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AtmosphereDecorating Advice

A Case for Decoration

By 03/17/2011August 12th, 201835 Comments

Lately I’ve noticed a trend with the questions my clients ask during consultations and I have developed my own personal little theory behind it.

They’ll ask me questions like, “Should I install crown molding in here?” “Should I replace this countertop and introduce stone?”, “What about a tray ceiling?” Endless and many expensive ways to update your house.  My theory is, it’s much easier to spend money on things like molding and new countertops because as much as those decisions can be difficult, they are not usually as hard as decorating your house from scratch. So you put off buying new furniture because, well, there are too many options and it’s easier to do nothing than make a decision. And you spend your money on molding instead.

But do you know what sells your house?  The atmosphere which only gets created when you decorate. You can have the most beautifully designed house but if you spend all your money on renovations and are left with no money for furniture you are truly selling yourself short. Are there exceptions to this?  Of course, for example, a cramped old house with new flooring or walls taken out to create a better living area and so on.

Generally though, let’s assume your house is NOT the exception. Let’s assume you have a perfectly acceptable kitchen for example but it’s just dated?  Better to paint the cabinets and hire the help you need (if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself) to decorate and finish your house because that is what will make you happy when you walk in the door, more than brand new cabinets will. Maybe.

When you look for a new house to buy, how fast do you know if ‘this is the one’?’ Is it after you flush all the toilets to make sure the plumbing is working properly? No. You know pretty much the moment you walk in.

The feeling of a house changes so drastically to fabulous after it’s decorated—which is why staging generally sells a house for more money—you will wonder how you lived so long without it.

I know the other obstacle is your husband who understands nailing something down to the house way more than new drapery, but I’m just sayin’. He will love it as much as you when it’s done.

There is no point trying to decorate your house yourself if you simply don’t have that particular creative gene.  You’ll end up with brown when you should have picked white, white when you should have chosen gray, green when it should have been blue, a solid, when you should have chosen a pattern to tie all your solid colours together to get a more custom look. The list of choices you need to make before you arrive at your finished room is much longer and more complicated than you might think.

So when your husband or partner says “Why can’t we do it ourselves?” Ask if you’ve seen any of her work published anywhere and tell her to read this post instead. Okay maybe not every man feels this way but 99% of the women I talk to struggle with the same dilemma!  So hope this helps add some decor to your house!

If you would like to create atmosphere in your new house, contact me.

Related posts for men especially:

An Open Letter to my Lover on Decorating
Happiness is. . . A Happy Wife
Danger. . . The First 24 Hours after you take Possession
Atmosphere. . . The One Thing you Cannot Buy

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  • traci zeller designs says:

    That's the spunky Maria we all know and love! I definitely agree that many people tend to under-budget for decorating … and that is truly what makes a house feel like a home!

  • A Delightful Design says:

    Fabulous. I just posted this link on Facebook! Preach on!!

  • I'm laughing and agreeing at the same time. A gorgeous empty house is just empty. You feel empty when you're in it. A house that hugs you with its atmosphere the minute you walk in the door, well, that's a beautiful home. And everyone's less likely to notice the dated cabinets or tile when they feel really comfortable. You are so right. Why go it alone decorating the place that holds your life?

  • Trish @ A dream house for Trish says:

    Love it Maria, sounds like you have met my husband many times over, LOL!!!

  • Pink Overalls says:

    I could not agree more. I've tweeted this and added the link to my FB fan page. Thank you, Maria.

  • Brillante Interiors says:

    Great! perfectly said.

  • Cathy Wall says:

    Amen sister! I chuckled reading the part about work being published.. great post!


  • Sjn says:

    To me, this post comes across the same way the post about giving your sister advice on her kitchen did. You come across "full of yourself". Yes, I know not everyone has color sense or good taste for that matter, but I get the feeling from reading what you write, that if a pro doesn't do your decorating, then it must be wrong.
    The thing is… when you are selling your house, it's the things you leave behind that are of value to the new owners (this coming from a Realtor). Crown molding is worth more to them then a new yellow sofa. Yes, staging can be a better way to "show" a house, and many people don't have the vision to see a home's potential w/o it, but it's the "bones" of the house that matter.
    So maybe you write to sing your own praises and as a marketing tool, Good for you.
    So to answer your question… no, it's not always true.

