Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.

Hometown Nostalgia: Christmas City Charm

I recently travelled to my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after years of being away. It’s possible that the last time I visited was for my wedding shower, which was more than ten years ago! Isn’t that wild?

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My family recently relocated to the area, so I anticipate spending a lot more time there. I’m so excited about that! It means being with my favorite people in some of my most favorite places in the Lehigh Valley, Bucks County, and Brandywine Valley. The culture in these areas did so much to shape my passion for design and architecture, and without my parents’ interest in the art and culture of the region, I wouldn’t have the appreciation for it that I do. There’s an aesthetic to this part of southeastern Pennsylvania that I have yet to see replicated anywhere else—the landscape and artistic renderings of it are truly distinct. I can’t wait to rediscover and explore the places I was once so familiar with!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a day in downtown Bethlehem during my most recent visit. I always loved walking the tree-lined streets when I was growing up. As a kid, when I would go to the library with my mom, sometimes we’d have to park a few blocks away, and I never minded because it meant walking beneath the leafy canopy and admiring the gardens tucked away behind hedges and in the narrow spaces between houses.

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I think these outdoor spaces are what sparked my love of urban gardens. There’s something magical about these small, semi-private areas shaded by trees, partially obscured by landscaping and garden gates. Despite being in the heart of a bustling city, they always seemed quiet and serene, as though their diminutive sizes naturally imposed a hush over street traffic and passersby.

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Porch style (and stoop style) is taken very seriously here, too.

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It makes me so happy to see how well-maintained the houses are. Keeping up with external maintenance on an old house is a constant process—there’s always something peeling, cracking, chipping, eroding, or breaking. I admire how effortless these homeowners have made it look.

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One of my favorite accents used outdoors in Bethlehem is the Moravian star, which you’ll notice in several photos. The Moravian star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, is the quintessential symbol of the city. There is even a giant, lighted version of the star that sits permanently at the top of South Mountain overlooking Bethlehem.

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I came across this quote a couple of months ago: “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.” Certainly as the years have passed, I’ve found myself thinking more about my hometown and longing to spend more time there. I’m looking forward to future visits, and I can’t wait to share more of this wonderful little town with you.

Real-estalking in Nashville

Yes, real-estalking. As in, real estate stalking. It’s a thing.

At the end of April, I spent a long weekend in Nashville. In between eating all the outstanding food and imbibing in all the amazing cocktails, I also gawked at all the cute houses I passed while walking around. Unfortunately, I only scraped the surface—I did a lot of shuttling around via car, so even though I traveled through some beautiful neighborhoods (Belmont, swoon!), I wasn’t able to take pictures from a moving vehicle. In the neighborhoods I explored on foot, though, I was delighted to find lots of nicely kept homes whose owners clearly put a lot of thought into cultivating their curb appeal.

If I had to choose one word to describe Nashville’s architectural style, eclectic is what comes to mind. It was easy to tour a single neighborhood and see elements of design common to New Orleans, Charleston, Seattle, and Philadelphia all on the same block. Some houses felt quintessentially Southern, while others reminded me of Pacific Northwest bungalows and Pennsylvania fieldstone houses.

I couldn’t help but think that if this shotgun house (pictured below) was in New Orleans, the exterior paint colors would have likely been a combination of pastel clapboards with punchy, tropical-inspired accents rather than shades of gray. Perhaps more formal and modern, the tonal treatment gives this small house an elegant look, especially with the iron fence and hedges.

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This itty-bitty Victorian house stole my heart. I found myself standing in front of it for several minutes trying to take it all in—there is so much to appreciate here even though it’s a small property! The marriage of traditional architecture with modern landscaping elements is nicely balanced. The slate gray paint helps to update the scalloped shingles and intricate woodwork, giving them 21st century appeal. Applying the same paint color to the modern fence was a thoughtful way to connect the two styles. In comparison to the finer details on the house, the hardscaping is clean and linear. As striking as it is, its simplicity allows the house to shine.

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This next house reminds me of something you’d see on Home Town. Can’t you just picture the big reveal where the homeowners squeal in delight over the pergola that’s been built on the front of their house? This is my idea of a grand entrance—some well-placed containers, a couple of decorative elements, and lots of symmetry. If this were my house, I’d probably (definitely) grow a flowering vine along the pergola.

