Be Thankful For: The Democratization of Decorating

Years ago it was much harder for the average person to have a stylish home. Curtains were handmade because off-the-rack-sources didn't exist. Furniture was painstakingly purchased and lots of people went without. Those who did have curtains & custom upholstery made, went a little nutty with the matching because they could. I remember happily helping my mom as a kid decorate our living room in perfectly coordinated fabrics below:

As much as we might roll our eyes at Pottery Barn or Ballard Designs, they really have helped to democratize decorating for the masses. They brought affordable (more affordable) style into people's homes. I remember browsing Ballard Catalogs as a teenager and wishing I could have a grand formal home with topiaries & (reproduction but I didn't know it) paintings of Greek columns and just wanting everything in there. (Thankfully, both Ballard Designs & I have changed our styles a bit since then!- see pic below :)
But for those homes that didn't subscribe to design magazines (like mine) the catalogs were IT. I poured over those catalogs the way I pour over design magazines today. I tore out pages (and still have some- I need to find them & scan them in for a post) for my inspiration files on my teenage bedroom decor: Pottery Barn, Ikea & Ballard. Whether the design was "good" or "bad" is irrelevant: the important thing is that they reached lots of homes & got people thinking about their spaces & how they could affordably improve them.

And in the 10 years since I was tearing out their pages for files, the general population has become so much more design-savvy & the catalogs have managed to keep up & help us get here. (And so many more have arrived on the main scene: Wisteria, Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma Home, RH to name a few... And of course Target & Bed Bath & Beyond & Linens N Things too.) (glass ball lamp from Target below)

I won't even get into cost or quality and I don't even necessarily shop at all of these stores, but what amazes me is how far they've brought us design-wise. Good design used to be something generally reserved for those with money. Of course when people made purchases they tried to shop wisely & make their spaces as beautiful/ functional as they could (and many of them did), but the variety of sources was just so much more limited than it is today & it was just that much harder to do so. Today, you can go to Ikea & a bunch of thrift stores & create a beautiful space without spending an arm and a leg. Take my bedroom (pic below) for example: You couldn't do this before. We're now at a point where even in the very early stages of decorating ( & for lots of young people who are just starting out) we can have a beautiful look. With craigslist (sending old purchases out & even bringing new ones in) we can upgrade our spaces as we go along.
With the onslaught of home-decorating shows on channels like HGTV, the average person is just so much more exposed to design than he/ she used to be. (To be honest, I don't have cable & really only like a VERY VERY small number of the design shows out there because I think the design is so gaaaaaah on so many of them) BUT still- most of the time, spaces are improved & by watching the shows people begin to develop an eye for design. We can figure out & assess what we like and don't like. Learn budget-friendly tips & tricks. Just getting more EXPOSURE to design in general has made the average person so much more design-savvy.

And let's not forget magazines like Domino or Cottage Living who featured beautiful affordable spaces. Neither of them were able to get to a very ripe age, but I still have hope that there's a good one out there waiting to be born. (Or maybe exists & I don't know about it?!!! ) But magazines like these got us thinking. They got us realizing that we could do what the people in those gorgeous pictures were doing: creating a beautiful home on a budget. (HINT! HINT if anybody in the mag industry is out there!! We're STARVING for a magazine like these!!!! ) (Now I know many of the rooms featured were WAY out of my budget, but the ideas themselves could easily be used for someone on my budget which is what I loved. For example, you could subsitute Home Depot's custom jute roman shades ($25) for a custom set ($250) and still have "the look.")

And don't even get me started on blogs. New ones are popping up daily (I wish I could stop time just to read all of my favorite blogs- there are so many now!) and there are so many creative people out there showing how to live beautifully & affordably & making good design super-accessible. They inspire us to think outside the box & make our homes our own. (Thanksgiving Table below by Eddie Ross)

I will admit: I LOVE custom pieces & fabrics & do believe they can often make or break a room. My LR curtains, chairs & sofa were all done in fabrics I chose. BUT when it came to my accessories & casegoods, I went with thrift store & ebay finds, antiques, & less expensive catalog items. (Now these aren't guidelines for everyone- you might fall in love with the perfect dining room table from a designer showroom & maybe that's your LOVE.) But my point is that through dissecting room after room in catalogs, design magazines, and blogs, I was able to figure out how budget decorating would work for me in my space: Where it was I wanted to save and where it was I needed a splurge in order to get my look.
In catalogs, I saw what I liked (functional, pretty, clean spaces with some nice pieces) & disliked (sometimes a lack of character, layers, individuality) & took what I thought was the best from them & did the same thing with magazines. (Now think about it really quickly, because I'm not knocking the catalogue companies- when you are staging a home for sale- you make the space look pretty & nice, but you DEPERSONALIZE it in order to sell it. You remove personal items like photos & crazy artwork & wall effects that might not appeal to everyone... Well, catalogues are doing the same thing. Their job is ulitimately to sell and if they personalize spaces too much, they won't appeal to the masses, which is what they need to do to sell the most amount of goods. So it makes sense that we might often feel that a showroom or catalog room isn't a "real'' space or something to aspire to.) Anyway, with magazines, I dissected what I loved about them & eventually developed my own (ever-evolving!) style. I figured out how to get looks I loved for less. (image below from cococozy)

