Episode 308

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I hope your holiday season is going well! I haven’t had a lot of supply issues with gifts, but I’m sort of glad I haven’t found the right house yet because the lead times on furniture are so intense right now.  Today I’m digging right  into the mailbag so you can kick off 2022 with confidence and good design.

This episode, I answer questions about…

[3:27] How to decorate when you can’t figure out the architectural statement (Sami)


Hi Betsy! Love the show! The courses! The book! (Though I still need to get the latest version…I know, I know.). No matter how much I read and watch about interior design, your advice always floats back to the top, remaining the North Star.

I’ve just bought a house and am starting from scratch. I know you say start by listening to the home itself. That is, figure out the architectural statement. But, my home doesn’t lean hard in one way or another. At least, I don’t think it does. The kitchen is more traditional but the home has higher angled ceilings (it’s like a ranch, I guess) and the only window trim are the bottom sills. The photo contains the seller’s furniture. I plan to paint.  Warm hardwood throughout. Single story. The house was built in 2004 in southern Delaware. Fixtures are traditional and often that gold brass, but the kitchen has brushed nickel, I think.

So, what do you do when you can’t figure out the architectural statement? And should architectural statement always come before style preferences? Are there exceptions?  I’m worried the strongest statement is more traditional. I like it more modern  (Though I do like styles with mixed elements like French modern or even a touch of late mid-century international-ish-ness).

I’m ready for the Betsy Smackdown. I’d rather have a cohesive look, then a kitschy, discordant mess. Thank you for the amazing resource that is your podcast and other content offerings. It’s been amazing for a budget apartment renter like me. I’m excited to invest what I’ve learned into my new house and am saving up to do your 2-room virtual package.


I totally agree that the inside of the house is rather nondescript.  I don’t even think the kitchen cabinets are all that traditional.  They do have a small panel with an arch at the top, but they aren’t overly ornate.  There’s not a lot of carving.  The backsplash seems pretty simplistic, and even the drawer fronts are just flat.  I would definitely call this transitional much more than traditional.  The baseboard moldings and the trim around the fireplace have a little bit of character.  There is a little bit more carving than not, but there’s nothing ornate, filigreed, intense, or overscale.  It’s all pretty bland.  I mean that in a good way for you because you can really do what you want with the inside of this house.

Now, I don’t just look at the inside.  I also try to look at the exterior, which I cannot see in these pictures.  Based on the interior, I think you could take this in any direction. I have a house that was built in 1930.  They called it colonial on the listing, but to me it has some elements of a craftsman with stained glass and chunky moldings, but it’s pretty nondescript.  So I designed it how I wanted, and downstairs it’s pretty contemporary meets mid-century modern.  In my bedroom I went totally transitional and in my husband’s TV room we went really contemporary.  In my kids’ rooms, we went really Disney.  Anyway, I was able to project whatever I wanted to onto my relatively blank canvas.

Your canvas is even more blank than mine.  I think you could do whatever you want here. You could take it really traditional, you could go French country, you could go mid-century modern.  I don’t think you could go modern, being the era from the 50s and 60s that is super lacquered and geometric just because of the panel doors and the small nuances that aren’t that slick – but the world is your oyster otherwise.

You may want to consider the kitchens and baths and lean slightly more transitional, but a lot of contemporary furniture these days has curving lines and softer edges. So even if it’s a contemporary piece, it doesn’t have to feel so hard, linear, cold, and sterile.

I am so excited to hear that you are going to paint because this is that rainbow of fruit flavors that I warn people about.  You have the bright red kitchen that leads into the bright sun yellow open dining room. Then you have this room off the dining room that has this kind of ecru neutral. There is a lot going on and none of it to me is a style.

 I think this home is not only open for interpretation, but it is begging for interpretation.  We need to bring this home some sophistication, because right now it’s a little all over the place – which hopefully means you got a great deal on it. The person who lived here did not seem to think about making the space cohesive.  Your job is to bring this space that anchor like I did with my tabula rasa.  You can give each room its own flavor and maybe a slightly different style (if it’s not open to other rooms).  My primary bedroom, for example, is not open to any other room.  I went completely transitional in there even though I didn’t go transitional anywhere else.

