Decorating Tips

Decorating Outside of the Lines

December 10, 2008

Let’s talk a little about decorating outside of the lines, shall we? I’m not sure where I’m going with this thought so I invite you to just roll with it and let’s see where we end up. I am LOVING the photography of Trine Thorsen, these rooms are gorgeous, ethereal, absolutely stunning and I can’t help but think about this topic of decorating outside of the lines as I look at them and here are some reasons why.

I know so many are scared to decorate with lots of white but take it from me, someone who isn’t neat as a pin and who never had a mostly white apartment in her life (until now), I LOVE it. I think it works for me because I have no children, no pets, and my husband is well trained (he he), but it also works because I have a slipcovered sofa and find it even easier to keep clean than color or patterned sofas because I can simply remove the cover and wash it with a little bleach so any stains vanish. I had lots of white growing up, I grew up on the coast so of course our home was filled with sunshine along with sea-inspired colors and textures (my mother loves blue, green, and yellow) but as an adult I fell into using lots and lots of color and pattern and got away from a mostly white palette since we relocated from South Carolina to Boston. Now that I’m using the colors and textures here in my German apartment that I grew up around in the Carolinas, I feel absolutely comfortable and at home. I also feel extremely peaceful inside. View apt. photos (here.)

My other flat in New Hampshire is mostly beige, brown, yellow, green, and blue with creamy white and tons of texture. Being in New Hampshire this works because of the nearby forests and lakes, the interior colors mimic the natural setting around me. But I have discovered recently that those colors don’t really ‘click’ with who I am and my personality. When I came to Germany this year to set up my 2nd apartment, I assumed I’d fall into the same palette since the city I’m living in here is 1-2 hours from the sea, I’m mostly around forests – but I was determined not to do this and to experiment a little so I decided before even coming over to plan my entire palette and pull together mood boards in advance so that once here I could not change my mind. I decided on soft pastels, mostly white, with accents of black and silver. Much to my surprise, it was very easy to find the colors I wanted to use in local shops so the decorating process was an absolute breeze. I wondered though if decorating in pale hues vs. strong brights or earth tones would somehow be a problem. I once held strong to the belief that your home should absolutely reflect what is outside of your front door. That’s what you learn in design school, design books, magazines, you name it. It’s one of those rules of design you are told really matters. For instance, if you live on the coast, you should use colors that work with the natural palette outside. If you love in the country, you may want to go with a more earthy scheme. And while I still believe that to some extent that this is true since it can promote balance (spiritual, emotional, etc.) I believe that you can break the ‘rules’ and mix things up when circumstances call for it. The most important thing is that your home provides you with peace and fuels you to live a life you truly want to live. A home that nudges you to ‘go for it’ when it comes to all of your dreams and desires, it’s not a draining place but an inspiring one. I think the rules can be broken (and should be) if perhaps the colors where you live are not ones you feel comfortable living around in your interior space.

When I say “mix things up when circumstances call for it” I mean… well let me illustrate. Here in northern Germany the weather can be gray a lot in the Winter and Spring, and it gets dark now at 4 o’clock, so using a very washed out light palette gives me energy no matter what the weather is like outside. If I had painted my walls gray, plum, and beige as I had originally thought to, I may have felt sad because while those colors are gorgeous they may have made me feel depressed. Having lots of light colors and tons of white makes me feel like I’m living in Sydney on days when the sky is showing me nothing but storm clouds. It’s a good way for me to trick my mind and to feel like I’m living on the coast again too as I really do miss living beachfront and though I doubt I will again anytime soon, I am able to pretend that my city apartment is a lot closer to the shore than it really is because of the colors and textures I use.

It’s quite fun to experiment with this, using colors that don’t necessarily ‘match’ your place on the map, and I encourage you to try it in case you are totally bored out of your brain with your current hues or in case you feel a bit down or drained in your home. Try mixing things up a bit, pull in things that inspire you, if you are living far from your dream land try to bring bits of that dream to you no matter where you live.