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Nothing says southern hospitality like a welcoming front porch, and I loved how the owners of this house decorated theirs. After you’re done admiring the front door with leaded glass windows, notice that there are three chandeliers, several hanging baskets of flowers, a wind chime, a porch swing, and a hanging rope chair. (The swing and hanging chair are a little hard to see, but I promise they’re there.) This looks like a pleasant spot to read a book, have a cocktail, or catch up with your neighbors.

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This red brick Italianate isn’t actually a house anymore—it’s a restaurant! Located in Rutledge Hill, Husk Nashville operates inside this beauty. The house was restored and renovated to accommodate the restaurant. The building dates back to the late 1800s and was constructed by a former mayor of Nashville. While the dentil molding and elaborately trimmed arches are impressive, my favorite part of the exterior is the tall windows.

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These other brick houses caught my eye, too. My favorite is the first one (top left).

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Last but not least, this stone house reminded me of my home state of Pennsylvania, right down to the Keystone-like pattern over the windows. The Keystone State is full of colonial style homes clad in stone. The color scheme feels especially right for something you’d see in the northeast. Crisp, black shutters and a bright red door make for a classic combination—though, if I’m being honest, it feels too serious for a town like Nashville. I could see this house sporting a hydrangea-blue front door.

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Most of these houses were in the Music Row neighborhood (near Vanderbilt) and Germantown, which is north of downtown. I’d highly recommend taking a walk through Germantown. It seemed to be neighborhood that was undergoing some gentrification with new construction in progress, but there were renovations on older homes underway, as well as plenty of already-restored historic houses. I would have loved to walk through Belmont, which is nestled near the 12 South neighborhood. The homes I passed while driving through were magazine-worthy!

Have you been to Nashville? Which neighborhood is your favorite for realestalking?

All photos used in this post are my own.

A Scandinavian Saltbox Cottage in Litchfield County

This simple little saltbox house caught my attention as I was browsing real estate listings in Litchfield Co., Connecticut. It struck me as very Little House on the Prairie, the way it sits in the grass tucked beneath that enormous tree with the perfectly sculpted stone wall extending into its side yard. The gray clapboards, the stout central chimney, the shutter-free windows: it’s a quietly stunning example of American colonial architecture.

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As I tend to do, I scrolled through the listing photos before reading the description, eager to see if the interior rooms and remaining property were just as appealing as this single perspective. I’ve been fooled before by cute, historic-looking exteriors that have been nothing more than cruel, hoax-ridden façades hiding dated renovations from the 80s, bathrooms clad in 50s-style tile, and junky DIY jobs. This particular exterior was extremely misleading—but in the best way possible.

Exhibit A: this photo of the pool (which is really just a teaser for what’s to come) tossed into the first three listing photos, no doubt to make viewers gasp and halt their scrolling to fully ogle the scene. I can practically feel the warm breeze playing off the surface of the water and smell the sweet scent of the lush landscape enveloping this secluded escape.

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Under a sky that blue, the temptation to stay poolside all day is real, and I almost lost the urge to continue exploring the rest of the photos because I was absolutely mesmerized by the perfection of it all.

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Moving on to the interior, another unexpected twist awaited my discovery: the walls and wooden beams have been washed in cool tones of white and gray. At first glance, it reads contemporary, but a closer look reveals the rustic nature of the original architecture has been preserved, from the exposed beams to the rough-hewn floors. The mix of midcentury and modern furniture with the subdued color palette and varied textures of the furnishings feels inspired by Scandinavian design, topped off with an obvious touch of hygge. It is both updated and ready to cater to the needs of modern-day living while also being completely in touch with its quaint, cozy roots.

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The kitchen fully embraces the house’s rustic bones and cottage vibes, particularly through design details such as the open shelving, Shaker style cabinetry, and wide plank floors. However, the stainless steel appliances don’t seem out of place here.

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A set of French doors opens onto the patio and outdoor seating area.

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Where color is used, it is used sparingly yet playfully. Artwork in the kitchen and dining room punctuate the mostly white and neutral rooms.

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The play between traditional and modern design elements continues throughout the rest of the house. The front hall expertly displays the juxtaposition of the smooth white walls against the grain-heavy floors. Thanks to their abundant texture, the floors prevent the house from appearing cold and out of touch with its 19th century provenance.

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The bedrooms share the neutral aesthetic of the public rooms on the first floor. The exposed beams and hardwood floors create a nest-like backdrop for the streamlined furniture.

