Paint colors, design picks: The fun part of a home remodel –

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ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – We’re finally getting to the good stuff.

My house has been a construction site since before Spring Break, with a Dumpster in the driveway and drop paper on the mudroom floor. We’ve had framers and electricians and three teams of HVAC installers. Now, after weeks of wiping fine white drywall dust off my hardwood floors, we finally have walls in the attic we’re converting to a bed-and-bath suite.

That means, as Halloween decorations pop up around the neighborhood and we begin our inexorable march toward winter, I can focus on design.

Design is what you dream of, when you’re watching “Extreme Home Makeover” or flipping through Better Homes and Gardens.

(I read This Old House, too, but a primer on how to install solar panels doesn’t make me swoon like a spread of a revamped kitchen in a dated Cape Cod.)

Design is imagination. It’s creating a functional space that expresses personality — with color and texture, paint and tile and fixtures.

I’ve always liked playing with style.

When I was in fifth grade, my best friend and I designed our dream home, which of course we’d share. We spent indoor recess cutting pictures out of J.C. Penney and Spiegel catalogs and pasting them into a notebook, with pages labeled for each room in our mansion. My room was all pastel florals. (It was 1990, and I longed for Laura Ashley prints.)

When I graduated from college and found my first apartment, I treated myself to an Ikea shopping spree. I outfitted my Woodstock, Illinois, loft with a futon, foldable book case and one of those pop-up closets, and decorated with fake flowers from Target and pottery I painted during a sorority gathering.

When I bought my first house, I also bought my first real furniture. I picked out my first paint colors, my first window treatments. (I would say we, but my husband could not care less.)

And when we bought our century farmhouse, I finally had a spot to try to incorporate design ideas that had been percolating for years. I had a folder stuffed with magazine cut-outs and a Pinterest page I named “We got the house!” stacked with photos of bright, airy interiors in blue and white.

I’ve always had a pretty good eye, and I’ve always been decisive. I don’t waffle once I make up my mind. That’s helpful in a remodeling project because I can tell our contractors exactly what I want.

Two years ago, for our bathroom project, I dictated everything, from the layout to the cabinet hardware. (You can’t do round mirrors, they said! I love my round mirrors.) I just needed the experts to figure out how to translate my imagination to reality. I wanted aqua tile! And a sliding barn door! And wallpaper!

Now, I have a whole floor to stock with vintage furniture and design ideas. The goal is to create an escape, a retreat that floats above our laptops, our kids’ messy rooms, our laundry and the rest of the busy to-dos of regular life. While I adore color, here I want clean white lines, wood and hints of nature.

Maybe I’m a little late to Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia motif, but we’re wrapping the chimney in shiplap and whitewashing the exposed beams beneath the vaulted ceiling. The shower floor will be tiled with river rocks, and an end wall will be papered in blue waves. I’ve collected blue-and-white-striped curtains and woven baskets and clipped magnolia leaves from our Spring Break stay.

The laundry room on the second floor — hopefully — will make laundry feel fun. I have an aqua French door, an intricate blue-and-gray cement tile for the floor and that cast-iron sink I picked up at a junk shop, which we’re going to paint aqua.

Even with all my decisiveness, there are a thousand more decisions that ping you like popcorn.

What color white do you want for your paint? Eggshell or flat or satin? How tall should the trim be? Where exactly do you want your outlets and switches?

I’d never thought about switch locations, how I move through rooms and what makes sense on which wall. But the electrician walked me through every spot.

I knew I wanted oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, but I had no idea how many options that would mean, for towel bars or a toilet paper holder. Our designer emails multiple options, which I click through, select and sign off on. Fingers crossed, I hope I like them in real life.

Now that the walls up, carpentry is next on the schedule. And I can already picture what to put on my bookshelves.

Content director Laura Johnston writes occasionally about modern life, usually with kids. She is chronicling her home remodel every other week. Check out past columns here.


We have walls! And a fireplace! And exposed brick!

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