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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Decorating for Life: Embracing Change

Embrace change. It will happen whether you ask for it or not, so enjoy the ride. However, if you are like me and on a budget you can’t change your décor every time your living situation changes. You need furniture and decor that can multitask and grow with you. So what stands the test of time?

Let me tell you a story. 

In 2012 I lived in a one bedroom loft in downtown Kansas City with my two goldfish. This was my first solo place post-college, and when I moved in I had no furniture to my name but a bed and a dresser. I suddenly needed to furnish an entire apartment on a tight budget. For anyone prepared to sass me about living in a “downtown loft” but claiming to have a tight budget, I should mention it was in an income restricted building.

Sunset from my living room.
For me, living in a loft was all about the views. The panoramic cityscape provided by my corner unit was my focal point, so I chose to keep the interior natural and neutral.

I also liked the idea of having my very own chic pad. Pale pink bookshelves? Floral prints? Beaded pillows? 
Bring it on.

The only things I bought brand new were a loveseat, two rugs, and two lamps. Everything else I found at Restore, consignment shops, or on Craigslist and then rehabbed with the help of my talented mother. 

My two living room chairs were $3.50 each at Restore. The concave seats were covered in industrial maroon fabric and, judging by the amount of gum I scraped off the bottoms, they originally resided in a principal’s office. 

New stain, new padding, and new fabric made them cute for the first time in their lives.

The "sofa table" was a drop-leaf dining table that, with the leaves up, seated four when I had people over for dinner. 

The two living room chairs, a side chair, and my desk chair (all rehabbed in the same fabric) doubled as my dining chairs.

I had "efficiency chíc" down pat.

Then 2013 arrived and I moved to Tennessee to start my doctoral degree. I found a cute little house and moved in. However, my feminine, neutral furnishings – previously balanced by an industrial setting – looked staid in a traditional house. I felt like all my vacuuming  should be done wearing pearls and a shirtdress. I obsessed over how to best employ my approximately $12 decorating budget. I spent a lot of time on Craigslist and trolling salvage venues.

But fate intervened.

Shortly after moving to Knoxville I started dating someone new. It was so nauseatingly wonderful that six months later he moved in with me. 

While we agreed that most of his furniture needed to be given away and/or burned, he introduced something completely foreign to my chic pad: a television. And not just any television, a BIG television. And speakers. Lots of speakers. While I wasn’t wild about electronics suddenly being the focal point of the home’s living space, it actually helped negate my overly demure look. It felt more balanced. My $12 decorating budget could now go towards some other crucial need. Like gelato.

An entertainment center completely changed the look and feel of my former chic pad. Efficiency chíc to efficiency geek? 
 At this point things got messy. Literally. My partner already had a dog when we met, and we adopted a cat together. So we were now a family of six (don’t forget my two fish!) and the fur kids loved the loveseat. I started covering it with blankets to keep it clean. I became one of those people who reserves direct butt-to-upholstery contact for guests.

Then we got a puppy. And adopted a stray neighborhood cat. By this time, nothing was sacred. 

Finding an affordable slipcover for a square armed loveseat with loose back cushions was impossible.

I was confident, however, that my sisal rug at least would stand up to these new challenges. After all, they are touted as being pet and child friendly! 

What I didn’t take into account is that natural fiber rugs like mine cannot really be cleaned.

By the time we weathered the rainy (read “mud”) season, the side of the rug covered in orange highlighter was considered the “good” side. As for the pale linen love seat, despite frequent cleanings it was growing decidedly more…tan. And blotchy. The demise of both items was a foregone conclusion.

Today, another two houses and a wedding later, we seem to have finally settled into a home for the duration of our time in Knoxville. In fact, my husband will have to pry my cold, dead fingers from it unless we are moving to an entirely new city.

Our 2015 tax return allowed us to buy a dirt-friendly microfiber sofa and a rug I can spray down with the hose. Because we're classy. Everything else has weathered the gale forces of change that took me from bachelorette fish-mom to a married mother of four fur children (for those of you keeping track, we added a fish, lost a cat, lost all three fish, and added a dog).

There are few items in our house that have not been repurposed or reshuffled. Every piece has a story. The painted chest between the chairs has variously served as a coffee table, end table, and nightstand. I stained the top of the coffee table dark two houses ago and painted the grey base a mossy green after buying the grey sofa. 

A breakfast nook means the sofa table gets to be a dining table all the time, which is nice. The bench, originally built by my father for my parents’ kitchen, graced an entryway and a front porch before returning now to the kitchen. It was white in my parents' house, pale pink in my loft, and is now a dark, glossy blue. The chairs I inherited from my grandmother and sentiment has thus far kept me from painting them the same blue, but I still think about it.

And so, after four years and four abodes, I have four takeaways regarding home furnishings:

1. Buy used furniture that is real wood and solidly built. Then put on your DIY big girl panties. If it gets destroyed it won’t break the bank to replace it, and you can endlessly strip it down for repainting, restaining, or reupholstering to suit your needs. Also, sturdy construction ensures you aren’t applying wood glue after each move.

2. Be open minded and flexible. Just because you bought a rug for your guest room doesn’t mean it is forevermore the “guest room rug.” Rugs, pillows, artwork, lamps, and side tables should be interchangeable. This allows you to easily switch up your home’s look on a whim and adjust to different spatial needs in different homes.

3. Durable does not always mean washable, and washable does not always mean durable. Case in point, natural fiber rugs might be okay for people with pomeranians, but big dogs that love to wallow in the Tennessee red mud require rugs that can be washed frequently.

4. Choose your furnishings wisely. Imagine each piece in multiple finishes and in multiple rooms serving multiple functions. If you grow tired of it, can you resell it easily? Is it trendy and liable to feel dated in a few years, or will its shape last the test of time?

So that's my story. Life is full of changes, but that doesn't mean we can't remain fashionable on a budget. All it takes is some savvy shopping, a vision, and a little elbow grease. 

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