Regarding the finishes, a lot of them look silver.  If you say the kitchen also features silver, then I would stick to silver.  I do think the most exciting way to use metal finishes is to do a two-tone finish.  When I get my new house, I don’t care what it looks like now. I plan on incorporating two-tone metals.  The reason is because I think two tones make it more timeless.  All brass has a certain look and evokes a certain era, and I think it may be more “designerly” to include a two-tone metal finish.

When I’m doing two-tone metal finishes, I never mix warm and cool metals.  Warm metals are brass and gold, and cool metals are silvers and chromes.  The third family is dark metals, like blacks and wrought iron.  I only mix black with cool and black with warm. I never mix warm and cool.  That being said, you have a lot of silver metals in here so you could go ahead and mix black metals.  My tip with that is that you don’t just arbitrarily pick some things in black and some things in silver.  You intentionally pick a few prominent pieces – just like two to five prominent in the room – that are both metal finishes.  Maybe it’s a floor lamp where the gold base braised down to black.  I would look for a ceiling fan with a two-tone metal finish, so it draws my eye up and I’m immediately merging these metals as I walk into the space.  I can see that you have an entry fixture, which is a great opportunity to set the tone for the space. So be thinking about picking at least a few two-tone combined elements to really make the space feel intentional and make it sing.

[18:08] Mixing metals with fixtures and hardware (Gonie)


I know you say not to mix warm and cold metals, but I need your advice. Here is my dilemma. We are renovating on a really tight budget. The least expensive faucets are shiny chrome (which I don’t especially like). To do burnished nickel is 30% more in price. Brass or bronze are even more expensive. I would love to add some gold/brass accents in the light fixtures or cabinet hardware in the kitchen and bathrooms. Can I just ignore the faucets like I might ignore a stainless steel appliance? Or do I have to stay shiny and chrome everywhere, including lights and hardware? What other metals can I add and where, if I have polished chrome faucets?


So after reading the answer to the last question, what can you add to polished chrome?  Let me clarify something.  Of course we can do black metals, but the other thing we can add to polished chrome is brushed nickel or pewter.  Anything in the cool metal family will do.  It does not have to be the same sheen level.  So when I have something shiny, like oftentimes in a bathroom, I mix in brushed with chrome.

In my bathroom, for instance, I have a chrome light fixture above the mirror but the vanity cabinet below the mirror has brushed hardware for the knobs.  Now in a kitchen faucet, I’m open.  You can do chrome, but it’s going to show a lot of fingers.  You could do brushed, and then it won’t show as many fingerprints and may be more in alignment with your style.

When I’m working with cool metals, I would not incorporate warm metals.  I would incorporate dark metal finishing, and they make a lot of faucets that come in a dark metal finish.  You can ignore the stainless steel appliances, but I would not ignore the faucets.  The faucets and the hardware on the cabinetry need to resonate together.  You know I love my two-tone metal finishes, and there are some amazing pulls that incorporate both cool metal and black metal finishes. If you’re going for dark metal and warm metal finishes, there are some amazing pulls that combine those things too.  So again, that’s a prominently placed piece in the area that is used over and over again.  Depending on how many handles you have, that can make the whole space.

If your kitchen is open to the other living areas, I want you to look at the door hinges.  I want you to look at the door knobs. I want you to contemplate the other finishes that are somewhat hard to change out in a home and create your vision from that baseline.  You really want to be asking yourself what the home is already doing that either you don’t want to change or that you don’t have the funds to change out. You interpret that and work with it so it starts to align with your style, because if you just impose your glam gold style upon this space it won’t look chic or sophisticated.  You can make it look chic and sophisticated even if it’s not totally your dream metal finish by choosing things that are really more to your style, even though you’ve compromised on the metal.






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