I started out as design-clueless as anyone. (I always loved decorating & rearranging my room as a little girl but Laura Ashley was pretty much the extent of my decorating- below, but mine was much worse.) Good style develops over time, and thanks to aqll of the readily available tools: catalogs & blogs & shows & design magazines, it's more attainable than ever these days to achieve it in our own spaces.

So, along with everything good in my life- my family, my friends, my faith, my health, my home, my business, my time, YOU- I'm thankful for accessible design this Thanksgiving. (Don't worry- I won't say that at the Thankgiving table- I would totally get looks for that one! ha!) How about you?
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!!
***update*** Janell brought up a really great point in the comments (#2) that this whole thing has also created more pros and challenges on the flip side, often for working with designers. It's awesome for designers to get such style-savvy clients (we love it!!) but it can also be difficult because some of the expectations created by these shows are unrealistic. If you decide not to "do it yourself" & elect to hire a designer (which can save you a lot of money in time & mistakes) there will of course be fees for your designer's services & those services should still hold as much value as they used to.
I have met with clients who want "design on a dime"-type designing but what they might not initially realize when contacting me is that the space will not take me any less time or effort or ingenuity to create (often more!) and so my fees for a designing like this can cost even more than my fees for sourcing a room of a more sizable budget. (This is because sourcing for discount items, fleamarketing, thrifting, etc. takes WAY more time than it would on a standard design. These design shows have crews of people providing free labor-often the biggest expense- and sourcing budget items & designing for FREE... The man-hours that go into creating these spaces costs money in real life. If they were to add up all of these true labor costs, the spaces would cost WAY more than "a dime.") I always try to make sure my designs fit within a client's budget but that budget of course has to allow for my fee... Because as much as I love doing this- we have to eat!! :)
SO- my thoughts are that the exposure & accessibility to all of this design is great for us all, but that in the end what it all comes down to is being able to put it together in a beautiful, functional way- by yourself or with help- whichever way works best for you!


Karen@StrictlySimpleStyle said...

Terrific post. It is wonderful that there are so many options out there, especially during these tough economic times. As a twenty-something decorating my first home, I discovered Target for the first time and was able to afford some of the things I would not have been able to afford in higher end retailers. Now, in my early forties, I can afford more, but choose to still use Pottery Barn and Ballard for some of my decorating choices.

Isabella & Max Rooms said...

Good design has indeed come to the mases, how fabulous and makes working with clients enjoyable... but also at times more challenging. There is the perception that a design can be put in place in days if not hours (tv redo shows) and that a designers time (and bill) should be as minimal as well. Oh well, I'm just so thankful to be blessed to work in a field I am completely passionate about.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Janell

LindsB said...

Such a great post! I have to go back and find my tear sheets from when I was a teen too, it will be funny to see what I was into then and how it has changed.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!!

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

great post l, and I agree with all you said. I noticed that your bedroom has white bedding. I also used white, just posted it.

Brad Miller said...

Crafty and good design comes really from the hands of the designers. If you have this hidden talent it will just show. You can try the help of area rugs at importflooring for it can help.

Michelle said...

With the internet and blogs, it's become such a small world. I remember thinking nobody would use their credit card to order online...but that's the way I prefer to shop now.

The Sears catalogue was my first decorating magazine...I used to arrange my room like the bedrooms they styled.

Happy Thanksgiving Lauren!
Yes, lots to be thankful for...most of all, following (and knowing) your bliss! are so darn good at it ;)


MyLittleHappyPlace said...

Accessibility of design, and my "awakening" that it is truly my love is certainly something I am thankful for! (Now, if I could just get moving on a way to pursue that true love, I'd be set!)

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

vignette design said...

Wow, great post Lauren! You have a lot to say and I couldn't agree with you more. Ballard Designs, Wisteria, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and HGTV have had a real influence on the average person who isn't design savvy. I find that person still doesn't know how to pull it all together or what color to paint the walls though. I have always focused on providing design consultation for those who are "clueless", on a budget and unaware where to find anything. Of course I have never made much money doing that, but it is fun helping people! I love your ideas! Happy Thanksgiving! --Delores

Jenn said...

I love reading your blog, and agree wholeheartedly with the subject of this post. To help maintain the generally high quality of your writing I would like to point out that one PORES over wonderful photographs. One POURS liquids. Keep up the good work!

