How to Decorate a Small Row House

I will start with a disclaimer. There are no wrong ways to decorate a row house (interior) of any size as long as the occupants can roam about freely. Safety is always first. Tripping over things and getting hurt is bad. That being said, the sky, or roof in this case, is really the limit in terms of how you want to adapt your row house to suit you.

Yellow and green, wood siding, Federal row house in Philadelphia.

However, that’s probably too obtuse to be helpful and, if you’ve arrived here, you are probably looking for some actionable suggestions. After viewing hundreds of row houses, as well as living in a rather small row house, I do have a few concepts I’ve noticed over the years.

Less is More

Obviously, the smaller your house is, the less room you have for things. If your house is feeling a little cramped, you might have to review and purge. You may have to forgo having a huge collection of whatever you like. Or, maybe just one collection instead of several. We have seen several homes with collections. But, these collections are highly curated and hold the best of the best of what the owner really loves. And, the best collections are in harmony and balanced with their domestic environments.

That brings us to a universal truth of small space living…

Keep Only What You Love

It’s so hard to part with that interesting sculpture/furniture/art/plant your aunt Gertrude got you that takes up half your living room. You sort of tolerate it because she’s your favorite aunt. You don’t want to hurt her feelings. However, although her heart was in the right place, it’s likely that Aunt Gertrude has never actually been in your house and has no idea that the sculpture/furniture/art/plant, which seemed pretty reasonable under the showroom’s 30 foot-high ceiling, takes up so much space that she can’t come to visit because the front door no longer opens for anyone larger than a very petite super model.

Believe me, she’d rather visit. Perhaps pass it along to a friend who lives in the suburbs or on a farm.

If keeping the item(s) is unavoidable, embrace the next concept for happy small spacing living…

Off-site Storage

Typically, where you have small living spaces, row houses or apartments, you will find mini-storage rental. Storage is great for things that you absolutely don’t want to part with, like holiday decorations, but that you clearly don’t need in your home all year-round. Although we manage to make-do without storage since we opted for off-street parking for our car, I would really be happy to put the following things into mini-storage:

  • Air conditioner window units (I don’t want to talk about why our central a.c. still doesn’t work, grrrr)
  • Christmas decorations
  • Off season clothes (Our local storage is near enough to visit daily if needed)
  • Room heaters (don’t ask about that either, see above)
  • Dehumidifier

I imagine swapping things from the storage unit would be like Christmas or a birthday. Probably much more exciting than just tripping over the things like we do now.

With less stuff, it’s easier to…

Keep it Clean and Tidy

There is no avoiding this. You have to really do your best to keep things clean and organized. The good news is that with a smaller space you have less stuff and less to clean. A cleaner house is more healthy (less dust and whatnot) and it promotes a calming demeanor.

Finally, a small recommendation… or two.

Utilize Things with a Dual Purpose

Beyond having things in your house that fold, collapse, roll, and generally adapt to what you need, when you need it, this is more of an approach towards everything. Look for the unintended dual use of things. Stools can be tables, for example. Or, getting a really sturdy kitchen table that can also be a place to prepare food. Buy furniture you love and use it for any/every purpose you can imagine. For example, I put my bed on risers and now it’s a good height to cut fabric on for when I turn our bedroom into a sewing studio.

Other than those suggestions, you’re on your own. As uniform as row houses tend to be on the outside, there is nothing that says the inside of your row house can’t be the most unique, most creative, most awesome house in existence.

As as side note, if you live in a historic home, do not renovate the inside to look modern. That’s really where I would draw the line. The best historic homes are ones where the inside and outside are not at odds with each other. If you want an old “looking” home with a modern interior, buy a 20th Century revival or reproduction.


Making Your Facade Fabulous

Federal row house window box garden.Often, it’s the small things that make row houses special. Take away the architectural accents and you probably find yourself in a fairly basic, brick box which is why row houses have such a bad reputation for being boring. Well, we don’t like boring! Additionally, summer is the perfect time to add a little charm to your row house.

