After my endless series of posts on decorating trends that instantly “date” a house that we are working hard to renovate and sell, I thought I ought to work on ideas for creating a nice looking house that will keep looking good for many years. (Note: I realize most of the work we do as rehabbers is focused on selling a house NOW, so it makes sense to stage renovated houses to appeal to current trends. Still, a house could look “of the moment” in such a way that the poor new homeowners won’t feel compelled to re-do everything in a couple of years.)
I read a lot of decorating magazines (you know, as part of my job, heh heh). There are often articles about homes that have not been re-decorated in decades, other than small refreshes. These timeless settings don’t NEED shiplap to be beautiful. The original decorators chose colors, surfaces, materials and objects that retain their beauty. It can be done.
I was looking for some guidance on timeless decor, when my friend Meg posted an article on my Facebook timeline that was exactly what I was looking for. Check out How Can I Decorate in a Way That Won’t Date? by Anna Baddeley for some great ideas (also it’s on a great site, in general). Most of her ideas make sense, and a few of them might be new to some of us. Hmm, how am I doing in creating timeless decor in my own homes and renovations?
Keep Walls Neutral. Baddeley says, “Grey, especially when offset with flashes of yellow, is already looking a bit tired. Unless you are very confident with colour, it’s safest to stick with boring white.” (You can tell she’s British.) Other than vindicating my personal ennui about gray and yellow, she has a good point. If your backdrop is a serene neutral (and there are so many shades of white), the rest of your furnishings can shine. I kept the original color in my most recent family home for 15 years. You can always change pillows if you want color.
I also like the idea of neutral window coverings. These can cost so much! I still regret the dark red blinds in my old bedroom. That was a thousand dollars worth of being forced to use that color for twenty years. Lesson learned. The cream colored Roman shades downstairs looked good until they finally broke. Twenty years of service!
(In my ranch house, the walls are neutral in the large expanses of the main house. Color is in smaller rooms that can easily be repainted. The Bobcat Lair house has very bright accent walls, but is mostly cream and gray.)
Buy Quality Used Furniture and Mix Styles. A room completely furnished by West Elm (guilty) will look old pretty quickly. A room with a few items from today, mixed in with good quality older pieces will look fine in a few years. Unless you are a serious collector of some style and age of furnishings, mixing things up will work well to keep a room alive. Even my West Elm room has my grandmother’s rocking chair in it for contrast. And the quality issue is important. There is a lot of furniture out there that isn’t designed to last more than a few years. And you pay a lot for the good stuff (I know, because the ranch house is full of Amish-built stuff that will last longer than I will).
I spend a lot of time at higher-end consignment and resale shops when I’m looking to decorate a house. It’s hit or miss (I still remember a gold throne I found in my local shop), but you can find some real gems that a well-off person who’s redecorating or downsizing has sent over. Picking things YOU love with good bones will result in a timeless look.
Some of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever been in had a mix of furniture styles, and lots of different types of wood, upholstery, and such. You could just tell that every item had a story behind it. Asking about a well loved piece is a great way to break the ice with homeowners, too (hint for those of us who buy houses!).
Start a Collection. Collections are another great conversation starter, and are a great way to tie together a timeless look. They may say a lot about your personality (like Anita’s Pez dispenser collection and all my dishes with pansies on them), but they won’t grow “dated,” because collections are supposed to span years! I have art plates that were in my grandmother’s home before I was born (making them almost antiques) as well as some I bought a couple of months ago at Pier 1. When I put them all together on a feature wall in our breakfast area soon, they’ll bring in colors from the kitchen accessories, provide conversation topics, and bring pleasure for years.
Books make great collections, though, as Baddeley points out, arranging them by color just MIGHT make you seem like a poser. And wow, do your books tell a lot about you! Lee, my husband, has many, many vampire books. Anita has shelves full of travel books. I’ve got a room full of knitting and craft items. Now you know us!
I hope some of these ideas help you create rooms that will last more than a few years. And don’t despair if someone says your house is “dated.” I’ve noticed that the furnishings that are reviled in one generation, become trendy again in another decade or two. Really. All my mom’s friends just HATED that mid-century modern stuff and threw it away. Now it’s all anyone wants to see. I’m patiently waiting for the style Mom liked, Early American, to come back. I still have a few of those furnishings, well disguised!
And if YOU like your house, that’s fine. When you need to sell, just move your beloved stuff to your next house, slap on a coat of whatever color paint is “in,” and pay someone to stage it in whatever’s trendy the week you put it on the market.