Who Do You Truly Design & Decorate Your Home For?

Yesterday, I was working hard to finish up my bookcase-turned-pantry in my kitchen. (Yay! More progress!!) I didn’t quite get it finished, but I hope to be able to do that today.

But the whole time I was working, I was pondering this question…

Do most homeowners truly decorate and design their homes for themselves, or for that elusive “future owner”?

I was thinking about this because even though I know that our time in this condo is drawing to a close (in the next 6 months to one year), I’m still designing it and decorating it the way I want it. I won’t be painting over my teal kitchen cabinets. I won’t be painting over my argyle walls in the hallway.

All of that will stay just like it is.

When I was working on the design for my mom’s bathroom remodel, I originally had a bathtub in the plan. After all, master bathrooms are supposed to have a tub and a shower these days, right?

Well, she nixed the tub idea. She only ever takes showers, and doesn’t enjoy baths, so she didn’t want to take up valuable space in her new bathroom with something she’ll never use. So she now has a fully redesigned, remodeled, and completely custom master bathroom…with no bathtub.

Before the remodel, we talked about how the “no bathtub” decision would affect resale of the house. In the end, my mom decided that she wasn’t concerned with resale. She had lived in that house for over 40 years, and she had no intention of leaving…ever. So she wanted to design it for herself.

But I know from my experience in working with clients for many years, most homeowners seem to always have that “future owner” in mind when making design decisions for their home.

Sometimes this made sense. If they knew they were only going to be in the home for two years, and then they were going to have to relocate for a job or something like that, then it made perfect sense to keep that “future homeowner” in mind, and try to keep things like granite and flooring more universally pleasing.

Other times, it made no sense at all. At times, when I had clients who continually brought up “future owners” and “resale value”, I would ask, “So when do you plan on putting your house on the market?”

Their answer? “Well, we don’t have any plans to move right now. It’s possible that we’ll be here for many years.”

I’ll admit…I never understood that. Why be concerned about making design decisions in your own home that will please a future homeowner, especially if you’re not planning on moving and could be in the home for 10 or more year? Do you realize that the granite that’s considered “universally pleasing” today could be the avocado and harvest gold kitchen appliances of the next decade?

I say if you want a bright red kitchen, go for it! It’s just paint!

Fabulous red kitchen via My Home Ideas, designed by Susan Massey

I think at some point, we all just need to forget about that elusive “future owner” and create homes that WE enjoy. Because if we continually decorate for the next owner, and the next owner decorates for the one after them, what’s the point?

What are your thoughts on this? When you’re making design decision for your home, do you do so completely for yourself? Or are you always wondering what a future owner would think, and how your decision will affect resale? If you do think about those things, do you actually have plans to sell your home in the near future?

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Comments

  1. says

    GREAT POST! We’ve flipped 5 houses now…and I’m just now starting to realize this. Since we flipped, we were only in it for months….but interestingly the house we were the most careful to “keep neutral” took a long time to sell. We had several offers start with, “Since the home is vacant, we’d like to offer…” trying to make a very low offer because they thought we had moved and were desperate. We were living in the house with two babies and it seemed vacant. I worked so hard to keep it absolutely spotlesss and neutral (no family photos, neutral colors, etc.). What I do now is just pick what I like because I think we have pretty up-to-date interests and we try to stay up on decorating trends, etc, just because of our interest. For that reason, we just do what we love and it seems to work out better. It shows more personality…which I think attracts people, even if they change a few things once they buy it.

  2. Diane Mansil says

    When I was making the choice to switch from a giant full-sized refrigerator to a modest, under the counter sized one in my kitchen reno, I had a brief flash that said “oh, this probably won’t work for resale”, then came to my senses. I’m not planning to sell my house, not for a long, long time. And it’s a dump right now, so nobody would be interested in it anyway, not until I tackle the obvious outside projects. And I’m not moving anywhere so long as my sister is alive…

    So this is MY house and as such, it’s getting MY designs. If there’s a future owner, they’ll have a lot of work tearing out my personalized options. They’ll be buying the house knowing they’ve got work to do. Good for them. Heck, they may want to move the kitchen back to the rear of the house where it use to be and return the newer kitchen to its former living room glory. Yep. Twas a living room at the front originally. A room I never used. Now I use it daily, several times a day, some days I use it all day.

