From fretting over which wall color to choose to wondering if you made the right decision on that couch, there are a lot of physical element decisions that go into making a home. It's absolutely worth the time to learn about design principles, storage ideas and decor tricks — all things that will make your space so much more livable and enjoyable. But don't get so caught up in decorating that you forget to infuse your space with the other important elements that make a house (or apartment, or condo...) a home.
There's an almost tangible quality you sense when you walk into some homes. I've described it before as "welcoming," "inviting," "warm." And while those adjectives apply, the quality I'm talking about is a little harder to explain with words.
I've been obsessed with that je ne sais quoi-lity for years now. Maybe it's because I spend so much time working from home. Perhaps it's because the house I grew up in is not what I would consider my "dream" home.
When I realized that we've toured some stunning spaces — crafted by folks who have years of experience transforming blank structures into homes — I had to ask them what they think are the most important things about making a home. Their wise — and worthy of remembering — responses (in their own words) are below:
Your home should tell your story
"Tell your story. Design and decorate your space with personal items that make you happy. Design doesn't have to be so cookie-cutter and serious. Don't be afraid the artwork won't match the furniture or vice versa. It's about mixing and matching based on scale, line, color and texture to create a cohesive timeless look, much like Iris Apfel's outfits when she mixes Thrift Store finds with Couture Fashion for a kind of Curated Eclecticism. Everyone has an eye; train it, trust it and follow it. In the end, your home should tell your story and not be about pages from a catalog. To quote Gloria Vanderbilt, 'Decorating is Autobiography.'"
A home is something that is "made"
"The most important thing about 'making' a home is just that....that a 'home' is indeed something that is 'made'. In my opinion, a home is something that is created and something that should be carefully curated over time. The act of creating a home is a subjective and intimate exercise. I believe that your home should be filled with the things you love. Things that remind you of who you are, of where you have been and of where you want to go. In this regard, a home should be ever evolving over time."
— A. J. Berne has a passion for architecture and interior design that is evident in her 645 square foot home in Toronto.
Treat your home like the inside of your mind
"Home is always about comfort for me and being surrounded by the things and people I love. My home never stays the same for very long. I am constantly shifting, fixing, moving, rethinking and reworking my space. If you think about it, home is the only place where you have complete control over all of the elements. Because our homes are exactly like us, if we are messy, our homes are messy. If we are happy, our homes are happy.
I've always treated my home as if it was the inside of my mind. I clear out clutter, dust off the parts that need dusting, buy flowers and plants for renewed life and light the areas that need it. The home is the most important place for me. It is where I raise my children, create memories and keep my family safe. As I grow and my family grows, the home changes to support that love and growth. My home is ever changing and ever evolving because of how life changes and our needs change."
The point is to feel comfortable
"To me, the most important thing is comfort. Yes, I have a penchant for form over function, but I think I temper that well. Or better yet, find things that combine the best of both. Face it, you spend a lot of time in your home. If you can't be comfortable and relaxed there, feel cozy and warm, content and happy, then what's the point?"
— Tim Tripp has a passion for the history of decor and design that's present throughout his Toronto loft we toured.
Delight yourself first
"It should delight you, personally. Impress people with your car or your jewelry if you need to, but your house is for yourself."
— Eva isn't afraid of color or breaking a few of the usual design rules. She shows this philosophy off in the bold Chicago home we toured.
"Comfort and honesty!! This is my mantra. I like my homes like I like my friends…comfortable, honest, interesting…with a bit of a tattered past. Some search for perfection in homes or people. I search for a touch of the flawed…signs of a life lived. That is true comfort, grace and elegance. That is the definition of a real home with heart, soul and beauty."
— Judith Bigham (also find her on Instagram) is a painter and an interior designer, and her home in Seattle is layered with furniture, art, and treasures that she has spent decades lovingly collecting and creating.
Let there be light
"Bring beauty and grace together without pretense. This usually involves letting light free flow throughout the space. Also blending classic with quirky adds to the congenial, welcoming nature of a home."
— Carol Stall is an artist and jewelry designer, and we toured her and her husband Phil's charming 1930s Austin home.
Recreate your inner world
"I feel that transforming a shelter into a home is re-creating our interior world. Family love, tradition, heritage, friendship."
Create a culture of creativity
"I've always been conscious of our home culture. Our home culture reflects our values. We have books everywhere to encourage reading for everyone. We play music to set an appropriate tone in the home. Everyone here has easy access to art and craft supplies to encourage creativity. We designed the layout of the home to reflect that family is important, and that children are treasured. The layout of the house is such that we can be together, but not necessarily in each other's hair. We built small bedrooms and encourage all play and homework to take place in communal spaces in the house; the communal spaces have various nooks and spaces where we can still work and play independently."
Read more wise advice about making a home below:
More home truths worth remembering.
Things that will make you happy.
*These interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.