For years I’ve wanted color and pizzazz in my home, but my husband didn’t want to paint until the kids were grown. Finally, when my oldest got his learner’s permit, my husband consented to paint. Halleluia!

            But what color? For help, I called my cousin, Nancy Adair, in Memphis. She’s an interior decorator whose work I’ve always admired. I asked her if she’d come to Portland and help me choose colors and accessories. 

            “Sure, Cuz,” she said. She arrived six weeks later, and after exchanging some memories and laughs, we started right to work. She faced the dining room wall of our great room, which I considered my decorating masterpiece, and said, “Let’s start here. You need a large canvas instead of those little pictures, and something tall on the china cabinet because the ceiling is so high.”

             My husband agreed. “I never liked the look of that wall.” I was speechless, and a little hurt. Nancy’s gaze turned toward the seating area of the great room. “I like the pictures behind the sofa, but you need a higher sofa, a red sofa, and an end table and lamp instead of that floor lamp.”

            My heart was broken. The dining room was my favorite spot in the entire house. And sure, the sofa was faded and too low, but I’d sat there reading Berenstain Bears stories to my children, illuminated by my trusty floor lamp.

            That night I barely slept, worrying that Nancy would change all the things I loved.

            Morning brought a fresh perspective and I was gung ho to get started. Nancy was right, of course, I did need a new red sofa with a “textured fabric, preferably synthetic instead of cotton so it wouldn’t fade in the sunlight.”            

            We went to the housewares section of Fred Meyer, a mid-range department/grocery store, because I wanted to show her a bookcase I’d seen. She gave me a doubtful “maybe” on the bookcase, and then started loading items into the shopping cart: a trio of vases that were the ugliest things I’d ever seen. 

           She also added wicker baskets and boxes. I’m not a wicker person. Nancy must have sensed my dismay. “Wicker will help bring warmth to your house,” she said, “and give you some texture and variety.” My chest tightened, my breathing became shallow from the anxiety attack I was having. She piled a cheap nylon area rug on top of the other junk, and we headed to the checkout counter. 

            “Three hundred fifty dollars worth of trash,” I moaned under my breath as I handed over my credit card. When we got home and brought bag after bag of stuff in the house, my 15 year old son started wailing, “Dad’s going to kill us. He’s going to kill us.” I had to explain to her that, as a stay-home-mom I’ve considered my “income” as the savings I accrued because I bought only the necessities, and also sneaked things in the house one by one so my husband didn’t notice. Nancy was shocked. “That’s nothing,” I said. “I have a friend who buys new clothes all the time and hides them under the bed. As she gradually starts wearing them, she says, “No, this isn’t new. I’ve had it for ages.” And it’s true – the outfit was under the bed for a long time – days, even. A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. So both my kids were aghast that Nancy was blatantly bringing in so many new items at one time and not hiding them in closets all over the house.

            When Nancy placed the purchases on tables and shelves, I didn’t like any of them. She tried to console me. “You have to think about the whole picture,” she said. “Clients have a hard time because they only look at one piece, but decorators are thinking about the whole room – paint color, textures, the play of light. You just have to trust me.”

Fake fern in a wicker chest - nothing I would have picked out but looks great!
Fake fern in a wicker chest – nothing I would have picked out!

             The next day I took her downtown to the Pearl district, to the contemporary, artisan furniture stores. I loved the styles, but everything is mostly out of my price range. Nancy began picking out single items that I absolutely loved but cost more than the whole cartload did the day before. I felt another anxiety attack.

            “It’s important to have a few things you truly love,” she said. “These are investments.” She nodded toward a $750 lamp that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. “Again, you have to put these things in perspective. Think about how much you spend at an expensive restaurant for dinner and drinks.” We bought some hand blown glass vases and a dual floor lamp with two glass shades. I dreaded seeing my credit card statement.

            We took a couple of days break to go to the beach so Nancy could enjoy the September sunshine. Both my nerves and my checkbook needed a vacation.

            Back home, relaxed and refreshed, I was ready to tackle paint. Our kitchen, living room, dining room, and family room are all open to each other, and in those areas alone, Nancy picked out six different colors – eggplant, sage, lilac, red, mustard, and white. Eye-yi-yi-yi-yi. Every wall had a different color. We painted swatches on the walls in semi-gloss paint. “These rich, dark colors need semi-gloss to reflect the light,” she said. “Trust me.” 

            My husband was against the paint color, against different colors on different walls, and especially against semi-gloss. “Eggshell white’s the only thing we need,” he grumbled. They compromised on satin paint. 

            Nancy’s last day was spent frantically trying to tie up loose ends. She painted (did I mention she’s also an artist?) a 3’x 4’ abstract seascape for the dining room wall. I have to admit, the large canvas does look a lot better than the wimpy little group of pictures I had there. 

            She put sticky notes on the walls so I’d remember what color went where. She made my bedroom look bigger by catty-cornering the bed, re-hung pictures and moved furniture to make better use of the space. Finally, she switched some of my accessories around, using them to enlarge small spaces or create focal points. I began to see the whole picture, and I liked it, especially the things we’d bought at Fred Meyer. The nylon area rug was perfect with the pictures she’d moved to the entryway, and the wicker did create warmth. Those ugly vases, grouped with other things, were stunning.

            After Nancy left, the painters came, and you know what? I now have a warm, inviting home that makes me smile. We’ve received so many compliments. 

One of the three ugly vases - looks great on the wrought-iron stand in the alcove with red paint - who would have thought?
One of the three ugly vases – looks great on the wrought-iron stand in the alcove with red paint – who would have thought? Notice the eggplant paint above the window in the kitchen. Gorgeous!

            I called Nancy and told her how much I love my colorful, accessorized home.

            “Well, you know, Cuz,” she said serenly, “I told you all along to trust me.” 

            “You were right. So, when can you come back and help me with the bonus room?” 


I wrote this almost 20 years ago. I still love my house. The red sofa got worn out and we moved it to the family room, and so I FaceTimed Nancy to ask about the color for the new one. “Get a purple sofa,” she said. It took a lot of searching but the purple is perfect. Oh, and by the way, Nancy turned on her southern charm for my husband and he didn’t kill us because of all the stuff we bought, though he made fun of a couple, especially the wicker chest with a fake fern in it. It serves it’s function and looks really cool, but would NOT have been something either of us envisioned in our house. He does hate the periwinkle wall behind the dining room table. Of course that’s my favorite one of all. 

The periwinkle wall with Nancy's large seascape and aubergine blown-glass vases and three mirrors. I love them all!
The periwinkle wall with Nancy’s large seascape and aubergine blown-glass vases and three mirrors. I love them all!