In my opinion, a boring room is a lot like a boring person.
Do you know someone who is a crashing bore?
I bet that you do.
And, if I really want to go out on a ________, I’m betting that you have to spend at least one or two holidays a year with them. Right?
Here’s my experience of what it’s like to spend a couple of hours with a boring person:
They often have many of the following attributes:
- Only talk about themselves and generally in an obnoxiously boastful manner.
- Never asks about you, unless it’s to ask something that’s none of their forking business.
- Are know-it-alls if not downright condescending
- Are a lot less funny than they think they are
- Always one-up you (when you can manage to get in a word)
- Put you to sleep but only because they are so exhausting to listen to!
- Rude and insensitive
And, you know the worst attribute of a boring person?
They are predictable.
Well, at least you know where you stand! haha
Of course, we all have our moments. And, someone whining because her boss sends her 100 text messages while she’s on vacation is not what I’m talking about.
99.9% of the time, I believe that people are not behaving this way to make you feel badly. I think that they are the way they are, to make themselves feel better. But, it can be unpleasant to be around them, for sure.
Well, I think that a boring room is a lot like a boring person:
- Out of proportion
- And worst of all, predictable, but not in a good way.
However, let me be clear. Just because someone has a boring room doesn’t mean that they themselves, are boring or badly behaved. They might be, but not necessarily so. They just don’t understand what they are doing that is keeping their room from being fascinating, not blah.
Sometimes a room is boring simply because the owner doesn’t have the courage or insight to create something unique. Therefore, let’s further explore some ways to give our rooms some pizazz!
A fascinating room has these characteristics:
- Lovely proportions
- Complexity. This is a broad subject. It can be with color, light to dark, texture, pattern, materials
- Strong and beautiful focal point(s)
- Intriguing (some surprise elements)
Here’s the problem. I could go and find lots of boring rooms to show you what I don’t think you should be doing.
However, I’ve gotten to the point where that’s difficult to do without it belonging to someone I might know. And, my aim is not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve had it happen to me. Somebody once dissed my work on another blog. It was several years ago and honestly, I cried for days.
So, instead, I’m going to post some fabulous not boring rooms and explain what they are doing right and what other people often do that makes their rooms fall flat.
I feel that if we deconstruct these beautiful spaces, it will help us apply the same principles to our own rooms.
Today, I’m using some of the gorgeous work of Lauren and Suzanne McGrath, the mother-daughter team compromising McGrath II. And, actually, their firm is in New York City. However, I don’t believe that I’ve ever met them. Here are some other posts that feature McGrath II.
Make no mistake; if I were searching for an interior design firm, based solely on their work, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire them.
Lauren and Suzanne’s work is the epitome of classic, timeless styling and that I believe, is what we should all be striving for.
Their rooms look effortless and yet are immensely inviting. They look collected and feel as though they are personal to their clients. No two, look the same and yet there is a clarity to their style that is a unifying thread in each project. In fact, some of their rooms are quite modern, but always classically so.
So, let’s begin with this stunning not boring living room in a fabulous Brooklyn Heights, NY brownstone. The photos are all by Joshua McHugh and they are either in the McGrath II portfolio or in this fabulous article about this project in Architectural Digest.
I featured this room before in this post about fireplace mantel styling. However, everything about this room is a lesson in how to create a non-boring living room.
The bones of this room are in place. There are beautiful mouldings in keeping with the period of the home.
The wall color is an off-white with a whiter shade of white for the trim.
I was so curious to see the other side of the room. I figured there was a sofa and I was hoping it was a warm color like this. Love those framed herbarium specimens on the left wall.
Since I’ve promised to suggest some affordable ways to fix a boring room, I’m going to start with the lovely curtains below.
Similar curtains from Anthropologie for a fraction of the price.
It looks to me that the jumping off point is the beautiful Oriental rug, beautifully layered over what appears to be a jute rug. But it could be a seagrass rug.
You can find similar seagrass rugs at One Kings Lane, Pottery Barn or Overstock. Lots of places.
This Abaca rug is another favorite natural fiber and sold at Serena and Lily.
An Oriental rug could be layered over something like this as well.
Lots of us have brown leather sofas or sectionals. They can be heavy and drag a room down. Not here. The balance comes from the colorful art and pillows. Did you see this post about cheap art? Lots of terrific ideas! One way to get the look is to go to Etsy and find printable art and then get some frames on Amazon.
beautiful and affordable botanical prints on Etsy
And for thousands of entries of printable wall art, click here.
I adore this bedroom and the color scheme is sublime, IMO. A boring room would have a beige or off-white rug. This room is certainly traditional, but at the same time it’s fresh, not precious, ersatz or dare I say granny-esque?
The custom draperies are certainly gorgeous in the McGrath bedroom, but if your budget is super-tight, you could make do with these floral curtains on sale right now at Pottery Barn. I recommend getting a size that’s too long and hemming them so that you can put the rod nice and high.
For a detailed guide about how to get your window treatments right, click here.
One of the most wonderful dining rooms— ever by McGrath II! I love that they intentionally did not style the dining table for the photo. It doesn’t need it and it would only cover up the beautiful detailing of the fireplace area behind it.
