I Live With a Drove of Pigs, But I Want To Decorate with White

Dear Laurel,

I found you on pinterest and I love your boards! I especially adore the rooms that are pale, pale, fresh and lovely. It’s so serene and sophisticated. Here’s one of my favorites.

Whitney Fairchild Hamptons home from House and Garden

Ralph Lauren’s Hampton House

But here’s the problem.

I have three children (two boys and a girl) under the age of 10, a dog, a cat and a husband who’s not always so careful.

Alright, alright. He’s an absolute slob, but otherwise, a good man, so he stays. 🙂

I mean, those photos. Those incredible light, lovely rooms? How do those people do it? Or are they so wealthy that if it gets wrecked in a few years, they simply redecorate? What about the rest of us?

I really, really want to decorate with white. Is there a way to get the look without having a nervous breakdown, screaming at everyone and following them around with wet wipes and a swiffer?


Dusty Miller


Dear Dusty,

Well, yes and no. The no is that no matter what you do, unless you encase the pigs in plastic, you [or someone else] is going to have to spend time maintaining your home.  But, of course, you already know that. I know… you just don’t want it to get destroyed. Therefore, I’m going to let you in on all of my secrets that I’ve gleaned over the years.

Once upon a time...

I lived in an all white living room. There, I raised two exceedingly grimy, hyper-active little boys until adult-hood and my adorable Peaches [now, 16!] who scratched the crap outta EVERYTHING!


peaches-living-room - white furniture - living room layout floor plan



See that wing chair? I designed and had two of them custom-made. When we moved, they were in such bad shape, they went straight into the dumpster. The linen slip-cover on the sofa, however, was in pretty decent shape. Over the years, I’ve come to figure out what works; what doesn’t and now, I’m going to share all of my secrets.




While other paint companies are good, I almost always specify Benjamin Moore. And no, they aren’t paying me to say that, but they should. lol.

  • It is definitely worth it to spend a few extra bucks and get the Regal Select or Aura.




  • I use the matte formulation for walls – It’s a flat finish that’s WASHABLE! I’m not a fan of shiny walls unless they are lacquered which is an entirely different animal
  • Flat for ceilings. Although, my kitchen had an embossed wallpaper [anaglypta] on the ceiling and I had it painted in high gloss and it was gorgeous! Flat is good because it’ll help hide any imperfections
  • Semi-gloss for trim.

Alright. I’m sure I’ve said this before. Because of EPA bullsh*t, and it IS bullshit, (IMO) it is almost impossible to get the alkyd [oil] based version. However, if you can possibly get your hands on the oil, there is nothing that beats its rich, pearly, yummy luster. It is more difficult to work with, needs at least 12 hour drying time, before you can go anywhere near it, and it is pretty stinky. Never-mind. Open the windows. You won’t regret it.

note: you want to hire a skilled artisan who if your mouldings are not new, will sand and scrape, etc. until he has a crisp clean surface on which to paint. Sometimes, it is more cost-effective to just replace what’s there.

  • If you must use water-based paint, please consider an additive called Floetrol. The problem with water-based paint for trim is that you’ll see brush marks and it looks fake and plastic-y. The Floetrol helps to smooth out the paint. There are different schools of thought on this and you can read more about it on paint forums if you’re having trouble sleeping. :]





For the purposes of this post and for what most of us have, I am only dealing with hardwood floors and basic stain with poly.*  [I do share another option below]

Please, no laminate.

Most of it is dreadful and cannot be refinished, so once it gets trashed, you either have to live with it, or replace it.

If your floors are old, please hire the most experienced flooring guy you can find.

Here’s why.

Most people put lots of waxy crap on their floors like that hideous Murphy’s oil soap. Oh, I know, it’s very clever marketing, but please do not fall for it. Murphy’s oil soap to your hardwood floors is like feeding your kids a diet of Hostess cupcakes and twinkies. [shame on you Ann Blyth!] Pure poison. Anything with oil or wax will sink into the wood in the little cracks you can’t see [or CAN see]. Then, when 1-800-FLORS comes to redo… uh oh… get ready for a big effing mess– pealing polyurethane, for days!

Again, please use an oil-based poly. I realize that sounds contradictory, but the poly sits on top of the finish and does not soak into the wood. Oh, and have the guy do THREE COATS.

I love Fabulon.


In NY, you can only buy it in very tiny amounts. Our flooring guy had to purchase 25 little cans to do one kitchen floor. Yes, ridiculous. Oh, and you have to request the old formulation.

BTW, Did you know that ballerinas sometimes put this stuff in the toes of their pointe shoes? They do it to get some extra mileage out of them, or some like a stiffer box.


Pacific Northwest Ballet

What’s wrong with water-based polys?

Good question. One, they don’t hold up. Two. They look like plastic and sometimes look slightly filmy. I don’t care what the flooring guy says. He will try to sell you on them and tell you how much they’ve improved. They haven’t. They suck.* [one exception, below].

To be continued…

Next, I will discuss what kinds of floor coverings, fabrics and methods for maintaining as carefree a home as possible.

But first, I’d love to leave you with some gorgeous light, wonderfully decorated rooms.

Veranda Furlow Gatewood-Frank-Babb-Randolph-decorate-with-whiteFurlow Gatewood



The above two images are by one of my favorite designers, Frank Babb Randolph. [Frank does not have a website, but I took you to Loi Thai’s wonderful post featuring more of his incredible work. [and Loi’s amazing Gustavian antiques]

*note: Those are white pickled or painted floors.  Sending you back to Tone on Tone for Loi’s wonderful post on how they do it. Please note, that he uses water-based poly. For the white floors, it’s a completely different look and water-based is absolutely fine for that.

pheasant living roomAbove and below by Thomas Pheasant


ingt-anne-de2Above and below Anne Decker


Hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend!



10 Responses

  1. May I suggest Ikea heavy-duty cotton slipcovers. I bought 2 Ikea Ektorp sofas with white slipcovers 10 years ago. They have been washed countless times and still look great. I also bought 2 khaki sets and put those on sometimes, but white looks so good.

  2. Hi Julie,

    That is the work of Anne Decker. [the link is above the photo]. But yes, I do have my wrought iron curtain rods custom-made by a black-smith. I would recommend having a professional measure as they are a little tricky to get right in that configuration.

  3. I am wondering about the curtain rods in your last photo. I love them! I have similar windows and that window treatment would work perfectly. Did you have those rods custom made?

  4. Laurel-Thank you for the great advice about what poly to use. We have laminate floors in our condo right now that we put in about a year ago. It’s the only option other than carpet that the condo assoc will let us use. I can see how easily it can get damaged and the look is just not the same as real wood.

    1. thanks for stopping by Lisa! Some laminates are real wood, but it’s just a thin veneer over something else, but most of the stuff today looks
      pretty fake because it’s too uniform. Still, it’s better than wall-to-wall

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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