    So…no, I don’t do things for the ‘future owners’. Switching things to their taste is their problem.

  3. says

    I have to agree with Western Warmth above. I do at times think about the elusive “future owner”, but then I find myself arguing internally because that isn’t really what I want. In the end, I usually go for what I want. I like it, so why shouldn’t someone else? Obviously, not everyone is going to like it, we all have different tastes, but I think people are pretty good at seeing past the cosmetic of a home. They can always change it…just like I did! :)

  4. GinaE says

    I have no plans to probably ever sell my house and I never worry about resale in decorating. I always say, I’ll sell “as is” and they can just change to whatever they want. I see all the shows on HGTV and no matter how they have it styled, the prospective buyers always walk around saying all the things they would change. I don’t see spending the extra money trying to out guess the buyers. And you are so right about the granite. In a few years, it will look dated probably, just like any colored tile people put in their bathrooms.

  5. Jennie says

    I wonder this every day. Who am I decorating for? Do I really have people over to appreciate it? Sure sometimes and I want them to love it. But I decided I’m decorating just for me so I’ll enjoy spending time in my home. Who cares about the resale value!

  6. Erin Kaven says

    Really I think this post goes along the same vein as articles about using what you have, your good china, pretty nightgowns, etc. because life is short. YOU should be happy and surrounded by what you love.

  7. says

    I can’t imagine NOT making my home mine. We’re in a rental right now….and I’ve done a bit to make it mine as well. In my humble opinion I have a pretty good eye and I believe that if we were to leave tomorrow….and our house went on the market….which it was before we rented it….it would sell much faster than it didn’t….yeah…that’s how we got to rent it. Most changes that just involve a coat of paint….are always super easy….and they just might be the inspiration a buyer might like or need. Regardless….I say, throw caution to the wind and ENJOY the home you’re in. :D Just like you’re doing Kristi!!

  8. says

    Last year we remodeled our home, including the kitchen, the way we wanted it – including rearranging the appliances and painting the cabinets four different colors! I loved it!! We had NO plans of moving – thought we would be there for years. Just 3 months after we finished our renovation, we were transferred and the house sold in ONE DAY! Amazing! But I still miss my beautiful kitchen!

  9. Kimberley says

    Great post! We should only design for ourselves after all, do we really know how long we will be there. You can always buy a neutral paint in the case you need it. But most often people find value in a well put together home.

  10. Kimberley says

    Great post! We should only design for ourselves. Do we really know how long we will be in the home? Most of us do not. You can always buy a neutral paint in the case you need it. But most often people find value in a well put together home. So design to your voice.

  11. Karen Moret Harrison says

    My husband uses the resale excuse ALL the time. I think it’s ridiculous because in the end, a house speaks to you or it doesn’t.

    When we bought our last house, it wasn’t even on the list of houses the real estate agent was going to show us. We drove by it, saw the for sale sign, and I said “What about that one?” Our agent called and we saw it 15 minutes later. I walked in the door, looked around, and begin to cry because it KNEW this was our house.

    We went back to the hotel that night, and I began to doubt it was as great as I remembered it to be. We arranged another showing the next day, and the minute I walked in, I began to cry again. Most of the house was painted a khaki – ish color, but one bathroom was pear green, one was a mustardy gold, one was called “Parrot Green”, and the other was wallpapered in a green on green stripe with yellow dots (kid’s bathroom). One bedroom was light blue, two were yellow, and another was a jadite green. The wooden kitchen cabinets had been painted a lovely cream color.

    I’ll bet the seller was urged to change the colors for resale sake, but we lived there for 6 years and never painted a room. As a matter of fact, when we moved, I painted one of the rooms in my new house the jadite color, and I have the paint to paint the study the mustardy gold.

