Saturday, May 22, 2010

Design Chameleon

Are you a design chameleon? I am. Just as a chameleon changes color to adapt to a new environment, I can change my style, or design aesthetic at the drop of a hat, or at a glimpse of a decorating magazine or a film set.

My personal design career began at age five, in an attic garret of the family home at 109 Maxwell Ave in Geneva New York. As kids, my younger brother and I were each given a room to decorate, and full reign of an attic loaded with miraculous clutter from many generations: tattered overstuffed chairs, framed prints, damasked curtains and other treasures.

Breaking early with tradition, (all the women in my family were partial to Williamsburg green interiors), my first one-room studio apartment was considered very Boho, with its white walls, purple and orange accents, and a Rya shag rug. Early on, I experimented with fashioning curtains from paisley Madras bedspreads and linen bed sheets. In one house I exposed all the brick of the walls, and in another I enthusiastically papered everything in sight.

Our ugly duckling wreck of a house in Massachusetts, became a sweet country farmhouse with the help of many gallons of Laura Ashley sage green paint. A more difficult decorating challenge presented itself in the form of a fifties retro ranch house in Geneva Switzerland. It was beautifully situated on “Chemin des Muguets”, in the shadow of the Salève Mountain, and with a magnificent Magnolia tree out front. But a few quirky bits made this the house that no one wanted. We instantly fell in love with it, especially wall-to-wall French doors throughout, which gave way to the gardens. Eventually, we also made peace with the dreaded shiny black ceramic tiles in the master bath by hanging some colorful framed fish posters from the Monterey Aquarium.

Over the five years that we lived in Europe, we enjoyed filling our homes with brocante finds. When we returned back to the States, these souvenirs gave a French twist to our 1800 New England clapboard home.

Later, while living on the 18th floor of a modern high rise in Beijing, we created a little corner of Old China: a Chinese wedding bed doubled as a sofa in the living room, and the kitchen was entered through an ornate antique lattice door.

From Shabby Chic, to French Country, to China Retro I’ve dabbled in it all. My most recent decorating incarnation might be described as Rough Luxe.

Our tiny cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea sheltered a hodge podge of family pieces and flea market treasure.

Here is a section of the living room. I may have pushed the decorating envelope a tad too far, when I broke one of the main rules of "Decorating 101", and centered a framed picture above the fireplace. Another decorating violation was buying the faux seascape oil painting in the first place.

Next to the fireplace is a Scandinavian style chair. It was purchased at my favorite Australian op shop (charity resale shop). This was the same day that I met my soon-to-be good mate Linley, who was minding the store. As she helped me load the chair in the boot of my car, I asked her what she thought of my purchase. “Not much!” she quickly replied. It reminded her too much of family holidays at the beach. “But that’s exactly why I love it!” I remarked, trying not to act too disappointed. In spite of our aesthetic differences, we have remained dear friends. I love my chair with its squishy cushions covered in a faded retro patterned fabric. When I settle in it, and rub its bleached worn arms, I am transported back to happy times in our Flinders "bach".

On the move again, we’re leaving behind the tranquility of Carmel-by-the-Sea for the rugged landscape between the dunes and mountains on the other side of Monterey California.

Channeling the design chameleon within,


  1. Wow, you have had quite the life. Bonne chance on your next adventure.

  2. Well Marjorie,
    You could have been describing me ! We can decorate a room and by the evening of it being finished, wished that I had painted it in a different colour !!
    As a 12 year old, I was allowed to paint my bedroom purple....that was in the '60's and I was heavily influenced by The Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix!
    Our second house was a 16th century cottage which was very chintzy and Laura Ashley. Our present Victorian home was much more fussy and Victoeian, but is now a little less cluttered with some Scandanavian influences.
    I don't think that anything you do, decorating wise, is a mistake, unless you don't like it.
    A lovely and interesting post, Maarjorie with some great pictures of your home. XXXX

  3. A sweet hello from Frog Hollow Farm! What wonderful experiences you've had as well as the day-to-day exposure of living in/with those wonderful cultures and environments. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your move. Except for a few months in Lubbock, Texas I've always been a Jersey girl! Cioa, bella!

  4. That's what makes a house a home the things that have stories that you collect over the years,if you're clever about it you can make those things work as years go by.....We all have stuff like that! Maryanne xo

  5. Letting children decorate their rooms is a wonderful gift! I will most definitely let my little pheasant do hers. Even when I rearrange her things now, she says "oh mama, that's lovely"
    Also, I too have a brick wall fireplace (too bad non working) - I so want to paint it white. Love yours.

  6. Hi Marjorie
    Well I have always wished I could say I have a specific style that I adhere to but the truth is not so.. in fact blogging has made it worse.. haha I see so many looks and styles that I love and have zoned in on none!! haha...

    Well I love all the variety you have shown us.. and yes.. the chair!! could be from my childhood home.. very mid century which is of course so popular now!! Your current home looks lovely.. simple and relaxed and that painting above the fireplace!!! yes please...

    Good luck with your move.. is it exciting to move on ... or sad to leave the sea and beautiful Carmel??? xxx Julie

  7. Oh, yes, me, too! It's fun to change my look. Plus, I get bored so quickly. Love-love-love the fresh look of your fireplace wall!!!

  8. I'm very changed by color - light - so I design with that in mind. Then when I was diagnosed last year with Kidney Cancer (so far so good ) .... it made my want to declutter too. So... after having been a collector of many things for years - I chose what I wanted and sold or passed on the rest. Simplified and lightened my space. I think I'm still doing it because my closets and drawers contimue to be a mess! Love your blog, Jennifer jennsthreegraces

  9. I am glad that I an not the only chameloen out there! My design aesthetic changes almost daily! Great Blog!