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  • Writer's pictureDiane John

Keep It Simple

Sometimes in design you just don't know where to start. You may not even understand what your "design style" is and have no idea on how to get there. Personally, I love everything - modern, classic, farmhouse, bohemian but think the idea of having all mixed together is absolutely terrifying! So where to start?

Start with the Basics


Use the floors as an inspiration for moving forward. Nice hardwoods in a house - then use as a jumping off point. Wall to wall carpeting got you down? Then rip up and replace with whatever you like - tile, hardwoods, laminate - the sky is the limit really. I have even seen pressed wood in 4x8 sheets look stunning when painted and sealed. How cool is this?

I am a sucker for a geometric because it looks so awesome and makes the space seem so large. I was mesmerized by this particular flooring which I saw in a great cafe in Ljubjiana, Slovenia in Cafe-Bar-Restaurant Robba. OMG - painted plywood flooring in great, love, love. If this works in a restaurant, then it could work in your home too!

Geometric flooring was the starting point for a total home redo that I did in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This home located near the University of Michigans campus exuded charm and was originally built in the 1920's. A family lived there for over 50 years. The house was pretty but also very brown and basically untouched since the 1970's. So to help bring it into this decade, I used a really beautiful and affordable geometric tile as my starting point for my entire design.

I wanted to make an impact starting at the front door and chose a geometric tile. Literally, the design starts at the front door and since I chose a dark tile, I used a light grout to make it pop. Boom pow - you have a great look at a great price! I did not want hardwoods at the front door because of all the wear and tear due to snow and ice (also the original hardwoods had seen better days). I love this solution and even used the same tile for the fireplace hearth.

Although the house is from the 1920's your decor does not need to be. There is something so fresh about modernizing old architecture. The geometric is not only on the floor, but found in all the accessories as well - the lighting, coat hooks, and bench.

(Sources - tile from Floor and Decor, bench from Houzz, hooks from CB2 and light from Overstock)

So, to get started with your design start with the basics. Keep things simple....enhance what you have and change/downplay or remove what you don't. This is a great entrance - pretty and practical and references what is about to come - a mix of modern and classic. I did not care for the original worn out hardwoods in this space so replaced with tile for more durability and a modern look. Couldn't be happier with the outcome.


Think of your room like your body. Just like with your wardrobe, you highlight your good body points with your clothing and accessory choices and you hide or mask some of your flaws. Do the same with the architecture in your home. Tall ceilings - draw attention to it! Beautiful trim - draw attention to it! Flimsy detailing and trim - masque it or add to it to make it stand out more. Short ceilings and lots of angles - then paint all the same color so there is no stopping point and the eye skips over it and it appears much bigger.

Changed the Half Wall

If you don't like the architecture, change it. I absolutely hated the half-wall at the base of the stairs in this Ann Arbor home and felt like it was blocking everything. The scale felt off and while original to this 1920's home, I really could't stand it - I did not like the stain color, the proportion nor the style. So, since I love geometrics and already introduced one in the nearby entry foyer, I continued with yet another strong geometric pattern that I created and repeated it. I used it not only on the handrail but also on a custom barn door.


Before - Original stair wall felt a bit off and awkward


After - less bulky and more appealing stair entry

Like really? - It is hard to believe it is the same house! That 1/2 wall was too high and too artsy and crafty and just bothered me so much. So we removed it and painted, and came up with a new design incorporating a geometric that added so much modernity. What a difference!

Changed the Kitchen

The other thing that did not work from an architectural or layout perspective was the kitchen. While I kinda liked the 70's vibe that was going on in the kitchen, it was just too small and impractical for a 5 bedroom home. However, I did not have the budget to rip it all out and start from scratch. Like I really had no budget at in order to save significant $$$ I reused the cabinets. Yep, thats right - they were brown wood but decent quality so we carefully removed them, painted them and figured out how they should best work in the area. I sold the pot-belly stove and used all the space in the kitchen (not just half as it originally was).