    This is our 4th house in 17 years, and each has been different, but I knew each one was “our” house the minute we walked in. You have to love the environment you live in, and we aren’t promised tomorrow, so the heck with resale!

  12. Belinda Baggett says

    Your blogs are always so timely for me….I seem to be thinking it one day and you’re blogging it the next. This very thing is the biggest struggle between my hubby and me. I was SO excited to finally buy a townhouse and decorate it just the way I wanted. I had always added my touch when we rented but it was non permanent type things. Then we moved in thinking, we are about to have a baby, we’ll be out of here in a real house within 2 years (the market was also hot and our equity was there within the first month or so). Then the market tanked, we are no longer first time home buyers so need a bigger down payment, etc……seven years (and two kids) later we are still here. And I still feel like we live in an apartment because every design decision is for the elusive buyer. I take that back, I do decorate for me, but I always have that lurking thought of “I’ll have to redo this when we sell” or “they will think that this is amateur looking because I didn’t hire a pro”. And I look around and it does seem that I’ve made a lot of non-permanent type decisions. This has been an ongoing struggle with the hubby. He lives with the non permanant decor but we haven’t done the things that will really add value to the place (new cabinets, countertops, etc) because with the market down it doesn’t seem to hubby that we’ll get that money back. That just KILLS me!!!! It’s like having decorators block based on a poor market and an then an unmarketable house based on decorators block…….does that make sense. I am stuck in someone else’s house, because if it were me, I’d never have left those cabinets in here for this long :)

    Here is an example of our struggle:
    We have 20 ft ceilings in our living room and I was so tired of white walls that I finally broke down and hired professionals to come in to paint it my color, a nice mocha (medium tan). We ended up going with a very light off white color because the husband intervened saying “we might sell soon and should stay as light as possible to make the place look big”. I was kicking myself (and wanted to kick him) before I even paid them. I don’t want big, I want cozy. I swear when I get a house, I’ll paint it plaid!

    I could go on and on with other examples, the beige carpet, the oaky laminate instead of the dark I wanted. I decorate for me, but the husband bases decisions on the elusive buyer. I could beat him over the head with a wet noodle.

    That is what I want to ask you, you’ve mentioned that your husband is unable to help with your projects. How much input does he have into the design decisions?

    • says

      Aww, Belinda!
      That is just awful and I wish I could hug you! I couldn’t imagine living anywhere for so long with out a bit of your own punch in the space! I mean, you’ve already been there for seven years, your walls could have been painted that color the whole time! Maybe you should point out to your husband Western Warmth’s comment at the top that sellers perceive neutral as ‘cold’ and desperate for a sale. Everyone knows that when a house speaks to them, it doesn’t matter if a room is even painted hot pink!
      We are in the 2nd year of living in our 3rd house (which has all white walls) and every time I paint a room I feel like it is finally being lived in and not just being passed through. By the way, our house was updated as neutral as possible for the sale (new carpet and floors throughout) and I’m guessing the freshly painted white walls were a big turn off to buyers since it seemed so stale and we got it for an amazing price since there was little interest in it. (2400 square feet on 3 acres for $118,000!)
      So just tell your husband that ‘neutrals’ are out and people aren’t looking for just a house anymore, they want a home!

    • Ron Harris says

      As with everything in life, the key word is moderation. Strike a middle ground between ‘we’re going to live here forever’ and ‘we might have to sell tomorrow’. If your home is not comfortable for the both of you, what’s the point? I have a gold ceiling and some uncommon wallpaper in my dining room, but it takes my breath away every time I look at it.

      As for your question to Kristi, since her husband also has to live in the house, whether or not he is able to help with the projects should have no bearing on how much input he should have. Marriage is an equal partnership; something I stress every time a couple comes to me for counseling.

