Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning the Art of Balance: Life, Love and Home


When my husband took a job in Pittsburgh two years ago, my life was thrown completely off balance. We had lived in our same home town of Cincinnati, Ohio for both of our collective lives. We grew up there, were married there, had our three children there, had our careers there, and were active in our church and community. Over forty plus years of living in the same ten mile radius had earned us life long friendships. It could be said that our roots ran so deep they infiltrated the drain pipes.

Our Fairfield Home
We had built our dream home eight years earlier in the little town of Fairfield which is within the Greater Cincinnati area. The house was painstakingly designed to fit our interests and lifestyle perfectly. I was very fortunate to have been able to tailor the interior design and function of the home to accommodate my favorite hobby, entertaining large groups of family and friends. Coming from a very large, close-knit, Catholic family, we often had holiday parties that numbered one-hundred guests. The open floor plan and generous spaces easily met the challenge. The intention was to spend the rest of our days there surrounded by all of our loved ones. We lovingly labored for hours each summer in our garden, hosted parties inside and out, and tenderly cared for the dwelling that was to be a life-long investment.

When the economy crashed in 2008, my husband, Patrick, who had worked his way up in the ranks of the same company for seventeen years, suddenly found himself back in the job hunting market at the age of forty-five. Deep cuts and corporate restructuring had led to the elimination of his position. Being the main bread winner in our family and realizing that the job market in our home town was offering limited opportunities, he eventually had to broaden his job search to areas outside of Cincinnati. Our oldest daughter, Emily, was already in college and our second daughter, Dorsey, would soon be following. My work as a freelance entertainer, producer, and designer had provided a nice supplemental income over the years, but it would not be enough to pay all the bills and put three kids through college.

The clock was definitely ticking loudly. However, when my husband was offered a great job in Pittsburgh in January 2011, his "good" news was met with mixed emotion. My daughter, Dorsey, was a junior in high school. How could we move her and not allow her to finish school as a senior with her friends? She was planning on auditioning for musical theater programs at several colleges her senior year. It wasn't fair to take her away from her voice and dance teachers at this critical time. On the other hand, our son, Cory, was just finishing the 8th grade and was to start high school in the fall. It seemed equally unfair to ask him to stay and make new friends as a freshman, knowing the whole year that he would have to leave them all and move to Pittsburgh once his sister graduated. Even though he was not happy to be moving, that was a torture he just couldn't bear. How would I ever balance everyone's needs? Hence the dilemma that would result in in the craziest year of my life.

After much hand wringing, many tears, and an abundance of heated debate we finally came up with a less than perfect plan. Pat would move immediately to Pittsburgh to start work and live in corporate housing. I would stay in Fairfield with the kids allowing them to finish the school year. It would be my job to get the house on the market and Pat would commute to Ohio on the weekends as much as possible to help. Once the house was sold, we would buy a house in Pittsburgh and I would rent a small home in Cincinnati for a year so that Dorsey could graduate with her class. Cory, my baby, would leave me and move to Pittsburgh with his Dad at the end of the summer and start high school there in the fall. I would commute four hours back and forth every other weekend from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh for one year.

As a testament to how perfect my dream home was, it sold in less than two weeks of being on the market. We closed on our beloved Fairfield house the last week of May and I was in a rental by the first of June. I moved a U-haul truck full of furniture and necessities into the three bedroom rental and the rest of our possessions were packed on two giant trucks, driven four-hundred miles away, and placed into storage. We closed on our house in Pittsburgh the second week of June. I like to refer to this period as "the time I moved everything I own, three times in three weeks." Unfortunately for me, the scale was looking more like a teeter-totter and I was desperately and frantically trying to maintain the balance.

