Several years ago, a friend shared a quote with me that I’ve kept close since:
Overtime, it’s become like a mantra for me; mostly because I am wired to not accept a single word of it and need to be reminded of it regularly. Not happy with your living situation? Move. Hate your sofa? Find a new one. Live in the present. Only you are responsible for your happiness.
In this season of my life, I was single, back living in downtown Charleston (again) after living in Atlanta for some time and working from home at a job I wasn’t thrilled about. Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” was #1 on the music charts, Lindsay Lohan still didn’t have her act together, “Girls” was debuting on HBO, and the term “selfie” first worked its way into our popular lexicon. Still waiting on it to work its way out.
In the fall of 2012, feeling confident about my choice to move back to Charleston, and ready to stop lighting my money on fire with rent every month, I bought a Freedman’s Cottage on the south end of Hampton Park in downtown Charleston. Having only seen one other home on the market, the moment I opened the cannonball counterweighted gate, saw the original 1912 hardwoods and learned what a Freedman’s cottage was, I knew instantly that all 792 square feet had my name on it.
This was going to be home ownership, but it was also an act of taking ownership of my own happiness and investing in a slice of a city I loved so much.
The night I moved in was an all-nighter. I was so proud of every square inch, I wanted to have the furniture laid out and all of my art up on the walls asap. I remember listening to music, sweeping off the front porch and painting the trim until the twighlight hours. Running on nothing but adrenaline, I watched the sun come up while I Googled what I could do with the Japanese Loquat tree in my new front yard.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel that same sense of excitement and possibility about a space, or a time in my life, again, but I’m lucky to get a taste of it each time I have an initial consultation with a client who is ready to invest in and transform their own space.
By morning, sitting with coffee on my new front porch, I legitimately thought - this is it, this is my home and I’m totally content to live here with just me and my dog forever. I don’t need anyone, I thought, but I do need all new furniture and art. After all, my life is right now and this is my forever home, it’s time to invest in the space I spend so much time in.
New sofa, all vintage rugs, paint on the walls, a budget-conscious mixture of handed-down-from-family furniture, flea market finds and chairs that were more than my mortgage. I was all-in when it came to making my house a home. I got quotes for custom drapery, there were plans to wallpaper the hallway, add quartz counters, recessed lighting (super historically accurate for a 1912 cottage) and path lighting in the courtyard for stumble-y evenings.
I went down to the Special Collections Room at the College of Charleston to research anything I could find about the house, the neighborhood and all who called it home. I found photos, tax records, news stories and advertisements selling tracts of land in "that excellent property" we now call Hampton Park Terrace.
Exactly 30 days after closing on my “forever home”, I met my now husband (12/12/12 y’all). After talking for approximately 15 minutes, realizing after 10 that this was someone I was going to marry, I began to survey the closet space in my new home of 4 weeks. As our second drinks arrived at the table, I had determined that forever could be a really relative term to apply to a house.
Should I really be making all of these changes and buying all of these things? Is this really my forever home? Can two grown-ass men share 792 square feet of a 100 year old home with an extremely needy Bulldog?
These are pretty consistent things I hear from people in their homes (minus the bulldog part) - "This isn’t our forever home, we don't want to spend the money on ______". "What if we have to move for a job?" "We CANT get rid of this ( totally not working antique) because our Aunt Such-and-Such bequeathed it to us in her will!" Or, "I don’t want to spend money on that, I just want something to fill the space and look good until (insert life milestone)."
Plenty of people have every excuse not to invest in the space they spend so much time in. They’ll willingly hold onto furniture they dislike, even spending money to move and store it, maybe out of a sense of obligation or maybe because they've never furnished their home any other way. "We hate it, but this cherry wood bedroom set from my parents is fine for now I guess."
But the truth is, if you’re intentional and calculated with your purchases, you should aim to buy pieces that are high quality and transitional enough to exist in a handful of spaces, as your tastes, needs and address will likely change over time.
Long story short - is any home your forever home? Married, settled, at-the-ideal-job, with kids, without them, if it’s a well-designed, thoughtful interior space you wish to come home to each day - life is short and your life is right now. If we are really aiming for that carpe diem lifestyle, then it is unreasonable not to invest in making your home a welcoming, functional space for you and those you love the most.
Not to get too sappy - but we firmly believe that small changes in your space can have a great impact on the lifestyle in your home. Many of the clients we work with have a story to tell when they first call on us for design services - a loss of loved one, the purchase of a new home, a new little addition to a young family, a divorce or a sudden urge for a fresh change.
In each case, our job designing their space is equal parts determining what look they want, understanding why they are hiring a designer and, in a lot of ways, giving them permission to go for it!
These are some sure-fire places to spend your design dollars that will stand the test of time and translate into your next space:
Invest in good rugs. They will last forever and you can roll them up.
Resist buying a sectional, Opt for a reasonable size sofa that can work in multiple settings.
Buy good art and take it with you.
Bedding. It's 1/3rd of your life, people!
- Just say no to family “heirlooms” that aren’t special to you.
I made plenty of mistakes furnishing my 792 square feet of joy. I took on pieces from family that ultimately weren’t a good fit for the space, and I bought just as many things for that home that I still have as have been donated to Good Will or given to friends. But the quality, core pieces I bought 5 years ago are mostly in active use, repurposed in some new context that makes me love them all over again.
I approach each new project in this way, too, making sure that, even if my client isn't in their forever home, they make room in their budget to buy some forever pieces that will stay with them as they move on. There's never an advantage in putting off creating the life, and the home, you know you want. If you were waiting for permission, well, now you've got it.