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Outdoors, the property is connected by a series of gardens and intimate seating areas. Whether you fancy an outdoor breakfast, lunch with friends on the patio, a relaxing break by the gardens or pool, or an evening in front of the outdoor fire pit, the options for lounging while surrounded by nature are endless.

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The dining table on the patio overlooks a grassy patch of lawn which connects to the pool behind the ample hedge.

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A firepit centered in this tidy gravel circle fills out an outter nook in the grass.

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A natural wooden pergola shields this seating area from the sun, providing a relaxing space to enjoy the outdoors even on the hottest of days.

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The carefully planted yet carefree gardens add depth and whimsy to the landscape. Eventually, I did read the listing description, and in doing so I gleaned that this house has apparently caught the attention of more than one well-known house and garden publication. It’s not hard to see why Gardenista decided to share this property several years ago in a feature on secret gardens.

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A parting view shows the Litchfield Hills in the distance.

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It’s rare to find antique and current styles so beautifully intertwined. The modern updates in this home have been tastefully executed to maintain the original charm. The results are surprising and altogether way too tempting!

To see additional photos of this special country house in Roxbury, CT, check out the listing here. All photos of the house and property are from the listing.

The Whole-House Color Palette

Painting is often one of the first tasks people undertake when they move into a new house. It’s an easy way to make the space feel like your own, and for that reason, most people aim to do it fairly quickly. A lot of times, people get hung up on color selections because they’re not sure what to do with all the rooms.

Do a search on Pinterest for whole-house paint color palettes, and you’ll get as many results as there are paint colors that exist in the world. When looking for inspiration, this might seem like a convenient shortcut for choosing colors—someone else has already done all the work and coordinated a dozen colors that work well together! Don’t be fooled. Choosing the right paint colors depends on a ton of factors that are unique to your space—the lighting, the decor, the function of each room. What looks beautiful in one person’s home may end up looking like a total disaster in another’s.

Picking paint colors is a time-consuming task, and there’s so much more to it than looking for inspiration online. Buying and testing samples takes a lot of effort, and for many people, the thought of going through this process for every room in their house is overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure to get the colors right, especially when you plan to hire someone to do the job. The last thing you want to do is feel as though you’ve made a mistake and wind up paying your painters twice because you’re unhappy with your initial selections. Add to this the desire to paint as soon as possible, and it’s hard to strike a balance.

Create a Color Strategy

So what’s the best thing to do when you’ve just moved and want to freshen things up with a new paint job? Consider one of these approaches to help simplify the color selection process:

Paint all the rooms in the house a single neutral color

Why people do it: This is an easy way to eliminate the stress of choosing multiple colors when you intend to paint every room at the same time. It’s also an economical approach to hiring painters. Rather than painting your first floor now and your second floor later with the intention of picking unique colors for the second floor, choosing one color and painting everything in one big job instead of two smaller jobs will cost less in the long run.

When it’s the right choice: When you’re hiring painters for a big job and want to get it done quickly and economically. When you need an efficient way to freshen up a house and create a blank canvas. When you want to take your time choosing paint colors but can’t live with the previous owner’s paint job.

Things to consider: The results can end up feeling bland. If you plan to change the paint colors in certain rooms eventually, you’ll end up paying twice to paint the same rooms a second time.

Repeat two or three neutral colors throughout the house

Why people do it: To achieve some variation in color but stay neutral in their selections. This is a good idea if you plan to add color to your rooms with your furniture, rugs, pillows, and accessories.

When it’s the right choice: When a single neutral color would be too plain but many different colors would feel chaotic. When you switch up your accessories often to update a room’s color scheme and want a background color that will go with anything.

Things to consider: Choose warm neutrals (beiges) or cool neutrals (grays), but don’t mix.

Paint every room in the house a different color

Why people do it: This approach to painting is perfect for design-savvy individuals who want a custom look and aren’t afraid to commit to color. The goal is to create a highly personalized aesthetic, and coordinating paint colors with each room’s specific decor achieves exactly that.

When it’s the right choice: When you want each room of your house to have a unique look. It’s most successful when you’re comfortable coordinating colors from room to room. Working with color tends to be trickier than working with neutrals, so it helps if you’re game for repainting in case you’re not satisfied with the end result.

Things to consider: This look can be bold or calm depending on how many colors you use. If you span the entire rainbow, your house will have a lively look. If you choose to stay within one or two color families, your house will have a calmer energy.