Mary said...

One of the things I've noticed with all the catalogs available is that too many people decorate only from those catalogs. Their homes all look the a page from a catalog with no personal touches. With the economy the way it's been, I think people are discovering more cost effective ways to decorate and it's making their homes more "them" then a showroom. Thrift stores, Goodwill. Repainting an old family piece to make it new again.
I also think that only decorating from those catalogs is the quickest way to date a room. As soon as a new edition of your favorite catalog comes out, it makes your current room look dated. And who wants that? If you surround yourself with things you love because of the history behind them, you never tire of them. And your room will reflect who you are and where you came from.
Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours.

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said...

Thankful indeed!

I think the advent of pc's and every store being accessible...and every collectable being accessible (ebay, craigslist..he face of t.)has changed the face of things dramatically.

I do remember design shows on cable (Lynn someone...some canadian guys and of course Martha) about 20 years ago. There were so few, and no tivo...that you could schedule your week by them. Funny!

Great Post....and yeah...I'd keep that one to yourself (and us) at the table.

Happy Thanksgiving Lauren!

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

Thank you for your kind words. I too was on a budget and I still have more to do, but waiting for the right thing and the money... talk to you soon.

Chez Laurel said...

Terrific post, Lauren, you did a great job of putting together some design influences that I've been taking for granted, simply because they were so accessible and familiar.

I love to sew for my home, but a couple of decades ago it was really hard to find stylish fabrics in our local fabric stores. As I thought about your post, Calico Corners came to mind...they were the first home decor fabric store that I discovered, where I could buy fabrics that elevated the look of my home sewing projects. So here's my word of gratitude to them for what they have contributed to my design projects.

Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.


micheal jackson said...

Amazing design!! Check out the wide range of Affordable Furniture from

Maria Killam said...

Lauren, excellent point you brought up with the way catalogues and show houses/staged homes are designed, to appeal to the masses!! Thank you for that lesson!! Great post!

Easy Does It Redesign and Consulting said...

Wonderful post - for many reasons. Most of all the point about accessibility of design for the masses is so true - sometimes painfully so, as you and others pointed out. I find that sometimes non-designer folks think they know more than they do when in fact they know more about the end result they are striving for (a good thing) but not so much about how to go about getting there. I do a lot of real estate staging (keen point you made about that, too) and I have found that many real estate agents and homeowners feel they can stage their properties effectively without a stager's help simply because they watch HGTV and other similar shows. So it is a double-edged sword. But I am a firm believer that the cream always rises to the top in any situation. And your blog is certainly cream I put in my daily morning coffee reads every day!!! Thanks you so much. And wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving to all.

my favorite and my best said...

so good. so true lauren. i was right there with you looking at the ballard catalog an lusting after it's contents. we've come a lon way.
happy thanksgiving!!

Velvet and Linen said...

You are so right Lauren!
Catalogues have gotten so much better these days. Ballard in particular is really stepping up to the plate. I heard that they just hired Suzanne Kastler to design some of their products. Genius.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


Peggy & Fritz said...

Happy Thanksgiving. Loved your post. I love what you wrote and I especially have to commend you on what you wrote about design shows on TV. I say that because I work in corporate america and went to design school several years ago - I always had an eye for it and went to fine tune my skills. A girl from class and I started our own business but could never do it full time because everyone wanted the "Design on a Dime" but didn't understand that is much more work than a 20K, 50K, 100K budget. It's much harder to work on a 3K or 5K budget and no one understands how time consuming it is to work on that budget. I applaud you for bringing that up!

Happy Holidays!

C'est Moi, Julie Marie said...

Hello Lauren... thank you for visiting my blog this Thanksgiving Day, what an honor... yours is so lovely! It is so much fun looking at all of the blogs and wonderful decorations... I would love for you to visit again, and check my posts several back with all of my vintage Christmas ornaments, many are Pre~WWII... love to you and a blessed Thanksgiving... Bisous... Julie Marie

Greet said...

Hi Lauren,
Wonderful post!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Cristin said...

Great post! I agree with Janell too. The re-design in 24 hours shows sets high expectations. I also think there are some great options out there that are affordable. I love to reuse, restore and recycle when possible to help keep designing affordable.

Happy Thanksgiving my dear!


Laura Casey Interiors said...

Great post!! Happy Thanksgiving.

Haven and Home said...

Couldn't have said it any better!

Valerie Wills Interiors said...

I totally agree with you.. especially the last part about clients wanting "design on a dime". I have just spent 3 days sourcing the most beautiful finds for a modern apartment... only to have the potential client think they can do it themselves and a lot cheaper. I was heart-broken especially as the client loved every chosen piece!!!!