Kitchen was too small for a 5 bedroom home


Pot belly stove takes up a ton of space


Door was one of several leading to back yard

Making some simple changes

To make the kitchen work better, we used the whole length of the back wall which meant eliminating the pot belly stove as well as losing the function of the door to the backyard. However, since there is another door leading to the backyard just steps away, it was an easy sacrifice. Did I mention that I did not have any $$$ for a kitchen redo?? So there was no money to rip out door and replace the door with a window so we just simply covered it up. Maybe someday we can get around to patching the exterior and replacing the door with a window but not now.


Using the entire back wall really opened up the kitchen
After - the kitchen is open and enlarged. Door becomes a window.


Painted the 70's cabinets black, removed all upper cabinets and paired with wood counter top.


Ikea cabinets fits perfectly - for a bit of open and closed storage. Barn door adds practicality and visual interest.

The cabinets look so much more modern with a fresh coat of paint. To keep expenses down, I chose some inexpensive finishing pieces. The counter tops are wood from Ikea and cost $99 each (used 2) and the copper hardware is from Target, the copper toe splash (actually flashing) is from Home Depot. The area that previously housed the pot belly stove fit open shelving from Ikea perfectly. To make it look more styled, I simply purchased coordinating baskets for every other opening which hides some of the supplies and continues the geometric accents found throughout. The barn door is not only good looking, but so much more practical. Just beyond the door is the exit to backyard and stairway leading to basement.

Since the bottom of the kitchen is dark, I wanted to make sure the upper portion of the kitchen remained open and light. I removed all the upper cabinets and created some open shelving. I had a little bit of leftover marble from another project and had just enough for a backsplash. I used industrial style shelf brackets and inexpensive pieces of laminate to create shelves. I really like open is super easy to stack dishes and its also a great way to show off your style.


Open shelving keeps things light and airy


A little bit of marble and some sturdy brackets compliment the look

While the kitchen is not perfect, it is sooooo much better than it used to be. I love how large it looks. The house is occupied by five lucky students and the kitchen works so much better for multiple users. Someday it will get a proper window and maybe some newer appliances, but for now it works and looks great and better yet - did not cost much at all!

Color Scheme

Once you have your flooring and architecture settled upon, sometimes all you need is a bit of paint. Everyone says painting is the easiest and least expensive thing you can do with decorating but I disagree. Paint takes time, it is expensive to have someone else do it and labor intensive painting yourself. Good quality paint is important and so is the proper don't just guess on paint colors - have a strategy!

In my opinion, the best rooms have a mix of warm and cool tones. So, since I kept the hardwoods as they were, and had already made some architectural adjustments to the handrail, kitchen layout and basement access door, it was time to focus on the paint.

I decided to add both warm and cool tones to the rooms so that the architectural details stand out and I wanted to keep things fresh and up to date. I chose a warm white for most of the walls in the home and used the same for most of the trim. In this case, I used one of my go to colors by Benjamin Moore, White Dove, OC-17. This is actually a warm white, soft and fresh, not harsh at all.

Having most of the walls being the same color just makes life simple...the color flows throughout and really freshens up the home. I especially like how the paint looks on the stair risers and the brick in the kitchen. The consistent white paint also minimizes the different ceiling heights and is both classic and modern.

To keep things interesting, however, I also added black into the color scheme for the house. This is a lovely rich black that is deep in tone also by Benjamin Moore 2131-10, called Black Satin. I think sometimes it pulls as charcoal but I especially love it as I think it keeps the white from being harsh and provides a lovely contrast to the warm honey tones of the floors. I used on some of the cased openings, trim and for the kitchen cabinets. The kitchen appliances were black and having that all be consistent looks great. Black and white is always a classic color scheme and having some black trim allows you to accessorize with some black elements as well - kept black as an accent in lighting, handrail, furnishings and accessories..

(Sources - rug West Elm, console table CB2, vases and lucky bamboo are from Ikea)

So, to get started with your design start with the basics. Keep things simple....enhance what you have and change/downplay or remove what you don't. Keep things consistent and simple and keep the color scheme and pattern so it flows throughout the home. Most importantly be true to yourself, do what you love and makes you happy. My jumping off point was the geometric design I used for the barn door and the geometric tile for foyer...use what appeals to you!

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