Design Conundrum: Do You Design For What You Want to Look At or How You Want to Feel? Arlyn Explores

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Design Conundrum: Do You Design For What You Want to Look At or How You Want to Feel? Arlyn Explores


Hey there EHD family. Arlyn here, back to discuss the mushy gushy side of design, as I’ve been known to do. If you missed my last post around these parts, you can read that here to see what I mean. That post is also where I gave you a sneak peek into the moodboard I put together for my bedroom MOTO (Makeover Takeover for anyone not familiar). And guess what, friends? Not much has changed since then.

Quick recap: My living room and dining room have been good and designed for, oh…two years now. Invigorated by the rocket fuel that is a room that’s finally “done,” I dove right into my bedroom that was essentially a hodgepodge of furniture pieces leftover from my cross country move a few years back and well, in full transparency, a bunch of junk. I’m talking a set of four unfinished dining chairs—I’m proud to say I finally gave up on that now inhabit a new loving home—numerous pieces of luggage, empty storage containers (why?!?), shelves turned on their side I never got around to hanging anywhere, a box for an old memory foam mattress topper size full…I have a queen bed…I welcome you to do the math there. I digress. The room was a sizzlin’ hot mess. Or should I say, the room IS a sizzlin’ hot mess. The years pass quickly when you’re pinning, folks, and sidestepping decision making.

But when the pandemic hit and weekends went from game nights with friends to binge-watching Top Chef tucked into my bed, phone in one hand and a bowl of Annie’s mac and cheese in the other, I looked around and said ENOUGH. Not of my actual Top-Chef-watching-mac-and-cheese-eating behavior, but of the giant WOMP WOMP that floated around the room, visible only to me. So I got to work, mining through my Pinterest boards, bookmarks on Instagram, reconnecting with the designer that had gone dormant inside me. I moodboarded, I blogged about it, I had a design existential crisis, I moodboarded some more. And then I arrived. Here’s a reminder of where I landed:

Bed | Plug-in Sconce | Nightstands | Cabinet | Dresser | Paint | Mirror | Curtains | Fabric Swatch | Rug | Lumbar Pillow | Duvet Cover | Quilted Set

And then guess what happened? I thought too hard about it. Who could blame me, after all? There was NOTHING ELSE TO DO. My eyes started drifting… “oooh look at that neutral room over there” and “wait! Green walls!” and “Am I already tired of peach before I even decided on a peach?”

But I do this. I know this about myself, so I forged onward. I ordered paint samples, got them up at my wall, stared at them day in and day out. I played the part of “good designer” and “tested” the paint colors…checked them out at different times of day, held fabric samples up to them. All the while fighting my inner design demons. “What if I end up hating this?” that testy little voice kept whispering, just loud enough not to ignore. “Ah, but what if you love it?” the other little voice said, sometimes louder, sometimes not.

Here’s the thing: That moodboard up there. I want to LOOK at that every day. I think if I walked into my bedroom and saw that, I’d think “Oh! So fun!” Fleshy pink wall! Burlwood accents! Rust-colored velvet! Yes! I’d “Pin” that bedroom, absolutely. But when my mind wanders and I stop to wonder how I’ll feel in the room, or rather how I want to feel in the room, I’m conflicted. If I had to pick the one thing the EHD community does best, I’d say it’s helping to psychoanalyze along with the writer to land at the best decision, even if that looks a bit different than where the writer thought they’d end up.

So, 600 words in, this is where I ask you for help. I’m going to walk you through a few different versions of my room I moodboarded that I put together to scratch a few itches I had. I needed to know what a full-color version of my room could look like, what a neutral version could look like, and then a middle ground. I’ll explain what I like about each, throw in a little inspo to show you where I’m coming from, and then either convince myself along the way of what direction to move in or plead at the end for your genius advice. Deal? I hope so because that’s precisely what I’m about to do. I hope you’ll come along ::grab’s your hand, giving you no choice in the matter:: and help me answer the big, juicy question: How exactly do you decide between what you want a room to look like/what you want your eyeballs to see, and how you want that room to make you feel, particularly if both of those options are actually very different things? Look, no one said this would be easy, but I hope you’re up to the challenge. I am!

Arlyn’s Bedroom: Full-Color Edition

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up:

Bed | Plug-in Sconce | Nightstands | Cabinet | Dresser | Paint | Mirror | Curtains | Fabric Swatch | Rug | Lumbar Pillow | Duvet Cover | Quilted Set

There is so much about this room that I love. The paint color, which I’m still deciding on, is warm and glowy. The light in my bedroom is so soft and nice that I think a hue like this would look wonderful at all hours of the day. I had the idea in my mind of juxtaposing it with an earthy rust velvet—that bed would be the statement of the room, surely. The fabric would catch the light just so. What’s not to like here?

