The Importance of Being Ernest…Handy…Humble…and Patient

Coulters Living - The Importance of Being Ernest…Handy…Humble…and Patient

“Have you heard about the new fad, honey? All it takes is looks and a whole lot’ a money!”

I love Billy Joel. But he was only half right in this pop tune equation. It doesn’t take a lot of money to give any place real class and pizzazz. A great look can be achieved on most every budget. But let’s be realistic. Resourcefulness is one thing people generally overlook when doing a home Reno. Particularly in North America the prevailing mentality is to look gut, strip, tear down and start anew.

Let us be clearer still: we are not talking about restoring heritage buildings. That sort of home Reno can be very rewarding for those with very deep pockets. Even so, just because you have money to blow…should you?

The answer is ‘no’ – or rather, ‘probably not.

Barring the notion you want to knock out walls to turn two separate spaces into one open concept loft, or add on a glass-enclosed sun parlor to house a hot tub, most rooms you may be thinking of freshening up are a lot easier and cheaper to add to the ‘fixer upper’ list than you think. Consider first that the space must have had some appeal in the beginning to make you want to buy your house in the first place. So why not reassess ways of making the most out of what you already have?

Generally speaking, I like to tackle home renovations I can do myself that do not remind me of how blatantly incompetent I am with power tools. That means, no rewiring, sledge-hammering, jack-hammering, etc.

Now, I am always amazed when I visit friends, or friends of friends, and see what they’ve done to their personal spaces; sectionals that have transformed already small rooms into even more cramped, if cushiony Bermuda Triangles of couchy clutter; book shelves overly huge for the wall they are hugging, drape-dwarfing window treatments that not only shut out the light but virtually lend to the illusion a window might not even be lurking behind them, and finally, the introduction of many stylistic elements that do not even go together; rooms that look like a veritable pick n’ save or garage sales of things brought together because they caught their eye at a glance at some store.


Under the rubric of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ it is probably more prudent to be a smart shopper when making the rounds looking for that accent piece or sofa recliner to add to an already limited space. There are a few simple things you can do to better utilize space and change it up at the same time.

1) Know your measurements.

Whether you keep them in your head, on your phone, or do the ‘old school’ tucked on a slip of paper inside your wallet or purse; don’t delude yourself into thinking a piece of furniture you really like will somehow just fit in a dimension you are not even certain of at the start of your hunt. If you only have 85 inches to work with, then that 89 inch credenza you absolutely cannot live without is probably a bad idea. And no, you can’t ‘make it’ work without blocking a window, door or fireplace; making everything else look cramped by comparison.  Accept that there are limitations to what will work. Be practical. But dream.

2) Know your price.

Deals are out there. But most retailers have a ‘slash to the bone’ and still make a profit mentality these days. They get their suppliers to give them a break and then pass it along to the consumer. Asking for any more shaved off the top won’t get you anymore. As a rule, stores are not out to get you. They merely want to stay in business. So fix your price and find pieces that work within your budget. You can find what you are looking for in just about any price range, provided you are willing to search for it and not just settle for less or worse… take out a second mortgage to pay off what you really cannot afford.

3. Baring the scenario we are starting from scratch, have a good idea what colors will work with what you already have at home.

If your entire room is orange and navy, it probably isn’t a good idea to start looking for that fire-engine red sofa and loveseat, or green and pink plaid tub chair. Almost every color in the spectrum has its place. If you are having trouble deciding exactly where your fan favorites fall into line, trust in a qualified home décor salesperson or professional decorator/designer to baptize, sanctify and canonize your choices. Asking for help does not mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It just means you need help. We all need it from time to time. So ask, and be very glad that you did.

4) Clients and designers take a tip from each other.

It is pretty disheartening for a designer to spend hours laboring over just the right color and style, only to be told by his/her client he or she would just rather stick with the same ‘uninformed’ decision they had when they came in. On the flipside, it is as discouraging for a client to feel as though a designer is not listening to their needs and has ‘pushed’ them into making a decision that just does not appear, at least to them, to have their best interests at heart. After all, who is living in the house; the designer or you?


Somewhere in the middle is the ‘happy medium’; not someplace where both sides in this scenario have merely settled on something neither is particularly crazy about, but rather, a place where the designer is able to illustrate the value of the decisions being made and the client is open-minded enough to recognize the points as in their very best interest – and only theirs!

It’s perfectly okay, and moreover, greatly appreciated for the client to voice their opinions at the start. Knowing what a client doesn’t like is as important as recognizing what they do. But ego has no place in interior design. That goes for designers as well as clients. Both should be open-minded. Compromise is not a dirty word but a signifier some visual harmony has been attained in the middle of a détente between ‘ugly’ and ‘perfect’.  Find a designer who has as much ambition to meet and exceed the challenges of that dream as yet still floating about your imagination.

5)  The quickest and most economical way to achieve a completely new look in any room is to re-paint the room.

Need to add oomph and style to a drab set of four corners with only a window and a closet to recommend them? How about an accent wall? It’s not a new concept, but it is definitely one that helps keep a room alive, invigorated and always fresh and new. Painting one wall a complimentary color while keeping the other three in a neutral base means you can keep the neutral for decades, while simply changing up the accent over and over again to shake up the perception of color in the room.

Last, but not least: enjoy the process. Yes, I know. There is a point in every project where one simply hungers to get the damn thing finished. Your living space should not be in a perpetual state of disarray. But you can always be thinking of pieces to add that will augment a good design philosophy once the basic structural and aesthetic needs have been satisfied.

So, start looking, keep looking, plan smart and execute with confidence. Like life itself, it’s all about the journey and not so much about the destination. When you get to the end of your home reno project you’ll know it!

PS – I suppose that equally applies to life too.

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