If you’re lucky enough to have a front yard there’s a lot you can do. If you mix the types of plants and flowers you have, you can transition from season to season without ever having the front of your house look bare. Small ornamental trees like the Japanese Maple, Cascade Falls Bald Cypress, and Forest Pansy Redbud are perfectly scaled for smaller homes. A nicely pruned Holly or other evergreen will provide foliage year round. Just make sure today’s perfect little tree doesn’t turn into a monster that will fall on your house in future years.

Many row house dwellers have street facing homes with nothing but a stoop and concrete sidewalk. You can still can add some nature to your facade with window boxes and container gardens. Window boxes can range from inexpensive wire baskets to elaborate wooden boxes. Because they’re small, you can experiment with different plants and flowers. If you have a black thumb don’t be discouraged, there are very hardy plants that require minimal attention, such as a Hosta. Minimal attention will keep it fairly lush and Hostas come in a variety of colors. Ivy is another nice choice as long as you watch that it doesn’t attach itself to your walls and cause damage to your masonry. As a former plant-killer, I have found that if you take the little stakes that come with the plants and use them to make a watering schedule, it works out fairly well. I use a calendar and make notes on which days I need to water which plants. The process takes about 10 minutes, once a month, but I’ve been able to keep more plants alive this year than any year previous. It helps to hang the calendar in an inconspicuous place and buy a perky watering can that you will look forward to using.

Container gardens are equally nice if you have a little more room to work with. Usually you can stash a pot or two next to your stoop without getting a summons from the city for obstructing the sidewalk. A good rule of thumb is to take a look at what your neighbors have done and devise what you can get away with. Ask your local garden store what sort of plants work best in containers. To avoid people from walking off with your plants and to promote drainage, put a nice layer of heavy rocks in the bottom before you add the dirt and your plant. If you can fit a very large pot, you may even be able to grow some of the smaller ornamental trees and shrubberies.

If you’re ambitious and have a decent budget, shutters can add lots of charm. All About Shutters provides a decent repertoire of information for people looking for interior and exterior shutters. Before windows had glass, shutters would offer privacy and protection from the elements. Once glass windows began to be widely used, shutters still provided protection from storms and harsh weather. Today, most people don’t have functional shutters.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to install shutters on your house. If you are using functional shutters, which are especially nice if you have historic windows with glass panes that may be over 100 years old that need protecting, make sure you measure several times to make sure they’ll fit correctly. If you opt for decorative shutters, make sure you hang them close enough to your windows so that you don’t see a wide gap. They’ll look better if they look like functioning shutters instead of a random attachment.

Finally, summer is a great time to make sure the facade of your house is in good condition. No sense making it pretty if it’s falling apart. Inspect your masonry or siding for any evidence of wear or damage. Check your gutters to make sure water flows smoothly. Water can cause quite a bit of damage so you want to make sure it’s going where it needs to.

Keep your stuff! Organizing your things.

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Home Organization

Keep your stuff! Organizing your things.Hold Everything

Organize Everything


The Clear Box Company

The Container Store


Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

If you would like to be considered for this list, please contact Suzanne. Thank you!

Handcrafted Metal Boot Tray

Boot Trays

Handcrafted Metal Boot Tray

Handcrafted Metal Boot Tray

Originally posted June 1, 2007.

Some homes have wonderful entry ways with coat racks and umbrella stands. And some do not. Sometimes you open the door right into your living room and your bags, coats and shoes, get dumped in the nearest available spot.

The summer months can be especially muddy. Why not avoid getting mud on your carpet and try one of these fabulous boot trays? They’re stylish enough to stay out in the open and do a great job of keeping muddy footwear contained.

Lillian Vernon Handcrafted Metal Boot Tray

This is a beautiful galvanized metal tray almost too pretty to dump dirty shoes into. It has a beautiful copper finish and embossed detailing and it’s big enough to hold everyone’s boots.

Gardeners English Boot Trays

This is a more utilitarian option made of recycled plastic. Not only does this one hold the entire family’s shoes but you can rinse it clean in the sink when it gets really nasty.

Ballard Boot Tray

This is another highly decorative choice also made of antique copper finished galvanized metal. It comes in either a plain quilted or fleur-de-lis quilted design.


