My Top Five Things that Make a House a Home

Working with clients to help them make their homes fit them better and making my own home into a place that feels right for my family has led me to these conclusions about what’s most important in creating a space that feels “right” to you. Other designers might have other priorities, but since mine is helping people be comfortable in and like their homes better, these are mine.

1)  Comfort

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Home needs to be comfortable. There should be at least one spot that you feel comfortable doing each of the following: sitting, reading, working, eating, sleeping, and any other activities that you regularly do at home. There’s going to be a nagging sense of unease about a place when you’re uncomfortable doing what you want and need to do there.

Comfort includes safety, to me. Home should be your refuge, the place you feel safe, relaxed, completely OK with being yourself. You can recharge there, rebalance yourself, get your bearings, come back to center.

2)  Functionality

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You can find your stuff. You can get around easily. You have space to work if you need to do a project. There are clear  places to do different things – cook, eat, sleep, read, play games, etc. Not that those can’t shift, or overlap. But basically, you have space. If you’re frustrated that you can’t accomplish what you’d like to in your house, it’s hard to feel good about the place.

3)  It’s personal

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There are reflections of your life and experiences at home. Objects, artwork, furniture – any or all of these, or other things – remind you of people you love, places you’ve been, things you’ve done. Home is not an anonymous place. The things around you should have meaning to you.

4)  Aesthetics

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It looks good (to you. it doesn’t matter if it looks good to others for you to feel at home with it). Many people would put this factor first on the list.  How my house looks is definitely important to me; I’m a very visual person. But not everyone is. My husband cares more about the acoustics in our home than the aesthetics; that’s a comfort issue to him. Your house should fit your aesthetic. If your aesthetic is messy and you’re happy with that, that’s OK. It just needs to suit you.  But, to feel at home with your space, you don’t want to look around and dislike what you see.

5)  Color and Lighting

I slipped two in there under this last one. The color of a room can influence how comfortable you are there. The same is true of lighting. Rooms that are lit solely by overhead lights feel colder, and cast people in a less attractive light. The light is harsher, as opposed to the warm pools of light created by table or floor lamps with shades. And having enough light – three sources in most rooms is a guideline – contributes greatly to the feel of the room. Actually I think I put lighting ahead of color in importance. It’s possible to fix a lot of ills with lighting; adequate, warm, flattering lighting really impacts how a space feels.


Note that many of these things all point to comfort, which is why I put it first on the list. It’s really the sum of lots of factors, and doesn’t just refer to comfortable seating which might seem like the most obvious factor contributing to comfort.  And, comfort also means you just plain enjoy being in your home. If it grates on you somehow then you’re not going to be completely “at home” there.

So, those are my five most important things to make your house feel like home. What would yours be?

Keeping it Cool, Clear and Clean

As a girl growing up on Long Island, I always loved the summertime.  It was a time of open windows and breezes, hot sun and cool waves, expansive days that stretched out into long dusks, and freedom to explore, play and dream.

What we called a “heat wave” was a hot humid spell that lasted for a week or so. Here in the Washington DC area, we call that summer, and it can be a bit more of a challenge to always love it.

I’m neat by nature, but I find that especially during the summer, I need things to be spare and clean to counteract the claustrophobic quality of the humidity here.  Less stuff lying around equals a calmer, more serene feeling; clutter and mess feels oppressive and heavy.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”   – William Morris

Here are a few simple tricks to lighten up the look of your home for summer and create the illusion of coolness.


 “Don’t put it down, put it away” is the first tenet of clutter-free living. Put it away right away and you will save time in the end. You’ll be forging a habit each time you do it, even if it feels cumbersome at first.

Recycle the newspaper daily into your recycle bin or into a basket that you take out to the bin once a week. Have a dedicated spot for magazines that you want to read, and only keep a handful at a time. If it’s more than a few months old, recycle it.

Paper is a relentless clutter challenge. Sort all paper coming into the house into three categories:

Throw away immediately: junk mail, flyers, catalogues.

Action items: bills, kids’ permission forms, items you want to order, etc.

File: insurance papers, medical records, etc. 

Have one dedicated place for paper so it doesn’t take over the house. Sort it there, and act on it once a week.

Scan the floor for piles. If what’s on the floor isn’t furniture or an intentional decor item such as a plant or basket, it doesn’t belong on the floor. Tackle one pile or item at a time until you’ve put them all where they belong. This can be done daily for ten minutes; it’s surprising how much effect a few minutes, done regularly, will have.

Some of these Better Homes and Gardens organizing tips are good ways to stay on top of things before they get out of control. Maybe one of these techniques will speak to you.

If you’re really stuck and clutter is a relentless problem for you, my friend Yvette Gluck at Lighten Up! Professional Organizing is a great help.         I had her come work with me on my home office, which also doubles as a sewing room and a guest room, and I was very happy with how much more in control I felt when we were done. Everything is zoned, in a logical place, and easily accessible for the disparate tasks I use the room for. Success!

Here’s to feeling unencumbered by stuff! – as well as cool, calm and collected.  Happy summer to all.

Let there be light!

So many fun lighting options have been coming across my desk recently that I decided to put them all in one place – what better place than a blog post? Except for Pinterest, of course, where they also live.

First, my favorite, the Knopp Lamp designed by Ania Pauser for the Swedish furniture manufacturer Klong:

The twelve “petals” are laser cut with patterns and then attached to a foundation structure with brass fittings. I love it. Simple and clean and classy.

This next one is called the Upcycled Doily Lamp, made by Shannon South. What an imaginative use of old doilies, which likely are not part of most folks’ go-to decor items today, but might be hard to get rid of if they are family items from the past.  The only thing I would quibble with in the implementation here is the use of the black socket for the bulb inside the lamp. A white one would be much less visible.  But, I might have to start collecting doilies! She plans to post instructions for making it once she’s satisfied that she’s got the process down.  

