As of last Friday, we’ve been here in our new apartment for eight months. Two hundred and fifty days, as of today! And every single one of those days, I’ve been terrified of putting any holes in the old plaster walls to hang anything up. As a matter of fact, I can nearly count the items I have hung on the walls on one hand. I have hung exactly six things, no more and no less. And every one of those things is a curtain rod.
I can’t decide if I’m paralyzed by design fear or rental fear. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, because goodness knows I wasn’t shy about tearing into our old house. But I can’t help but think it could also be a little bit of the former, especially after reading this post about risk and making mistakes by Nester (a lady, I should mention, who rents and is yet NOT SHY AT ALL about putting holes in her walls, ugh).
See, although the finished product of our old house was pretty darn nice, I know I made a lot of mistakes along the way. And I thought I’d tell you about them today, partly so you don’t make the same mistakes, but also for myself, because... it all turned out okay in the end, didn’t it?
The Texas-orange room
When I first bought the house, the downstairs bedroom that we used as an office was painted mint green. Here’s a photo I took before the previous owners moved out:
(Another past mistake: taking awful photos.)
I knew the mint green had to go, so it was the first and only room I painted in my first four years in my house. And for reasons that are too meandering to explain now – including consideration for an ex-boyfriend – I thought I should paint this room a nice, deep, rich gold color.
So I did. Or so I thought. It’s only in retrospect that I realized this room was, for years, Texas Longhorn orange.
The strangest part? I never loved the color, but for some reason, I inexplicably decided that this was the only color that worked in the room. Wha huh? Why did I live with an ugly paint color for so long?! I created everything for our wedding in that room, people. And now my memories of wedding planning are all orange-cast.
Finally I realized how absolutely wrong I was and started picking colors to repaint, five years later. As you can see in the photo above, one of the colors under consideration was... mint green. Oh dear. (Fortunately, I didn’t make the same mistake twice and the room ended up grayish blue.)
Even though I ended up loving every other paint color I (agonizingly) chose in our old house, I’m still annoyed with myself about the orange office.
Learning how to cut-in... too late
While we’re looking at old house photos, here’s what the master suite looked like when I first saw the house.
MAROON MAROON MAROON MAROON MAROON
MAROON MAROON MAROON MAROON MAROON
MAROON MAROON... you get the idea.
I actually didn’t mind the maroon all that much, at least for my first few years in the house. When the decorating bug bit me, though, I decided to go gray. But do you see how much maroon I had to cover? Oh wait, no you don’t. The closet was maroon, too.
However, I hadn’t painted any other room in the house besides the aforementioned office – which was eight by ten feet, low ceilinged, and painted four years earlier. I knew this job would be a monumental task compared to every other room in the house, so I decided to tackle it first, thinking I’d get the worst part over with.
HUGE MISTAKE. Why? I didn’t know how to cut in. I didn’t even know what cutting in was. So I taped off every dadgum piece of crown moulding, baseboard, window trim, and doorframe in that master suite. It took so many rolls of tape, and even then, this happened:
I tried finishing without that last 18” without tape, which was yet another mistake, as I was trying to edge with a foam artist’s brush. I MEAN GOOD GRIEF.
It gets worse. Even though I followed the “remove the tape before the second coat dries” rule, I still peeled off some of the paint with the tape. And worst of all? The taped lines looked awful. The paint seeped under and there were places where the tape was slightly crooked. On the whole, a hot mess.
The end result looks pretty from far away, but only because you can’t see the messy edges. I never got around to fixing them.
When it came time to paint the next room – the office, or the hallway, maybe? – I taught myself how to cut in. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way, I guess, but I wish it hadn’t been the hardest way, with the biggest room in the house.
Neglecting the great outdoors
I’ll be honest: I am lazy about home maintenance. I bought a house when I was twenty-three and lived there alone for years as a single clueless lady. The sediment in the water heater never got drained (wait, that’s a thing?), the filter in the air intake never got exchange (air intake, what’s that?), the gutters never got cleaned (why bother?), the outside of the house never got painted (it looks white to me!), and the shrubs got overgrown (because I can just cut them back more later, right?).
By the time I married Mr. P and he moved in, the house was definitely not in ship-shape. He fixed up what he could, but there were some areas of neglect where damage had been done. And I literally mean damage:
Not cleaning the gutters means that water flows on the window frames when it rains, rather than draining neatly off to the side. Constant rain on the window sills means they’ll rot, if not painted regularly. Top it off with a hailstorm and you have windowsills that are straight-up gone.
So houses can’t just take care of themselves indefinitely. Huh.
I was also lazy about the landscaping for years, thinking I’d just hire a real gardener at some point to cut it all back and clean it up. But guess what? You can’t do that with shrubs, because the leaves are all on the outside. Cut them back and you don’t have shrubs, you have knobbly thick branches and nothing else. That’s why when I bought the house, the shrubs in front were only yay-high:
But when we sold the house, they were overtaking the porch and the second-story window:
And couldn’t be cut down any lower, for the reason I said above. Oops.
That’s not such a decorating mistake, I know, but it shows what happens when I get lazy: things get ugly.
Painting furniture with spraypaint
Remember these fantastic vintage metal dressers I have?
They’ve been all sorts of colors over the years. In my teen years, we painted them black, but when I moved to my new house, I decided I wanted them white. So I spraypainted them. In theory, that’s an easy, fast, reasonable solution.
But then I moved to a walk-up rental, and in the process, every edge is chipped. And guess what: you can’t paint latex paint over oil-based spraypaint, and I can’t spraypaint them now. Which means I have to prime them, with oil-based primer, then paint them. That’s right: stinky oil-based primer in our apartment. Needless to say, I’ve put this project off until we can open some windows. I just wish I hadn’t spraypainted them way back, so it wouldn’t be so hard to repaint them today.
Psst, wanna hear a secret? I also spraypainted the handrail on our lower staircase to quickly spruce it up while I was spraypainting its hardware (from brassy to ORB, baby):
It was only after I rehung it that I realized... the previous trim paint was latex. Painting oil-based over latex is not as bad as the reverse, but the coverage was still looking a little bubbly and flimsy because I didn’t prime. Whoops... sorry, new homeowner.
Spraypainting is easy, too easy sometimes. Think before you spray!
Living without curtains (or bad ones)
I knew when I bought my house that the owners had a more traditional style than me. I just figured I’d make it work. Making it work, however, should not have included leaving their old window treatments up for five years.
And I definitely shouldn’t have left some windows completely bare:
(Note: those are photos from when I’d lived in the house for years. Can’t blame the previous owners for those trainwrecks!)
I really don’t know why I left the windows “untreated” for so long, other than I just didn’t realize how much of an impact it would make. A few years later I added long brown curtains (brown? have I ever actually liked brown?), which helped, but it wasn’t until I got my long white curtains up that I found a look I loved:
Which brings me full circle, to our living room today (snapped with my iPod):
And our bedroom (also quickly snapped with the iPod):
The only things I’ve hung on my wall. Not hemmed, not hiding the cords (yet)... but hung. And they really do make this place feel like home.
Which brings me full circle, I think. And while I’ve already made a few little decorating mistakes here and there in our new place... none have been so bad as the others, right? So I guess I’m not doing so bad after all! Does that mean I should take a few more risks? Hmmm.