What makes this room so special in addition to the details like the Fornasetti plates on the wall, is the blue painted cabinet. A boring dining room would have a matching china cabinet with the table.
Now, don’t worry if your dining room furniture matches.
The majority of people do have this. So, what can you do? Well, if you’re adventurous, you could consider painting it. We talked about that here in this post about dining rooms.
Or, if your chairs match, you could possibly put a skirt on the chair. Or even changing the host chairs to upholstered pieces with a colorful fabric.
Below is a widget I created that brings a lot of ideas together for ways to bring your room to life. I feel that the trick is largely in the accents.
To find out more about any of these items, please click on the image. There are more great pieces in the HOT SALES PAGES.
The Nordstrom half yearly sale is ending today, June 2nd.
And, if you’re looking for some terrific father’s day gifts, I would first check out Mark & Graham.
I hope that you’re having a beautiful day!
PS: Today, is the anniversary of when I bonked my head. (and yes, the killer box is STILL there!) Get this. There is still a faint mark and a dent in that location on my forehead. Yes, a DENT! But, otherwise, I’ve been feeling quite well recently. Some of you have been asking, so thank you for that.
What an informative and beautiful post! The images and examples you provided were stunning, and the tips and affordable alternatives you provided were very helpful.
Thank you so much Lori!
Hi Laurel! I love your style and wit! This post follows well the one where you tell us it’s ok to “Chill” instead of freaking out over choosing fabrics for a room, worrying ourselves silly that we’ll make a mistake. Thank you Laurel for sharing your knowledge!
Glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for your kind words!
Love this post. I really hope McGrath II are at work on a monograph on their work. Their first book was fine but I want a coffee table book with all their interior design yesterday!
Thank you Alice!
Laurel, Thanks for this informative post. I particularly like your comments about boring folks. The problem I really see is that folks do not know how to carry on a conversation and a conversation is not all about YOU!
The rooms you featured are so beautiful. I am still a lover of traditional homes, furnishings, not sure of the correct word, but these rooms are exquisite. Each room says come on in and make yourself at home whether visiting, reading or resting.
Thank you so much Barbara!
Hi Dear Laurel,
Those lovely pottery barn curtains…. now I want them as I have the matching pillow cases in my house in England….I used to haul loads of PB stuff back to the UK.
Oh, how wonderful! Great idea!
As always, wonderful post with great (and affordable!) advice! I think I remember reading an older post of yours that said something about how you can put almost anything in a room with great plaster/millwork and it will look nice, but it’s a lot harder to make a box look non-boring. I wonder if you had only so much money to spend on one of those box rooms, would you prioritize adding mouldings and millwork to make the bones more interesting, or go for the furnishings?
I would rather sit in a room on the floor that was visually beautiful, than sit on my favorite sofa in an ugly room.
Life is like that too. ;]
How to make the bones of a room right? How do I know? Would hiring an architect help?
It depends on the architect and what needs altering. If it’s purely surface, I would go with an interior designer, most likely.
I love your posts! Have you ever done one on table lamps and proportion? I need it. Yesterday. Thank you!
Here ya go.
And, also, this post about lampshades.
If you’re ever looking for something, there’s a search box in the blog sidebar. It works!
Hi Laurel, glad to hear you are doing good. Great post as always.
Scrolling down and reading every word and I get to the dining room and its lovely. Looking at the fireplace, is it just my eyes or an optical illusion? but it sure looks like that mirror is slightly tilted. Obliviously not a prob. its just something if i see that I feel like compelled to straighten it Lol
Oh, haha. I hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out.
Hello Laurel, I am about to depart for the summer to Cleveland, and your post is very timely, since I am planning to do some rearranging of my room there. For example, looking at your list, I see that there are perhaps too many focal points, so that none really stand out, and the room is thereby less inviting.
By the way, I was thinking of you and your interest in ballet when I was reading the memoirs of author Elizabeth Enright, and her childhood in early 20th century New York City. She stated “There was Pavlova, who, scarcely touching the surface of the stage, glided across it with a quivering perfection that was like nothing so much as the exquisite vibration of the wings of certain moths. Pavlova was my first goddess; I saw her many times….” How lucky to see the greatest in your field of interest! And do you think the simile is apt?
Ballet is an art form that has a tremendous evolution in the last 100 years or so. I have seen films of Pavlova, and what she is doing is a huge departure from what ballet dancers are doing today. But, for her time, she was the best, for sure!
Trump must be the most boring person on the planet.
Wow Laurel – I feel like you are speaking to me personally today LOL. I’d call my open concept kitchen, living and dining area “seriously eclectic”. I’m going to check on those curtains too because I have some vintage bark cloth ones up right now (deep red with chartreuse flowers! I love them!) but think they need to be moved to a bedroom because they aren’t wide enough for my dining room patio door so I have sheers in between them – but they’d work fine in a bedroom. Thank you – I feel better about my mixture of styles.
I’m glad that the post rang true for you!
