The Right Paint Color

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The first home we owned was a two story rectangular box built in 1939.  Two pine trees towered another 20 feet above its roof, obscuring its banality.  It had been used as a rental for the previous decade, so each of its walls bore a thick layer of sterile-rental-white.  But, for all its unimaginative architecture and decorating, it was ours.  And I was anxious to begin putting our mark on it.  

Only, I had no idea what that mark would look like.  I was young—just topping 23.  And my decorating experience to that point consisted of tacking various handmade paper crafts to a parade of college rental walls.  This, finally, was my chance to really claim a space.  

I was equal parts thrilled and terrified.

This, of course, was long before the days of decorating blogs or Pintrest.  My decorating insecurities were fueled by far more analog means.  Each week, I turned up at the library, and brought home armfuls of books on decorating.  Then, the next week, I brought home armfuls more.  I studied each one—searching for someone to tell me what to do.  I was drawn in by every “simple formula for decorating” and each promise of sure-fire color combinations and rules for pattern mixing.

All that reading lead me straight into the waiting arms of analysis paralysis.  I was even more stuck than I had been before.  I remember one of the books in particular was a giant tome—half photobook, half decorating guide.  It was a study of old homes, with color prescriptions based on their various features.   It was all so moody and artistic and entirely convincing.  I realized at once what good fortune I’d had at finding this at the library. How dangerously close I had come to choosing colors for my older home without consulting this authoritative work.  

The only problem was, that, instead of feeling relieved, I was more stuck than ever.  I’d found one more should, one more method to follow.  Looking at those color combinations, I felt trapped by them, not liberated. 

I didn’t realize any of that at the time.  I just obediently chose the one that I thought most closely resembled our little house and began obediently painting my walls.

I’ve been thinking some about that young, confused Mama that was me back then.  I think of her pouring over those books and I just want to tell her gently that it’s time to stop.  That she’s asking the wrong question.  She’s buying into this pernicious idea that there is a “correct” way to achieve the “look you want”.  

Nine houses and many years later, I can confidently confirm that there is no such thing as a decorating rule or method that is going to create the home I want to live in.  There is no right paint color and no “one accessory that will bring your room together”.

What exactly is that, anyway?  The look I want is love.  Period.  I want my home to look like love.  Outside of that, there are no rules.  And the only way I do it wrong is when I decorate out of fear, or if I decorate to cause others to feel small.  Outside of that, there are no wrong answers to this question.

And, here’s the deal—once I accept that there is no right or wrong, I can let go of comparison.  I don’t have to get tangled up in worrying that my home will never look like yours.  Of course it won’t.  It wasn’t meant to.  My home is meant to express my love, which will look different than the way you express your love.  Your love may look long and lean with few possessions, or it may be layered and cozy.  You may express your love in open spaces and clean surfaces.  Or, you may need to pile three area rugs in one room to express your love for the people who come into your house.

Whatever you need to put in or take out of your home to let it sing your love, do it.  Without fear and without indecision.  Because there is no right or wrong when it comes to this.