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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Or maybe I should just pick up some plants

I’m having my annual pre-Spring home-décor-related despair. I spent all winter holed up in here, not caring what anything looked like because it at least it was warm and (mostly) snow-free. But now it’s starting to warm up outside, and every now and then you get a whiff of something that seems Spring-like, and it’s making me a little nuts. I’m aching for color in something, a flower or a cloudless sky or the bright red of a fresh wound. And oh, God, I’m looking around this place and realizing that we’re swimming in a sea of brown! I realize that statement sounds unnerving fecal, but I’m going with it. Poop!

Dear readers, even though we had to dramatically cull our furniture inventory when we moved, everything we kept was wood or wood-toned. We crammed them all into this much smaller space, and now we’ve got mismatched wood everywhere, plus our decorative accents are all red or brown or brownish-red, and how did I not notice this before? How did I not run screaming into the night? The curtains are beige! We have an enormous exposed-brick wall! Even our rug is kind of beigey-vomity-brownish. We have a BROWN LEATHER couch. The kitchen cabinets are WOOD. The floor is WOOD. It’s like a 1970s wood-paneled den, in here! It’s an autumnal forest of horrors! HOW DID I EVER STAND IT?

I announced to Scott this morning that I was painting our crappy Ikea bookcases white, and he was all, can we talk about this? Would that go with the dark-wood dining room table and chairs that are right next to them and the brown everything-else? Then I cried and slammed doors because he doesn’t understand how much I hate all this brown, you guys! He doesn’t get it! He remarked in jest--in JEST!--that we paint everything white, and had I been dressed I would have hightailed it to Lowe’s to buy all the white paint they have. Whitewash it all! It will be like a Scandinavian dream! A marshmallow fantasy! With fuchsia accents!

Why yes, I have completely lost my mind.


A few of you have asked, sheepishly, if I'm looking for advice.

Why yes. Yes, I am.

So much so that I am adding in PICTURES. Behold the brown tones, ye design-savvy, and despair:


I'm sorry it's a little dark in here, but, well, IT'S A LITTLE DARK IN HERE.

Mismatched BILLY bookcases!

And yes, these ARE mismatched Ikea bookcases (the BILLY, of course). These are the ones I'm desperate to paint. I'm not sure if that's possible. I'm not sure if I care.


I don't know why I took this one at an odd angle, but I rather like it. It's almost as if that giant exposed-brick wall is closing in on us. Getting ready to crush our skulls.

Have at it, people. Give me advice. I'll take it all under advisement. And then I'll show you how things turn out.


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Reader Comments (120)

Oh, please, leave the wood alone, and get some throws, pillows, and new artwork for color! Table runners? Candlesticks?

The furniture is supposed to fade into the background, so that you shine!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentera
Get some light aqua accents, that color will look great with both brown and the red accents you already have. But I am fully in favor of painting things white. I have an unnatural love for spray paint.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMariannecanada
+1 on the aqua, and the throws too.

Here's something else you could do: buy some flowering cherry branches and pop them in vases. Architectural, goes with brown, looks like spring. Bonus: hay fever!

Quince blossoms would also look lovely. They have that saturated pinky-orange color.

If you do paint stuff white, go for a creamy color so that it's not too stark against the wood. It'll look good and brighten things up without clashing.

Oooh! Or paint the bookshelf aqua (or turquoise!). That's earth toned, too, and it'll add a big punch of color to your place. Mmmm turquoise.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Unless, um, you're just venting and not looking for advice...
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
Spring has been known to cause madness in strong men.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLPC
In fits of hysteria my husband threatens to get rid of everything in our house. I think he wants a Zen thing, where there's basically white walls, oodles of natural light, and, like, a pebble, in the middle of a room. Which might work except 1. it sucks and 2. my toddler probably would tire of playing with a pebble.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermermil
I love brown but I also love PURPLE with brown. Pillows, one painted wall, a throw, purple vases on your newly painted-white Ikea shelves. Sometimes just drinking out of a purple coffee cup can make my day. I'm easy.

Most definitely, get rid of the beige curtains. Ikea has tons of bright curtains for cheap, and you can hem them yourself with their attached "stitch witchery" stuff.

