Posts tagged “Bill Owens

Mission: Designing Around Furniture

How should we approach decorating our homes? The above image from Bill Owen‘s 1973 photography book, Suburbia, summarizes my philosophy on home decoration:

“We lived in our house for a year without any living room furniture. We wanted to furnish the room with things we loved, not early attic or leftovers.”

Trying to mimic 1970s interiors in your own home unfortunately takes a great amount of time, because we are now forced to scavenge the above couple’s discards from garage sales or on the side of the road. This is partially fun – buying something second-hand feels more comforting than buying something brand new anyway. It has a history and imperfections. But it can be frustrating knowing that you can’t just walk into your friendly neighborhood Bed, Bath, and Beyond to furnish your home, even if all you need is a lamp in the right color to match your couch.

If you’re like me (broke, cute, early twenties… mainly broke), your ever-growing collection of 1970s furniture, appliances, and electronics currently looks like this:

Your art is hung hesitantly, your furniture arranged randomly, and your walls are white. You are always making room for change based on whatever you can find next; nothing is permanent.

While I believe this is initially the best approach (until you can have enough furniture to furnish an entire room), eventually, you want your house to look like this:

So how do we do this? I would recommend taking it one room at a time. Pre-planning is important (and considering I don’t even own my own home yet, I have plennnty of time to plan). Research is fun! (If you’re scoffing, don’t worry; I’ll be doing that step for you). I’ll admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing, but the following is my plan of action. Come up with your own plan – or share mine, and with it, my blog:

  • Constantly collect furniture. Finding inexpensive, vintage furniture is often a random process. (See my furniture page for ideas).
  • Identify which furniture will go in which room. Group your furniture by practicality (a dining room table in the dining room) or by color (looks like my living room will be shades of brown and orange).
  • When you are searching for more furniture to purchase, keep in mind the main pieces that you are still missing (a couch? barstools?), but don’t get your hopes up for anything specific (like certain colors or styles).
  • Consider building the furniture that you can’t find or afford. Cabinets, end tables, desks, and couches are the easiest types of furniture to build.
  • Once you have enough pieces for an entire room, you can start applying wall treatments and constructing additional built-in furniture (which is what this blog is all about). Having “enough pieces” includes the free-standing furniture you have purchased and the furniture you are planning on building right into the room. Proceed with caution: once you have a color scheme started or limited space left for a couch, it will make finding furniture that you don’t want to build yourself that much harder.
  • Decorate social areas first (the living room, the dining room, the basement, etc). Rooms behind closed doors are secondary (bedrooms, offices, etc). Note: the kitchen and bathrooms are also important “social” areas, however they are the hardest to decorate on a budget due to the nature of the necessary appliances and built-in ceramics.

To summarize, I am suggesting a “design around your furniture” approach. Find your furniture first, and from it, draw your inspiration for rooms. More info on how to do that later.

Seventies or not, I think the above couple should stick around too.


Images, in order of appearance: Suburbia (1973), Suburbia (1973), Family Circle Home Decorating Guide (1973), The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement (1970), Living for Today (1972), Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (1975), Suburbia (1973).