This is a phrase that’s been rolling around in my mind quite a bit over the last month or so. And quite frankly, I think it’s a phrase we should all learn…and use…regularly.
Since I’m a blogger and I put my stuff out there for public consumption and critique, I get more input (as well as some of the most arbitrary decorating “rules” I’ve ever heard) than the average non-blogging homeowner. But many of you have mentioned that you also get (often unwelcome) input from friends and family who visit your home. So the next time someone walks into your home and starts saying, “Well, you should do such-and-such,” or “You should have done it this way instead of like that,” I want you to say (even if only silently in your mind), “Please get your “should” out of my decorating.”
The fact is that our homes are highly personal spaces. They’re our sanctuary from the crazy world that lies just outside the walls of our home. And our homes need to represent the people who live within those walls. That’s it. No one else. There’s no room for anyone else there (unless, of course, you ask for others’ opinions). In the end, no one else has to be happy with your home but you.
I happen to love color. Lots and lots of color. Bold color, muted color, warm color, cool color, jewel tones, pastels…just give me color. Sure, I’m drawn to some colors more than others. But I pretty much love them all.
I’d love nothing more than to be surrounded by ALL of the colors when I’m in my home. Obviously that’s not for everyone. And it’s clear from scrolling through Instagram these days that neutrals reign supreme right now. Picture after picture after picture of neutral farmhouse decor fills my Instagram feed. I’ve searched and searched for colorful homes, and they’re few and far between. When I finally do come across a colorful home, I save it, study it, mentally bathe in it, and come back to it often.
You have no idea how many times I want to say to people, after seeing the 100th picture of neutral farmhouse decor for the day, “You really SHOULD add some color to that room! It would really liven things up in there.” But you know what? I need to keep my “should” out of other people’s decorating. If they’ve filled their home with nothing but white, then clearly that’s what they like, and my should’s have no place in their home.
I really started thinking about this several months back when I came across an article/slideshow on some big website (Elle Decor or Traditional Home or something like that) about decorating rules. It was entitled something like “50 Decorating Rules From Today’s 50 Top Designers.”
Just using the word “rules” in regards to decorating kind of gets my hackles up anyway. Decorating is artistic expression. Are there really “rules” to personal artistic expression? I hope not.
But I read it anyway, because after all, these were Today’s Top 50 Designers, so they must be right. Right? The most enlightening thing about that article/slideshow was that several of the designers’ rules actually completely contradicted other designers’ rules. I wish I could remember specifics. Unfortunately, I can’t. But one slide would quote a designer who said you should ALWAYS do such-and-such. And then a few slides later, another designer was quoted as saying you should NEVER do that exact thing. I thought, “Well, how stupid is this?!”
My takeaway from that is that there are no rules. There are opinions. And you know what they say about opinions, right?
Believe me, sometimes I wish there were hard and fast rules. Formulaic decorating sure would make things a whole lot easier, but way more boring. And yes, there are times I wish there were hard and fast decorating rules. If I were made Queen of Decorating and could make the rules, I have a long list of rules I’d implement on Day 1 of my reign. Just off the top of my head, here are a few…
Rule #1: Absolutely no tab top curtains. These should be relegated to the trash pile immediately.
Rule #2: Grommet top curtains are okay only in certain situations, but are generally unacceptable. They should be used judiciously. Please submit your decorating plan and get prior approval before using them. Unauthorized use of grommet top curtains is strictly forbidden.
Rule #3: Blinds and shutters are not window treatments on their own. They’re utilitarian, not decorative. They should almost always be paired with fabric.
Rule #4: Oak cabinets and wood paneling finished prior to 2000 should be painted.
Trust me, I could go on and on.
So how many of you, as you read that, glanced across the room at your tab top curtains that you just bought, or your grommet top curtains that you absolutely love, or your very expensive plantation shutters that you just paid a fortune for and love on their own, or your oak cabinets from 1984 that are still in excellent condition, and thought to yourself, “Wow, thank goodness Kristi isn’t Queen of Decorating! I like my tab top curtains/grommet top curtains/blinds/shutters/oak cabinets!”