Finding a house in Pittsburgh had been very challenging. We had taken a hit on our house in Fairfield when the real estate market tanked with the sagging economy. Pittsburgh's market on the other hand had held it's own and inventory was low. Several large companies had recently relocated their headquarters there and Pittsburgh was seeing a flood of new transplants looking for homes. We would make appointments to tour houses only to have the agent call us back an hour later to say the house was already sold. Because I was still living in Cincinnati, it was difficult for me to get to Pittsburgh to see potential homes. After several house hunting trips with no results, we decided that Pat would continue looking on his own and send me photos. If he found something good we may have to move quickly on an offer. And that is exactly what happened. We put in an offer on our home without me ever seeing the house except for online photo's and a blurry, bumpy video that Pat texted me from his iPhone. When you are finding it hard to reach equilibrium, sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. I am very lucky to have been married for almost twenty-five years to a man who always seems to find a way to balance me out. So I closed my eyes and fell backwards knowing he would catch me.

When leaving your dream home and moving into someone else's dream home, it can be very difficult to balance all of the emotions. On one hand I was very relieved to at least not be moving any more. On the other hand I was devastated and mourning my beautiful, perfect house like a death in the family. Every other weekend I would drive for four hours only to arrive at a house that was not my home. The rental house never felt anything more than temporary and the Pittsburgh house was filled with choices and paint colors that belonged to someone else. I spent every hour in Pittsburgh comparing the new house to my old one and the new house always seemed to come up short. Somehow my old house represented everything good in my life that I was losing by moving. I was venting all this pain and grief at the new house. Why did they build this here? Why did they choose these floors? What were they thinking when they installed these light fixtures? Friends and family would visit from Cincinnati and tell me that the new house had great bones and It would make me so angry! I was making myself and my family miserable.

I am not sure when I started to have my conversion but at some point things started to come into balance again.  It was not something that happened over night. Each weekend, when I would come to Pittsburgh, I would bitterly throw myself into a renovation or redecorating project. After all it wasn't like I had any friends to fill my time here, so I was thinking, I might as well start correcting all the flaws. Over the year of commuting I repainted every room in the house, replaced light fixtures, made window treatments, and the list goes on. With each new project the house was gradually becoming more my home.

From left to right: Pat, Suzy, Dorsey, Emily, and Cory
My daughter graduated last May and I finally moved to Pittsburgh full time in June. I have steadfastly continued working on the house. Since then we have renovated the master bathroom and built a DIY exercise studio in the basement. I believe my balance was finally restored before Christmas this year. We hosted our first party in our home for new friends. I was dusting and vacuuming every inch of the place to prepare for our guests. The house was decorated beautifully for the holidays and as I was cleaning I found myself admiring the spaces. I was thinking about how hard I had worked over the last year to make the rooms beautiful and functional and I was feeling pride to have friends come and see it. In that instance I realized that my old home was not magical or perfect. It was only special because I had made it that way. The power was in my hands and I held the power to make this house our home. I had made this house our home.

Our Pittsburgh Home
I believe that a well designed home can enhance your life in many ways and that the design process can be enjoyable and, as in my case, healing. Good design marries pleasing aesthetics with good function. Your space should elevate your spirits, make you proud, and work well for your family in daily life. My goal is to share with my readers the tools I have learned through my career in theatrical and event design as well as my life experiences designing interiors for myself and others. 

Join me each week on my "Home" page as I share my own rooms with you in detail. I promise to have great photos, fun stories, and helpful design tips. Don't forget to check out my "Designerelish Crock Pot" and "Designerelish Pantry" pages! The "Crock Pot" features my original, virtual room designs with links to each product so  you can recreate the look for yourself. The "Pantry" holds my staples for good design. You'll find my special articles about favorite must-have furniture and accessories that I have found versatile and valuable over the years. 

Thanks for visiting Designerelish! Enjoy!


Welcome to my Great Room! It is my favorite room in our new house but it didn't start out that way. When we moved to Pittsburgh from Cincinnati, I brought a houseful of furniture with me and unfortunately the dimensions of this room were not similar to my old space. This room is rectangular and my old great room was larger and square shaped. I had a large round sectional sofa that floated in the previous great room and this room was not wide enough to float the sofa without blocking entrances. In addition because of the built-ins with the mounted TV,  the window wall, and the staircase, there is only one wall that worked for the sofa. So fortunately or unfortunately this is the one room in my house that I had to design from scratch.