Here’s another good example of this: my friend Petra from southern Germany currently lives in the north and despite being German she has created a home, shop, and work studio that feels just like Morocco the moment you step inside. It’s magical, amazing, transporting. She uses colors and fabrics that few here use, and she frequently travels to Marrakesh to pick up more fabrics and home accessories, notions, etc. to add to her home and shop and she shops online for silks and vintage suzanis and such from India and beyond. She has never lived outside of Germany but when you step into her ‘world’ here you’d swear she was born and raised in Morocco. She is absolutely inspired by this bohemian ethnic style and has been for years, long before it became trend, so I find her decorating style absolutely refreshing. Her colors are definitely outside of the lines so to speak. Locals flock to her shop to see what she’s up to and to purchase what she has created with her own hands using materials from all over the world. There is absolutely nothing in her life that feels typical German and this is for a reason, she isn’t typical and she doesn’t feel inspired by some of the design in the country in which she was raised so she decided a long time ago to build the world around her, at least her personal surroundings and what she can control, to look and feel like what is rooted deep inside of her heart and soul which is ethnic design and an oriental lifestyle. And why not?

I’ve said a lot here today, but looking at Trine’s photos I thought about how white has inspired me lately and well, all the words above that spilled out onto this page is just what ran through my mind as I thought about white, how I’ve used it successfully in my own home, and how no one has to feel confined by decorating rules – if you like a particular style or color then GO FOR IT. I think the days of interior design as it existed in the past up until a few years ago are OVER. I don’t think we need to be told to do this or that in order to achieve the perfect space. I’m so over the whole minimalist chic, with perfect symmetry here and $10,000 designer sofas there with $600 per roll wallpaper. Aren’t you over it? I pick up design magazines these days and unless they are showing realistic and somewhat affordable design, fun projects, well written articles, and inspirational homes, I don’t even bother buying them. I once spent $150 a month on magazines. Now I spend around $30! Why? I’m not inspired by $4,000 chairs in a million dollar home. I am inspired by being totally original, loving your home, decorating in a way that supports you and your lifestyle (and wallet), and not stressing over impressing others – the key is to IMPRESS YOURSELF. This pride and happiness doesn’t come from decorating to impress your friends but comes when you sit back on your sofa, look around, and feel extremely pleased in your nest because everything around you is 100% your style.

For more beautiful lifestyle and interiors photography, visit Trine online here.

(images from trine thorsen via the graphic exchange)


  • Reply Brandi December 10, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    AMEN! What a truthful and inspiring post. I really appreciate the fact that you talk so straight forward to your ‘fans’ ;). It’s refreshing.

    I am a single mother who loves design, but truthfully, I get discouraged when I see the exact magazines your speaking of. I have recently found design blogs, like yours, and immensly enjoy not only the creative aspect of it all, but the fact that the bloggers use practical measures to design their homes (for the most part). It gives great inspiration and hope that we who may struggle financially can have a great home and one we love to come home to and show off.

    I truly enjoy your blog, and have actually ordered some things off of etsy… with your walls being inspiration. I am looking more at ebay, garage sales, and craigslist now, and I also am becoming a huge fan of white! I recently reupholstered my dining room chairs with white denim. We’ll see how that goes. I have an 11 year old so, I think it should be fine.

    My next two purchases, after income tax return $$ comes ;), are the sofa you have, and a chair as well that are white slipcovered from Ikea. If you have time, could you advise if it is comfortable? The Ikea here is not close to my home, but a couple hours away. I haven’t been able to ‘test it out’ yet.

    Anyway, thanks so much for your thoughts. I love your style and all the wonderful things you blog about daily! Keep it up.

  • Reply Luphia December 10, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    these are so so gorgeous, I LOVE white rooms & would be the happiest person in the world if my flat looked like that! one day i’ll get there! thanks for sharing :)

    Luphias last blog post: Special Offer!

  • Reply Elle (boltandfrolic) December 10, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Timely post to read– on Friday, my friend Anna is coming over to help me paint a bedroom (that I’d long since turned into a storage room, but want to reclaim.) After living with decisive color in every room of my home for the past 9 years, I’m choosing to paint it white.
    Here’s to MORE LIGHT!

    I love reading your blog everyday. Thanks doing what you do : )

    Elle (boltandfrolic)s last blog post: Bolt and Frolic

  • Reply Tracey December 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Hmm, so if I live in Dallas what would that mean? No coast, no forest, no mountains . . . black asphalt? hehe I love the look of all white but I have two boys and so we tend to go with things like chocolate brown for the sofa so the dirt blends right in. ;)

  • Reply Laura December 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Wow, Holly, I totally agree! First off, about white – I hadn’t thought about it for quite a while, but when I was a teenager my bedroom was on the second floor of our home and it was all white (white carpet, white walls, white duvet) except for my little posters and trinkets and such, and I absolutely loved it! I felt like I was living in a cloud, up in the trees. I loved the way the light colored the white walls different shades at different times of the day, and I always felt very peaceful there. As an adult, I have tried to add more color into my apartments, but now that I am reflecting on it, it does feel forced in a way. All of the photos you chose to use of white rooms really made me smile, so thank you for that :)

    Second, I also find myself wanting those “high design” mags less and less these days, and I am being drawn to more crafty/DIY magazines that feature real homes and creative projects. Thanks for such an inspiring post on doing what you love.