Another DIY project is this one made from a Japanese paper lantern covered with crunched up coffee filters.  Instructions for making it are here.


You might be catching on that I really like globe pendants! Here’s a variation on the theme, from West Elm.


Moving on into the realm of table lamps, how about these? The three of them together remind me of some sort of funny Dr. Seuss creatures. They’re called Paper Coil table lamps from Shades of Light. Probably best for your teenager’s room.

I’m always drawn to lamps made from vessels like urns, bottles, ginger jars, etc. This one is called the Demijohn Table Lamp from Shades of Light. I learned that demijohn bottles are used for home brewing wine or beer.


Whatever your style, may your home and your life be filled with light!


Choosing Color for Your Walls

It can seem overwhelming to decide what color should be on your walls. Lots of people paint their walls white or off-white because they’re afraid of making a mistake with color. Which is understandable, because even though one is always hearing that paint is a cheap way to make a difference in your decor, I always think – huh?? Paint has gotten expensive lately, and painting a room requires either a big effort and a lot of upheaval if you do it yourself, or spending real money to hire someone else to do it. So how do you gain the confidence to be bolder with color?

Here are some tips, gleaned from Maria Killam of Color Me Happy.

Most neutral colors (beiges, grays, grayed-down greens and blues) have an undertone. This comes from the paint formula itself. It depends upon the proportions of red, yellow, blue in the formula. More of one or the other will give the color an overall cast, or undertone. Same with grays – the undertones can be blue, green, or violet. A green might be more brown, or more gray, yellowish or bluish. The way to see the undertones is to compare a few colors that upon first appearance look very similar. Look at a bunch of beiges together, and you’ll start to see the undertones. Do this with whatever color you’re considering.

Pink – Beige Walls and Ceiling (Pinterest)

Yellow-Beige Stone Wall (Pinterest)

If you already feel that something in your room is “off” color-wise, it could be that two of your large elements are at odds regarding their undertones. For example, your sofa might be a yellow-beige and your carpet a pink-beige; they will not complement each other but will actually each make the other less attractive. Simple switching one out so that the undertones are the same will work wonders for enhancing the overall look.

Green-Beige on Walls with Green Sofa

Knowing that, then start thinking about what will work in your room. The color on the walls will be a big factor in tying the room together. Use the big pieces in the room as a guide. For example,  choose the carpet color and repeat it on the walls. This will unify the room. If the rug or the sofa is a deep shade, i.e. red, blue, dark green, etc., choose a neutral with an undertone of the same. That would be a pink-beige, a blue-gray, or a green-beige ior green-gray in the three examples above. Where you get into trouble with color is choosing a neutral with an undertone that is different from the colors you’ve got going on already. A beige paint with a pink undertone will not look right with yellow-beige furniture.

Whatever color you choose, have a small pot ($7 at Benjamin Moore stores) made and paint it onto a poster board. Hold the poster board against a white background – i.e. a larger unpainted poster board – so that the existing wall color does not distort the one you’re auditioning.  With the white background behind it, hold the new color up against your furniture, drapes, carpet, etc. to make sure it makes a pleasing combination with all of them.

The orange sofa brings out the orange tint in the stone wall, above. (House Beautiful)

If you plan to replace something sooner or later,  like a carpet you hate or an old sofa, then choose your color based on the elements in the room that you know will be staying, even if the combination with the undesirable element is not great. You will know that the overall cohesiveness of the space will improve a lot when you do get around to making the change you are planning on. Just remember to take a sample of your paint to the furniture store or carpet store. Don’t depend on your memory to tell you that the colors will go well together. You really have to see them together to ensure that the undertones don’t clash.

Call me for help if it’s still too daunting to commit to all that paint!

Beyond Decorating

Sometimes I have trouble with the designation “decorator.” It sounds a bit superficial, kind of like putting flower rosettes on a cake. They may make the cake look pretty, but that’s their entire function. They’re really superfluous to the quality of the cake. “Decorating” sounds like that to me: let’s pretty up the room a little. There’s nothing wrong with that, but … it doesn’t necessarily change how the space works for the people who live there.

What I do in redesigning rooms for clients addresses the quality of the living space itself. The result is a better looking room, in fact – but more importantly, it’s a room that feels better to be in.  And that’s what I’m after. Helping people feel more at home in their own space is what’s important to me. I want them to come home and feel that the space welcomes them, that it’s comfortable and embracing, that it’s efficient in terms of movement and usage. I want to help clients create an environment that sustains them, that feels safe and regenerative, that enables them to be truly at ease. It’s my goal to help people feel at home, at home. To create rooms and homes that are balanced, cohesive, harmonic. And a better looking home is the icing on the cake!

Let’s look at some of the elements in the before and after pictures here to examine why good design promotes a feeling of ease, warmth and welcome in a space.

The television on top of the chest in the picture below imparts an uneasy feeling because it’s too high to comfortably watch from any of the seating choices in the room. It looms over the chair and monopolizes the main wall of the room, creating an unattractive focal point as one enters. And the room doesn’t look or feel cohesive, which in itself always creates a feeling of discomfort.

Before Redesign

After Redesign

In the second picture, the seating area has been rearranged so that the room now centers around a conversation area that feels unified and more welcoming. The big pieces of furniture are balanced in the space, and because balance is a natural principle that we instinctively seek, this signals comfort as well. The mirror is a more attractive focal point, and the paint samples on the wall will disappear when a final color choice is made. A deeper shade on the walls will give them depth and warmth.

So truly, decorating is about more than decorating. It’s about creating nourishing environments.