I’ve been staring at this moodboard for months on end, and then I saw this room that Dabito of Old Brand New designed recently and I thought “yes! This is what I’m going for…it works!” (It’s also the space in the lead of this post.) Take a look:

design and photo by dabito for old brand new
design and photo by dabito for old brand new

His peach is a bit pinker than I’m going for. The white wall appears to be there as a balance, perhaps? In fact, I might like this room even more if it were enveloped in that peachy pink, instead of broken up with the white. This image makes my heart sing. This is who I am in my heart, in my soul. Also, this:

home of jacquetta wheeler | photo by isabel parra for architectural digest

My affinity for pink-toned rooms lately catches me by surprise. I spotted this perfect little sitting room over on Bobby Berk’s Instagram account, though it originally was featured in Architectural Digest, and thump thump went my heart again. While anyone who follows me over on my personal blog might know, I’ve been dealing with some personal health struggles lately. I spent the majority of August through December in bed. I did everything there: ate, worked, slept, “relaxed” whatever that means when your body feels like a stranger to you.

Being surrounded by boring beige walls, a mess, and not a lick of design can really make you feel even worse, so these happy blush rooms, with their hits of ochre and rust and blue and sage make me feel alive. This is why I don’t want my wandering eye to pull me too far from this, to be honest. It feels good right there in the center of my chest.

But the head and the heart can sometimes be at odds with one another.

Had I never looked at another photo on the internet, I’d probably already be slathering a fleshy apricot paint all over my walls, waiting on my rust-velvet bed to arrive. There’s something to be said about making a decision and just going for it, surely.

However, while I was brushing nice little squares of peach and blush and dusty pink on my walls in the daytime, I found myself regularly bookmarking rooms that had almost no color at all at night. Which brings me to…

Arlyn’s Bedroom: Neutral Edition

design and photo by studio mcgee
design and photo by studio mcgee

This bedroom, by Studio McGee, just brings so much peace to me. While my original bedroom design kept the blood pumping through my veins, these lower my blood pressure. Yet ANOTHER little voice in my head says “isn’t that how you want to feel in your bedroom?” Yes, okay little voice, YES. However, it cannot go unsaid that my bedroom has absolutely zero architectural interest (you can see it here). Where the front of my 1920s Mediterranean apartment has plaster walls, arched pass-throughs, coved ceilings and original oak floors, my bedroom has beige carpet, beige orange peel walls, and very standard ceilings. Truly, the only nice thing about the room is the light it gets through the original casement windows.

If I go this neutral route, the whole thing may fall flat as adding any kind of molding or paneling to jazz things up isn’t an option (this is a rental…I hopefully didn’t lose you there because I realize I may be overthinking all of this for a “temporary” space; however, I believe in loving the space your in no matter how long or short of a time you plan on spending there).

But let’s play the game, alright? Here’s a neutral moodboard option I put together, just to say that I did:

Bed | Plug-in Sconce | Nightstands | Cabinet | Dresser | Paint | Mirror | Curtains | Fabric Swatch Color | Rug | Lumbar Pillow | Duvet Cover | Quilted Set

I like this. It’s very soothing. I could go to bed and wake up here quite happily, mind you. So could my husband Charles. He’s a factor in all of this (though he likes all versions of these rooms, by the way). A subtle blush on the walls—Farrow & Ball Dimity—just enough color via an ochre velvet I’d use to reupholster an old French armchair I have, mostly neutrals throughout with a grounding mossy green linen duvet.

It reminds me of this room I pinned a while back of Molly Madfis’ home that was featured on Camille Styles’ website:

home of and design by molly madfis | via camille styles

Ahhhh…didn’t you just breathe a deep sigh of relief? I sure did. IS THIS WHAT I NEED?!? HALP!

Of course, both ends of the spectrum are not the only answer. There is a middle ground. “Arlyn, please say you did a potential ‘Goldilocks’ moodboard!” Why yes, yes I did.

Arlyn’s Bedroom: The “Middle Ground”

Before showing it, though, I want to share a photo from Brooke Wagner Design that might be that happy place between color-on-color and all-in-neutral:

design by brook wagner design

I like this for a few reasons:

  • It’s warm and interesting.
  • It has plenty of texture to keep the eye moving without overwhelming it with a barrage of color.
  • It pulls in those earthy hues I’ve been so in love with lately.

So, taking all those things I liked about the above room and marrying them with my first and second moodboards, I get something like this:

Bed | Plug-in Sconce | Nightstands | Cabinet | Dresser | Paint | Mirror | Curtains | Fabric Swatch | Rug | Lumbar Pillow | Duvet Cover | Quilted Set

Not bad, right? It brings in rust and mustard and ochre and blush, it feels textural but easy on the eye. But…is it just me placating myself?

Design doesn’t need to be this heady. I promise you. Had I been designing this space for someone else, I could have helped them decode their innermost desires and delivered a plan on a beautiful burlwood platter. But this is a room I have to live in every day. That I spend so much of my life in. Do I want to feel ALIVE, do I want to keep my pulse at a nice, soft 60 bpm, or do I want a little jig in the ol’ ticker but maybe not enough to feel like I’m being true to who I am as a designer/person?

I have a lot to think about, and while I’m leaning toward an answer, I want to pass the mic to you, dear EHD readers. Not really knowing me, but kind of knowing me…what do you see for me that possibly I’m not seeing for myself? Do I design my room for my eyeballs and my heart, or do I design it for deep breaths and my head? So curious to hear what you all think. Who will win? Colorful Arlyn? Neutral Arlyn? Somewhere in the middle Arlyn?

Oh and, uh, Emily, when you read this, please feel free to ALSO chime in…you’ve got my number…I expect a text. 😉

Opening Image Credits: Design and Photo by Dabito for Old Brand New

Fin Mark





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