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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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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)

One: PAINT THE BRICKTwo: Get some bright loud BIG artwork up on the walls to draw the attention UP from the bottom half of the room. The space on the wall behind the couch is screaming for a paintingThree: Change your curtains for something brighterFour: Add more color everywhere. Paint a wall something other than white.

Sorry, you asked!

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Mary: You're right, I did! And thank you! 
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
and remember, nothing brightens a room more than mushroom or taupe walls. Mix those colors with white, add orange tulips and pillows - wow! Leave it to your mother to steer you in the right direction - xxoo
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary Anne
color group your books. I know it sounds twee. it IS twee. but it also looks kind of cool. I did it when we were selling our house. and go ahead and shoot me because I'm a heretic but you have too many tall book cases. one long low one facing the table (or is it a counter?) get rid of some of those books. I know how painful it is to get rid of books. you live in PS. put them out. someone will take them in 12 minutes. lower book case will open up the space some more.

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersnarkoleptic
I'm a frustrated decorator.

Paint the billy cases. Use spray paint, there are fabulous cans of paint for every purpose imaginable. Of course, I'm a paint 'ho and I paint *everything*. I suggest a glossy white and you won't have to sand if you use the right paint. Ventilate your apartment like crazy and wear a painter's mask while Henry's at school. If it were me, I'd paint that cushioned chair frame the same color RED as in your lamp, or at least reupholster it that color. I'd paint the walls light turquoise, and that will be hard to get right. Get pints of the paints you are considering and paint them on boards to put around the room to see if you like them. I love the idea of wide white crown molding with the ceiling painted a lighter shade of turquoise than the walls. I vote for big bright wide matting around some family pictures for the wall behind the sofa. No frames necessary.

Here's one side of a guest room I just did:

Fear not the bright!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
Oh, Alice. Your living room looks like my living room, minus about 84 thousand pounds of clutter.

I'm with all the people who said turquoise/aqua/whatever. I also like your furniture, and think you should focus on accents. Pillows, throws, an accent wall, curtains?

Good luck, love!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKat
GO FOR IT!-Paint all the living room furniture white (but don't you dare touch that leather sofa) -Buy some poppy/modern red and white accent pillows ( track lighting on the ceiling-Make all your knick knacks on the mantel and picture frames match (white, black, or red). Also, get this: some plantlife in there to make you happy: rid of the TV or put it in an armoir that you can close.

Love you Alice!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
Can you tell me where you got that lampshade with the red accents. I love it!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. G.
I've got lots of polished oak furniture, but I've also got yellow walls - rich, warm, buttercup yellow, and it looks fantastic. And it's easy to do - and that first swipe with the roller on a neutral wall is ELECRIFYING! Go on, be bold!
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBig Dot
I have to comment just to say- don't paint the brick! It adds so much character, and is very cool.
March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterash pdx
Ah, let's hope the poop-brown of winter composts and makes the beautiful flowers of spring...or something.

IKEA has some fun doors you can put on the Billy-style bookcases, so you wouldn't have to go through the agony of trying to paint faux-wood.

I agree also with those who said good things about colorful pillows and throws (and rugs) because those are things you can change seasonally if you want without too much expense. Good luck!
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie
I absolutely love that you have Story People on your wall. I have them all over my house and just adore Brian Andreas' work. I hope that you keep those!!
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkw
Love the color ideas, curtains with a colorful print, pillows, a throw, some colorful pictures -- agree with using a mirror or mirrors to enhance the light and expand the space. Add more lighting if you can. If your purse can handle it, get an armoire for your TV. It's the darkest item in the room and adding a short height cabinet that's painted wood would brighten that corner. Craigslist is awesome. A little elbow grease and you end up with something very pretty and not spendy. Good luck! Can't wait to see what you do!
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDottie
Turquoise. Or Aqua. Bam! Done. Or not.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjoaaanna
New curtains, that pick up a color from that adorable green and red lamp in the corner. So, new curtains, in either red, or green, is what I'm trying to say. :) Also, paint the bookcases. Red, even! Or, you could paint them white, and put fabric backing behind it - so that happy little splashes of pattern peek out from behind your books and trinkets. I like the room/stuff in it, personally. :)
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJaime is a good decorating site. And yes, they do virtual decorating, but I don't know if you can get in on it right now.

I love the blue idea. I'd go more toward a Tiffany blue than a true aqua. Or if that doesn't float your boat, maybe a pale gold. It would go with the existing reds.

And I think you need something Major above the fireplace rather than a bunch of small things. Maybe a big mirror to help bounce some light around. The Flor rug tiles are a great idea too - if you go with blue walls and/or accents, you could get a fun brown-and-blue pattern that would brighten things up but still go with the brown.

