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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Or maybe I should just pick up some plants

I’m having my annual pre-Spring home-décor-related despair. I spent all winter holed up in here, not caring what anything looked like because it at least it was warm and (mostly) snow-free. But now it’s starting to warm up outside, and every now and then you get a whiff of something that seems Spring-like, and it’s making me a little nuts. I’m aching for color in something, a flower or a cloudless sky or the bright red of a fresh wound. And oh, God, I’m looking around this place and realizing that we’re swimming in a sea of brown! I realize that statement sounds unnerving fecal, but I’m going with it. Poop!

Dear readers, even though we had to dramatically cull our furniture inventory when we moved, everything we kept was wood or wood-toned. We crammed them all into this much smaller space, and now we’ve got mismatched wood everywhere, plus our decorative accents are all red or brown or brownish-red, and how did I not notice this before? How did I not run screaming into the night? The curtains are beige! We have an enormous exposed-brick wall! Even our rug is kind of beigey-vomity-brownish. We have a BROWN LEATHER couch. The kitchen cabinets are WOOD. The floor is WOOD. It’s like a 1970s wood-paneled den, in here! It’s an autumnal forest of horrors! HOW DID I EVER STAND IT?

I announced to Scott this morning that I was painting our crappy Ikea bookcases white, and he was all, can we talk about this? Would that go with the dark-wood dining room table and chairs that are right next to them and the brown everything-else? Then I cried and slammed doors because he doesn’t understand how much I hate all this brown, you guys! He doesn’t get it! He remarked in jest--in JEST!--that we paint everything white, and had I been dressed I would have hightailed it to Lowe’s to buy all the white paint they have. Whitewash it all! It will be like a Scandinavian dream! A marshmallow fantasy! With fuchsia accents!

Why yes, I have completely lost my mind.


A few of you have asked, sheepishly, if I'm looking for advice.

Why yes. Yes, I am.

So much so that I am adding in PICTURES. Behold the brown tones, ye design-savvy, and despair:


I'm sorry it's a little dark in here, but, well, IT'S A LITTLE DARK IN HERE.

Mismatched BILLY bookcases!

And yes, these ARE mismatched Ikea bookcases (the BILLY, of course). These are the ones I'm desperate to paint. I'm not sure if that's possible. I'm not sure if I care.


I don't know why I took this one at an odd angle, but I rather like it. It's almost as if that giant exposed-brick wall is closing in on us. Getting ready to crush our skulls.

Have at it, people. Give me advice. I'll take it all under advisement. And then I'll show you how things turn out.


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Reader Comments (120)

I like the painting idea ... the book cases (yes, sandpaper first!) and a wall or walls ... not the brick (sounds like you can't anyway - rental). New curtains and some splashes of coordinating color elsewhere. Trick from HGTV recently ... for inexpensive LARGE artwork. Find a great piece of fabric (sturdy) and make a right-sized wood frame (easy, cheap) and then stretch fabric out over made frame and staple gun it all down to back (like you would recover chair seats). Viola!

You must post pics when done! Spring is in the air and am feeling the same, btw!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLou
Dont paint the bookcases - it will take too much time and hassle, and wont make enough of the an impact.

Paint the WALLS - easier and much bigger impact. Do a light springy green maybe. Or a baby turquoise?

Also - NEW RUG. Go with the floor tiles from FLOR.COM. I just bought a set and Im amazed at how many choices I had, and how much cheaper it was. I actually bought a set called AllSquared in the color Lime. I, too, was really feeling like I needed to bring some of the outdoors in. And the lime rug feels a little like grass, without the astroturf feeling.

And then maybe do something wild with your coffee table - like paint it Kelly Green in a high gloss paint. Or a a brilliant teal. Or even a cherry red. Also high gloss. Something purposely funky. You dont even have to paint the whole thing. Just the top.

Then over the sofa, you need some art. Maybe a big canvas. Take Henry to an art store where they sell BIG canvases (like 60x40) - Buy one, along with a bunch of acrylic paints in whatever colors you choose as your accents. Then have Henry do some painting for you. Whatever he does will be genius. If not that, then just frame some things that are BRIGHT.