      • Belinda Baggett says

        I agree 100% with that equal input part. I’ve been married to the dear hubby 19 years now and he does certainly have a say. (I only sound mean when I am venting). There are some things that he could really care less about, like the curtains or an area rug, but the minute I mention how great crown moulding would look or replacing the wall to wall carpet in a room, that it a “permanent” (and more costly) change and he suddenly has an opinion. And I do understand that more costly is a big deal but I could add up the cost of the five times I’ve redone the curtains and probably come up with the same dollar as I did for the crown moulding.

        Your gold ceiling is a perfect example. I SO wanted to put up the faux tin tile ceiling in the dining room, to hide a lumpy ceiling. Suddenly he was concerned that it wasn’t what everyone else has and it might damage the ceiling to take it down. TAKE IT DOWN? WHY? You know, when we sell. :)

        I guess my question for Kristi was more related to, how much is her husband willing to let her tackle alone. I’ve read her posts about how she feels about having to do her projects alone. I get so inspired that she is so able to tackle things alone. Does he ever say, that is just too much for you take on with no help?

        My husband is not handy and really has no interest in projects around the house ( it is just not his thing) and doesn’t want to put money into the place. So it aggravates me when I try to figure out how to do things cheaper (buy a remnant carpet on craigslist and try to set up a barter to have it installed) and he doesn’t want to support me in it. I wondered if Kristi feel supported in her design decisions (as the obvious expert), emotionally, if not physically supported. I am not an expert, but I am the only one here that really “cares” about the decor, so it aggravates me for the one who doesn’t really “care” to suddenly have an opinion.

        • says

          Hi Belinda~
          This past week has been crazy busy for me, so I’m JUST NOW reading the comments on this post. :(

          To answer your question, after 10 years of marriage (this week), Matt has finally given up on telling me that I’m taking on too much. :) I’m a very determined and independent person, so if I have my mind set on something, I’m going to do it. Ha!

          Regarding the design decisions, he leaves them up to me almost 100%. (I do have teal kitchen cabinets, after all!) :-D I think that when it comes to the design decisions, he’s just learned to trust me. At the beginning of our marriage, if I had told him that my kitchen design included teal cabinets, I’m sure he would have put his foot down and said, “Absolutely NOT!” But over the years, he’s learned that my design decisions aren’t made independently from one another. In other words, if I want to paint the kitchen cabinets teal, that’s just one part of the entire design plan puzzle for that room, and he’s learned that once all of the pieces come together, it will look cohesive. So now when I go to him with a crazy idea, he just says, “If that’s what you want, that’s fine!”

          In fact, it’s to the point now where he trusts me a little too much. :) Sometimes I’ll honestly want his feedback, and I’ll want him to tell me if my idea is really a good one or if it’s completely crazy, and he just says, “Do what you want! I’m sure it’ll turn out great!” :) He’s absolutely my biggest fan, and has more confidence in me than I do in myself.

  13. Ron Harris says

    Everything I do is for me! But, as the owner of a small apartment building, I often think about what I would need to do to my apartment should I decide to move out and rent it. For the most part, all it would need is a new coat of paint (and removing the wallpaper in my dining room). All the rest…hand-made moldings and trim, crown molding, and restoring period details…would actually enhance my chance of getting more $’s.

  14. says

    I fully admit, I decorate for ME! I don’t know, I figure I live in the house and I have to see it all every day. Even as a renter, if I want color on the walls, I’ll do it, knowing if I move I will be painting it back (and I always do because it’s the right thing to do). I want my home to reflect who I am and be a place that’s inviting to my family and friends. Even when we owned our home, I never thought about decorating for resale value!

  15. says

    That’s funny that you ask this question because my husband and I just had this conversation. We plan to be in the house we are currently in for another 5-7 years. That’s a long time. Well, our house is still very out of date – 100 year old fridge, brass fixtures, blah blah. We are definitely going to change things up and update them to our liking, but we always have the “future owner” in our heads too. I want the house to sell easily and have good selling points when it comes time to sell, but I want to like it for the 5-7 years that I live in it too! I think my way to work around that is to keep things, like wall color, neutral-ish and spice things up how I want with accessories. Colorful accessories, printed curtains, fun bed coverings, whimsical couch pillows, etc. That way the house still has my flair, but can be easily removed for something not so taste specific.

