Coloring my world

The editors from Country Living haven’t called yet, but when they come to do a feature on my interior decorating style, I’ll bet they describe it as “L.L. Carib-Bean.”

The new touches I’ve added to my 20-plus year-old dwelling have not, I don’t think, placed it outside the quaint little cabin category. It’s definitely not one of those places you’d drive by and wonder “Don’t they know they’re in the Maine woods for crying out loud?” But while it may not qualify as froufrou, my decor is by no means a standard fishing and hunting “it gets us out of the rain” type place either.  As the pros would say, I “brought the outside in” with natural earth tones, lots of pine paneling, birch floors and dark cherry cabinets. I added a tile hearth in the same vivid blue that, on a good day, matches my view of Bald Mountain and Saddleback. And, of course, I threw in plenty of prerequisite forest (a.k.a. Rangeley green) accents. Then I kicked it all up a notch with splashes of color not often naturally occurring in the environment, at least not at this latitude. The end result makes a unique statement about my remodeling influences, including:

  • I’m making up for the fact that, in my formative decorating years, I defaulted to brown. Thirty years ago, when I moved into my first and only completely brand new house, I had little decorating experience and even less furniture. I did, however, have a tan Naugahyde couch and chair set and a couple beige lampshades. So I put in brown and rust-toned carpet that would “go with everything” I hoped I would later have, while “not showing any dirt” from the  outdoor dog I had and the kids I eventually would admit I hoped to have. My kitchen and bathrooms featured harvest gold, avocado, copper and all those other stuck in the ’70s shades. Behind closed doors in my bedroom, I even had a bright red carpet. But my living room stayed brown and blah for at least a decade.
  • Tom and I agreed we wouldn’t just go with the typical moose and loon motif when making renovations. We do love moose and loons, of course, and still are left with almost as many inside as we see outside. We just strived to be a bit different. So, instead, we came up with wild flower bathrooms. To contrast the knotty pine paneling throughout the rest of the house, we had the two bathrooms and the kitchen sheet-rocked so they could be painted. Buttercup yellow was my choice downstairs, accessorized with Black-Eyed Susan print curtains and (coming soon) wild flower art. For the upstairs bath, I chose the palest pink to compliment my purple, pink and white lupine shower curtain, my hummingbird and lupine stained glass in the window, and one of my favorite pieces of artwork: A moose standing in a field of lupines! (He’s your typical Maine moose picture, but just a bit different, hanging there in his pink and purple habitat.)
  • My color scheme was dictated primarily by stained glass. As I showed you in Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet (Part Two), my favorite keepsake and interior focal point in my previous house was a piece of stained glass – a particularly vivid piece featuring green grass, cobalt lake water and three bright red roses. I’m sure in reality my decision-making timeline spanned several months, but here’s how I remember it: 1) Tom told me I had a window of opportunity to decide on colors for paint, countertops, etc., for the Rangeley reconstruction. 2) I didn’t take him seriously enough quickly enough because: a) I had been living in the same quarters for so long that picking stuff out meant a quick trip to the Home Depot for either damage control or camouflage, and b) having a virtually clean redecorating slate was too good to be true and, in a twisted way, scared me into inactivity. 3) I was sitting in my Rochester kitchen, drinking coffee, gazing at my stained glass in bewilderment, wondering how the heck I was going to not screw up my one big chance to showcase my treasures in a new home, when my “window of opportunity” suddenly solidified right in front of me. I knew I would hang the stained glass in my new Rangeley kitchen. It would be a focal point forevermore, shedding light and color throughout my first floor, contrasting beautifully with my dark woodwork, matching my mountain-blue hearth and my grandmother’s blue Danish plates I’d hang on the beams! And the green glass of the grass would make a perfect paint color!
  • I matched the color of my kitchen walls to green stained glass (see previous bullet) on a really sunny day. With my new focal point in mind, I immediately marched off to Home Depot and made color choices in record time. (A true believer in supporting the Rangeley economy rather than a big box store, I wasn’t going to buy paint, countertops or Congoleum there. My mission was to match up swatches to bring to the Rangeley Building Supply for them to make the order.) What I described as New Leaf for my green kitchen color, the paint manufacturer actually called Swamp Splash. While this lively spring green did match perfectly with my stained glass still hanging in Rochester, it initially alarmed our building contractor with its incandescence. Adding in appliances and dark cabinets toned it down considerably and, to my knowledge, hasn’t scared anybody since. The end result is a Key West sort of ambiance in the western  mountains of Maine. 
  • I have a serious passion for red. Red cars, red-headed men, red carpeting (see first bullet). Fortunately, when devising my scheme of rustic jewel tones, I tempered my passion and incorporated red as an accent color only. I have a bit in my area rug, a few pieces of my mother’s ruby glass displayed here and there. Tastefully toned down, I’d say, and not what people expected I’d come up with given free rein. Those who knew my passion for red and pictured me remastering Belle Watling’s front parlor on the shore of the Big Lake seem relieved.
  • My other favorite place in the whole world is a tropical beach. I hope my readers aren’t dismayed when I admit that, even surrounded by Rangeley’s four-season splendor, I still often dream of turquoise waters and beaches lined with palm trees and hibiscus. In terms of decorating direction, this polarity has left me somewhere near the intersection of Rangeley Plantation and Coconut Grove.

