired of it and gave it to you. Or truth be known if she had had the money to replace it years ago she probably would have. You don't need the object to remember the person. ( A lesson I learned when a load of family heirlooms was stolen.)

    Wow do I feel better!!!!

  24. Anon: Holy God That's Vile is perfect and I've never heard it before. "Pop of color" is one of my rage-triggering phrases. My friends know the best way to get a rise out of me is to slip that expression into a conversation. I fall for it every time. Your friend's house sounds dreadfully inoffensive. Isn't amazing that a profession that refers to anything built between 1940 and 1960 as "Art Deco" and anything built before that as "Victorian" can have such sway over the housing industry in the US? Hah! When I hear MLS-speak cropping up when I meet with a client for the first time, I know I'm in trouble.

    Sue:I'm glad we can be here for you. I get beyond frustrated by the same things you described and sometimes it's nice to know I'm not the only one who's in that position. As irritating as it is at the time, it makes for good stories after the fact.

  25. When she was 13, my daughter wanted to paint her room bright blue with bright pink polka dots. She was sure I would say no, but I just shrugged and said "yes."

    Six years later, when she moved away to college, it took a lot of sandpaper, 3 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint to cover up the walls and make the room "resale-worthy" again. But I would not trade the excitement in her voice as we painted her room together over weekend for any amount of HGTV wisdom (I painted and nodded a lot, she chatted on and on and on...)

    BTW, Dog Whisperer is to dog owners what HGTV is to designers. http://bit.ly/ap8K92

  26. That's a great story. Is your daughter old enough yet to realize how cool her Dad is and what a great gift that paint job was?

  27. I don't know you, but I love you :)
    How I *wish* you were the final arbiter, then my friends would stop modge-podging statements and words in French to their walls.

    But, alas, they LOVE them, sooooo AMORE!

  28. Thank you! Would that I were the final arbiter...


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