I love McGrath II, and it’s really helpful to look at the images with your guidance about what it is that makes them work. Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I’d love this to be a series, with each post focusing on a slightly different style of room, so we can see how the principles apply across various styles.
That’s a great idea Kristin! Thank you!
Reading your blog on Sunday, along with the NYTimes, has become a favorite activity. You really hit it out of the park with those affordable curtain alternatives!
Enjoy the weather.
Wow! That sure made my day! Finding those curtains was easy because of my weekly Hot Sales obsession! They were already a part of my inner-inventory. lol !!!
Good morning, Laurel.
Wonderful article. I am always tweaking my home, and I think it’s the small changes that have made it better and better each time. I like to describe it to myself as “elegantly comfortable” because I like it to be lovely but not intimidating, welcoming without being sloppy, and clean without being sterile.
I think I have done pretty well. But in the last day or so, when I’ve spent several days on vacation at home, I realized that two floor lamps, while nice, have a “granny” feel that is unsuitable to me. So my goal now is to replace them with more modern pieces. I found one at, of all places, Lamps Plus. I am easily picturing adding a real flair to the living room. So your post today resonated with me.
Thanks for your site. It is quite educational–and extremely entertaining.
That sounds great. Lamps Plus was one of our sponsors for the Kitchen and Bath tour I was privileged to be a part of last February. They have some lovely products at affordable prices.
For my widget, I was looking for some similar sconces. If I had not been at a party all afternoon,(a rare treat!) I might’ve found something. haha! But, here’s the kicker. The party was given by a local reader who’s become a good friend in the last year. Alas, the party is because she’s moving to Florida which has me super-bummed.
However, there was a woman at the party from White Plains, so I enjoyed reading her an excerpt from Wednesday’s post where I explain what it’s like driving around there. She grew up in that shitshow of poor city planning, so she’s used to it, but she still laughed as she knows good and well how someone who doesn’t know where they’re going can get into trouble.
Three times, I can recall that I never made it to my destination and just gave up and went home. haha.
Thank you for sharing this! I love that McGrath II living room – to me, it doesn’t even look like it was “designed”. It looks like people with great taste just lives there and put it together over time. Sort of “old money,” I guess, ha!
Yes! I agree and why I love the room so much and all of their work. They have a wonderful talent for making things look effortlessly put together but not decorated. It’s just like the amazing ballet dancers. They make it look so easy; however, it’s anything but!
What a beautiful and timely post. I just brought a large early 1900’s cupboard to live in my casual dining area at our lake cottage. It was in the family farmhouse that my Mom moved into as a newlywed and was where she kept all her dishes. Pots and pans were stored below with sliding doors and dishes above with glass doors. She eventually got a new kitchen and this piece has been in her dining room for the past fifty years or so. My parents have now moved to “town” so here we are with the cabinet.
My set up is similar to the one above with the blue hutch except in place of the fireplace is a window with views to the lake. I’ve never had a rug beneath the table but now with the brown hutch and brown floor it seems like a good idea. Here is my question, (finally) can I slip the rug under this hutch? I’ve always kept the table centered on the window but in the photo above they didn’t really worry about that. Hmmm looks like when the leaf comes out the table will be centered under the chandelier but there will be a lot of rug showing. Is that ok? Thanks and have a terrific day, I love and appreciate all you do.
My guess is that the leaf stays in the table all of the time. This is a situation of things being not centered because of the hutch. The chandelier is centered in the room. But, I love how they balance the other side of the fireplace wall with the pretty settee which also brings in more of the deeper blue.
There’s that balance I’m always talking about. Love this room so much and thanks to Lotte Meister, it’s safe to have this kind of sisal rug under the table.
First, let me say I’m glad you’re feeling better. The remaining dent in your head is concerning though.
I have admired McGrath’s work for many years. I discovered them years ago when I used to read blogs all the time. Their work always impressed me. The rooms look layered as opposed to decorated. Nothing was contrived. I think being able to produce that kind of room is a true talent.
Thanks so much Mary! I’m more concerned with the bill I got for over $2,800.00 for the CT scan I had to have after the accident. My insurance won’t pay for it. I suppose it’s my fault for walking down the sidewalk with the sun in my eyes.
This was beautiful to look at.
So nice to think about while I wrestle the weeds in my garden.
The bedroom is perfect, I love it. Especially the drapes and the pillow on the bed.
I have been dragging my heels on looking for curtains but after clicking the link to Anthropologie saw lovely ones embroidered with butterflies. I will have to think on them as I have a lot of pattern going on already but I think so.
Why do I like Anthropologie so much? Have a lovely Sunday, I so look forward to reading your post with my coffee. I have learned so much, you are a wonderful. teacher.
Boring rooms are depressing, I do wonder sometimes how beautiful furniture looks in a room that is boring by its nature instead of having amazing architectural elements like gorgeous windows etc.
We bought a crazy house that needs a lot of work but even with all it’s flaws I still prefer it to a perfectly bland slice of wonder bread with a sign that says GATHER.
Thank you so much for the wonderful comment! My mom always made me weed the garden. haha. I so miss our chats. She’s still alive but can no longer talk.
Beautiful architecture is a key ingredient.