Gardeners English Boot Trays

Gardeners English Boot Trays


Ballard Boot Tray

Ballard Boot Tray


Bedbugs and Row Houses

Although it’s been quiet in the news, experts predict the creepy-crawlies will be back this summer. Because their homes are attached, row house dwellers may be especially concerned that they may be more susceptible to infestation than those who live in detached houses. Never fear, row house residents are no more at risk than any other person and there are things you can do to prevent bedbugs from ruining your summer.

According to a recent e-newsletter from Harvard Medical School:

“Bedbugs are small, flightless insects that feed on the blood of (usually) sleeping people and animals. During the day, they hide in dark, protected places around beds, and their flat bodies allow them to squeeze into cracks and crevices in bed frames, headboards, and box springs and to tuck themselves along the seams of mattresses. They also hide behind baseboards, under wallpaper, beneath carpet edges, and amid clutter.”

Sounds like the perfect roommate, doesn’t it? In case bedbugs aren’t welcome in your home, Harvard suggests the following things to protect your house. When you’re on the go:

  1. Put your luggage on a table or luggage rack away from the bed and off the floor. You can also keep it in the bathroom. To be extra careful, keep your suitcase in a large plastic bag. Placing each day’s outfit in its own sealable plastic bag will also deter the bedbugs from hitching a ride home.
  2. Upon arrival, check mattress seams for reddish-black dots (bedbug poop). Inspect the headboard, bed frame and underside of the box springs if possible.
  3. Do not put coats or jackets near any beds.

At home:

  1. When returning from trips, wash (hot water) or dry clean all of your clothing or put your clothes in a dryer for 20 minutes. Inspect and vacuum your suitcase.
  2. Refrain from buying used upholstered furniture. If you have to, inspect the piece thoroughly and treat for bedbugs before you bring it into your house.
  3. Plug holes and cracks in walls and around pipes, baseboards, and moldings in your bedroom.
  4. Place mattresses and box springs in protective mattress and box spring encasements.
RowHouse Magazine Resources: Cleaning Products

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Cleaning Products

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Cleaning ProductsHoly Cow Cleaning Products

Method Cleaning Products

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day®

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

If you would like to be added to this list, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Ground floor garages in Philadelphia, PA.

Turning Cleaning Your Row House Into a Happy Ritual

20th Century Row Houses in Philadelphia.

20th Century Row Houses in Philadelphia

In a recent article for his blog called “Turn Green Cleaning into a Game,” which appeared on November 10, 2008 on The Daily Green, Michael de Jong shared a story about how his mom used to make the dreary task of cleaning the house into a game. She would write the day’s tasks onto little slips of paper, toss them into a hat, and have her kids draw slips. The person who finished all their tasks first, won. He says there wasn’t anything actually won but the idea of winning was enough to keep everyone motoring away on the cleaning. He says that even today he likes to write the cleaning tasks onto a list and check each one off as he completes them. Seeing everything checked off gives him a warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. Michael is working on a book about the “Zen” of house cleaning. See his blog, for more information.

Homeowners used to be able to look outside of their homes for pleasure with vacations and eating out. They had the luxury of owning a house and yet hardly spending any time in it. Domestic tasks like cleaning the home were easily cast off for a seemingly small fee. The home was reduced to a place to sleep and show off your posessions. But these days, hardly anyone can afford to be so luxurious.

When times get tough, people get back to basics. Since there is nothing more basic than your home, what better way is there to get back to basics than to reacquaint yourself with the rituals of domestic life? Society has been in such a rush to make everything easier and faster, that the simple joy of cleaning has pretty much been eradicated. It’s a shame because most domestic tasks are easy to expidite with excellent results. It’s a great way to feel good about something, especially now, when it’s hard to feel good about anything.

A clean house is good for your health. Left unchecked, those pesky bacteria and microbial beasties will breed and eventually contaminate your entire house which, in turn, will make you ill. Everyone knows they should clean their house but this doesn’t make people any more happy about having to do it.

The trick to enjoying cleaning is probably to take your time doing it. Anything over too quickly is less likely to be appreciated, such as taking very small bites to savor each morsel of a decadent dessert. Taking small bites of cleaning also makes it far less daunting. Pick the tasks you like and take your time and imerse yourself in the process. Strive for perfection. It could be folding the laundry and getting everything shaped into a perfect square. Or vacuuming every little crevice and making patterns on the carpet. It could be washing and putting away the dishes according to color and size. This is not insanity. This is taking an ordinary and mundane chore and turning it into a work of art. After all, look at what Warhol did with soup cans.

