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The Single Life: Don't Be Afraid to (Re)Decorate

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • Updated Sep 10, 2010
The Single Life:  Don't Be Afraid to (Re)Decorate

My mother was an arranger. When I came home from school, I never knew if the couch would be against this wall or that one . . . or possibly in the middle of the room. She delighted in moving things around to see if they looked or functioned better in a different place.

I, on the other hand, am a leaver. I put a lot of thought into where things should go, place them there, and leave them. For years. It's not that I'm what you might call a "safe" decorator—my living room walls are orange, for pete's sake—but more that I like the security in knowing things are where they should be. (According to me, that is.)

Except lately, I have begun to see some merit in spicing things up a little. There's a fine line between consistent and stagnant and I don't want to get too set in my ways. (I'm a little young for that yet.) Perhaps you, too, have looked around at your abode and thought, "Gee, this is kind of boring" but didn't quite know what to do about it. Sure, you could hire a designer, but what's the fun in that? Besides, good taste doesn't come cheap and we're all watching our wallets these days, right? So here are a few low-cost ideas for livening up your living quarters.

Start with a Blank Slate

Pick a room, any room—preferably the one you enjoy the least, because you'll get the most enjoyment out of improving it. Now, as much as possible, take everything out. Yes, everything. Yes, all the way out. You need a clean canvas to work with. One caveat: if you can't shove the couch/bed/ginormous TV through the door, it can stay. I don't want you to hurt yourself before we even get started.

Speaking of clean, now that everything's gone this is a great time to snag those dust bunnies in the corners and take out any cobwebs. They're much easier to capture out in the open like this.

Next, think about how you want to use the room—and don't let tradition stand in your way. Just because it's always been, say, a dining room doesn't mean it wouldn't be more useful as an office/workout room/library/fill in the blank. It's YOUR home, use it the way that suits you best.

Try It, You Might Like It

Now that you know how you want to use your room, you may start bringing things back in. One. At. A. Time. This is key. Start with big things like furniture. Try each piece in a different place. Would the couch look better in a corner? Facing the fireplace? At a right angle to the wall? Try it and see. (Unsolicited advertisement: you know those little plastic Frisbee-looking things "as seen on TV" that you can place under the feet of your furniture to scoot it across the floor? They work.)

Once the big stuff is in place, it's time to accessorize. For maximum impact, don't limit your choices to the objects d'art you just pulled out of the room. Do a walk-through of every room in your place. Maybe it's time for that picture to come out hiding—but please, do not hang it too high. That three-foot no man's land between the sofa and your poker-playing dogs? Not really attractive. Don't leave your artwork floating up there all alone, hang it low enough that it has some sort of relationship to the furniture below it. (Sorry, it's my personal soapbox.)

Where was I? Oh yes, accessories. Grouping things that are alike will get you more visual impact than scattering them around the room. I believe the rule is three of anything is considered a collection. Besides, things look good in threes; there's a feeling of rightness about it. I think that's because it hearkens back to the Trinity, but that's just my opinion.

Here's another thought: if you don't love it, you don't have to leave it out. Just because your great aunt left you her antimacassar collection doesn't mean you have to display it. Surround yourself with things you love; things that make you happy when you look at them. 

Your home should be a reflection of you. If you walked into my living room, you could tell by looking that I love Sherlock Holmes, I travel, I'm not afraid of color, and I look like my grandmother. What could I learn about you from a visit to your room?
A Word About Color 

I've already confessed to orange walls, so the colorphobic among you are probably hyperventilating about now. Other rooms in my house are red, blue, yellow, green, and mocha…whoa there, just breathe into a paper bag, you'll be fine. Listen, I'm not here to judge: if white works for you, that's great. A friend of mine has one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen and all her walls are whitest white. But if you're looking for a cheap change, a coat of paint can do wonders for a reasonable price. 

Hard-core color lover that I am, prior to owning a home I painted the walls of my rented condo. Before picking up a brush, I did the math: I divided my security deposit by how long I expected to live in the unit. It came out to about three cents a day; I decided it was worth it. As it turned out, the next renter loved all my colors and I got my entire deposit back. If you choose to paint your rented quarters, ask permission or forgiveness, as you prefer.

Finally . . .

Decorating is a personal choice. I don't have to love your home, I don't live there. You do. My job here is just to encourage you to look at your surroundings differently. Consider the possibilities. Don't fear change. You can always put it all back the way it was if you don't like it. This is decorating, not rocket science.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go dig out my Frisbee thingies. I have a sneaking suspicion the buffet in the front room would look great by the back door . . . Hmmm, maybe I'm more like my mother than I thought.

Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at

**This column first published on August 12, 2010.