could someone pass the Depends?

We can play in my room!

When I first moved into my house 12 years ago I didn’t own a thing.  Aside from the contents of my hopeless chest, which contained a small juice glass with the Coke logo on it and a set of salt and pepper shakers (shaped like mason jars),  I had nothin’.

“Rusty”… how you could have helped me

Which would be fine if there was a very dramatic, overcoming all the odds story to go with why I owned nothing.  You know, if  say, I had “lost it all” in a gambling binge at an old folks home only to have made it all back and learned my lesson after a  series of afternoon chats with Rusty, the oldest resident of the home with a prosthetic eyeball.

However the decidedly less interesting reason I owned nothing is because until the age of 29 I lived with my mom  …  and my dad.   Uh … with my parents I guess you could say.  Are you judging??  I think I can hear you judging.  It’s very hard to save up the money for a down payment!!  In fact, it’s almost impossible if you’re renting an apartment.  Besides, when’s the last time your apartment made you a nice piece of toast or tucked you into bed??  So I decided to stick around and listen to my parents bicker until I could afford a house of my own.

Going, going, … GONE.

That day came on October 18th, 1998.  The only problem was I couldn’t afford any furniture.   The house I bought was a 170 year old brick cottage.  Which worked to my advantage because the only stuff I was going to be able to afford was old junk.  When you put old junk in a new house it looks like old junk. When you put old junk in an old house, it just kindda blends.   Besides, at the time I thought it made sense that the decorating be appropriate to the age of the house.  If the house is old and dusty, so should be the furniture!   That way it would be comfortable.

Over the years I slowly acquired a whole lot of old stuff.

I no longer own a single thing in this room.

I either bought it at an auction, at an antique store or when I was really lucky, found it at the side of the road.  Not squirrels and sleeping raccoons or anything like that.  I found things like perfectly good soiled chairs.  I stripped, painted and disinfected for about a decade.  The home I ended up with was very cozy and comfortable.  Picture Granny’s house without Tweety Bird.

Red Velvet??  It must be great! They named a cupcake after it didn’t they?

Literally everything in it was old and every piece of furniture had a folded up piece of cardboard under at least 1 leg.  Without the cardboard stuff had a tendency to tip over and hit you in the shin.  I had red velvet curtains and a red velvet couch and my dining room was painted red.  The living room and foyer were painted a butter yellow.  At least it was supposed to be a butter yellow.  As it turns out “yellow” can end up looking kind of green.  The living room ended up making people look like they were perpetually queasy.   The upstairs rooms were the same yellow and a historical green.  I was not afraid of colour.   The decorating wasn’t exactly spastic, but boy oh boy, wherever you looked there was some sort of antique assault followed by a one two punch of colour.  But still … it was comfortable.

I never created proper storage, which was desperately needed.  In the olden days people only owned one coat and a bar of lye soap so they didn’t need closets.  Being that it was built in the olden days, my house didn’t have much in terms of closet space.

Because of this I never had anywhere to put anything.  Things were shoved under the couch, books were scattered from one end of the house to the other and I could never find my stupid stapler!!   But it was cozy and it was authentic so I sucked it up and just bought another stapler.

That isn’t what you’d call dealing with the problem head on.  It probably wasn’t healthy.  Because one day I took a look around at my very cozy, grandmotherly house and screamed.  Oh my God, who lives here???!!   I got itchy and claustrophobic and I’m pretty sure I even developed a twitch.  You know when something isn’t right in a room and you keep moving things around to make it better?  That wasn’t working anymore.

Somebody give this lady a valium. And some botox please.

I hated, hated, HATED every inch of my house.  I hated it like it had wronged me.  It was personal this rift between my house and I.   I felt sweaty and disorganized and frankly a little bit curious about all those medications everyone on Intervention seemed to love.   And then one day, on a warm spring morning I full on snapped.   Within 2 weeks I sold everything I owned and painted my whole house white.

My living room today. Calm can also be cozy. Who knew!

It’s been a year since “the incident” (not to be confused with “the great centipede purge” of 2007).  I have filled the house back up with things I love.  Some of them old and some of them new.  There’s even one thing that I found at the side of the road.  I installed floor to ceiling book cases and found a place to store everything.  And let me tell you … white is the botox of paint colours.  We both look younger and fresher for it.

The life-sized antique oil painting is one of only a few things I kept.

My twitch is gone and I feel much calmer and much more comfortable.   I was a bit worried that going so extreme with the white was going to make my house cold and sterile.  That when guests walked in they’d break out into a sweat, worried they were in store for some unexpected surgical procedure.  But it isn’t cold at all!  As long as you add in a few fuzzy things (cats count), white can be very cozy.  Think of our friend the polar bear.  What’s cozier than one of those?

And you wouldn’t believe how much easier your life becomes when you just have somewhere specific to put the extra toilet paper.   And the board games!  Go ahead!  Ask me to find my Scrabble board.  I can do it in 30 seconds flat with time left over to grab the Boggle!

A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

Why yes, I am installing bookcases and smiling about it.