Like most people, we have a coffee table. It’s technically on loan. We love this coffee table because it’s rustic, looking like it’s had a very long and colorful history, and because it’s small enough to fit in our small living room. Every week, my husband sits with the furniture polish, the old fashioned, pre-Swiffer variety, and he massages the table lovingly until it shines and smells like a lemon grove. This process of polishing the table makes him very happy. It’s not that he particularily likes to clean but within the dusting and making things shiney, he has found his cleaning bliss.

It’s a matter of perspective and economics. The human mind is wonderfully capable of looking at things in a multitude of ways if it is open enough. In so many ways we have to work very hard for others and hardly have any tangible relationship to the results. In cleaning your house, you benefit from the results of any work you put into it. Additionally, because things are not so easily replaced, perhaps there will be a newfound appreciation for keeping what you have already, in pristine condition.

Happy cleaning!

What's inside your closet?

Adapting to a Small Closet

What's inside your closet?

What’s inside your closet?

Last time we talked about how to solve a closet crisis in a creative way. Although those solutions are fine if you have a relatively decent space to work with, you might find yourself with a small closet or armoire with no additional room anywhere else to be found. Egads! You will have to adapt your wardrobe to fit your space.

Most people are so deterred at the thought of having to live with less clothing and accessories that they don’t even bother moving into a place with inadaquate closet space. But there are those who cannot afford to move or the brave few that have choosen small but cute and historic over large but modern and boring.

Let’s get right to a solution. You’ll need to analyze your clothing. Take every bit of clothing, shoes, accessories and whatnot and dump them into a big pile in the middle of your floor. I bet it’s a pretty big pile. Then separate into piles of like clothing, shirts with shirts and pants with pants and so forth. Now, ask yourself the following. Does everything fit? Is anything damaged? Do I really like all of this stuff? Chances are you are storing several items that don’t fit, are damaged or out of style. You probably didn’t even know what was taking up all the room. I guarentee, unless you routinely purge, you’ll have stuff you can toss or donate. See what’s left and if you need to continue or if you’re in a better closet to clothing ratio.

Next, separate your clothing by season. Look under your bed. If you’re not using the space under your bed to store off-season clothing you’re missing out on valuable space. If you can afford it, off site mini-storage is a great solution as well.

If you’re already storing items under your bed and you can’t afford food and a mini-storage simultaneously, you’ll need to economize your wardrobe. Don’t get upset, it’s really not so bad once you get over the initial shock. The following rules are golden:

  • Quality is more important than quantity.
  • I will no longer buy trendy things that I will only wear once.
  • Everything I buy I must really love.
  • Everything I buy must coordinate and create at least six outfits.
  • One item in… one item out.

It sounds worse than it is. Let’s focus on the benefits.

Quality is more important than quantity.

For example, a basic wardrobe of four of each type of clothing such as dress pants, casual pants, dress shirts, casual shirts, suits, skirts, and dresses will give you 34 articles of clothing. Choose carefully and these 34 will yield over one hundred unique outfits. Even the smallest closet can accommodate 34 pieces of clothing as well as a few sweaters, a warm coat and a light jacket. All you need to do to perform this miracle is to make sure everything you own is timeless, classic and basic. Sounds boring? Add character with accessories.

I will no longer buy trendy things that I will only wear once.

You don’t have room to be trendy. If you have a weak moment, make sure it’s a very small trendy item like a bracelette. A little trendy goes a long way and one inexpensive, trendy accessory, which will probably end up at a future stoop sale, is better than an entire trendy outfit that cost over $100.

There is a term in accounting called amortization. Basically you divide the cost of a purchase over the life of the item. If you apply this to clothing, that $20 blouse you wear once costs $20 but the black trousers that cost $200 that you wear 10 times a year for two years only costs $10. Although this example is simplified it might help make the purchase of a more expensive clothing more paletable.

Everything I buy I must really love. Everything I buy must coordinate and create at least six outfits.