    Lauras last blog post: Rain Day/Snow Day

  • Reply Sue December 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t buy many design magazines but I do watch far too much TV that focus’ on those $600 rolls of wallpaper that you mentioned. Your blog is a great inspiration to everyone who see’s these articles and TV programs to show them that that’s not what it’s all about. You’ve also turned me into a lover of white after years of thinking it was bland and boring… wrong was I?

    Sues last blog post: Hot Pink and Aqua Funky Circles Card

  • Reply Kat December 10, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    I love the word “BAD” spelled out! So unexpected and funny.

    Kats last blog post: New Attitude for the Holidays

  • Reply mrs. french December 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I adore this post…I am going to bookmark it and use it for my own decorating ideas…I love the idea of decorating to accomadate what you crave…I really need to stay away from the grays, being in Portland this would be too much…yet another reason to go all white…not sure I really needed one…xo

    mrs. frenchs last blog post: I heart UO…

  • Reply melissa de la Fuente December 10, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    absolutely my dear! I could not agree more and love your inspirational straight talk! Thank you sweet Holly!

  • Reply kbd December 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Halleluja sister! I find myself in the same situation with regards to magazines… and I guess great blogs showcasing every day people with extraordinary homes are one of the reasons some magazines are not making it.

    kbds last blog post: Sweet Moments

  • Reply decor8 December 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Kat – The word “Bad” is actually “Bathroom” in German so perhaps that is what that is all about. :)

  • Reply Tatyana December 10, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    To me it’s always been all about scale, proportion, and color palette, not necessarily about the environment you live in.

    I know exactly what you mean with going with something that you didn’t consider before and realizing that “that” is really you and not what you had done before, even if it’s not considered “the norm”.
    I have a very nice living room that I can’t afford to replace but it is not at all me (I now realize – a little too late.) If I could do it all over again I wouldn’t been as safe and would really enjoy the mix of anything that makes me happy because that would make my house a home.
    You said you used mood boards… and that created focus for you… and I absolutely agree. I just think it is SO hard to really find what makes one’s true taste. I’m still experimenting with what makes Me… Funny how it’s so easy for me to see others’ tastes but when it comes to me, I’m clueless about what I want.
    I absolutely agree about magazines. I’ve gone from buying so many to only two a month. I end up enjoying the ideas and creativity of regular people in the blog-land much more then the staged pictures of houses with $20,000 coffee tables imported from Nepal and made of antique doors from a monastery, that I will never be able to afford or want to buy. Some are good inspiration to try to recreate on a budget… but, very few.

    Thanks for a great blog that has become a daily read for me. And thanks for being so down to earth and real. (And sorry for such a long comment.)

  • Reply Sasha December 10, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    It seems to me that designing to your location is just a designer’s trick for getting an idea going. I don’t think it should be applied for people looking at their own spaces – instead their personal aesthetic should be the driving force. I think the interior of a home is a better structure to base style off of. For instance, there is no way I could see austere, modern furniture in my classically styled apartment. It just wouldn’t look right in this tight, little space.

    I love your white and subdued color aesthetic, but I don’t think I could make it stick, at least with the furniture I have now. My boyfriend is also a big spiller, so I know better than to get a white couch. (I fell in love with one, but opted for a squishy green one for his sake.)

  • Reply JENNIFER RAMOS December 10, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    So much white…and so BEAUTIFUL still. Im such a colorful person, I need a couple splashes here & there to make me feel good. I reaaaaaaaaaallllly am liking that fake wooden deer head. I’ve seen it on the net so many times and have been wanting one so bad. I may give in….I like how they painted it white…its usually just wood I think….
    I just did a post where its in a room against a turquoise wall and magazine cut outs…she did a great job (LISA) who sent me the pics! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

    Jen Ramos
    ‘100% Recycled DESIGNER Cards & More’

    JENNIFER RAMOSs last blog post: Creative Girl…

  • Reply Rachel December 10, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I completely agree with your philosophy about color.

