Thursday, August 4, 2011

Conversational Furnishings (Guest Post)

I hope to post within a few days to tell you how the radiation therapy ended up.  (No worries; everything is fine.)  In the meantime I wanted to share this fun, frugal, useful article about creating interesting rooms without spending a lot. You'll find a short bio of guest poster Jessica Phan following the article. Enjoy!

Conversational Furnishings:
Build Up to Great Design Discussions

Talk is cheap -- especially when it comes to decorating a house. Because it's usually the furnishings rich with creative flair (not those priced for the rich) that get folks commenting. In the world of home d├ęcor, DIY customization often equals character. Whether you shop thrift stores and garage sales, take a fresh look at your current stock, or build pieces to suit, dressing to impress requires patience, persistence, and plenty of personality, but it doesn't have to cost a lot. Here are some suggestions for getting your own design conversation going without going overboard on your budget.
Finders Keepers

'Kitchen breakfast room re-imagined, February 2007' photo (c) 2007, Jason Roberts - license: one wants to arrive at a party wearing the same outfit as another reveler, so why dress your rooms just the same as your neighbor? While mail-order catalogs, big-box stores, and popular retailers make great resources for basics, seeking out unique pieces to complement will help create a truly special space. Make regular stops at your local thrift store, flea market, or consignment shop to take stock of their bargain-priced goods. You may just discover a fabulous retro chair or one-of-a-kind armoire that will elicit a great response from guests. With locations throughout the country, Habitat for Humanity's ReStore resale outlets are a treasure trove for furniture and home accessories, as well as reusable and surplus building supplies, all sold to raise funds for low-income family housing (definitely a positive discussion starter for your next dinner party).

Another dependable method for finding distinctive furnishings is to visit estate and garage sales in your area. Be sure to bring cash, examine items for any damage or defects, and be ready for friendly price negotiation. And no matter where you shop for your used furnishings, remember that pieces with good "bones" make the best candidates for refinishing, so pay attention to craftsmanship.

Old Piece, New Tricks

With a little creativity and care, you can discover new uses for old pieces already in your home; the trick is to eliminate any preconceived notions you have regarding a piece's true intention. Sure, an antique dry sink cabinet once served as a spot for shaving, but why not repurpose it into a changing table for a baby nursery or a kitchen island? And though wooden benches were originally built for resting upon, there's no reason they can't be stacked to create a shelving system perfect for perching knick-knacks. I've even seen a neighbor transform her grandmother's cane-bottom chair into a country-chic planter. In the same way, you can give second-hand pieces a second life with a good cleaning, a simple coat of paint, and updated hardware. And the best part about any newly functioning furnishing is sharing with admirers its history.

Popular magazine websites like (Better Homes and Gardens),, and make excellent springboards for project ideas, as do imaginative home improvement blogs such as,,, and A well-stocked tool box will include with paint, sandpaper, strong glue, a staple gun, various sized nails and screws, fabric and wallpaper swatches and samples, and a willing imagination.


If you build it, they will come...and talk about it. When you just can't find a piece that meets all of your furniture requirements (or you've found it but simply can't afford the retail price), consider crafting it yourself. Think about improvements that you can make in functionality with the addition of doors, drawers, shelves, and storage space, but remember to keep it in line with your skill level.

Lowe's and Home Depot both offer regular in-store workshops that teach woodworking techniques and tips; check your local store for schedules. And today's bevy of home improvement shows, along with the carpentry section at the library, can provide valuable information for the DIY learner.

Souvenir Stories

While furniture makeovers are always fun to reveal to friends, tales of travel also lead to great gabbing. So the next time you find yourself on the road, think about returning home with more than a handful of kitschy souvenirs. Some of the best memories I have from family getaways are embedded in interesting rugs, side tables, and artwork collected along the way. And I always enjoying armchair travelling with houseguests when I explain how my husband and I came to own a sunset-hued clay lamp from a curious little pottery off California's Highway 1. I wonder where your imagination will take you!

Jessica Phan is a designer for a purveyor of high-end artificial Christmas Trees. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area is perfect for her because she has a wide range of interests, including Art & Design, Fashion, Photography, Painting and Thrift Store Shopping.


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