The big reveal–Not!

One of my favorite parts of home/design blogs are the big reveals–the posts where bloggers reveal a newly renovated/redecorated room.  I love these posts:  I love the dramatic transformations from a (usually) horrible before to the completely re-done after.  (If you want a regular fix of the before/after high, check out Better After, a blog that’s nothing but before and after shots of all kinds of home projects.)

Unfortunately, Cane and I are realizing we probably aren’t going to have a whole lot of big reveals here.  Maybe none. They make for great blog copy, but the process they require will not make (for us) a great life.  We’re realizing we aren’t the kind of people who remake a room all at once.

When we moved into our new house last August, we made a pretty big change right away, stripping out carpets for cork floors (which you can read about here and here).  And then we just lived here through most of the fall, not doing a whole lot of anything to the house.

cork floor installation

Cork floors going into the living room. Although this was a big change, it's one we made after a lot of thought.

It wasn’t that we don’t have a whole long list of things we’d like to do (’cause we do).  It’s more that we didn’t have a whole lot of time. (3 kids and 2 day jobs take up most of our waking hours.)  Somewhere in mid-November, sitting in our still minty-green/muddy-green living room, talking about how big a project it will be to repaint it, genius struck:

“What if we just painted one wall at a time?”  one of us said.  “You know, take a Saturday afternoon to do just one wall.  Not feel like we have to do the whole room.”

“That would seem much more manageable,” the other one answered.  “We could knock out a wall in an afternoon, and then clean up the mess until we have time to do another wall.”

No more waiting until summer (when we have much more time) for a big project.  No more feeling that if we were going to tackle the walls, we’d need to then tackle the trim, the window treatments, the rugs, etc.  We could give ourselves permission to break our transformations down into baby steps.

So that’s what we’ve done.

Wall #1

A few weeks back, we decided to test this theory out by painting just one wall of our living room.  We’d been talking about color and collecting paint chips since August–when we thought for sure we’d have the various greens gone before school started.

As it turns out, I’m glad we didn’t paint right away.  We’ve changed our minds a few times since then about wall color.  We decided early on that we wanted a neutral wall color, but which neutral has shifted quite a bit.

We’d been thinking about warm whites and greeny-golds and khakis, but after seeing this entry in Apartment Therapy’s Make Room for Color contest, we realized that a warm, green-toned grey would be a great color for our space.

living room from Apartment Therapy contest

Image via Apartment Therapy; click the link above to see more shots of this fun, inviting space. Or better yet, visit the owner's blog at (Sorry, can't make links work in the captions.)

So, after collecting a ton of paint chips…

smorgasbord of paint chips

…we just took a leap with Behr’s Clay Beige.  Generally, I like to choose colors by their names as much as their appearance (not too much unlike how I choose wine–by whether or not I like the name/label art), and Clay Beige sounded like boring squared. I could pull no significance from either word, but we went with it.

Unlike previous experiences with paint, we didn’t get a tester pot and paint swatches on various walls, so we could see how the color looked at different places and at different times of day.  We just jumped in with a gallon, and in less than an hour we had one big wall painted.  And we loved it.  Love love love love love it.  The only downside is that I now want to paint all the other walls yesterday.  So, this is our big reveal of the one wall:

living room wall

I know:  not hugely exciting.

The logical next step would be to pick another living room wall and keep going, but that’s not how it’s gone.

Wall #2

As we shared a few posts back, we got an itch to display some art in our kitchen, so we hung an Ikea wire system along our one open wall to hang creative products/inspiration.  We loved that idea, but hated how it made us hate the kitchen wall we’d been tolerating.

kitchen wall with ugly wallpaper and art hanging above it

We liked getting some art onto these bare walls, but it looked horrible with the wallpaper, and the stark white was not a good backdrop for our art.

So we just started tearing off the wallpaper the same night we hung the wire.  Never mind that we had a party going on in two days, and was only a little more than a week before Christmas.  It just seemed like the next wall that had to be done. Right then.

peeling wallpaper off kitchen wall

You might remember this shot from the original post on the wall art.

We’d talked about a lot of different colors for the kitchen walls, and we hadn’t decided on anything–but once the paper started coming down we knew we needed to go with one.  We decided to use the same color we’d put on the living room wall.

“We can always change it later,” one of us said.  “It won’t be a big deal to paint just one wall.”