It was actually very fun to design this room. Over the last 25 years I have redecorated rooms many times and I always seem to be tied to color schemes because of existing furniture pieces. The sofa would wear out but the chair didn't so I was was forced to buy a new sofa that worked with the old chair. Although I wasn't happy about having a truck full of furniture that didn't work, it was somewhat liberating to be able to start with a clean slate. 

Our Pittsburgh Great Room

My Cincinnati great room was decorated in hues of deep red, sage green, and gold. Now, I was completely free to go with a new and fresh palate. I chose charcoal and touches of black for my neutrals, and topped it with shades of blues, aquas, and teals and a pop of apple green.

The previous owner had blinds and window treatments mounted at the top of the lower windows which cut the wall in half and brought the eye down. To capitalize on the scale of the window and high cathedral ceiling, I created long drapery panels by sewing together two ready-made teal panels from Bed Bath and Beyond. I crafted a faux double set of pleats to cover where the panels were seamed together. I left the hem in the upper panel and removed the loops from the top of the second panel. The header of the second panel was then turned down to create the second pleat and sewn underneath the hem of upper panel. To add volume and softness to the large scale room I puddled the extra length on the floor. The ready-mades were on sale and I was able to create this dramatic treatment in an hour for under $100.

I scrapped the blinds and opted for installation of 3M window film. The film is virtually invisible to the eye and doesn't obstruct the view, but it does block harmful sun rays that fade your furniture and it helps to control the temperature in the room. 

Mid-Century Parker Knoll Wing-Back Chair
When using shades of blues and teals it is important to use a strong accent color to keep the room from looking too watery. I chose this apple green color for my accent. I was so lucky to find this vintage Parker Knoll mid-century modern wing back chair on Etsy. It's very comfortable and was newly upholstered in this beautiful geometric textural print. For a twist, I peppered in a Missoni-style print lumbar pillow for a little 1970's flavor.

Marble-Toped Victorian Chest of Drawers

The design style of this room is what I call "cohesive eclectic". The mismatched collected look combines different styles and periods of furniture but is pulled together by a coherent color palate that helps to unify the space. The 1950's chair is paired with a victorian, marble-top chest of drawers that I picked up at a local antique store for $350.

Graduated Stack of Vintage Wooden Boxes
I have used a variety of my favorite collections arranged in artful ways to add interest to my eclectic room. Here we see a graduated stack of vintage wooden boxes sitting next to one of my antique Early American Pattern Glass compotes.

Below we see four silhouettes from an extensive collection of over two-hundred and fifty that I have hung throughout my house in groupings. (Stay tuned for future blogs about my silhouettes. I will be dedicating an entire post to them soon) I sing in a professional a cappella quartet called the "Dickens Carolers". Last year my husband took profile pictures of us in our costumes and my daughter, who is a graphic design major, turned them into silhouettes for my collection. I'm the one holding the purse!

I have created a virtual rendering of my window wall. I was able to find items online that closely resembled the design elements in my room. You can shop from your sofa and recreate this look in your own home. Just click on the thumbnail links below.


Great Room Sofa Wall
This is the sofa wall of my great room. You can see how I have continued the "cohesive eclectic"style. I have combined a contemporary sofa in a durable charcoal velvet corduroy, with a rustic coffee table and reproduction antique end tables. There are some key design concepts that I applied when designing this area:

1. Form follows function: This is the main area to sit and view the TV that is mounted above the fireplace on the opposite wall. There are five people in my family and this sofa fits five comfortably. Someone is sitting or napping on this sofa everyday, so it was imperative that the fabric be durable. We all love those beautiful rooms in magazines with all white sofas. However, if you have a 16 year old boy who likes to eat pizza like me, this is the fabric for you. It looks good and it works for my family, so it's good design.
2. Balance and Scale: When choosing this very large framed print of Bacon's Map of London I had several factors in mind. The wall space above the sofa is an expansive area. The opposing wall in the room has a very large fireplace with built-in shelving and carries a lot of visual weight in the room. The built-ins are visually "busy" because the open shelving contains groupings of pottery and antique compotes. I knew I needed weight but didn't want to add anymore busy-ness to the room so I opted for a single large piece of artwork to balance the space.
3. Create comfortable conversation distances between seating that relate to the focal point of the room: This rectangular shaped room is not wide enough to float the sofa but a little too wide for a comfortable conversation distance between the sofa and pair of chairs on the fireplace wall. My remedy for this was to choose a large-scale, square coffee table that helps to close the distance between the chairs and the sofa. Because of the doorway that leads into the kitchen, the sofa is not able to be centered opposite the focal fireplace. I chose the right armed chaise for the sectional to offset the coffee table and push it center across from the fireplace and chairs.