  16. says

    We are about to embark on a kitchen makeover in our home and I am just trawling the web for some inspiration. So glad you shared that pic of the red painted kitchen cupboards, it looks stunning. I’ve never considered red for a kitchen but that really works.

  17. Sue says

    When we bought out home 11 years ago, we bought it with the idea of retiring and spending our ‘golden’ years in it until death do us part. With that in mind, we have been slowly redoing rooms and we’re doing them the way we want them to be. It’s an eclectic mix and I’m sure someday things will have to be changed for it to sell but we are not concerned about that at all. OMG! When I saw those red cupboards I was LOVING them! We have yet to redo the kitchen (huge project that involves lots of $) but red cupboards are my dream.

  18. says

    I guess I’ve always been one to decorate for ME, but always with consideration to THE INVESTMENT. Like changing a 4 bedroom to 3, or the tub debate—for example, I wouldn’t want to loose value.
    When you’re ready to sell, that’s when you can make any necessary decorating changes for the NEXT OWNER.
    Catherine

  19. says

    My answer to your question would be “It depends.” It depends on the house and its style. A cottage can take a lot of personality in its decor. It depends on the demographics of your future buyer. A city loft can be cutting edge, but not so much a middle America suburban ranch. It depends on your budget and what you can spend to do your personalizing, and then spend again when you want a buyer. Even though some of your readers say they fell in love with mustard walls or that they sold their quirky home quickly, I’m guessing there are many more who will tell stories of walking away from a home on the market because they couldn’t live with pink cabinets (“We’ll have to paint that.”) or wallpapered walls (“We’ll have to hire someone to strip and paint.”).

    I still say you’ll take a price reduction at selling time for over-personlization more times than you’ll find a buyer with the same unique taste you have. Most people assume they will stay in their homes much longer than they actually do. That’s a statistic.

    Sure, you can go crazy and decorate and remodel according to your taste. And you should. The mistakes come when you do irreversible things, like rip out a bath to make a shoe closet, or mess up the roof line with an ugly addition. All life is a compromise.

    I’ll still paint a brick fireplace, though!

  20. says

    Sadly, my home’s future owner will be wrecking ball! That’s the fate of many old frame houses in Chicago. So much easier to tear it down and build new than retrofitting 4,500 square feet in a 2,500 square foot space!

    :)

    Linda

    P.S. Thanks again for all your fabulous blog design and help!

  21. says

    What a great idea. I agree, decorate for yourself. You, the homeowner need to be in love with your home, not some future “what if” buyer! Hopefully we will be in this house for many years to come. Right now, there are rooms (living room) that look like they are decorated for someone who can’t make up her mind…..Hoping to change that soon!

  22. says

    My gut says yes, you should decorate for yourself! But in practice most of the decisions for my townhouse when I owned it were tempered by the inevitable ‘next owner.’ I lived there 8 years but I always knew it was not remotely my forever home. The only room I really did how I wanted was my bedroom and it was the only room I had to return to neutral colors before I sold it. The rest was ready to show. The funny thing is I just saw it listed for sale again and hardly a thing had changed in three years – down to the same wall colors and everything. I guess the last owners were even more temporary than I was, not just neutral colors but still my paint strokes! LOL

  23. says

    When my marriage ended and I moved into the house we’d been using as a rental, it needed tons of work. I decided to do things the way I wanted them (new-found freedom). That meant a red kitchen floor, among other things. I ended up wanting to sell much sooner than I’d thought, and in this stinky market. My realtor, at one point, did suggest painting some of the walls a more neutral color. During the many months it took to sell the house, I wished I’d thought more about future buyers. I really wanted to move. Knowing that the house I’m in now is not a forever house, I do think about future buyers now. That said, I don’t play it entirely safe and I think about what could be changed relatively easily when it comes time to sell. If I thought I’d be here for decades, my mindset would be different.