When you’re limited, you analyze each purchase you make. Is this piece something you’ll wear for several years? Is it worth a place in your ultra efficient wardrobe? Does it work into your existing repretoire of outfits? There is no more room in your closet for the mediocre. Only bring new things into your closet that are worthy of their space. If you’re shopping and you fall in love with two shirts, bring them both home. Keep the one that you get the maximum coordination from. The good news is that once you slim your wardrobe down to only your favorite pieces, you will probably never have another “what was I thinking when I put this on” experience.

One item in… one item out.

An overstuffed closet results in wrinkled and damaged clothing. It takes discipline but it’s better to accept your limitations than cramm and shove. Once you reach maximum capacity you will have to govern what comes in. If you want to introduce a new shirt, an old one will have to go. If you’ve already whittled your wardrobe down to your favorites, it might be a hard decision but it also keeps those impulse purchases at bay and in the end you save quite a bit of money. A good strategy is to only go shopping when it’s time to replace an item. Plus, with a specific item in mind, it cuts your shopping time down as well.

This may all seem rather harsh but once you get the hang of managing your small closet, it really does work. I have three and a half feet of closet space to myself, which is half what I used to have before I moved into my row house. The rules have been invaluable in helping me get my wardrobe down to a size where it all fits inside, while still offering enough flexibility so I don’t have to wear the same thing every day. I did have to make some painful decisions in the beginning but it’s nice to be able to treat myself to other things, like fancy make-up, with the money I save and getting dressed in the morning, when my room is still dark, has never been easier.

20 Things to Consider for Successful Row House Living

Although I don’t typically watch that much television, recently I have been watching a good deal because the Olympics are on and I like to watch while I crochet and I recently embarked on project New Sofa Cushions. Like anyone interested in home design, I can’t help myself but to check out HGTV. Usually I don’t spend more than a few minutes but last night I got stuck like a fly on fly-paper to the August 17th airing of “25 Biggest Decorating Mistakes.”

I will be the first to tell anyone that they need to take what designers say with a grain of salt. After all, design and style are subjective. A “look” may be generally accepted as stylish and good design and yet, you may hate it entirely. Anyway, the list inspired me to adapt it and present the 20 Things to Consider for Successful Row House Living. I don’t like saying mistakes because, in the words of the immortal Bob Ross, “there are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.” Besides, I like to think that sometimes you have to try something to know it’s not right so mistakes are just steps to a better success.

HGTV Mistake #25 – Toilet Rugs

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #1 – Furry things probably don’t belong in the bathroom.

Toilet rugs are those rugs that go around the base of the toilet. I have to agree with HGTV. Toilet rugs collect bacteria. If you do have one, wash it a lot. Actually, all bathroom rugs should be washed a lot. Throw in the furry toilet seat cover as well. Less furry surfaces are easier to clean so naturally I’m going to say plush doesn’t below in the bathroom.

HGTV Mistake #24 – Too Many Photos

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #2 – You can display a lot of photos if you do it right.

I’ve seen large collections of photos, displayed creatively, that look great. Pottery Barn and IKEA think so too. Specific to row houses, you can decorate your stairwell with them, along the wall. It’s a risk since if someone falls, they might take down half your gallery with them. The trick is to be artistic about it. See how the frames relate to each other and the space. Maybe make sure the frames are all the same color or two coordinating colors. Maybe only use black and white photos and pictures. HGTV suggested looking at catalogs and magazines for ideas. I agree – I’ve seen this done in several places.

HGTV Mistake #23 – Ignoring The Foyer

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #3 – Make the first place people see, welcoming.

Many row house dwellers don’t even have one. If you do, I agree. Maybe add a nice light fixture and nice wall color. Neither should brake the bank. Have a bigger budget? Add a mirror. I saw one foyer that had the cutest pineapple wallpaper. Often row house foyers are their own rooms with doors separating the space entirely. If you have a separate foyer, why not have some fun? Use a color that might be too overwhelming in a bigger space. Many foyers, especially those from the 1920s and 1930s, have intricate hexagon tile work. In a small space, you can afford to be creative.

HGTV Mistake #22 – Messy Cabling

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #4 – Cabling should not resemble a bird’s nest.