(Here are some additional views of the room and accessories.)


Below is the virtual rendering of actual items that can be purchased to recreate a similar look to my great room sofa wall. Click on the thumbnail links to shop online.

     Designerelish by sziller on Polyvore


Great Room Fireplace Wall

In my old house I didn't have any open shelving so I was slightly overwhelmed by the large amount of display space in the fireplace built-ins. When experimenting with placement of miscellaneous objects on the shelves, I felt like the display was just too cluttered for my taste. 

The first thing I did was remove a shelf on each side which immediately cut the clutter by one fourth. I had a few beautiful Early American Pattern Glass compotes and liked the way they looked grouped together on one of the shelves. They had visual interest but the clear glass was light and airy and didn't feel busy or cluttered. I decided to collect a few more and with some donations from my mother's collection of compotes I was able to fill out the shelves.  

Early American Pattern Glass Compotes
Although I loved the sparkly clear glass, I realized that a whole wall of it would look a little flat and colorless. So I decided to alternate the compotes with shelves of vintage pottery in shades of aqua and teal to tie into the room's color palate. The problem was, I only had one piece of aqua pottery. I started searching Etsy and local antique stores and found that there was an abundance of vintage teal pottery on the market. I have always been attracted to Van Briggle and Rookwood pottery but have never been able to afford it. I was very pleased to see that there was a lot of less famous vintage pottery out there and it had the same look for a low cost. I purchased most of my pieces for under $15. 

Vintage Aqua and Teal Pottery
Once I had the two collections perfectly arranged on the shelves, I still felt there was something missing. The light airy glassware and the rich shades of teal were still feeling a bit bland and needed something to ground and set them off. The room already had some dark bronze accents so I chose our initials in bronze metal and slid them in with the pottery. It was just the right spice!

When designing this eclectic room I wanted to incorporate some traditional elements. To accomplish this I chose the classical placement of two matching chairs on either side of the fireplace. I wanted the traditional nod to have an updated appearance. So I used chairs with modern lines and I mixed things up by using different tables and lamps on either side of the chairs. One must be careful when doing this. The twin chairs create a certain classical symmetry so it is very important to make sure that the unmatched elements have the same visual weight in scale and color. The lamps shades although varying in shape are about the same size and clean ivory hue. The two tables also sit at approximately the same height and both are dark in color with thin dark metal legs. The drum table has a heavier shape than the opposing table so I balanced it out by using the lighter glass lamp on top while in contrast I placed the heavier pottery lamp on the finer table. The result is a wonderful marriage of eclectic interest and calming balance.                                     

(Additional views of the room and accessories)

Below is the virtual rendering of my my fireplace wall. Click on the thumbnail links to shop for a similar look in your home.

Just like my story, this week's design topic was all about finding balance. Balance is always a good thing to have whether you are talking about life or design. The desire to not feel lop-sided is ingrained in our human nature. Imbalanced room design subliminally affects our ability to relax. It can seem difficult to create an eclectic room that looks intentional and doesn't look like a refigerator full of leftovers. The key is to keep the color palate consistent throughout and to balance the visual weight in opposing areas of the room and within vignettes.

Thanks for stopping by! 
Drop in next week when the design topic will be 
Masculine vs. Feminine: 
Designing Shared Spaces


  1. Suzy - Great post! I just subscribed so I don't miss out on anything.

  2. Hi Suzy. I love the blog! And I love seeing pieces of your "new" home. Looks fabulous, of course. Love you! - Abby


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