And also -- bring in some little plants, if you can find some. Maybe a couple of little ferns. Or a mint plant (doesnt need a lot of sun to grow) Or some succulents, which you might be able to order online and have shipped to you if they dont have them in NY)

Those are cheaper things that have more of an impact. Im not a fan of doing throw pillows, especially on a leather sofa. They tend to just slip around, and they never stay in place. And it always gets on my nerves. They usually end up on the floor, and then you feel like you have more clutter.

Another way to bring in color and life to your house in the dead of winter -- buy lemons and limes (and even grapefruits) at the store. Or granny smith apples. Put a huge bowl on the kitchen table. Cheap, bright, real, and they will last at least a week.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea, 32

"Take Henry to an art store where they sell BIG canvases (like 60x40) - Buy one, along with a bunch of acrylic paints in whatever colors you choose as your accents. Then have Henry do some painting for you. Whatever he does will be genius." 

THIS is genius. 
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
See your bird pictures (I think they're birds, in the background, there?). Use those bird colors in more places. And paint the bookcases, oh yes, there's no way to ruin those ikea things, really.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenL.
I would paint the walls a warm but not overwhelming colour (soft yellow maybe?) and add both plants/flowers and colourful room accents, i.e. throw pillows, brighter pieces of art, curtains with colour and/or a pattern, etc. The bookcases could go white or stay wood...I don't think they are really what's making things drab. Good luck!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin
I do not feel as though there is anything that could save this brown home in which you live, Alice.

I'm sorry.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSwedish Pankakes
I will be no help at all, ILOVE your rooms!

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay l kelly
paint the walls white, or some color other than beige, and get new curtains that have color in them -- a big pattern, I think -- (cheap at IKEA) and then you'll be fine.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterreadersguide
Ooh! Slipcovers! And paint! And maybe some rugs! And then come over and do mine!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJill Messner
So, here's my two cents. Leave all natural substances alone. Never paint brick or wood because you can't change it back. That brick is gorgeous. DON'T TOUCH IT! And don't paint everything white. White is a stressful color as it gets all the parts of your eye balls going at once. And it's bland. Just as bad as all brown.

I'd paint the walls, they were meant to be painted. A gray blue or gray green, light? Not too much color, because Blue can turn from nice to garish very quickly, depending on the light. Get it a shade grayer than you really want. A little Blue goes a long way.

I like the turquoise accent idea.

And I've been reading for some time now, and I like this thing you have going on here. Thanks!

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarajoy
ok, i didn't read all the other comments, so sorry if this is a repeat.

it's not that bad, and you can fix it with a few simple things..

declutter. if you're not using a chair or end table, trash it.

add color. it all looks brown because you have no color besides that. the brown will look better with some bright splashes of red or other vibrant colors. how about a big art print or two? some coordinating throw pillows? new curtains?

and yes, see if you can paint the bookcase. paint either the same color as the walls or the trim, adn it will be fine.

good luck!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdot
If you can't paint you could buy a really big canvas and just paint it a single color then hang it behind the couch.I also thought the idea of painting all three book cases was really good.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJusitn
mermil comment was AWESOME. "tire of playing with a pebble." !!!

I would paint and get a rug and new curtains and pillows.

Leave it all brown, get rid of any accents, and then go read this fabulous blog I just learned of:

In seriousness, personally I wouldn't try to paint a Billy since they have a Formica-like veneer and it's hard to paint on plastic, but you might have good luck with the right primer or special paint. Also, unloading books while you work on a big project like that can be a nuisance. I like a lot of the other suggestions, except for that personally I don't care for the trend toward stark white, and I have to agree with others that turquoise with brown is on its way out. (My living room is those colors, and I like them but I wouldn't start fresh with them.) A greener aqua might be pretty and fresh, though.

(Bear in mind that I have no actual decorating in my home, but I still like to spout opinions.)