I'm sorry, did you ask for advice?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaily Cup of Jo
I wanted to offer you some chocolate to make you feel better, but then I realized it was brown and I'm kind of too scared to.

How 'bout a marshmallow peep??? Pink??
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJustLinda
Okay, that would drive me nuts too. But the pictures of your place are actually quite beautiful. Sometimes all sorts of wood tones just add warmth and coziness, even if they don't match. I actually do have all white in my place (white couch, white rug, white tables and chairs... no kids yet so I can get away with it... and don't worry, I have a peachy-red wall and accents to avoid the hospital look), but I think in your case it might just cheapen it a little?

Instead I would focus on getting rid of the pieces you don't love - like that table next to the chair under the window? I think that can go. The awesome little type-writer on top of it can find another sacred spot.

Actually, instead of white, you might want to paint something aqua or red like suggested above. That gives you more character and fits well within your existing style. Go color!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca at Alice
I'm with the first commenter. Throws, pillows--a new rug will TOTALLY brighten the whole room. Get some oranges and reds in there, maybe, or paint one wall a more vibrant hue--just one, so it's not overpowering. The nice thing about rugs, throws, and pillows, though, is that they're cheaper and easier to change if you get sick of the colors.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen
My friend Dagny from Seeking John Galt sent me here, because she said you talk unabashedly of poop and for that reason and many others I would feel right at home. And boy, was she right.

I think, yes! Paint it all white! Or paint some of it white and see how it goes! Matching, schmatching. Light is so important. My husband focuses on how things match, and he likes the dark wood and if he could get away with it, our house would look like one of those dark-paneled men's clubs with leather furniture with brass tacks and mallard prints on the walls. We've been in construction chaos since we moved in to our home, and he doesn't know it but I have every intention of claiming as much wall space as I can before his hunting prints and etchings of old buildings find their way back to the walls.

Wow, sorry to make this long. And about me. Clearly I'm having a spring burst as well.

Anyway, what I want to say is, I totally support you on the whitewashing.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLemon Gloria
I love your place, but since you're looking for advice, what I'd paint white (and I am a BIG white-painter) is the basket in your fireplace. This will take you an hour, will break up the brown tones on that side of the room, and if it gets messed up for some reason or if you don't like it, baskets are pretty cheap and easy to replace. I do this all the time with storage baskets, and it brings me a ridiculous amount of satisfaction. (Oh, and if you do this, make sure to use a brush that's not your best, since you kinda have to cram the bristles into all the nooks and crannies for full coverage.)
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatsy
Thing the first: I covet that cherry blossom lamp every time it shows up in a photograph. Is that weird? It's just gorgeous. Let me know if you ever want to get rid of that - I will BUY it from you. (You think I jest?) Thing the second: I third the aqua suggestion. (OK, that read really strangely.) Thing the third: Changing the drapes is the biggest, easiest thing to do here. I just googled "aqua brown drapes" and came up with a ton of things that would look great. Thing the fourth: You could totally paint those bookshelves. At least they'd match EACH OTHER.

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaziza
I forgot to say, you could also put a white bowl on your coffee table (even white wood, if you're afraid of it getting knocked over) and a few lighter pillows for your couch. A light graphic print would be cool, and unless you can sew covers yourself, this would give you an excuse to shop Etsy! Mmm.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatsy
The next time you go out, buy some fresh flowers, daffodils maybe. They will make everything look bright. Then while you admire the splash of color think about throw pillows which can be found very inexpensively (try TJ Maxx) and a bright throw/blanket that you can leave out. If that is not enough, look for a new rug and/or curtains. Trying to paint Ikea stuff can be, well, trying. They usually put a finish on it that discourages the paint from sticking, which necessitates a primer (eek!).
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
Another very enthusiastic vote for new curtains here! I say pick whatever bright color appeals to you - you could do a solid or a print if you're feeling extra feisty.

I think the curtains alone would make a big impact, and if you want to keep punching things up, you can get some new throw pillows and maybe some art for over the couch.

As far as colors, aqua is a nice suggestion, but I'm not really an aqua person - I might lean more towards bright orange and white to bring some brightness. You could also incorporate more of the green I see on your (lovely) lamp - what's more spring-y than green??

And if you really want to paint those book cases white - go for it! But I'd wait until after making other changes to see if it's really necessary (since painting them would really be a pain).

