March 2018

Making a House a Home

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Just over 13 years ago, when my husband proposed marriage, we had a housing dilemma. My two-bedroom condo was a tad too cozy for us; we needed space to spread out. I was not about to move to Atlanta (his primary residence prior to our engagement). And while his Hilton Head Island house (which he used for business and vacation purposes) was nice, it was my desire to start fresh, in a place not his or mine, but ours.

After a couple of years of cramped living in my place and some unsuccessful efforts at house hunting, the plan that made most sense, both logically and financially, was to remodel my husband’s house. He went along with my request for a new master suite, which we built over the existing garage. We agreed on a kitchen re-design, updated appliances, and granite countertops to replace the original early-1990s jade green laminate. After some gnashing of teeth, I got my way on the style and color of the cabinetry. We replaced the white carpet with travertine in the main living areas and a pleasing neutral Berber in the offices and bedrooms. Shortly thereafter, we moved in, and for five years, I could not quite pinpoint what was off. All I knew was it still didn’t feel like home.

Between the hodge-podge of my husband’s vacation house furnishings (chosen by a former business partner’s wife) plus a few remnants from his bachelor pad in Atlanta, the bare windows and hollow echo in every rug-less room, I realized that nothing here reflected me. The house had all the critical bones but no personality—or at least none of mine.

I am not a light, white bright person. While I have a lively public disposition, to nurture it, I need to be cocooned at home and bathed in softness and warmth. (Try explaining that to a man.) With some gentle prodding, i.e. begging, pleading and crying, my mate finally caught on. Over time, we replaced most of the furnishings, added a few rugs and window treatments, and painted the dining room a rich burgundy red.

Compromises were necessary as my taste leans far right towards traditional/old fashioned, and my husband’s tilts all the way left into bizarre/whimsical. (I allowed the frog lamp, the dancing pigs tchotchke, the ceramic duck and the magic posters to stay, but I vetoed cigar prints, a beer-drinking plaque, and a wooden fish that matched nothing. He banned lace doilies and flowery fabrics but agreed to a few cat statues and floral arrangements.) I have since dug out an old collection of music boxes and keepsakes to add interest to our bookshelves—alongside his historical sea novels and magic-themed sculptures. I dressed my piano with an old-fashioned white eyelet scarf, arranging pictures of my parents and grandmother atop, and gradually began to feel more at home.

Next, because I am sensitive to bright light and loud noise, we installed dimmers on almost every wall switch in our house and a sound system that can be adjusted from room to room, allowing him to crank up his Southern rock music, while I enjoy Calm Radio or some good ol’ peace and quiet.

We also loosened up a bit. While both my husband and I like a clean, orderly house, a little clutter is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as what creates it is something that adds joy, not stress, e.g. the scattering of cat toys in my home office and the maze of guitar cables and magic effects in his private space. Could these rooms be neater and tidier? Of course. But what awakens our house is the life that is happening within it, and life isn’t always neat and tidy.

What the experts say
Houses are, for the most part, all the same: walls, ceilings, windows and doors. For most of us, creating a home is less about the structure and more about the emotional connection and sense of comfort we have there.

With over 35 years of design experience, Debbie Kelley of Kelley Designs, Inc. never turns out two projects alike. Because decorating is personal. Every time. Even decisions such as the depth of a sofa can make a significant difference in comfort, and many people don’t realize the possibility to customize that exists, she explained. But it’s the personal touches that are most important, “collections and family photos—anything that creates a memory or sense of warmth and happiness,” she said. “Everything doesn’t need to be shiny and new.”

She also helps couples with divergent tastes find their common ground and work towards a pleasing aesthetic for both. “They may think their taste is totally different, but they are often surprised by the things they both like and can build on,” Kelley said.

“I always start by asking clients what colors they like or what things in their home make them happy,” said Saudah Muhammad, owner/designer of Decorator Den in Bluffton. She encourages incorporating family heirlooms and artwork that speaks to you—“something that reveals your personality. “What’s going to make you love your home each and every time you walk in that door?”

And Hope Hunter of Plantation Interiors, known for her passion for detail and gift of interpreting her client’s desires, said that creating a home the client absolutely loves sometimes means breaking the rules.

Area designers concur that making a house feel good is not about imitating a spread from an interior design magazine or duplicating the makeover you saw on HGTV. While commercial resources can provide inspiration and spark ideas, the ultimate goal is to ensure that the space reflects who you are and how you live your life.

“Home” is your sanctuary—your safe place. It’s where you feel connected to other living beings who share your life and to your inner self. Home is where your story begins. It’s important to have something that matters to you in that space.

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