  24. Jenni says

    this is an awesome post! i do find that I will lean towards to “norm” (if you will) for the big tickets items (countertops, flooring, trim colors, etc) but i truly decorate for ME! i’m a designer in the commercial industry so my fun is working on my house and my stuff. I’ve got alot of hand me down pieces and find that i do what i want (painting a bedroom suit green) and find that A LOT of people (including my SUPER TRADITIONAL parents and in-laws) love, but are too afraid to do themselves. but, i do have resale in mind all the time, b/c you never know, but i want my house to be something that reflects my and my husbands style and something that’s comfortable to live it. My house is a haven and the place i want to be, so why not surround it with everything i love!!!!

  25. says

    We’ve decorated a lot for ourselves.
    But. And a big But.
    We knew going into our current home that this isn’t our permanent home. So as much as I want to paint my cabinets say a two tone colour, I know as a buyer what I was turned off about our home when i was looking at it and it affected how much our offer was to buy it knowing all the renos and changes and painting we’d have to do to fix it.
    So. As much as I’d like to say Go crazy! Decorate for you! If it’s not your long term space, I personally would consider re-sale value in your home. That doesn’t mean leave it alone and keep it as generic as possible. But I can’t let myself just go nuts on that end.

  26. says

    Hey Kristi, this is a great thinkin’ post :) I definitely decorate for myself to a certain extent but if expensive decisions are to be made, I do try to keep a future owner in mind simply because we generally move on to the next house after 5 – 7 years. I completely agree with you about things becoming outdated, but the actual design – i.e., placement of cabinets, floor plan, wood trim, hardwood floors, are difficult and costly to change. I tend to go towards classic design decisions for those and then go all out for me and my family with the more cosmetic things that can easily be changed. Next year will be our 5th year here and I’m getting the itch… ;)

  27. Tammy says

    Owned my first home ever for going on 3 years now. When I was looking, I was imagining new paint colors at each place I looked at. That was the first thing I did, take a week off, and spend 80 hours painting the entire house, and not neutral colors. Basement is my man cave, I don’t care what people think. still working on it. My next renovation will be the TINY master bath, which I am currently picturing totally different, while I save up some funds.
    My dream would be to knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, make a HUGE kitchen, and move the dining room to the living room. Who needs a living room when you have a man cave! But that would cost a lot of money, but I can still dream what I would do.
    You definitely need to decorate for YOU, because YOU are living there right now. You might be there a year, you might be there 40 years! You never know. The next people might tear down all your hard work, but there might be karma and they love every idea you put into place.

  28. says

    Very interesting topic. I am a safe decorator so am not unduly worried about my decor but I do agonise over changing anything structurally. Here’s an example – I wanted to knock our small dining room & kitchen into one large kitchen space but was very nervous about making it less attractive to ‘our mythical future buyer’. I took advice from estate agents, one said yes families like big kitchens, the other said no families like separate spaces. So…I decide to go for it. My husband nearly had a nervous breakdown at the proposal and fretted like crazy when the builders arrived with sledgehammers. However, the day the wall came down, I walked into the space and loved it. Now it’s all finished, we both love this space and wish we’d done it sooner. Visitors also love it – so I guess the lesson here is – do what feels right for you and someone out there will like what you’ve done and buy your house if and when you need to sell.

  29. says

    This is such a great post!! I think you should only do the things you love, love, love! It needs to inspire you, help you rest and create… will neutral do that for you? If so, do it.. if not, be kind to yourself and choose what makes you smile every time you look at it.

  30. Charlotte says

    Over the years, I have found that when I look around at the rooms that I have changed and decorated to MY taste, I FEEL good . . . I get actual pleasure from the room . . . that wall color caresses me . . . that picture whispers to me . . . the lamps bathe me in warm light . . . the projects that I have designed and implemented give me SUCH feelings of esteem and self-worth . . . to look at my things day after day and feel GOOD about myself . . . it is SUCH an affirming feeling ! WOW !

    WHY would I deny myself THAT definite pleasure NOW for the possible pleasure of someone else years down the road ??? I decorate for ME . . . NOW !

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