HomeImprovementSimplifying your approach...

Published on Thu, Sep 9, 2004
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Home Improvement
Simplifying your approach...

By Jack Kintner

Do you have a part of your living space that just doesn’t seem to fit? Perhaps it’s a room in your house or apartment that always seems to be hovering somewhere on the spare bedroom/sewing room/storage area/junk pile/firetrap scale, or a corner or wall in a larger living space that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the room. Maybe it’s a left-over remnant of earlier home remodeling projects, the space you just didn’t quite get to, “the room that time forgot.” It could even be a forgotten corner of your yard that could stand some TLC.

Here’s a couple of thoughts about how to approach such a area, one from a man who took an unfinished three-story house that was nothing but spare rooms and unfinished projects and created one of the most comfortable and inviting B&B’s in the northwest. The second is from a museum director who knows not only what it takes to make a space attractive, but how to design it in such a way that it “feels right.”

Bob Boule, owner and operator of the increasingly famous Smuggler’s Inn, said to remember that when dealing with odd and extra spaces it’s not so much what you do to them but what you put in them. “If you gave me $500 to work on a room,” he said, “I’d buy a broom to sweep it out and spend the rest on art to hang on the walls. People wouldn’t even see the room you’re so worried about.”
Unless you’re Bill Gates, Boule’s inn is bigger than your living space, be it house, apartment or condo. He bought as an unfinished project what now looks like a 100-year-old farmhouse, essentially a three-story rabbit warren of rooms, hallways and odd spaces. Yet his clientele keeps returning because, they tell him, it’s a comfortable place filled with interesting things.

Boule took it from being an odd jumble to a unified place of hospitality with a lot of hard work and a knack for setting things off, be it an art piece on the lawn, an antique grain chest in a bedroom or a water color hanging on a wall.

Using less-is-more approach, he makes it easy to see these pieces usually by setting them off by themselves. His stairwell, for example, has just a few carefully selected paintings hanging on a white wall that might have been lifted in one piece from a gallery. The spare arrangement lets his guests see a few good things well rather than a jumble of things that compete with each other.

He also recognizes the value of grouping things together that are similar but not identical. So one wall will have sea scapes by different marine artists, for example, or a guest bedroom will have a number of dark African country furniture. A small extra room in a house or especially an unused corner of a larger room can be a great place to display a few well-chosen pieces.

David Nicandri, director of the Washington State History Museum, says that the three principles of making a good museum exhibit are attractiveness, texture and solid research. His job is to get the public to walk through his building and not only admire but “attach” themselves to it, to really like it and enjoy themselves, to feel good about the experience, and he must do this with a certain rigor. He’s essentially a teacher, and basic to the enterprise is making the process fun while providing accurate information based on solid research.
Using these principles in planning your treatment of an unused or odd space is up to you, but the basics remain the same: “attractive” means all the basics in terms of being clean and in good repair. What about this space has kept you from “going there?” How can you reverse that?

“Texture” means not only the literal surface characteristics of a space (painted walls or grass mat wall paper?) but also the variety of those surfaces. A soft surface looks even softer when viewed against a hard background. A small black blemish on a snowbank is much more visible than it would be on a mud bank.

And finally, if it’s not too much of a stretch, “accurate information” means does the room say something accurate about you to people who walk in? This is more than just a moose head on the wall if you’re a hunter. It means that you’ll think of yourself and what you’d like to do with a space first, what you want to show of yourself and your tastes to others, or what kinds of art pieces you like to display, rather than thinking about what will impress people or what you imagine they’d like to see.

Don’t worry, said Boule, “If they like you, they’ll love your new room. If they don’t, it’s out of your hands anyway.”