Thoughts on Decorating

To me, decorating is like playing 3-dimensional chess.

Every decision impacts on every other decision.

And I long ago learned that the last 10% can pull together the previous 90%. What can look horrible when almost done…can suddenly transform into fuckin’ brilliant when totally done. I have seen this time and time again.

In the parlor of the Cross House I have just barely started. Layered upon this small bit-o-done will be more color, stencils, drapery, furnishing, pictures, lighting, a rug, pillows, and so on. Each bit will play its part in the final composition.

The trick — ahhhh, the trick — is being good at chess. Will this move be the right one?

Another important lesson I learned long ago is the value of the Discordant Element. If a room is perfectly matched in every way, if every color perfectly complements every other color, and every furnishing perfectly matches everything else, the result is normally…lifeless.

Rather, rooms come alive when there is at least one Discordant Element. Or more.

I cannot explain the why of this.

As a result, I am kinda causal about making sure my every decision is perfect. A lot of what I do is more intuitive than intellectual. This feels like it will work.

And it usually does.


I am painting the walls in the parlor a shocking chartreuse (Eye Catching; Sherwin Williams).


The color was picked for a number of reasons, but how it worked with the stained-glass windows was a vital consideration. Note how it is not a perfect match to any color in the windows. Rather, the wall color complements the windows.

Readers have reacted to the wall color. Most have stated that they like it. Some are not sure about it. Some think I should use wallpaper.

But, I have only made my first move. Who can yet predict how the game will end?


The fabulous Kelly posted a fabulous house yesterday on her fabulous Old House Dreams.


I laughed when I saw the above image. They stole my color! And several readers brought the above image to my attention today.

What is interesting to me about the image is how much it does not represent what I am doing in my parlor. While our wall colors are similar, the above dining room is very different than I would have done it. So, my mind “redecorated” the room:

  • I like the modernist table and chairs. But I would center them on a rug.
  • The chandelier is too small, and is hanging too high. The latter is a common problem. Sigh.
  • There are two pictures on the walls. They are WAY too small. When dealing with rooms of such scale GO BIG.
  • While I like the modernist table/chairs, I dislike all the other modernist furnishings in the room. They are simply too spindly for the scale of the room, and for the quality of the room. They look more dorm room than elegant 19th-century dining room. In my parlor I have a huge fully upholstered sofa (no legs showing) and two large-scale fully upholstered chairs (no legs showing). These pieces easily hold their own against the scale of the room.
  • Importantly, the vivid wall color does not appear to complement the stained-glass.
  • While my ceiling will also be white, this stark color will be moderated by having stencils on it. So, too, with my walls. The stencils will reduce the contrast between the contemporary colors and the period architecture. I think this is important.





  1. B. Davis on April 21, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I totally agree. The furniture above looks more frat house or dorm (upscale but still student-ish). The pictures are ridiculously small. At least put a group of 2 or 4 together if all you have are tiny (in respect to a large wall).

    I can’t wait to see YOUR room! It’ll be so awesome!

    A lot of people aren’t able to see the big picture with just a few pieces of the puzzle. Like looking at houses to buy and passing by a house because you didn’t like their furniture or wall colour – all having nothing to do with the bones of the house. Being able to visualize your own tastes is a skill. I don’t understand those that can’t see past the clutter and see the potential, but I do get that most can’t.

    Please keep showing how the layers of your room advance to the final ta-da! Perhaps it will help others see how the big picture starts with one step.

  2. audrey B on April 21, 2017 at 9:44 pm


  3. Dodi on April 22, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Scale is vitally important to any project. Having lived in may places as a child, I learned that a massive sectional is a huge mistake in an apartment sized space. While the concept in the pictured home is nice, the scale is off. It’s like having nursery furniture in the living room. The furniture might be lovely, but it doesn’t anchor the room well because it doesn’t have the “weight” that the room demands.

    Given my taste, perhaps a Scandinavian modern (mid century)table with those marvelous antelope herd chairs might be a more scaled option. Still “modern”, yet with the weight that the size of the room demands. Oh well, perhaps that’s why we all have different tastes in furnishing!

  4. kizilod on April 22, 2017 at 8:31 am

    Wow, your paint color looks fabulous with the stained glass! I can’t wait to see the finished room.

  5. Mike on April 22, 2017 at 9:03 am

    I’ve always had trouble visualizing what something will look like when it is complete, especially when it comes to decorating. That’s one reason why I am glad to see you working on the interior of the Cross House. My syle is more traditional, but I am learning a lot from watching you; not just about colors and what looks good, but also to not be scared to take a chance. We met with our banker on Thursday, and as long as the estimates don’t give me a heart attack, we are going to be adding on a historically accurate 2-story garage (efficiency apartment on 2nd floor), plus restoring the exterior and trim on the existing house. And…(drumroll) instead of the boring gray with white trim that my wife preferred, I’ve talked her into patina green on the siding, darker forest green on the trim, gold accents, and BLACK window sashes!!! All inspired by Ross and the Cross House! If it ends up looking like crap, I may need to rent your carriage house later this year, LOL…

    • B. Davis on April 22, 2017 at 9:52 am

      Love it!!

      • Mike on April 24, 2017 at 9:58 pm


  6. pk on April 22, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Brilliant post. Thank you Ross. I agree with your analysis.

  7. Rachael on April 24, 2017 at 6:54 am

    I loved reading this! I think the chartreuse is fabulous! I’d love your thoughts on how to make your color scheme look cohesive, and not like a box of crayons. This is something I am fearful of, as old houses like mine (and yours to an even greater degree) are broken up into lots of rooms. If each room is painted a different color, even within a complimentary palate, it can end up looking like a boy of crayons. Do you think? Or is this an unnecessary fear of mine.

  8. Sandra Lee on April 29, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Love your post! Agree with your analysis of the other chartreuse room. The chartreuse beautifully complements your stained glass. Amazing eye Ross! The finished room will be stunning! Lighting for this room? Have you already indicated the lighting planned or already installed? If so, disregard my question. I will look back. I remember the lighting fixtures already in the library but could not remember the parlor.

  9. Sandra Lee on April 29, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I reread several decorating posts and saw the beautiful lighting fixtures n the long bedroom, library and parlor. Disregard my questions about those issues. All of the fixtures are stunning and look beautiful.

  10. San on September 10, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Ummmm, not my favorite color. It will be very interesting to see what you do with the room.

    • Ross on September 10, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      Stay tuned!

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