  • A Dance With Grace says:

    Love this post!!! This was too good not to comment. 🙂

  • LiveLikeYou says:

    Great post!! Just the kind of questions I've been getting lately that baffle me. "I'm on a tight budget…but I think we need to get new tile, or a new counter top. My answer is always, don't spend your money changing the perfect white tile, and spend your money on furniture and adding some color on your walls. It's the feeling that's missing!!

  • Neena @ Practical Decorating Ideas says:

    So so true! Hiring an experienced decorator up front can save you a bundle down the road.

    And enjoying a professional, finished look is priceless.

    And what gorgeous pictures you have displayed in this post too.

  • Both Sides Now says:

    I like it that you're 'full of yourself' – great post girl!

  • Cindy says:

    So so funny! I particularly like your choice of photos this post. yummy.

  • cindy says:

    Forgot to add – I am amazed at how many people walk through houses on House Hunting (HGTV Show) and say "oh look at the crown molding." What is it with crown molding anyway!

  • Linda in AZ * says:

    * Some good/great points here, Maria!!!

    Thought you'd be interested to know (if you don't already), that in my husband's 38 year career as as an Army officer, we moved, COMPLETELY, 28 times… MANY times overseas…

    When we were "starting out", the younger officers got, of course, the small, older & unimaginative quarters (like little "boxes, with NO architectural blessings!)… and as years go by, the senior officers DO live in the fabulous, usually historic, old homes that are sometimes a designer's dream… It happened to us (finally!) & oh my! It was FABULOUS!

    I got into REEEALLY learning about/studying design as a YOUNG officer's wife, as our quarters in Germany were ANYTHING but "charming", ALTHO, we DID have a balcony (which was wonderful for us, & our dog loved to lay out there in the sun!)! Our "furniture/things" I*N it were the very "things" that "made" each of our homes special… A good sense of scale & balance, along w/ careful editing, made for great comments from everyone over the years, and our LAST home, before retirement, was a 7,000 Sq. Ft. set of quarters w/ quite a long & interesting history… And THAT, along with "OUR SPECIAL THINGS", was SUCH A TREAT!

    Great BONES are often "just a dream away", as were mine as a young wife, for so many years, so I HAD to depend on what I could do WITH and IN them to make them attractive!

    My Jim is now retired from the military… and we NOW live the life I'd always dreamed of, in the home I NEVER dreamed we'd have, and that makes it all the more SPEICAL and APPRECIATED!

    Life is good, and I suspect it's even better when one is in a home they love, whether it's new or old, rustic, contemporary or traditional or "whatever", AS LONG AS YOU and YOUR FAMILY LOVE TO WALK THRU THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE DAY! Yes, the interior design IS important, IMHO!!!!!!

    As always, warmest wishes,

    Linda in AZ *
    [email protected]

  • Donna Frasca says:

    Maria, for the most part I love your posts but this one seems a bit off kilter.

    Anyone buying a home will look at the guts of the house (crown molding, countertops etc.) and hopefully will realize that they are purchasing the home, not the decor. So I disagree with ''what sells your house is atmosphere", it certainly helps to stage but give home buyers a little more credit, they're not naive.

    Knowing your house "is the one" the second you walk in based on the decor alone is a bit shocking coming from a designer -that is very superficial. We of all people know there is more to a home purchase other than it just looking pretty.

    Also, staging is to neutralize a home not to fancy it up to sell. So for the most part, a beige should be chosen not a gray or blue. Not sure where the pink shoes come in either.

    I think I'll have to side with Sjn just for this post 🙂

  • Dovecote Decor says:

    Maria: Great post, the best way to get through the financial barrier with decorating is that you can take it with you. I encourage people to spend money, not on the built ins, but a great antique that you will love and that your children will enjoy.