And so that’s what I did, the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  I trimmed out the edges the night before, and I probably spent all of an hour on the whole thing after that.

kitchen wall after paper has been stripped but before new paint

This is me almost remembering to get the "before" shot.

While we were at it, we decided to get some mats for some of the art we’d hung from the wire, so that they’d hang more nicely and look more finished.  It’ll be super-easy to swap those out when we have new pieces we want to display.

And so, this is our big reveal of the second new wall:

kitchen wall with new paint and art

I know:  Not hugely exciting.

And, looking at this shot, we realize that we hung the art line too high.  The line of wallpaper that was up when we hung it fooled us into thinking that was the right height.  We’re not hugely excited about moving it down.

What is exciting to us, though, is looking at pictures of that wall on the day we moved in next to today’s picture:

kitchen wall with new paint and art

We’ve changed the floor, and removed the paper, and painted, and hung art we like.  Over a period of 5 months, sure–but it’s getting there.

There’s still more we want to do.  As we’ve mentioned before, that light fixture has got to go.  We’re talking about building a bookcase/bench under the window.  Or perhaps a banquette.  We need to keep stripping wallpaper and repaint the rest of the walls.  We’re not sure what color they’ll be, but we know we want some color to continue to tone down all the white in the cabinets and countertops, as we’re pretty sure we’re going to keep them.  They wouldn’t be our first choice, but they function well, and the more we make our other changes, the more we’re beginning to like them.

What we’re realizing is that house transformation works best (for us) when it happens the way life transformation does:  in baby steps.

Small steps, over time

A few years back, separately, we both found ourselves in places where it became apparent that our lives needed a major overhaul.  Pretty much the equivalent of gutting the whole inside of your house.  For both of us, it was overwhelming and, initially, paralyzing.  We wanted the big changes now, and we thought we needed to know exactly how to make all of them before doing anything.

Eventually, we both learned that nothing in our lives was going to change in one day.  The kind of real, substantive change we both needed could only come in small steps, taken over time, and we didn’t need to know all the steps in advance.  We only needed to know the next right step and trust that we’d see the others as we needed to.

Along the way, where we ended up and how we got there often wasn’t much like we thought it would be when we started out.  (Living together in a split-level in the suburbs?  Not in either of our visions for our futures.)  But, more and more, where we were seemed like the best place to be.  We learned to trust the process.

The same is happening with transforming our home.  Each small change leads us to see things we hadn’t seen before.  We are beginning to develop clear intentions and goals for it, but we know the details will come into focus only as we dig in and begin doing the work–making our initial small changes.

corner of the kitchen wall

The costs and benefits of our method

We see only one real cost/downside to our emerging method:  We don’t get the fun drama of the big reveal.  But there are many benefits:

We get to make progress right away.  If we waited until we had time to do everything at once, we’d have to wait a long time for changes we want to see.

We  never feel like we’re jumping off a cliff.  Other than the floor, our changes so far haven’t required any huge investments of time or money.  It’s easy to step forward when you know it won’t be a huge deal to step back.

close-up of ceiling fixture from library

You might remember our $10 light fixture. We weren't positive it was the right one at first, but it was easy to make this small change because we felt it could be undone. As it's turned out, this light is setting the tone for our living area.

We get time for our ideas to germinate.  Our process feels organic.  After painting the first wall, our initial reaction was a rush of love.  Then, we stepped back and reconsidered.  We weren’t quite sure about the coolness of the shade, until we realized what the next right step needs to be (a different trim color)–one we hadn’t really thought of before.  We aren’t beginning with a set-in-stone vision we are executing.  It’s feeling more like sculpture, in which the shape is emerging from the stone.

Sometimes, it means we have to go back and reconsider/revise–as with our placement of the art-hanging wire.  But that’s OK with us. It’s not a huge deal to reverse a baby step.

We have no regrets.  Because we aren’t jumping off cliffs and we’re allowing ourselves time to think (and think again), we haven’t made mistakes we feel we can’t undo.  By the time we make the big choices, we’re confident we’ll know exactly what they need to be.

We get to see what’s really important to feeling at home in our house.  It’s not about a particular wall color–or any other decorative element.  Living with the fruity kitchen stripes and the funky greens,we’ve been able to see that those things don’t truly matter.  We love our home just as it is, because we can live the way we want/need to here.

I love the newly painted wall of art much, much more than I loved the bare wall with bad paper, but I’m not any happier than I was before making that change.  Knowing this makes it easier to have patience and take our time.

Cane and Ella playing a game at the kitchen table