I’m savin’ time, I’m savin’ money’ (I’ve had the same stapler for the past year) and I’m not walking around with a bunch of cartoon squiggly swear words over my head all day.  I figure I’ve gained at least an extra half an hour a day because I’m no longer wandering around trying to find stuff or trying to figure out where to put stuff.  That totals an extra 3 1/2 hours a week, or 7 1/2 days in a year.  An entire week’s worth of time was gained by clearing out the crap I didn’t need and finding a proper place for the stuff I did. Of course, I’m just estimating here, but it seems like a reasonable estimate to me.  I worked it out on paper and it all seems right.  Want me to staple it together and send it to you? ‘Cause I can in an instant.

An added bonus to this whole de-cluttering thing is the fact that I can now look at a decorating magazine.  For the past decade I haven’t been able to look at a decorating magazine because they made me angry.  Grrrrrr.  Now I can not only look at decorating magazines, but I can look at them and think “Huh.  I like my room a lot more than that one.  Who in God’s name lives there?  Whoever it is, I bet they can’t find their stapler.

// ]]>


  1. Elaine says:

    Oh gosh – your writing cracks me up everyday!! I only discovered your blog a year or so ago so am having fun reading all your old posts.

    When I read …. “people might break out in a sweat anticipating a surgical procedure”, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. What a startling difference between the two living rooms!! Since I feel I know your personality, if anyone had shown me a picture of your red living room and said “Karen lives there”, I would NEVER have believed them! One more thing …. I know exactly how you feel when you say you felt itchy! When I’m in an overly decorated “granny-style” room with no spot to sit down even a mug of tea, I get itchy too. Oops – another “one more thing” … what a treasure that life-sized painting is!! Is there a story/post on that find? If so, can you direct me to it, please?

  2. jenna says:

    I love this! Just started painting my interior white, but I’m having trouble picking a great white….been through 5 or 6 already! Any advice for color and finish? I’d love to know what you usee if you remember!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jenna! I absolutely remember. I used Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White. The type of paint was their “Aura” brand in Eggshell. It’s a warm white with no blue undertones. If you want a crisper, cooler white, Decorator White by Benjamin Moore is good. Hope that helps. ~ karen!

  3. I popped over from your current post to read this one. I’ve been looking at my small, post war bungalow and the stuff in it that needs to change. No one would call the lace curtains granny-ish when I was in my 30’s, but in my 50’s they feel that way. They’re the tip of the iceberg; thanks for the nudge, Karen.

  4. judy says:

    This is hilarious to me -I’m 73 and when I clicked on your old look I fell madly in love! The most charming prettiest room I had ever seen and I would have come to your home and carried the velvet couch home on my back-so I burst out laughing when I learned that it had been REJECTED for a new better look which has an eerie resemblance to my living room in the seventies. Out with the old and in with the new and what goes around seems inevitably to come back around. Oh the Irony. But we all get replaced eventually and everything old is new again.

  5. Lorna says:

    Just wanted to let you know that three of your pictures aren’t showing. I think their link is broken.

  6. Sara A says:

    Where is that wonderful dining room table from? It looks indestructable, which is exactly what I am looking for. i love the Billy bookcases all lined up in a row. They look lovely!

  7. Bernie says:

    I stumbled on your blog and have been laughing out loud! Hubby looks over and says “you better mark that site cuz I love to hear you laugh like that” me too :) thanks Karen

  8. Just stumbled across your blog, and I have to ask — what is that painting(?) hanging in your living room??! I love it! Do you have a close-up?

    Your home is beautiful and I love your writing! I will be back!

    • P.S. When I read that you raised monarchs I had to laugh, because last year — before I flipped my lid and moved to Costa Rica for 2 months — I told all of my co-workers I was going to start a butterfly farm. I think you are what I would become if I actually… you know… ever followed through with anything. And I definitely don’t think that’s a bad thing.

  9. shavaun says:

    youre kind of awesome =)

  10. Maya says:

    Hi Karen

    I have been carrying the feature on your house from September 2010’s Style at Home in my wallet for the last couple of months – I love it all and it’s been my inspiration as I’ve redesigned by dining room. My husband is sick of me pulling it out everytime we find a potential dining room table. Could you please let me know where you found that white lacquered sideboard in your dining room – that’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for! Thank you!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Maya! That’s quite a compliment! I got my sideboard from Structube. They don’t carry the exact same one anymore, but a smaller version of it. Go here … there are several that would work to replace mine very well including the “Moby”, “Wave” or “Sophie”. (Mine is the Moby, but it’s a bigger version than they’re selling now) Here’s the link to Structube’s sideboard page. http://tinyurl.com/4tql7mj Good luck and thanks again! ~ karen

  11. Kelly says:

    Hi Karen, I keep coming back to this post, you are genius!! I am starting to get the twitch too, so tired of oak, dark colors and knick knacks everywhere! Used to have a red living room but painted it beige last year and its still bugging me. Plus most of my furniture is some shade of brown-yuck! Question, did you paint everything white-white or some nice shade of off-white, or cream, and what about the trim, is it the same shade of white?