  • Karen@StrictlySimpleStyle says:

    Excellent point. I recently hired a designer to come over for just a couple of hours to give me some ideas for how I could put the finishing touches on my home. She left me with so many relatively inexpensive ways to update my home and didn't insist that I'd need to make major changes. It was money well spent.

  • Kristie at The says:

    Great post, Maria! I work with so many homeowners who have lived for years in a "under-realized" home. I come in to stage it so that others will want to live in it, and they finally have that "aha" moment – can't tell you how many times I hear the same phrase: "We should have been living LIKE THIS all these years!" And I say, "Yes, you should have. Maybe I can help you set up your next home?" 😉

  • Nan says:

    Great article! Whenever we buy a house it's the outside that makes the decision for us: either the style of the house or the land. As long as it has the basic necessities inside (3bd,2bth) we can work with anything. I just posted interior photos of our new-to-us house we just moved into. We have A LOT of work to do!

  • Diane says:

    You tell 'em girlfriend!! I recently had this discussion with a client who is decorating a vacation home in Montana and at the same time, was dealing with leaking problems in the roof of this home. she never questioned how much the plumber was going to charge but boy was she upset when a local store would not give me a discount to pass on to her. And here's the ironic part…her husband is the one with the good "decorating" eye…

    I feat this is a struggle designers will always have but I deal with it because decorating on any level is my passion and I am grateful for any opportunity to help someone create a beautiful home (but a client with an unlimited budget or at least respect formy time would b enice also, dont you think?)

  • Barbara Cole says:

    Great Post Maria. Full of yourself, I think not ……. full of valuable knowledge, yes!

    My daughter bought a house a year ago August and fell in love with it the minute she walked through the front door. I had trained her well regarding the "bones" of a house, but it was the "atmosphere" that had her give the house a chance. Atmosphere and perception are everything and then we move forward from there.

    Another misconception is to use taupe to stage a house; too many realtors and HGTVer's. I have never used this colour when hired to stage a residence

    Thanks Maria.

    Barbara Cole

  • Maria Killam says:

    This is for those that think this post is about fluff and pillows.

    Of course people are going to buy a house based on all of their considerations and requirements, but after that a feeling of a home is a huge part of it.

    I consult with hundreds of homeowners who have simply the absolute basics when it comes to furniture, no lighting, no carpet, nothing that really works well to create a nice feeling in the home.

    This post is for those clients. And if even one person gets inspired to create a home they love instead of making yet one more decision to 'nail something down' that really won't make that much difference in the feel of the home, then in my world, this post has done it's job.

  • Angie says:

    That's why it's more important than ever to build/remodel a small house with all the details/quality we all love and still be able to furnish it rather than build/remodel/buy a McMansion that will sit empty because it's too big, you can't afford to decorate it.

  • Pink Overalls says:

    I just spent the morning with a woman who has had her home on the market for a year. The home is structurally sound, and professionally maintained inside and out. It's a spic and span, 3 bedroom/2 bath waterfront home built in 1985, gazebo, shed, boat dock, large lot, ideal floor plan, good closets, fireplace, skylights in most rooms, large deck, huge kitchen with abundant cabinets and center island, large walk-in shower in one bath, spa tub in another, all for $255,000. I'm not in a large city, but I'm not rural either.

    The reason no one has even made an offer is that the woman has decorated to her taste. She refuses to remove the family photographs or collections of teddy bears and lighthouses, refrigerator magnets galore, powder blue carpeting AND walls, ruffled valances, little vases of plastic daisies…

    Infrastructure is important. And some buyers will look at that first — the HVAC, electrical, plumbing, roofing, grading, insulation, etc. But even these kinds of buyers can be turned off by out-of-date and too-specific decorating. Most people want turn-key, including carpeting and paint.

    It surprises me that more realtors don't see this connection. Are they afraid to step on sellers' toes? This woman will wait and wait for someone to come along with taste like hers or the vision to change things. And both kinds of buyers will want a discount. All because of decor.

  • Jürgen says:

    I completely agree with you. A professional save time and hassle.