So, here's a weird idea for the bookcases. They look kind of busy right now, cause they're full of books. Get some straight-sided canvas bins and put the books in there. White bins will add light, colored bins will add color, but either way they will make the whole thing more cohesive and less "Look! Here we are! Lots of books! Hey, did you see us books over here!"

Another weird idea. I think the exposed brick wall is pretty. But if it's making you crazy, you could cover the edges with curtains. (don't let the name scare you) has rods that actually hang from the ceiling. You could use those to hang some light-colored curtains flanking the fireplace.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracy
Wish I had some decorating advice, but sadly that is an area in which I am much lacking myself!
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUnplanned Cooking
Fun Idea! I'm loving this post!

Here are a few cheap fixes that I've done, and have so worked:

1. paint the basket in the fireplace white, and place winter cherry blossom twigs in there: so cheery, you won't believe it.

2. place a very large whitewashed wooden bowl full of green apples on the cofee table. you'll love it.

3. a large, long vertical print of white and orange placed very low to the sofa back would be fantastic.

4. paint the wall next to the fireplace a warm color.

5. throw out the tab pocket curtains, and getting some filmy flowy sheers...they'll make a sunny day so romantic in there. This is the wall I think should be painted a warm color, too. Pottery Barn colors are fantastic!!

6. paint the bookcases all white to match: that looks cheery really fast.

7. place the TV on a bright trunk, rather than an open shelving bookcase...the books in there can be distracting and unfocused. The books compete with the pictures over the fireplace, and the pictures on the fireplace...too many things that jut out. No serenity for the eye, you know?

8. remove all the pictures from over the fireplace and hit a fleamarket and place one collection of entirely one thing up there. Like all yellow vases, or all bright green vases. Different sizes, etc., but all one thing. It is cheery and gives the room a focal point. Right now, you have pictures over the fireplace and on the fireplace mantel, rather than just in one place.

9. Have only one large thing over the fireplace, rather than so many small ones. You can do , say, 2 large antique botanical framed prints resting on the mantel, or a grouping of 4 green leafy stencils, or one large stretched canvas art print. has some very affordable stretched canvas choices that are sensational...

Just some ideas: I did do a mini course at our local community college a few years ago, for fun, on changing and inspiring your home. It was fun and one important thing I always remember: collections work. It ties a room together, and gives it focus. Also, stick to one basic color, and no more than 3 accent colors in one room.

Good luck and MORE ROOMS PLEASE!! This is so much fun! And it's easier to see how to change someone else's home than you're own...why is that, Alice?

March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
P.S. Looked at the room again: how about:

1. Large picture of Henry's artwork framed somewhere

2. Change the rug to something bright right away..that'll be huge.

3. build off the birdy prints that are so in right could have a collection of little birdcages, or something like that over your fireplace ...little ones.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
RED curtains will pack a HUGE punch...I can totally see them on those windows. You can pick up some inexpensively almost anywhere...I got some tabbed curtains in a gorgeous red from Target. Red is the way to go, I guarantee it will make the whole room pop.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermel
Argh...should've read the comments first.

Anyway, 3 ideas from above that would work so well

Paint the chair an orangey /red.. fabulous!

Do not paint the fireplace!

Have all your books only in one spot, and color coded. That looks so cool.

I'll leave you alone now..
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
one more than I'm done...I swear...It's just that I keep looking at the pictures, and get ideas..

How about a beautiful new burnt orange lampshade for the lamp near the bookcases?
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
I'd paint the bookcases in a heartbeat. Just make sure you get the right primer. I'd consider a color--like aqua or lime green, as previously suggested. But if color on the bookcases scares you, go with a warm, creamy white rather than a cold, stark bright white. My house is a veritable color explosion, so if I were you, I'd pick a bright, saturated color that makes you happy and paint all of the walls with it (except for the brick) and paint all of the trim white. Or, take that same color and use it on curtains, throws, pillows, vases, etc. if that suits your style better.You might also consider picking one or two of the other wood-toned pieces and paint them the same creamy white (or color, if you go that route) as the bookcases. Plants also would make a huge difference, and you wouldn't have to do any work.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
Ack, I see I am late to the party. Have to put my two cents in anyway: add a shelf to the mantel (maybe whiteish?) to brighten the brick wall without painting it (infidels!) and also to widen/deepen the area so it will look less cluttered. I second the mirror but I don't know about all of the aqua/teal suggestions with your brown couch. To me the furniture in the room lends itself to something more like Dooce's color palettes, which with I am sure you are quite familiar! Just some thoughts.
March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarahd
Declutter, declutter, declutter, especially fireplace area. Move smaller art pieces to different wall--put a cluster of framed art somewhere.

Get wall stickers/decals or big art for wall behind couch.

Paint walls the color blue that makes the couch look good (whatever that blue is--robin's egg or sky or something).

Try contact paper or fabric around the pale Billy and leave the dark ones alone. Or put them farther apart.

March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

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