Fred & Susan's Slowly Developing Style

House Tour

Name: Susan and Fred Blavin, and Bob Barker
Location: Dupont Circle — Washington DC
Size: 668 square feet
Years lived in: 1

It's hard to develop your own style when you spend half a decade moving every year. You collect a few things along the way and hope for the best when it all comes together. Our nomadic life has finally come to an end, and it's time to assemble a stylish home. Deciding what style it will be is what makes it complicated.

Becoming a first-time homebuyer was exhilarating, until I realized I no longer had an excuse for living in a poorly decorated space. I knew what my ideal home would feel like, but I wasn't sure how to achieve the qualities I wanted in each room: the sophisticated living room, humorous bathroom, soft delicate bedroom and energetic office.

My solution was to apply the basic composition principles I'd learned through graphic design and maybe they would work in interiors. The most helpful design principle for me is to always remember, "nothing should ever match, but things should always be coherent." Another lesson I like to keep in mind is that texture is just as important as color. I think it's easy to focus on color because it's more flashy, but there is subtly to texture that should not be underestimated. It can direct the energy of a room and make the difference between living in a showroom and living in a well designed home. Also, my grandfather taught me that a space always looks purposeful if it has interesting art on the walls. I always remember his house being beautiful, even though I can't recall one piece of furniture. I just remember his walls being filled with Matisse sketches and Picasso prints. So with a few of these principles in mind, I'm slowly building the interiors I want. I don't know if I'll ever be fully satisfied, but I know I'm content with my first real home.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: I don't have a style, at least not one that is fully developed. I've moved 4 times in the last 5 years! Until about a year ago, I never had a space to decorate around. Since the shape and style of my apartment kept changing, in the past it was hard to make design decisions. I just bought pieces of furniture that I liked, hoping it wouldn't look hideous. Putting everything together was an organic process without a master plan. I would say that is my biggest regret. I wish I had developed a detailed vision before I started buying things. Although, in my mind, everything I owe is merely temporary. I'm just waiting until I have the money to buy what I really want. I'm looking forward to the day in the near future where I'm rich and can afford a $5000 electric blue velvet camelback sofa. To make myself feel better about my hodgepodge, I often think about a quote I once read by the irrepressible Dixie Carter. She said, "I don't worry about the style of my house. I only buy things I really love. And I figure, if I really love everything then it's naturally going to go together." I think this is true. If you love everything you put in your home, then your home is going to represent who you are. Most people can't be summed up in one style. In know I can be boho one moment and industrial chic the next. It all depends on my mood. Being one definable style is like having a one note personality, predictable and boring. Still, there is nothing wrong with using a specific style as a helpful guide, especially if you don't have an eye for design.

Inspiration: I am inspired by almost everything. Sometimes, I think I might have inspiration burnout. The things that inspired me today are: Emma Watson's clothes, looking through the windows of my Dupont Circle neighbors (in a non-creepy way), Tokujin Yoshioka's installations, teal walls and black leather furniture, cute corgis, and Inverse Lighting Design, a company that swept the 2010 Lighting Design Awards.

Favorite Element: I think it's obvious lighting is very important to me. Not many people keep up with the Lighting Design Awards. My favorite elements are my bedside table lamps. I like them because of the way they look, and the way they make my room look. Plus, they were inexpensive. I got them from Ebay for less than $100 and, when I ordered them, I thought they were a smaller size. I was delighted when I received them in the mail. They were three times larger and much more substantial than I assumed from the picture online. They're from the 1920's and have the most amazing details. The orbed glass has a cubist design. Also, the neck of the lamp, where the switch is located, branches out into this beautiful filigree. However, I received the best surprise when I turned them on for the first time. Inside the bottom of the glass orb is a tiny little night which projects the glass pattern throughout the bedroom. My lamps along with my chandelier light panel make the bedroom peaceful and enchanting before I go to sleep. It's something to look forward to at night.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge was arranging the furniture in the living room. The room is rectangular and there is no proper place to put a television. We decided to mount a TV against the back wall and place our sofa in the middle of the room. However, we had to push our sofa against the wall because we needed to create a pathway to give access to our bookshelf and kitchen entrance. It's not ideal, but it works. The second biggest challenge was finding a place for everything in our small space. The console under our television was the most practical piece of furniture I bought when we moved into our place. It's 72 inches by 30 inches of pure storage. The best kind of storage is closed because you can stuff the drawers full of junk and not worry about making things look pretty. Also, closed storage disguises clutter, making small spaces seem less crowded and therefore bigger. Having everything on display is a luxury that should be reserved for large houses, unless you're the type of person who is effortlessly tidy. I am not.