    Sure, it’s important to have your exterior reflect the environment in which it’s situated. We recently moved to a lovely neighborhood, and while walking around one day, ran into the most outrageously hideous lime green house, surrounded by lovely elegant craftsman-style homes done in historically- appropriate palettes. So, while the home owner might be expressing his or her taste, it’s a bit over the top.

    But for interiors, yeah, it’s all about creating a sanctuary for yourself, full of colors that make you feel good.

    great post, Holly!

    Rachels last blog post: ‘Tis the season to celebrate

  • Reply Karen Anne December 10, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Aaah! You’ve discovered why the Scandinavians love using pale colors: to make the most to the light. ( I lived in Norway as a child and remember in winter going to school in the dark and coming home in the dark…but then in summer going to bed at night with the birds still chirping in sunlight!).

    I find my use of color is determined by the levels in my home; going from intense to ethereal as one goes up. The first floor (living and entertaining) has red and purple Susan Sargent area rugs and rich yellow-gold walls, red couches, and lots of bright pattern in pillows and my artwork, and a dining room with Laura Ashley Sapphire 5 walls and another Susan Sargent rug that’s black with lost of bright birds. (I love that rug!) The second floor (bedrooms) are paler, softer, colors that invite one to nap and rest peacefully…and the third floor, my studio, is in the process of being white, white, white – with high gloss white floors!

    I’ve always decorated by what my heart feels is best and what makes my home feel, well, the most homey it possibly can! It’s eclectic and happy and totally us!

    Karen Annes last blog post:

  • Reply Ksenia in Canada December 11, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Your post really resonates with me. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we are awash in greys and moody greens and blues. I’ve learned the hard way that my home has to provide an *antidote* to our winters. I am loving BM’s “Bavarian Cream” on the walls of my north-facing apartment — it warms and maximizes the precious light that comes into my home. White/cream can be high-maintenance, but I agree that it can be more practical than one would think. I recently bought an IKEA Klippan loveseat for our living room that has a cream fun-fur cover. I live with two small, rowdy children, but I’m finding that the cover is surprisingly practical and washes really well — it even survived the “silly putty incident”. It’s cozy too :-). The colour in my living room comes from colourful large artworks, and a couple of accent textiles. Now that I have embraced cream, I just want more and more of it and I’m planning to paint my dining room table and chairs :-). It’s taken me many years to understand what works in this space and climate — for me.

  • Reply design snob December 11, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Something about the all white cottage look with the Eames rocker really works beautifully.

    design snobs last blog post: Stars Wars USB Coming Soon to a Tree Near You!

  • Reply erin December 11, 2008 at 12:50 am

    fantastic post holly! right on the money! in my few years of design school they did teach to design based off of your surroundings, but i think you should design based on what you want to be surrounded by.

    in school i kept a HUGE binder of interior photos that i liked, and i’ve continued to add to it when i find somehting inspiring, recently i threw out all the ones that didnt speak to me anymore and its amazing how much my taste has changed in a few years. although im pretty young, just turned 25, i’m beginning to get a sense of what my design style is, and its kinda similar to yours. i love lots of white with bits of color throughout. i want a home thats light and airy- yet personal and cozy. the thing holding me back is my 1 year old boy though… i’ve always wanted a white sofa, to go with that light and airy feeling- but i just couldnt justify it because my babys messy (and i kinda am too!) so we bought a chocolate brown sofa and love seat, and it shows messes anyways- so i’m kicking myself in the butt for not getting that white one! so now we have these dark pieces and are trying to lighten them up with light pillows and throws- until i’m good enough at sewing to make tailored slipcovers.

    moral of the story- stick to your gut, do what makes YOU feel good, get what you really want- not what you think you SHOULD want or whats in trend.

    oh and i am in the same boat with the mags! when i first got interested in interior design i was all about the looks in met home, and elle decor (not that theres anything wrong with those mags) but that style is just not realistic for me, its not how i live! so now i just stick to my domino (which still is a little out of reach- sometimes) and a good list of design blogs, and the occasional foreign design mag if i see one in a store.

    wow… i really rambled on. sorry!

