Embracing Limitations in Home Decor

It’s easy, with Instagram and Pinterest and the rest, to see your home (and basically everything else) as a blank canvas. Who are you? How can you make your home express the best possible you?

These are not stupid questions, to a point. While I think there are more pressing areas to direct most of our time and effort, beauty is important, and cultivating coziness takes deliberate effort. The problem with the questions, I think, is their premise that your home is a blank canvas reflective of you.

Because a house, even a very new cookie cutter one, has a history, a locale, outside influences.

Take, for instance, my modest little Craftsman. Before we bought it, my husband and I wanted a serene and clean white kitchen like you see everywhere on Instagram. But we got a 1940s house with beautiful, warm cabinets original to the house and we’ve chosen to embrace the limitations on our vision. J’s grandma got me a subscription to a speciality magazine about the Craftsman movement, and I read up and targeted my research to movement-appropriate design choices. We kept the cabinets, and when we upgraded the countertops, we tried to respect the integrity of the original house. It doesn’t ultimately matter if I like, in the abstract, the cool modern look of concrete counters or the luxury of marble counters. I don’t have a house, I have this house, and so we’ve adapted our idea for the kitchen.

Clearly I cleaned and staged it beautifully for you.

My sister bought a house at about the same time as we did, in urban Atlanta. Her bungalow is over a hundred years old, with high ceilings, bright and airy. The kitchen, however, was a builder-grade ’90s abomination, and so when she did her redo, she could choose the bright white aesthetic we thought we wanted. It works in her space. It wouldn’t in ours.

Beca’s kitchen

Maybe for you the limitation is your half-dozen children, or that you love the idea of hygge but can’t justify a fireplace in southern Louisiana. If your yard has dogwoods and those aren’t your favorite but they aren’t budging now. Maybe you’ve got a really domineering set of heirloom furniture that you’ll be working around, stuff you love even if you don’t see it in the hip homes of other people. So maybe try some targeted searches: “shared bedroom boy girl” or “velvet chesterfield sofa mid century modern” instead of staring down the vast abyss of the Internet, chock full of aspirational ideas you’ll never reconcile to your reality.

Just as you learn, growing up, the limitations imposed by your own body and how to make the best of them — for me, accepting I’ll never have curly hair and embracing instead what my hair can do — so you probably can’t pull off a rustic cabin theme in central LA or reproduce calm, minimalist spaces in the two bedroom house your family of six calls home. (In that case, you’ve already probably gone as minimalist as you’re going to manage, and that probably involves a lot of busy spaces.) I guess what I’m saying is, don’t shoehorn some sort of imagined ideal into your living, breathing, finite home. You’re not the only unique personality in the equation.

5 thoughts on “Embracing Limitations in Home Decor

  1. I love this! Our house is 160 years old and I love so many features of it: the high ceilings, the hardwood floors, etc. But sometimes, I find myself looking at pictures of other people’s houses and feeling envious. This is a great reminder to embrace my house for what it is.

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    • I try to remember the way I felt about weddings: I would like to have a fancy lacy dress and also a short cute ‘40s war bride dress and a thousand other incompatible things! But situation dictates a lot and that makes decisions easier even if more restricted!

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  2. I love your kitchen, especially the tile. It is hard when you feel like this remodel is your one chance to get what you really want… but you are right that there is usually a “right” choice for the house, and it is better to respect that.

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