Over the past 14 years I’ve lived in seven different homes. From all sorts of oddly-shaped apartments across Brooklyn (where I had to break my couch to fit it in the door) to the old farm house where Julia and I now live a few hours upstate, I’ve had the pleasure of decorating a lot of different spaces. Each one stands out in my mind for a number of reasons, but mostly because when I think back to what each space looked like, I get a clear picture of where I was as a person during that time. Some apartments reflected being at a fun, light-hearted place in my life (lots of color, pattern and DIY) and others remind me of difficult times when the thought of decorating felt too trivial to consider, given the emotional work that needed to be done instead.
But if the saying “older and wiser” has any truth to it, I’ve learned a few things about what decorating does and doesn’t mean to me anymore. I wish I could go back and tell myself so many things (mainly to save money), but I know myself well enough to know I probably would have just rolled my eyes and ignored that advice. But hopefully someone out there reading can learn from some of the things I’ve figured out over time (including the biggest mistake I ever made decorating at home). And I’d love to hear from all of you about what YOU wish you could tell your younger self. Are there things you would have left on the shelf or at the store? Things you wish you HAD tried? Share your stories below (our team is also sharing their advice below, too!) and together we can all reminisce a bit about lessons learned. xo, Grace
What I’ve Learned from Decorating 7 Homes (And What I’d Tell My Younger Self)
- I’m lucky to have a home. Period. For too many years I worried about what my home looked like (especially compared to other people’s spaces) and forgot to stop and be thankful for just having a roof over my head. If you have a safe space to call your own (whether you own, rent, sub-let, or crash on someone else’s couch) you’ve got it pretty good. So often in design we forget that simple fact and these days I try to start from a place of gratitude whenever I worry about what something looks like.
One of the things I’m most thankful for at home: our family coffee mugs (made by Nic Newcomb)
- Never EVER let someone else tell you what you should have in your home. The single biggest mistake I made in decorating was when Domino Magazine asked me to be a part of a story on bloggers’ houses. I was the only non-designer in the bunch and I knew that my space would be a lot more basic than other people’s in the story. I did my best to spruce up (I even made this headboard), but they ended up re-arranging and adding so many objects that weren’t my own that I barely recognized my own space. I felt embarrassed and deflated. In hindsight, I wish I had stood up for myself and insisted things stay the same. I would have felt better and ended up being attached to a story and space that felt authentic. From that day on I’ve remembered to always stick to what feels right for me, even if it means people give you side-eye or sighs. Everyone has different style and that’s 100% okay.
The DIY headboard I made to prepare for the Domino shoot.
- Make more things (and buy less). I did so much DIY in my early days in Brooklyn and I always (always!) loved those spaces the most. Those were the homes where I took the biggest chances with the smallest budget. As I got older and had a slightly larger budget, I started buying more things and feeling less happy with them. Looking back, all my favorite home pieces were ones I bought, thrifted, up-cycled or customized in some way. Those memories attached to items are worth their weight in gold.
My DIY pegboard in Brooklyn, inspired by Julia Child’s kitchen.
- Learn to live with some blank spaces — it will give you room to think (and money to save). I grew up in a home that was filled with beautiful vignettes. I was lucky to grow up in a space that both of my parents cared about so much and put so much time into decorating. But I think I interpreted all of that decorating as a message that every space needed to be filled with something. It felt like empty spaces conveyed something bad, so I grew up wanting to do the same. That led to me buying a lot of things over the years to make my spaces feel “done.” But I would always end up selling, donating or leaving those things on a NYC curb where someone else could scoop them up in a second. When I look back and think about all the things I bought just to fill a space, I shudder with a mix of guilt and sadness. I wish I’d learned earlier than an empty wall or room that isn’t quite filled to capacity doesn’t mean anything bad. It doesn’t have to mean anything at all. I’ve learned to enjoy having things be a bit unfinished or just emptier. That space has given me time to consider what I actually want in my house (ala Marie Kondo) and these days I realize what I actually want is more space to spend time with my family—nothing more, nothing less.
Our last apartment in Brooklyn, where I learned to live with less and really love it.
- Happiness > Rules/Trends. One of the interesting parts about working in the world of design online is that we get to see so many stories on design “rules” and trends. I used to love them. They made me feel calm and helped me shape my house to the way I thought it should be. But then I realized that my house looked more like a version of someone else’s house I saw online than me. So I started undoing some of the decisions I made based on trends and rules and started bringing in things that made me happy. Sure it means that some of the rooms around here have a funky mix of furniture that wouldn’t normally “go together,” but those pieces now tell me stories or remind me of trips or memories that are worth more than the result of any design trend or rule to follow. Looking back, I wish I’d held onto some of the funkier pieces I originally bought and then got rid of because they didn’t “fit.” Because now my favorite homes are the ones that have SO many moments of things “not fitting.” Those homes have character and stories to tell and that’s the type of space I want to live in these days.
Our old Brooklyn kitchen. Small but loved.
Here are some more stories from our team about what they would tell their younger selves:
Kristina Gill: Wait. Wait more. Wait even more. And wait some more. It’s ok to not have a fully furnished/decorated place until you put together a coherent aesthetic, rather than a collection of many things that “spark joy” immediately but aren’t evergreen for you. Also, it’s ok to decorate in stages as you save up enough to tackle each phase. The longer you live without, the greater the feeling of reward and satisfaction will be when you finally get it done!
Kelli Kehler: Less is more. I used to pack rooms to the gills with things, layering decor pieces upon surfaces and filling every blank wall with at least one artwork. While I love and appreciate maximalist style (or heavily decorated spaces) in the homes of others, I learned over time how much my brain is uneasy when my own home is full of stuff. I have a hyperactive brain and it never, ever seems to slow down, which can leave me feeling overwhelmed when my home is either messy or overly decorated. Once I started paring back my style and implementing a more restrained (but still me) design at home, my brain – and myself in general – could find peace.
P.S. It’ll take you two months to grow tired of that bright green sofa you were so sure you’d love forever.