I need to keep my shoulds out of your decorating, don’t I?
I remind myself to keep my shoulds to myself quite often when I’m scrolling through Instagram. There are a few people I follow whose homes don’t look decorated. They look merchandised. There’s a big difference between decorating a home for living, and merchandising a retail store, and somehow they seem to have gotten the two mixed. I just shake my head when I see pictures of stacks of throw pillows organized neatly in wicker baskets and placed under a bench by the front door. I want to ask, “Are these things for sale? Why are you merchandising your home?” Throw pillows lined up neatly in baskets and placed under a bench in the entryway serve no purpose. That’s how you would imagine them being displayed in a store, not used in a home. But I see things like that all the time. It drives me crazy, but you know what?
I keep my shoulds out of their decorating.
Clearly they like it that way, and it’s their home, not mine.
This whole topic came to mind again a while back when I made my first drapery panel for my living room.
I tried a few different configurations for the edge banding and trim and decided that this is the one I liked the most. So I went for it.
I was shocked at how many people responded to that post with comments like, “That Greek key trim should be centered on the blue,” or “You should have done it like this,” and on and on. I’ll admit I was frustrated. By the end of that day, I started making plans to make changes to that drapery panel. As a side note, I can always tell the people who have zero experience sewing and seem to think that moving that trim over is the simplest thing in the world. No, in order to make changes to that edge banding, I’d pretty much have to take the panel completely apart and start over again since adding edge banding is literally “Step 1” in making draperies. But I was determined to do it because a handful of people said I should do it that way and thought this way was the wrong way.
But I never did do it. I moved on to other projects, like refinishing my floors, and then focusing on my breakfast room and kitchen.
And you know what? I’m so glad I didn’t jump right in and start redoing that panel. I was going through my box of fabric yesterday and came across that one finished panel. My initial thought was, “Ugh, I still have to rip apart and remake that panel.” Then I unfolded it and looked at it, and realized that I love it like that! I chose to do it that way because after testing out different options, this is the one I like the best. And in the end, I’m the only one who needs to like it.
So what’s with all of these arbitrary decorating rules? Where the heck do they come from? And why do so many of us feel bound by them?
Not only are we holding other people to these rules, but we’re also holding ourselves to them. We could be on the verge of something great, but we’re holding ourselves back because of a rule that we think we need to follow.
Well, I say it’s enough of the rules. Let your creativity flow. Try new things. Break out of the mold. Don’t be bound by other people’s arbitrary decorating rules that they try to foist upon you. Stepping outside of these arbitrary rules may be scary. You may try your idea and realize that it’s not going to work. And that’s okay. Or you may try it and realize that it’s the best thing ever! And it’s your home. The only person who needs to like it is you.
So the next time your Aunt Sally comes to your home and starts telling her how you should do things, just tell her to keep her “should” out of your decorating, even if you only say it silently in your mind.
EDIT: To be clear, I have no problem with opinions, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. “Hey you guys, do you think I should use this table or that table?” “Oh, I think you should use this table. The other one looks out of place.” “I disagree. I think you should use that table. It has a more interesting shape.” Opinions are great. We all have them , and we all love to share them.
I’m not talking about sharing opinions here. I’m talking about when those opinions turn into hard and fast rules. I’m talking about when an opinion is presented not as an opinion, but as absolute fact. I’m talking about when an opinion is given as, “You should do it this way because this is the correct way, and any other way is the wrong way.” I’m talking about the arbitrary decorating rules that most of us have somehow had engrained into our heads that don’t allow us to push beyond those boundaries. I’m talking about the rules that we not only hold ourselves to, but hold others to.
Opinions are good. Share away. (Unless you’re a poo-flinging monkey.) But hard and fast rules have no place in artistic expression.
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