What Friends Say: Most of my friends aren't involved in design, so they ignorantly think my place looks great.

Biggest Embarrassment: I hate that my apartment is always coated in a thick layer of orange fur from my adorable corgi. No amount of vacuuming with a Dyson can make the fur go away. I've learned to live with it, and I don't even notice it until we have guests over. Then I get really embarrassed because I realize most people don't live covered in dog fur. I'm also embarrassed by our kitchen cabinets. They are those cheap white laminate cabinets with the wood grain trim. I painted the trim white so it's less noticeable, but there is only so much you can do to improve these type of doors- those who've experienced the horror of these "standard" cabinets know what I mean. Whoever designed these wood trimmed plastic cabinets and whatever construction company decided to put them in every single kitchen in the 1980s and 1990s should be punished. Would it really have cost that much more to install plain wooden cabinet doors? It could have prevented so much heartache. My first major improvement will be refacing my kitchen cabinets and installing a tile backsplash.

Proudest DIY: I used to be handy and loved DIY projects. Now, I find it hard to do anything because I'm older with less free time, and it's almost impossible to find the workspace. One of the few DIY projects in my house is the yellow painting in the living room. It didn't take artistic genius to paint a canvas yellow, but I spent a lot of time choosing the shade of yellow. Also, it is asymmetrically textural, which makes it more interesting to view in real life. The final effect of the painting works well in our living room. It's centerpiece and pulls everything together.

Biggest Indulgence: I splurged on the black chair in our living room. The area next to the couch is very small, but I wanted to put a chair in the space that would be comfortable enough to sit in everyday. So I needed a chair that was compact, preferably semi-circle so there would be room to move around it and black. For some reason, I became obsessed with having a black chair. A few weeks after I moved into my apartment, I went window shopping on U street and wandered into a little shop called Urban Essentials. There I found the exact chair I had envisioned for my living room. It was also on sale, otherwise, I could never have afforded it. Even on sale, it was much more money than I wanted to spend, but I bought it because it's rare that you find exactly what you're looking for when you need it. My husband grumbled about the price for a few weeks, but even he admits the chair works perfectly in such a tight space. I almost forgot about my ridiculous chandelier light panel. It was love at first sight. I kept daydreaming about it for months, and one day I broke down and ordered it off the internet. Though, I still haven't been able to convince my husband the panel was worth the money.

Best Advice: If you're moving in, take your time. When I move into an apartment, my first instinct is to get everything settled as soon as possible so I can nest. However, as long as you have the essentials, there is no need to rush into decorating. Sometimes you need to live in a space, get to know a space, before you start designing it. Things like proportions, walkways and sunlight need to be experienced in order to make informed decisions about how you want to set-up your home. If you've already moved in, use what you already own as a foundation for a larger vision of what you want. Be reasonable about what you should keep and what you should sell or give away. Oh and never buy a matching love seat and sofa, ever.

Dream Source: 1st Dibs, Hidden Art, Graham and Green, Christie's.

Resources of Note:

ENTRY
• Runner: Anthropologie

LIVING ROOM
• Black Console: Ikea
• Egon Schiele Art: Art.com
• Teak Side Chairs: Etsy
• Rug: Overstock
• Coffee Table: Craig's List
• Black Chair: Urban Essentials
• Corona Sofa: Macy's
• Pillows: Etsy
• Desk: Overstock
• Lamp: HauteLook Sale
• Desk Chair: found on the sidewalk
• Yellow Lacquer Box: West Elm

KITCHEN AREA
• Lenox Chirp China: Bed Bath and Beyond
• Perfume Bottles and Depression Glass: Ebay and Anthropologie

BEDROOM
• Hotel Collection, Rings Bedding: Macy's
• Side Tables: Ikea
• Side Lamps: Ebay
• Console Chest: Craig's List
• Dresser: Craig's List
• Chandelier Light Panel: Lamp Lust

OFFICE
• Desk: Home Decorators Outlet
• Tord Boontje Light Fixtures: Ebay
• Art: Etsy
• Chair: Ebay

BATHROOM
• Mirror: Ebay
• Shower Curtain: Bed Bath and Beyond

Images: Susan Mitchell Blavin

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