I like this rule too. Shove wires and cables behind your desk. It looks horrible exposed. If you want to go a step beyond, organize. You don’t need anything fancy when twisty-ties will do for tidying up loose wires. Use paper and transparent tape to label each bundle of wire.

HGTV Mistake #21 – Being Too Theme-y

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #5 – Don’t be a stranger in your row house.

I won’t say that you are confined, style wise, to the period or geography in which your row house was built. That’s ridiculous. It’s your house. However, the closer you can stay to the overall feeling of the period and location of your row house, the more cohesive your decor will be. Don’t worry about perfect adherence to a style. You can interpret the look in your own way. Suppose you went on vacation and wanted to bring the style of the place you visited into your row house. For example, you visited Mexico and want to add a Latin American flavor to your Victorian row house. You could go overboard and redo your entire house where there is a risk of things turing out like either a Disney World ride or a Mexican restaurant. Or, you could clip pictures of things you liked in Mexico. Perhaps it was the colors or the furniture. Maybe is was the terra cotta tile. Think of very specific things you liked rather than the overall look. Add one or two things, maximum, to a room, at a time. This way it’s unlikely you’ll go overboard.

I see a lot of beautiful homes and the first thing I want to do when I see something I like, is to run to Home Depot and go bananas. I can’t so I’ve been keeping a scrapbook of things I like for the past six years. This way I can edit out things that are impulses and separate what is really my style from what is passing insanity. Your style will develop organically, including new influences, and you will be amazing to see how things work together. And decorating on paper first is much easier on the budget.

HGTV Mistake #20 – Outdated Accessories

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #6 – We are not all millionaires. Prioritize the use of accessories.

Who wouldn’t love to get the total look when remodeling? Who wouldn’t love to be able to buy everything down to the last perfect detail? However, if it still functions don’t feel like you have to update everything at once. Especially if you’re on a budget, food is more important than new drawer knobs. If they’re clean and not driving you nuts to look at, keep them. Save the money for replacing inefficient appliances.

HGTV Mistake #19, #15, #12, #6 – Lopsided Furniture Arrangements / Furniture Obstacle Course / Furniture That Doesn’t Physically Fit in the Room / Pushed Back Furniture

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #7 – How you arrange your stuff is up to you, except for a few things.

If you find your furniture placement relaxing, then it works. Especially if you have to bunch things together because of space issues or a weird space. You can’t sit guests on the floor because you can’t fit enough chairs in the space to achieve perfect balance. Sometimes you have to sacrifice balance to make sure the room is accommodating to your lifestyle. However, if there is a chance that someone will fall down the stairs because they were trying to get around the coffee table, you need to rethink your arrangement. A good way to see if you’re ok is to make the room as dark as possible while still being able to make out some shapes. Then walk from one end to the other. If you make it without tripping, you’re fine. Or, throw a party. If several guests get injured, move the furniture around, get rid of a few things, or replace with smaller pieces. To see if your furniture is too far apart, invite a friend over. Sit on different chairs and see if you can have a conversation at a normal volume. If you have to shout, move the pieces closer together.

HGTV Mistake #18 – Keeping Something You Hate

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #8 – HGTV is preaching to the RowHouse choir.

Your home is too important to be mere storage for things that promote angry thoughts. Hate it? Toss it! Or better yet, have a stoop sale and buy something you really like with the money. Of course, consider if getting rid of something will cause a family rift. You can always store things and pull them out when someone visits.

HGTV Mistake #17, #16 – Overall Decor is Too Formal / Uncomfortable Dining Room Chairs

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #9 – Remember to live life in your row house.

In a small space you can’t afford to have rooms that you can’t live in or furniture you can’t sit on. Nothing kills a dinner party faster than the shrieks of pain as guests rise and realize their derrieres and legs have fallen asleep because the dining room chair cut off blood circulation. Thoroughly try out furniture before you buy it.

My exception is if you have a period row house. Then you might want to decorate it to suit the original fashions of the day which would mean that some rooms are very formal. But unless you have a historic grand town home of a row house, a huge budget, and extra rooms for actual living, keep it casual.

HGTV Mistake #14 – Everything Matches

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #10 – No one lives in your house but you. If you like matching, why not?

