Design—and Life—Lessons I Learned From Decorating With My Mother
In summary? Give it time and live a little.
Growing up, my mother was, what I now see to be, very generous with my fickle decorating whims. She may have accidentally even enabled them, as they have only grown wilder now that I have a whole apartment to fill on my own. Yesterday I thought “Maybe I should paint my cabinets lilac!” Today I’m wondering how to paint every single wall, floor to 14-foot ceiling, lacquered lilac. Tomorrow I’m sure it will be a new venture. Luckily the plan generally changes before the weekend rolls around and I have the chance to get my hands on a sander and paint can.
I always wanted my bedroom to change with my style, and incredibly enough, my patient, creative, fun, and classily scrappy mother embraced that. We took my bedroom from a sweet, traditional pastel yellow in elementary school to hot pink and electric orange for middle school, to a whimsical robin’s egg blue for high school. She even let me swap out furniture along the way (only in the thriftiest manner possible, of course!), and luckily only the real winners have made it through every round of edits. (Everything in the pink and orange room was very harsh and very industrial.) Now, as I move around the gems from that robin’s egg blue bedroom, I realize how incredible that was—that my mother let me live out my creative dreams in my small childhood bedroom. I remember our weekend trips to antique and thrift stores, and how patient she was with me while we searched for the perfect mix of pieces, as she taught me the dangers of matchy matchy furniture sets.
Now, I still haphazardly disregard some of her guidance. Like that every room should have something red. (It’s a good one, but my last red item, a rug, has since been destroyed by my sweet dog.) Or groupings in odd numbers are always best. (She’s probably right about that too, but I'm less committed to such rigid rules.) But some of the bigger lessons have always stuck with me, and I think about them every weekend as I dream up bigger and crazier plans for my ever-evolving space.
WATCH: How Motherhood Changed Lauren Liess
It’s okay to change your mind/style/life.
After moving to Birmingham in 3rd grade, we painted my bedroom a sweet, dusty, pale yellow. I had twin beds, too pretty in their antique wooden spindle frames for me to appreciate at the time. I imagine there were also quilts and some other fairly sweet and dainty details in there. I think that pushed me to run in the opposite direction, and I wanted bold, bold, bold! I got a metal, lofted bed and orange walls. Eventually that also grew to be too much, and I ran to the soothing and whimsical hues of blue, green, and white, and swapped my steel-look loft bed for a fairy-tale wrought iron headboard. (Unsurprisingly, not very comfortable.) Now I love eclectic maximalism, but two years ago I went through a minimalist phase. (Maybe I’m just very susceptible to trends. Hm.) And through all of this, she has always said, "Let's do it." In summary, embrace every phase—in décor and life.
You can’t beat antique.
Well, really it’s more “vintage” in my case, but antique rhymed better. And the lesson applies to both: everything comes back around, not just karma. Rattan, pattern on pattern, and God bless, macramé. If you hang on to something long enough, you will like it again.
The other important lesson here though is that when you buy hearty, solid pieces that have already seen some life, it’s an investment. I’ve had Ikea beds and Target lamps come and go (and they served me well). But I’m still using and love many of the older pieces my mother and I picked out for the final—and most mature—of all my childhood bedroom makeovers. They’ve seen the back of a U-Haul more than a few times, and probably have several more trips ahead before their service is over. They’ve grown up with me, and taught me everything really does get better with age.
It’s just paint.
Which is an extension of my mother’s “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “go with the flow” mantras. Life is simply too short to not try something new, paint your walls the wacky color you love, or be who you really are. If the color fades, or the white turns out green, or you grow to hate it—there’s always more paint at the store.