  • Jil Sonia McDonald - Interior Designer says:

    As a former realtor with over 20 years experience, my family owing a real estate company and working in both residential and commercial fields, I do believe Maria is right.
    Once clients get inside a home for sale,I would know within 3 minutes whether or not a client would put an offer in on a house. The majority of the comments from potential clients are similar to…" I love the colour bedspread, look at the tone of the beautiful floors, I love that mirrored vanity". It is the atmosphere of a home that sells first, then the location and structure of a house. If the atmosphere is not right, we'd have a difficult time marketing the home.

  • Donna says:

    Maria, This is just so true!! And so funny..the hubby part. It's taken a good year to get our living room looking 'the way we want it' in terms of decorating and now, every time someone walks in they mention how nice it looks. That NEVER used to happen! There is so much that needs to be renovated in our home, but it won't be the first thing you notice when you walk in. The decor is nice…the result of a lot of hard work and thought.

    I can't imagine what it would look like if a designer had pulled it together. For's 'good enough'. I'm just glad we put our money into a couch, drapes, rug, and paint..not into re-doing the molding and windowsills..which seriously needs to be re-done. We can work on getting our financial ducks in a row and do that part later.

    Great post!

  • Jen of MadeByGirl says:

    love the way you write! absolutely true. it is really important to be creative especially when picking colors more than just paying extra money on something might not fit, or it is not where it suppose to be.
    great post 🙂

  • My House, My Garden says:

    Touche. I say even if you do have that creative gene, it's wonderful to get help frome someone who has a design aesthetic you are aiming towards. I have found I can design/decorate others' homes much easier than my own. My new bedroom is a prime example. I had most of my elements already chosen but a designer helped me pull it together pefectly. I will never regret a penny I paid her. It was money well spent with no regrets and no wasted purchases.

  • Kristen@That70sHouse says:

    I agree that first impressions are very important and bad decor can make a potential buyer decide to not consider the house especially if it's something that stays with the house (i.e. weird paint color, flooring). Good staging can also make a buyer look twice at a house that they might not have considered.

    I also agree that you can make your house beautiful regardless of the outdated or shabby "bones" of the house, we are in the process of doing that right now.

    However, a savvy home-buyer should be looking past the decor at what's going to be left behind when the seller moves, and in this market, it pays to make those upgrades. Instead of buying a $3000 sofa, perhaps consider buying a $1000 sofa that looks just as nice, and spend the rest of that money on upgrades that are going to help you in the long term.

  • Sheila Zeller says:

    Maria, I love your post. I think it's bang-on!

    Re: SJN and Donna Frasca's comments… as a stager I have to disagree. Staging is not decorating, it is marketing. The basis IS to create a 'feeling' that appeals to buyers – an empty room doesn't do that. With staging it is about removing distractions, but it is also about intentional placement where less is more, and the eye is deliberately guided to the architectural features. In staging the eye is not meant to rest on the 'things' in the space, whereas in decorating, stopping to ponder and admire the 'things' is part of the story. Beige is not necessarily the first 'go to' neutralizing colour anymore, and infact, to stage for the current economy, we are looking for unique one-off pieces to set the home apart because everyone is neutralized out. And seriously, it's surprising how many buyers really DO NOT have any vision, DO NOT see the crown molding, DO NOT notice the closet organizers, etc. Staging is temporary; it suggests a lifestyle that you as a buyer 'could' live, but it's a general story that's told. Decorating is all about you, your story, and creating a comfortable space for the way you live, and for you to enjoy…

    Write on Maria!

  • Mona thompson says:

    I just love the way you say it like it is! Mona

  • Linda Pakravan says:

    I love this post. I agree with you completely. And Sheila Zeller is spot on that many buyers do NOT "see" the details. I have a dear client who has been in her home for almost 5 years and she had never noticed that her kitchen cabinets have two door styles until we were discussing some changes.

  • Lacey from Weekends at Home says:

    Love the images in this post… especially the first one.
    I think there definitely has to be balance between the two. Living in a house that is over 100 years old, there are some projects that definitely have to be tackled, but that doesn't mean I don't decorate all the way. However, I don't quite have the budget to decorate as I would love to nor restore and renovate as I dream to…

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