I have seen enough toile rooms, in very high profile publications I might add, with matching fabrics and wall coverings to know that having everything match is ok. If you are going to do this, don’t act on a whim. Make sure you really like it and keep things simple as this look can get overdone very quickly.

HGTV Mistake #13 – Following Fads

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #11 – Today’s fad could be tomorrow’s priceless antique.

Do you love it? Can you keep it clean? Yes? Does it turn your house into an obstacle course? Does it annoy your neighbors? No? Then go for it. Do your budget a favor and don’t go overboard, just in case you hate it next month.

HGTV Mistake #11 – Too Many Colors or Patterns

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #12 – Dressing your house is not unlike dressing yourself.

I agree. How to avoid this? Think about what you wear. If you wouldn’t wear all the colors and textures together, than don’t decorate that way either. This goes double in a small space where you need to be extra careful about overwhelming people. Ask friends, who know you well, how the room makes them feel. Is it a statement about your personality or does it question your sanity?

HGTV Mistake #10 – Floating Rug

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #13 – Everyone needs friends. This goes for rugs too.

Put your rugs near furniture so they won’t get lonely in the middle of the room all by themselves. An added bonus is that they’re easier to vacuum when a heavy piece of furniture is holding down one end. However, if having the rug slightly away from the furniture works better in the space, then don’t worry. There are worse things to do.

HGTV Mistake #9 – Improper Lighting

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #14 – Proper lighting is very important in a row house.

Rules about lighting go double for row houses where you typically have less windows and limited natural light. In many row homes, you have rooms without windows. Make sure you have enough lighting to see what you’re doing in the room. However, no one wants to feel like fast food under a warming light. Several sources of indirect lighting is preferable to one overhead light.

HGTV Mistake #8 – Frames Hung Too High

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #15 – Make sure looking at your art collection doesn’t injure your guests.

RowHouse Magazine is all about promoting a home that is comfortable. If you pull a neck muscle when you look at your art, it’s hung too high. However, sometimes you have limited space and lots of art you just have to display so don’t be afraid to utilize all the space. See consideration #2 about having too many photos.

HGTV Mistake #7 – Tacky Couch Covers

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #16 – Plastic wrap is for sandwiches not sofas.

Does having the backs of your legs stick to a vinyl sofa cover sound like fun? I don’t think so either. Nothing is more important than being able to live in your house and enjoy it. This means you have to make it comfortable – not sloppy but comfortable. If you think sealing your sofa in plastic is the best way to preserve it, think again. Fibers need to breathe or they’re subject to becoming brittle and moldy. Try washable slipcovers instead.

HGTV Mistake #5 – Ignoring The Windows

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #17 – When you live close to your neighbors, keep in mind that they can see in your windows.

Even if they don’t want to, your neighbors can see and hear you. Even if you’re an exhibitionist, your neighbors might not want to see you eating dinner in the nude. Put something over your windows in the name of neighborhood harmony. Although HGTV says no to sheets, sheets are often an inexpensive way to have curtains that coordinate with your bedding. Choose sheets that don’t look like sheets. Also pay attention to how you hang them. Try to make them look like curtains and use a rod. For heaven sakes – do not staple gun the fabric to the wall.

HGTV Mistake #4 – Fear of Color

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #18 – Color and you. It’s ok to love it… it’s ok to hate it.

Bad HGTV. I am surprised this was their #5 mistake. It’s certainly not as bad as having a home you can’t walk through. There is nothing wrong with a monochromatic palette or a lack of color. When it comes to color, do what you feel comfortable doing. Don’t be afraid to use color. Sometimes using a monochromatic palette, or shades of one color, is a nice way to start. But don’t be afraid to omit color from your house either.

HGTV Mistake #3, #2 – Knick-Knack Overload / Too Many Pillows

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #19 – It’s ok to keep your stuff but make sure you can take care of it and your home.

Designers hate knick-knacks unless they pick them out for you. I think a better rule to stick with is keep whatever you can dust on a regular basis. If you have a really big collection, rotate. But if you can keep it clean, show it. Again, I think having your furniture in an arrangement that can cause bodily harm is a worse mistake. However, there are two things to consider. One, is that pillows can collect dust mites and other microscopic beasties. Make sure you can keep on top of cleaning them. I remember a certain Star Trek episode called The Trouble With Tribbles in which little furry creature took over the Enterprise. A few fluffy things are nice to have. Too many and it becomes cumbersome and annoying. If you have to devote too much time to pillow or knick-knack management, you have too many.