  • Reply diana baur December 11, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Holly, I think your idea about white is very well taken. Having lived in Hamburg for many years, I always had top floor apartments with “schräg” and Velox windows to keep it light –and white walls. But you have gone much farther with the intense white on white treatments. I like them — alot— and as for your philosophy concerning what design is in comparison to what it was? I found myself murmuring HALLELUJAH SISTAH although we have never met. I am so over all of that. I moved to Italy five years ago to tear up and renovate a 400 year old farm house. I have been dabbling in color much more here than ever before, and since I rent rooms out, I want them well designed and comfortable but they have to have a sense of me in them, not of Elle Decor or what is the whole point of anything? I totally agree with white covers. I tried colored linens in the beginning, but now I use only natural and white 100% linen sheets and duvets for the exact reason you mentioned — i can get the stains out very easily and if I need to add a capful of bleach it is not an issue.

    I really love this website and I am going to link you to mine. Thank you for this, it is the kind of site which can clearly ad quality to the lives of many and help to inspire.

    I also agree with erin who commented above — we should all stick to our gut when it comes to designing our personal living space —

    Ich wünsche Dir alles Gute und werde gerne immer hier wiederschauen…

  • Reply diana baur December 11, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Holly, I think you probably know all about this, but if you are anywhere near Hamburg, in January there is a design store which has incredible fabrics on sale for five days or so towards the end of the month. It’s called Bornhold (I am pretty sure) and is on Neuer Wall in the Innenstadt. You do take your life in your hands going there especially the first two days but the deals are just amazing. I used to buy dozens of meters of Italian silks and damask fabrics for 70 and 80 percent off during that sale. I am curious to know if you have been there. I almost got bopped over the head by a lady who wanted my bolt of slate-grey-lavender taffeta silk, but that’s Hamburg. :)

  • Reply decor8 December 11, 2008 at 8:10 am

    I’ve loved reading all of your comments, and for those of you who felt bad leaving a long comment please do not. I love hearing from you and actually prefer expressions that are from the heart over anything else because I like to get to know all of you just as much as you enjoy coming here to see what I’m up to. So keep those comments coming, they brighten my day and also give me ideas for future posts so that I can continue to inspire you (and me too!).

    Diana – I’ve not heard of that sale so I’m glad you told me about it. I leave next week (18th) but I’ll be back in Germany in May so perhaps I can catch a sale next year as I’m here for another 5 months starting May 23rd. Yay! Thanks for the tip.


  • Reply boundto December 11, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Yes! I am so over it too! When we moved into our apartment 2 years ago I went for the whole modern minimalist thing and not only is the furniture uncomfortable (my boyfriend hates our sofas because he can’t get comfortable) but its not even visually appealing to me anymore. And it especially clashes with my holiday decorations. We’re moving to a new house in March and I can’t wait to go find a thrift store sofa and reupholster it, or refinish and/or paint a vintage table.
    I loved this post! It was so inspiring, expecially Trine’s images.

    boundtos last blog post: Lichen Print Journal – Medium

  • Reply julieann December 11, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    What a fantastic post! Its sad in a way…. homeowners are bombarded with all these images from tv shows and magazines and believe they have to follow these “rules”. When they find me and we start on our design session the first thing I say is forget what you have heard on tv, your house should reflect YOU and who you are!!! Sometimes it can become frustrating, I love looking at beautiful pics in magazines (they can inspire) and daydream of having “it all”. Though I love it even more when I can copy the image and turn it into a budget friendly find! At times I even see myself drawn to less shelter type mags and more simple mags like Better Homes. I love your Germany space, it is so relaxing and peaceful!!
    Maybe my motto for the new year will be designing for ourselves and our own personalities….ok maybe I just gave myself a pep talk for my own apt! thanks for getting the conversation started : )

    julieanns last blog post: Twinkle Rooms

  • Reply Kristy December 12, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I think you are so right when you encourage people to decorate for themselves alone.Too many people worry about what other people will think.I have given up telling people what I plan to do as very often their reactions put me off.Now I wait until it’s done and people are usually pleasantly suprised.Most of my home has white or neutral back drops but everyone always comments on how colourful it is.I couldn’t do the white sofas though, even if they were washable!

    Kristys last blog post: And The Winners Are…

  • Reply retty December 14, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I know this comment is a tad bit late :) but i havent been doing my daily online routine and only got aroung to reading this today. I didnt know i felt the same way you did until i read this post. My golly… it’s as if a huge weight has been lift off my chest/back/head (all of them)… thank you for posting this… IMPRESS MYSELF…i am going to stick to it…. Thank you so much Holly. You are such a big help!

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