I moved to Atlanta in 2005. I’d just finished grad school and was getting divorced. I didn’t have a ten-year plan mapped out in college, but this was not where I thought I’d be at 30. At first, it felt like I was moving backwards. My friends were getting married or having kids, I was getting divorced. I’d owned a home, now I was a renter. I used to have “stuff”— a bread maker, a crockpot and I’d left it all behind. (Then again, how often do you use a crockpot?) Time passed and it started to feel liberating in an overwhelming, “I just leapt out of a plane” kind of way. I had the chance to figure out who I was when most people start to feel settled. I was in a new city but great friends and family surrounded me and slowly, the pieces came together.
During all this dislocation and reinvention, I realized I wanted a space that felt personal and beautiful and feminine. But don’t think Barbie dream house feminine. Think strong, deeply rooted loveliness. I had a vague notion of what this would look like, but I needed some help to make it happen. And in comes my sister, Angela. She’s got this clarifying way of seeing things when it all feels muddled. She guided me on my first design adventure, showing me how to express myself through design.
Our first step was to pick the room we’d decorate and choose how I wanted to use it. I picked my bedroom, which felt the most personal, and in a flash of design innovation, decided I would continue to sleep there. But, I also wanted a quiet place to read and somewhere to display photographs and art. I needed a well-organized spot to get ready in the morning and lots of storage. So, now that I knew how I would use the room, I also knew, in broad strokes, what types of furniture I needed. A bed and side tables, preferably with storage and room to display a few personal items. Table lamps for either side of the bed. The list grew quickly, yet there were a million pieces of furniture that fit into these categories and I didn't know how to choose the right pieces.
To make those decisions, I had to answer the next big question that’s key to any design adventure. How should the room feel? Specifically. So, over Panera House Lattes (an amazing, and, sadly, discontinued, drink with chai spices and espresso shots), we talked it through. I love clean, sophisticated and modern but I also wanted it to be warm and soft. The vague notion I had was becoming clearer, but I struggled to translate it into a look that would help me choose actual furniture. Ang pushed me to keep talking about what that feeling looked like when I imagined it. I realized when I pictured a warm, modern feel I imagined traditional Japanese furniture. Streamlined and simple in its overall design, it’s typically made of wood and metal, which felt organic and approachable to me. When I thought about softness and femininity with a powerful loveliness to it, I pictured old Hollywood glamour: mirrored tables, silk, gold leaf, and curvy lines. Would you be shocked if I said it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how to blend those styles?
We started with the bed. It’s the biggest piece in the room and would set the tone for everything else we chose. We picked a simple platform bed in a dark walnut finish (Japanese) and for the bedding used a crisp white duvet cover with a thin chocolate brown stripe around the edge over a fluffy down comforter (Hollywood). Pillows on the bed matched the duvet but we found two beautiful square accent pillows in an incredibly pale pink silk fabric. The lines of the pillows were simple and clean but the fabric was feminine and lovely.
Using the bed as inspiration and an anchor for the room’s design, we chose bedside tables with the same Japanese inspiration. The tables were square with walnut tops and oxidized steel legs. They formed modern cubes but the dark wood and metal gave them warmth. When it came to the table lamps it was pure old Hollywood. Made of solid glass, they had curvy lines and crisp, round, white shades. A compact, mirrored glass cabinet was a perfect home for the television and luxurious matte silk curtains with wide, vertical stripes in tones of antique gold framed the window. A small down-stuffed armchair upholstered in soft but sturdy cotton picked up all the golden browns in the curtains and complimented the walnut furniture.
But, the best part of the room was the wall behind the bed. If we had left all the walls white, we would have had lots of dark and light neutral tones, which would be quite pretty but I wanted a little drama. I painted the wall behind the bed a Tiffany box blue and hung a Chinese silkscreen with subtle gold leaf above the bed.
When we finished, it was beautiful and it was me. I couldn’t have told you what “me” looked like when I started, but when we finished this adventure, I knew and it felt so good every time I walked into the room. What am I going to use the room for? How do I want it to feel? What does that feeling look like to me? These simple questions helped me find my way home. I hope they do the same for you.
What was your first design adventure?
P.S. Since I didn't have a great photograph of my room, I curated pieces much like what I had. See something you like? Click on the photograph to buy it online.