HGTV Mistake #1 – Fake Flowers

RowHouse Magazine Consideration #20 – There is a place for everything, even fake flowers.

If this is the worst they can come up with… well, life in designland is pretty good. Fake flowers collect a lot of dust so they need to be cleaned regularly. However, real flowers are expensive and honestly, we feel a little bad that something so beautiful is being killed for mere aesthetic value so perhaps a few fake flowers are not the end of the world. The ironic thing was that the designers were ok with dried flowers which are the same dust magnets that fake flowers are and yet can’t be cleaned as easily since they’re typically fragile. Our alternatives are a potted houseplant, which will clean the air and bring life into your row house, or a nice sculpture.

And there you have it dear friends, my 20 things to consider for happy row house dwelling. Remember, they’re just ideas. I know I make about, nearly all of the HGTV mistakes in one way or another and yet no one has taken away my house. I wanted to write about them because the designers on TV couldn’t hear me objecting. In the end you need to feel comfortable in your own house especially when you’re attached.

What's inside your closet?

Flexible Closet Solutions

What's inside your closet?

What’s inside your closet?

Large closets are what everyone wants. Large closets and many of them. All you have to do is watch one home design show on cable and you’ll see people just oozing with ecstasy over large, walk-in closets. I agree. Large closets are nice. Large closets mean you can have more stuff. Who doesn’t like to have more stuff? Who doesn’t love the idea of having more shoes? One can always have another pair of shoes.

But the reality is that not everyone can have a spacious closet. People who have older homes may find that they don’t have any closets at all. Since the closet seems like such a fabulous thing, why wouldn’t there be a one in every home from the begriming of domestic architecture?

Closets are a relatively new architectural phenomenon. Historically, poor people wouldn’t have had enough stuff to stow away. Everything they had would have served a daily purpose and would have needed to be easily accessible. In medieval times, everything a family owned would have had to been portable as possessions were not something you left behind when you moved and this included what you put your possessions into. Wealthy people wouldn’t have wanted their possessions shoved into a closet as possessions were how you displayed your wealth. They would have have beautiful pieces of furniture built to hold their possessions such as linens and china.

The quantity of clothing people own has changed too. A hundred years ago, the average person might have had one formal outfit and maybe two or three outfits for everyday wear. There was no need to have a huge closet for such a few articles of clothing. Mostly, you would simply hang items that needed to be hung on hooks and fold everything else. Aside from a few particular fabrics, most things can be folded with care just fine. Certainly, everyday fabrics like wool and cotton fold well and there are plenty of folds, probably lost over the years, that limit the wrinkles. Rare early closets were very small enclosed areas with nobs for hanging clothing front to back rather than side to side like today’s closets.

Another reason for the lack of closets in older homes, particularly those that pre-date the Revolutionary War, was thought to be a “Closet Tax,” a tax imposed by the British on every room in a home. They considered closets to be an additional room, so few people built closets they’d have to pay an additional tax on. However, according to the records at Historic Williamsburg, this is a myth. Instead, it is just customary that an armoire would hold all a persons clothing.

History aside, it is entirely possibly to find yourself in a house either without closets or with inferior closet space. If this applies to you, there are some options. One, the most costly of solutions, is to build yourself some closets. California Closets is one place that specializes in custom closet construction but there are several companies that do it nicely. Expensive, yes, but you end up with a truly fabulous closet that will end up being a regular stop on your house tour. It is important to remember that if you’re going to build something as prominent as a closet into a room, make sure you
take special note of what is historically appropriate for the room. Do not put 1980s lacquer doors on a closet in your 1880s farmhouse. Instead, research and visit some period homes to make sure the doors match the period of your home.

The next option is slightly cheaper. You can buy an armoire or free standing closet system. The PAX series from IKEA can be outfitted with a variety of doors and has many drawer, door, and height options. The nice thing about a free-standing system is that you, like the medieval home-owners before you, can bring it with you when you move.