As a few of regular followers of this blog may have read, I recently received a comment from J. Lynn. She inquired as follows:
“We are retired, downsizing and buying a villa. The villa needs updating. I have read your book 3 times and follow your blog, yet old habits die hard. I’m struggling to not get caught up in redecorating madness. Help me, we can afford to do whatever we want. Where to draw the line? It’s pretty tacky but the right size, great location on a beautiful lot. It would be hard to live in a house that lacks OMG taste. J Lynn”
My initial reply was as follows:
“My apologies for the delayed response. It is a fine line sometimes to get the look you want within limits. First, I would recommend proceeding slowly. Live in the place, ghastly as it might be at first, for awhile to get a feel for how you live in it, and what you really see after the first few weeks.
“If you can paint the exterior trim, a room or a wall and minimize the tacky, do that first. It’s simple and inexpensive Then address the fixtures. Is there a local store that sells second-hand/vintage lamps or door knobs? The furniture and fabrics you bring along or select will go a long way to get the Old Money ambiance you want. Get to know your neighbors. They’ll have suggestions on what they’ve done to their places, vendors they’ve used, and may even admit mistakes they’ve made that you can avoid.
“Finally, continuously strike the balance between living well and going overboard. You want to live a good life, but you want to live a simple one, too.
“Oh, and by the way, if this villa is in the south of France, let me know. I’m handy with a paint brush. Merci!”
I’ve given J. Lynn’s inquiry some thought, and I want to slightly revise and amend my comment. I would say this:
J. Lynn, I think it’s great that you’re downsizing and moving to a new place. You’re going to (hopefully) meet new people and make new friends. This is a new adventure. This is also a great opportunity.
You’ve acquired what you describe as a “tacky” place, and you want to turn it into a more tasteful residence. I think everybody who reads this blog would support you on that.
Initially, I leaned (as I often do) toward being deliberate and frugal with expenditures on the new place, but you’ve mentioned that you can do anything you want with the villa. And that’s exactly what I think you should do.
Here is my thinking: you’ve been blessed. You don’t have financial concerns, a common situation for a lot of OMG’s, but it’s clear you love decorating. So in this instance, I say, Knock yourself out. Go for broke. Swing for the fence.
I would still proceed slowly, and still consult your new neighbors prior to doing anything to your new residence. There may be high walls, tall trees, and plenty of land separating your property from theirs, but in all likelihood, you’re still moving into a community. Being familiar with and sensitive to their customs, tastes, and values will make you more welcome.
I would still get some local advice and listen to others’ experiences with decorating and remodeling. I would transform that tacky villa into something worthy, something that reflects good taste and propriety.
In doing this, you’ll create a wonderful home for you, your family, and your friends. You’ll also employ craftsmen and laborers. You’ll buy fabric, paint, and building materials. You’ll plant flowers and trees, certainly. You’ll acquire some antiques and art. Maybe you’ll tear the whole thing down, hire an architect, and start from scratch.
In short, however you proceed, you’ll put people to work and put money in their pockets. And I think, at this point in time, in this economy, that may be the best thing you can do, wherever your villa may be.
I would only ask, if you do this, that you pay your vendors fairly. Treat them with respect. Buy them all lunch on Fridays. Source your materials locally, if possible. Be good to the environment as you design and create. Make the place sustainable, in every sense of the word.
And finally, if you took a small percentage of your remodeling budget and found a local charity in need, I think an anonymous donation would be the best investment you could make in your new home.
I wish you all the best, and I hope to hear how things go.