Decide where to use colors vs. neutrals

Once you decide how you’ll use color, the next step is deciding where you’ll use color. It’s helpful to map out a plan room by room and create a whole-house overview.

divvy up your rooms into Zones

Think of the rooms in your house as belonging to different zones—public, private, transitional, and central. How do you want to treat each zone? Will your public spaces be colorful or quiet? Do you want your transitional spaces to fade into the background or ooze personality? Is there a central room in your house that connects to all the other rooms and needs to coordinate with several colors?

I prefer using color in my main living areas (public zones)—family rooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and playrooms—because that’s where I spend most of my time and am fully able to appreciate a fantastic wall color. I also like using unexpected colors in stand-alone rooms such as powder rooms and bathrooms that aren’t directly connected to any bedrooms.

Transitional spaces such as hallways, mudrooms, and laundry rooms are great places to use neutrals because they typically connect to more than one living area and they aren’t spaces where you spend long periods of time hanging out. There are exceptions, however—the more separated and closed off a mudroom or laundry room is, the better the opportunity to use a bold color or playful wallpaper.

For private spaces such as bedrooms and en suite bathrooms, I prefer to use a soft, warm color in one space and go neutral in the other. And for home offices, studies, and dens, I recommend rich neutrals (think chocolate brown) or colors that facilitate creativity or concentration, depending on the type of work the space is used for.

Kitchens are sort of a different animal, and they can go either way. They tend to be central gathering spaces (central zones), and with open-concept floor plans surging in popularity, a lot of homes have kitchens that are integral to the dining and living spaces. Kitchens can be customized in ways that go far beyond the paint color—the real players determining the personality are the cabinets, countertops, backsplash, and lighting. In some cases, a custom range hood or upscale appliances make a big impact on the aesthetic. A neutral color in the kitchen allows the primary design elements to stand out, but on the flip side, color can be used to accentuate interesting architecture.

Set a rhythm with color

When a house has good flow, it generally means there’s consistency from room to room. With paint, it also means that the colors relate to one another in a way that makes sense. Alternating between light and dark colors and using harmonious color schemes is the key to creating a whole-house color palette that feels cohesive.

If you’re working with a palette of beiges, grays, or a single color, aim to use a variety of shades within your chosen hue. Consider interspersing whites or off-whites in the transitional spaces to break things up. The idea is to avoid creating clusters of all dark rooms or all light rooms.

If you’re using a multicolored palette, consider what type of color scheme you want to use (for example, complimentary, which is blue/orange, red/green, yellow/purple, or analogous, which is a combination of three colors next to each other on the color wheel), and consider which paint colors will be visible from each room. Many paint companies market color collections grouped by certain time periods, architectural styles, color stories, and moods. You don’t have to choose colors from only one collection, but it helps to be aware that choosing a classic historical color for one room and a retro midcentury color or a pale pastel for the next will make your house feel disjointed and choppy.

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Selecting and testing your colors really is the fun part of this process because it’s the point where you can begin to see the possibility of transformation throughout your house. As you sift through bits of wisdom everyone you’ve ever known has given you (including tips from Martha Stewart that you found online and the random memory of the color your best friend’s neighbor used in her living room), keep these points in mind to stave off a breakdown over color confusion.

Use inspiration photos as a guide

Blogs, books, and magazines are great places to go for inspiration, and you might get lucky and find some great colors with their help. It’s pretty unusual to find a color online and have it look exactly the same in your house as it does in the photo, though. That doesn’t mean these sources aren’t useful guides; it just means that more often than not, your inspirational photos will serve as starting points for exploring color instead of being the final word in your selections.

As for using a color that you saw in your friends house, remember that context is everything. It might end up working beautifully in your home, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. Lighting plays a huge role in how paint colors end up looking, and you can’t expect to recreate identical lighting conditions.

Know When to Fold

Forcing yourself to like a color or trying to force a color to work isn’t worth the effort. It’s tempting to go outside your comfort zone and try unusual colors in an effort to make your house look different from everyone else’s, but unless those colors are ones you naturally gravitate to, you probably won’t end up loving them. Take cues from the colors in your wardrobe as well as home accessories such as rugs and blankets. The colors that show up most often are the ones you should consider for your walls. Artwork, mirrors, pillows, picture frames, and even pieces of furniture can do the work of bringing a funky, edgy, or eclectic vibe to your house.

Choosing paint colors (even just one!) can seem like a tall order, but it is manageable. When your goal is to get it done quickly, a little bit of planning will make the process easier. Happy painting!