Whatever collection of quirks has influenced my unique style, I’m glad all those decorating decisions are behind me, literally. The color wheel has stopped spinning, the paint palate is dry and I am most pleased with how I made my window of opportunity shine. I am especially glad this time of year, when I look past my hearth and my ruby window ornaments to the reds, greens and golds of fall in Rangeley. Country Living will call it “Kaleidoscopic!” That is, if they hurry up and come out here while the leaves are still on my trees.

Book smart

When it comes to home improvements, I’m not what you’d call a do-it-yourselfer. Conditioned since early in childhood to “just stay out of the way so you don’t screw this up worse,” the only thing I tend to do completely by myself is bathroom chores. I am definitely a “build it for me, let me try to use it for a while, and then I’ll make silly suggestions on how to improve it next time” type of girl. About the only thing I have ever tried to build solo is my self-esteem. Way back before Barnes and Noble devoted a whole section to self-help books and I had to search around the shelves in the back corner, past all the alternative lifestyle manuals I didn’t want to crack open, I’ve been a self-help journeyman. Rowing my own boat, discovering what color my parachute is, chasing after my cheese, and manifesting my own destiny, I’ve studied it all. But books that teach you how to make something concrete, something three-dimensional and real enough so that, if you’ve pictured it this morning you can be using it this afternoon, I never cracked a one. They were always on the other side of the bookstore, away from me, along with the readers who had already manifested their destinies and were celebrating by building themselves a patio.

I should point out here that, as a technical writer, I can write those kinds of books. I can interview computer hardware engineers, refer to their schematics, figure out how they expect Joe IT manager to install networking component A into device A without electrocuting himself, and write the book about it that gets shrink wrapped and shipped with each sale. I have published volumes of guides for propeller-headed audiences,  filled with words like flange, rack-mount, configure and counter-clockwise, and illuminated by little number-and-arrow-annotated diagrams. I once even devised a whole table to describe recommended torque values for G3G134-P installation! 

I can successfully tell someone else how to assemble something because, typically, I’ve had long, drawn-out pre-deadline test phases when engineers would follow my words like gospel, give me endless prototypes to monkey with and, ultimately, would take ownership of my instructions if none of us electrocuted ourselves by following them. I can do this sort of work for pay because I’ve had middlemen. And by far the most valuable of those middlemen was a genius graphic artist named Bob. You see, while I was referring to engineering schematics, Bob was actually understanding them and transforming them into drawings that illustrated component A sliding into device A. He would take the G3G134-P from a flat, one-dimensional CAD print out and actually show its tiny assembly screws and its rack-mount adapters and all of its networking interfaces in drawings that would make its black, boxlike features practically leap off the page in high-def. Once I could study Bob’s drawings, I could wrap my text around them, layer on the little numbers and arrows, and I’d have some step-by-steps even I could follow. And if the steps were really complex, Bob and I and our engineering team were bolstered by the caveat that empowers all cutting-edge technology to make it out of the development lab and into the hands of users: Depending on your operating environment and your specific device configuration, your results may vary from those depicted in these instructions.

So how did it ever come to pass that I could articulate remodeling instructions for my home renovation? How did I take a firm stance at the conception end of such a major redesign process and still want to be the end-user of the product? And how in the world did I do this in partnership with practical, level-headed Tom, who is so handy that he once fixed a toilet with nothing but a plastic fork, some string, and his own ingenuity? He bought me a book.

From the down to earth part of the bookstore I had previously only imagined, Tom purchased The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka. At first wary of the “blueprint” part of its title, I soon discovered this handy book had pictures. It showed actual before and after illustrations of homes like ours that needed to do a lot with not much space. It had tips and tricks and conversion charts, gathered from families that, I felt fairly certain, were living happily ever after with their own handiwork. When I figured out I could refer to various parts of this book as my prototypes for a kitchen layout, for how to translate my desire for “casual, open living spaces” into real nuts and bolts lingo, it became my bible.

“I want the new kitchen cabinets to be this color, but this style,” I’d proclaim to Tom, flipping through the book and pointing. “And I want that place where we said we could hang my special blue plates to be something like this, but without that wall in the way.” Soon the The Not So Big House book was dog eared and crammed with sticky notes bearing numbers and arrows that eventually corresponded to a building plan and workable instructions. I never had to say “flange” or talk about torque, but I began to feel like a real engineer. If I couldn’t articulate what I did want, I could refer to what I didn’t want and work from there.

My initial reference manual soon became part of a mini library of do-it-yourself remodeling books. I even graduated from Barnes and Noble and Amazon to hardcore purchases straight from Home Depot, right on the shelves by the duct tape. What drawers fit my lifestyle, how light fixtures could add the perfect accent, and how to store pots and pans without needing a head lamp to find them — I had a book about it.

They’re in storage now, gathering dust on our do-it-ourselves book shelves. I sure was glad to have them, knowing there could be no prototype phases and my results couldn’t vary if I wanted to live with and in them with my specified husband. I got book smart, got my head out of the clouds (where I was drifting, attached to my imaginary self-discovery parachute) and helped execute the biggest project of my life. Not only is the end result exceeding my requirements while conforming to the strictest of all regs – those mandated by the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission – it is the perfect operating environment for rowing my own boat.