(Oh, and by the way - long time reader, first time commenter. Think you're hilarious.)
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFeminist Housewife
First of all, I would like to report that YES, painting Billy bookcases is entirely possible, and also very easy. We had a silver one (I know! Space-age IKEA!) that my parents donated to us and we painted it white to match the white one we already had. We even took a lone Billy shelf into the hardware store and had the guy match the color exactly. It was, like, $9 for the paint and a few hours of our time and it turned out perfectly. We did have to prime it, but it wasn't a big deal.

Second of all, are you allowed to paint the walls? Even just one, as an accent wall? Because I might paint the one behind the couch -- and don't faint now! -- a dark cherry red. I think it would make the lovely cherry blossoms in your lamp pop, as well as all your other red accents. Then I'd get a few really bright graphic throw pillows for the couch (with red in them: red and aqua? red and grey? either would be lovely). I would also spraypaint the basket of wood in your fireplace (white? red?) and maybe add a big (white? red? aqua?) bowl to your coffee table, maybe with lots of nice red apples and plums and some lemons for good measure (or, you know, whatever fruit you want!) to give a little extra color. That you can also eat. Nothing better than color that you can eat.

Oh god, I love decorating other people's houses. More! More rooms! Let's do more!

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNothing But Bonfires
gorgeous wall!!! you so don't want my advice. we're very fecal here too. :-(
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMommyNamedApril
Okay, I'm going to be brutally honest, and I know other people will say, "How can you even think that?" Paint the brick. It's so overpowering and exposed brick is so done. It will lighten the place up more than you can believe. I just painted over some hideous brown tiles around my fireplace, and it's so much brighter and cheerier. Paint it a warm white or be totally daring and go aqua (if you hate it you can always paint over it.)Also, get some new curtains in a bold bright print.If you do paint the billies, I'd love to see how it goes since I'm thinking of doing the same thing. It seems silly though to paint such cheap stuff. Maybe a craigslist trade could be arranged?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
Probably can't paint the brick, as this is a rental... 
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
Painting pretty much anything is possible with enough primer. Bookcases would be easy-peasy. You could even paint the frames one color and the shelves another, if you wanted. Turquoise and white? Red and Turquoise?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheels
i agree with the other posters - I would whitewash!

yes you can and should paint the Billy's!

yes you can and should paint the walls! I'd even do the brick but then MY husband would want to kill me.

a nice bright cool white - think art gallery white - will brighten the HELL outta that place!

THEN you can accent (windows, pillows, etc) with any color you like and switch em around!

I'm about to start painting here and CANNOT wait. I totally know what you're saying - the winter was LONG and it was BRUTAL and I now hate my house. Things must change!

I ran crying from my husband the other day over painting a wooden desk (white!) so I totally know how you felt
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlackOrchid
Have you thought of painting the wall behind the sofa a very, very light shade of blue or green? It compliments brown and adds contrast so the brown POPS instead of looking drab...

Also, I agree with very light colored pillows - not necessarily white, but greens and blues, so that it's spring inside even if it isn't outside quite yet. Also, I'm a fan of large, indoor trees - it really changes the feel.

Leave the ikea bookshelf - totally not worth the effort, and the way you've spruced up the shelves with bright accessories is awesome. IF you need to paint something white, maybe that little typewriter desk in by the window?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharle
I am with the folks recommending bright accents: throws, colorful artwork above the mantle, curtains. I'm not a big fan of painting wood, but if I did that, I'd make sure it was something inexpensive enough that I wouldn't cry at the thought of replacing it should it look bad (immediately or in 5 years). You CAN strip paint off wood, but it's pretty labor- and time-intensive. And quite frankly, I would rather nap.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia
IMO, The simplest way to change up your room is to decide on a color scheme that would work with what you have, then add accents. Looking at your pictures, I think a powdery-slatey blue and rich brown would look nice. I would paint the walls blue, maybe change the drapes to a pattern that ties together the blue and brown, then add accents.

-or-find an accent piece with a color scheme you love and build the room around it. Below are Crate and Barrel examples of turquoise & brown pillow, and a luscious red and brown pillow. The red and brown would match the lamp, though I still think you could tie the lamp in with the turquoise somehow.

Have fun!

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwinsome

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