If you want to be ahead of the curve color-wise, you can consult Pantone:

(And then you can be like me and shake your fists indignantly at the big mean color tyrants.)
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZina
Here are those same links, but clickable:

Unhappy hipsters

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZina
hire a virtual designer :-) Not expensive. I just used and I loved them. Totally loved them. They came up with a color scheme, moved the furniture around, we painted some of it, bought some new bedding and accents and voila, new beautiful room. Btw, they are in chicago and we are in north Jersey, I just sent them pics of the room and told them what i wanted to keep (pretty much all my furniture, we were working on a pretty limited budget.)
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
There are *virtual designers*? My mind is blown. 
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
I was going to say paint the walls a soft aqua color and then noticed the first poster said so, also. It will really make the brown pop! I noticed the limey-green color in the lamp. Playing on that color on the walls could also work, in a more edgy way. But not both colors! I think the blue-ish would be better. Then just add a few more red accents.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
i would LOVE a touch of fuchsia
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterjenB
I think like a robin's egg blue wall or turquoise something would look great with all that brown.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchiefy
I'm not a painter. And not a recommender of painting, either, apparently.

But I completely agree about the minimalizing, if possible. Especially the brown bookshelves. It was lake garroting myself to remove two beautiful shelves of books from our tiny living room (the relocating was next-to impossible), but it rekindled my love for my house and somehow made the room seem twice as big and way brighter.

Do you have anywhere else you can put the books from those two shelves?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMignon
So many people are pushing blue/aqua/teal! Which are lovely colors... but if you tend to be a brown/red person (like me), I wonder if you are also not-a-blue person (like me)?

I'd brighten up with yellows and/or leaf greens with white. And I'd start with art for above the couch. I think that would be more of a fun/personal change to the room (which already has such cute accessories in every corner)... more fun than just painting the bookshelves.

Depending on your privacy needs, I might also ditch the curtains or replace them with roman shades?
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
Paint the book cases fo sho. At the very least you can buy more of Craigslist if it's a disaster.

I think that you should clear all that clutter (aka meaningful family photos and knick knacks) off the mantlepiece, and perhaps get rid of the basket in there. I think exposed brick looks fabulous with a sort of vivid orangey red color - the color of poppies. One or two vases of poppies (very practical idea... but pottery barn has some great stuff in that color) would enhance the color of the wall rather than make it look dull. Also, a big row of bright orange and red books, preferably hard back, and organised by color (which will probably kill you, as an author) would look great. I think enhance the wall by simplifying everything around it.

Put a stack of birch logs in the fireplace (as they are very light colored) and then some cushions for the couch in a bunch of colors, all within the same family (so you could do bright terracotta, a dark red with golds, a gold and black, cream and gold you know?).

I guess minimise the stuff (hide it!) and then dress the space with only a few pieces that have one color through. I love that wall though. A bit of shiny stuff will jazz up what you have already an absolute treat. Good luck!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSGP
Okay, I'm sure you're sick of comments. I say go get a million paint chips. Pick a paint, say.. Glidden, then get all the paint chips and pretend no other colors exist. Then pick four that you like, bright eyeblinding white, brown, and two other colors, aqua and hot pink.

Then paint everything one of the four colors. Pretend the brown is wood color so you can choose to not paint wood color because it's "already" brown. Then paint anythign and everything else the right colors. Paint the basket pink, the walls white, the inside of the window aqua, as you paint things then just think to yourself, is this best white, brown, aqua or pink, then choose and paint.

If you limit yourself to four colors allowed in the room, then actually PICK four colors, then you'll know if it's going to turn out alright- plus you've just invented rules for what colors things are ALLOWED to be. They can't be a rainbow! NO. We live in a world with LIMITS. :D
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarilyn
First of all, how does one, New York dweller go about painting something so large as a bookcase? It's not like you get to drag it outside to your backyard. Curious.That said: Sure! Paint the bookcases white! If you hate them you can just paint them brown-the same color of brown. Novel!If you really love the rug just make it your starting point. GO BUY THE RUG. And add on around it.The idea about the white canvases on the brick wall? Crazy cool. Especially with the minimalist art thing. (white canvas +black/red/yellow paint = cheap easy art)(You'd have to get rid of some of your little items on the brick mantle, but they can all find new spots right? Good.)Ditto to the throw pillows, art above the couch and...Babooshka! You're done sweet pea.And all without touching a paintbrush to those rented walls of yours. Hooray for returned security deposits!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermp

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