  12. Ellie says:

    I love your house and I saw it in Style at Home magazine which is why I checked out your website. I have a 16 year old couch that is really flowery and ugly. My Mom says “Don’t get rid of it think of your children”. Of course she’s 84 and loves the couch. Well my daughter is getting her own place and wants the couch (slipcovered of course). So now’s my chance and your house inspires me. Unfortunately, I have bleached oak floors the kind that’s kind of peachy looking that was in style way back. Do you think white walls will look ok with that. Right now I have beige that blend with the floor.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ellie! LOL. I know exactly the flooring you’re talking about. Is it laminate or actual hardwood? If it’s hardwood you can paint it or re-stain it! Barring that (cause THAT’S an ordeal) I think white would look great with them. Let’s face it, white goes with everything. It’s more important that your new couch goes with the floors! ;)

  13. Nicole says:

    Fab post! Did you make or buy the white book cases? I’m looking for something similar (also floor to ceiling) to add storage to my new place but I can’t seem to find an affordable and functional option in any stores I’ve looked at…

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nicole! The bookcases are the Billy bookcases from Ikea. I got 5 of the single cases and lined them up in a row.

  14. Jacquie says:

    First off, thanks for the morning giggle, or two… or three.
    You have a very engaging and funny way with words! But I love, love, love what you did with your space…(and if I had your fantastic chairs, I would no longer have a cat scratching problem…)
    White walls, here I come…

    • Karen says:

      I had to recover (actually my mom did it) those original dining room chairs TWICE because of my cats shredding them. You are right … no problems with that and the new chairs. Which probably means they’re just scratching at something else I haven’t noticed yet. :)

  15. Where did you get the “log” end-table? It’s super cute!

    • Karen says:

      Hey Little Pink House! Well, I made the table of course. ‘Cause I’m you know … touched in the head. I have the post all written up and ready to go, I just have to do some pictures! Watch for it soon. Thanks for looking at everything by the way! Much appreciated. btw … is the pink house on your site YOUR house? I LOVE the little pink house.

      • That is in fact our house. It looks very cool, that is the picture that roped us in the day it went on the market, despite the fact that it has no central AC and a 60-year-old boiler. And interior walls made of some kind of concrete. It would also be much cooler if it weren’t 20 feet from a rural road where rednecks in turbo-charged diesel trucks go speeding by at all ours of the day and night… Eh, story of my life…

  16. Corinne says:

    LOVED your cozy little cottage, but I really love the pics post-makeover.

    We’re moving in 6 weeks – I’m salivating over paint chips already. Was thinking of doing the white route but with kids it’d probably resemble a forged Jackson Pollock in about 5mins.

    • Karen says:

      Corinne – Congrats on the move! Yay. You know what? White actually isn’t that bad for getting dirty. For one thing, when it’s dirty you notice it immediately so you’re more likely to clean it. And … as long as your paint isn’t flat it’s pretty easy to wipe. When all else fails … use a magic eraser.

  17. Terri-Lynn says:

    WOW!! Never thought the red was that bad untill I looked at the before and afters. Looks great now!

  18. morgen says:

    Karen! I absolutely LOVE your site! So fun and clever, just like you!

  19. Pam says:

    “I no longer own a single thing seen in this room.”

    Well Karen, that is certainly true because it cannot be had by two people, and I am sure that that red velvet couch now stands in my den! And truth be told, it is very beautiful and comfortable. I would have liked the black coffee table too if I had known that it was no longer wanted by you.

    • Karen says:

      You have enough of my junk. Give it a rest. And if the woman who bought my dining room set off of Kijiji is reading this … I mean “junk” in the most endearing way.

  20. Mike Lavoie says:

    Love what you did with your place and how you wrote, or is that blogged?, about it with such wit and clarity. The red living room looked like a 60’s steak house, but is that a bad thing? Just asking.

    • Karen says:

      Hah! That made me laugh out loud. And no! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a room looking like a 60’s steak house as long as they’re serving steaks in it. And baked Alaska and Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail!

      • catherine says:

        And you need a waitress with an up-do who’s worked there for 17 years, smells like BBQ sauce and knows that you don’t really mean “rare”…

  21. Elissa Lansdell says:

    Oh my GAWD! You’re so amazing! Your writing style is so engaging and witty and your topics are BANG ON — how strange I should read this today — I’ve been standing here in my new (old 80’s) place and going nuts with thoughts of painting my house white and getting rid of all my sh*t. Pretty weird, right?

    I am forwarding this to all my girlfriends, who will love it, no doubt. Your home looks gorgeous, btw. Can’t say I’m down with the Twitter, but your blog rawks.


    • Karen says:

      Thanks Elissa. You’re right, that is very, VERY strange. Let me make things easy for you. Just post a mass listing on Kijiji and buy a paintbrush. You have two weeks. GO!

      • Lucy Baarlink says:

        Hi Karen, I was Reading your DIY Iphone Armband!! Blog! Great idea….will Try it! came onto The Art of Doing stuff!! Love what u did to your Home!!! It has inspired me to Do the changed I want to Do in My Home!! Thanks

      • Karen says:

        Hi Lucy! Thanks. :) Good luck with getting your house fixed up! And good luck running, lol. :) (or walking or whatever it is you need the arm band for) ~ karen!

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