Pretty Pictures vs. Liveable Rooms

0512jeffersdesigngroupjay jeffers

I’m a little slow. Even though I like to think I’m really picky about what I pin on Pinterest I was surprised at some of the rooms I’ve pinned. It took me a year of Pinterest using to realize that just because I pinned a space didn’t mean I wanted to actually live in the space. The difference doesn’t matter all that much until you are searching for inspiration for a room in your own house.

I love the top photo. In many ways it’s my style, it’s eclectic and rustic and unexpected. It’s one of the very first rooms I ever pinned. The room is beautiful and there is nothing at all wrong with it. But a few months ago when I was looking for room inspiration for the bonus room, I really looked at this  picture and even though I’m immediately taken with how pretty it is, there’s not much in that room I actually would use together in my own house.

Things I like:

  • the wall of shingles
  • the scale of the bird art
  • coral, blue and yellow
  • the natural light

Things I realized I wouldn’t do in my house

  • I need some pure white in every room. I have no idea why. This room has no white and I want to give it Crest White Strips. I’m sure it’s a sign of my decorating immaturity.
  • the floor lamps seem too precious and weak. But I love the hint of blue.
  • I need a big fat surfacey coffee table. Love the red stools for a little addition to a real table.
  • the chair doesn’t beg me to sit in it.

This is not about figuring out right and wrong and decorating rules. Oh no. This is about figuring out what it is that you and I individually can use in a space in our current season of life. Consider starting a fresh board that only has rooms with ideas you would actually be able to walk into and live with, not rooms that are just pretty in a photo. I’m guessing you are probably ahead of me on this.

I liked the photo up there at the top, but I didn’t like the room–for me.

house beautifulHouse Beautiful

Here’s an example of a photo I love and a space that I could walk right into and live in. I’m sure I’d deformalize it a touch just with my imperfect stuff, but this room is very inviting and I could see it helping me make some decorating decisions if I were re-doing our family room.

What about you? Have you noticed a difference between liking a photo, and actually liking the idea of  living in a room?

Have you seen Darlene’s Ditto posts? She features an inspiration room and then points out things she likes an would incorporate–it’s a great practice to help us think through what it is we love in rooms that we see.

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  1. What a great idea for evaluating ideas and sources of inspiration! Being able to comfortably live in a space really is the most important factor in decorating our homes. I think I may have to look over my ever-growing pinterest boards and see how livable some of the spaces really are. :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have been keeping a file for many years; pictures from shelter magazines that attracted me – perhaps not the entire room, but elements in it. I also keep another file of paint and fabric swatches for shopping. Both “files” are big 3 ring notebooks with plastic page protectors (the kind with a sealed bottom so things don’t fall out). Having been in this house longer than any other of my life, I’ve slowed down a bit on refurbishing. But a few years ago I hauled down my “idea file” and realized that in one way or another, over the years almost unconsciously, I have used ideas from most of those pages, and it all works for me. when I feel I’m in a rut, or when we have to empty a room for repainting, I move things around, I edit, I pick up a trinket or two to “freshen” a room but mostly it’s an amalgam of all those pages I’ve clipped and saved. I regard decorating the way I do dressing – you can dabble in trends but the major investment should be in classics. So, not an Ikat sofa, but a cushion or two. Fling a leopard print scarf around the neck of a good camel-hair coat.

  3. Oh my god, yes! You are so right. It’s okay to love a room but not want to live in it! I learned this lesson by my husband’s reactions when I showed him pictures of rooms I liked. He’d immediately start picking them apart and pointing out all the things that wouldn’t work! Now when I show him pictures, I know I have to preface “Isn’t this great?” with “Not for our house, but…” or “I don’t actually want to do this, but…” :) So when I joined Pinterest, one of the first things I did was divide my pins into inspiration boards (which I like to look at) and design boards (which are things I actually want to do). It’s a great way to organize, and it helps keep trends in check!

    Love your blog!

  4. Yeah I love to hang on to beautiful pics of rooms. Occasionally I will try to decipher why I like them.
    Even though I don’t have small boys that can wrestle around in a room and destroy it in 5 sec. I still
    try to decorate it with the mindset that people have to live and that there is a real possibility that throwing a ball for puppy may knock over something!

  5. I love, love, love putting pictures in my ideabook at (I think I’m the only person alive who doesn’t “get” Pinterest. LOL) I get great ideas from Houzz or magazines, but I’ve found that what looks pretty is usually not functional in my home. I’m forever moving things over just an inch or re-working the room to make it *look* better. That usually means that a chair is at an awkward position for tv viewing, or we never use an end table because it is too far from the sofa.

  6. Interesting, fresh approach to inspiration photos — very much like your two pronged prompt: things I like and things I know I wouldn’t do in my house. That’s very helpful and reminds us that we’re creating a house for our families.

  7. I had never thought about this…not consciously, at least. I could live in your “love it” room too.

  8. i feel like you are writing posts just for me:)

  9. What a genius idea! I like to compare and contrast things so this is a very helpful tip for me. Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with you–that chair doesn’t look comfy and those stools are too skimpy for a coffee table. Can’t wait to look up pictures of rooms now! Thanks for the fresh fire.

  10. Danielle says:

    Those are cedar shakes on the walls. I think any texture that is subsequently painted white will make your heart sing – either that, or a big white textured rug or white sectional or something like that to anchor the room. Every room needs both a color palette and value. Value is light and dark, and without something really light and something really dark, even with the prettiest palette, you’ll feel like the room has no punch or weight. No focal point, no depth. So your need to bring white in is simply good design. I have a room that’s all pickled pine panels, but instead of painting it all white, since it’s a Southern-facing room with a big window, I’m painting it a medium gray with white trim and bringing in a white bedspread, super-light carpet, possibly a white rug, and some black or coffee furniture. Then I can bring in color and pattern with floor-to-ceiling drapes on the window wall, paintings and pillows, a funky dresser, and a fibrous throw. It needs less medium blah tones and more pop, more punch, but simply adding pretty color to pickled pine won’t take it far.

  11. I very rarely pin things that are not achievable or within my restrictions (cost, fit, comfort). It’s nice to look at pretty rooms but I’ve often thought “who the heck could live in there/like that?”

    • That’s a good idea to pin within your means. :) I have actually never thought to do that but it’s smart. That way, you don’t set yourself up for failure. Time to go weed through my Pinterest boards. :)

  12. I started out using Pinterest the same way. At some point, I decided to categorize my pins by room and only pin what I could see myself living in. All the “pretty but not for us” goes in a separate inspiration board. But even the “me” rooms have to be tweaked for us because of our toddler. Bare coffee tables are in style for us!

  13. “I’m sure it’s a sign of my decorating immaturity.” This made me laugh. I don’t think that’s it. Unless that was sarcasm, you are much too humble.

    I really enjoyed this post. I mean, I really enjoy most of your posts (I’ll be brutally honest). But I feel like this post really helps me, the truly immature decorator, to peek into your brain and see what really should be looked at when considering decoration for a home. So many times I have tried to duplicate something I’ve seen, and I do…but it just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps because I was trying to duplicate a pretty picture. Thanks, once again, for further developing my thought process on how to have an intentionally live-able home!

  14. I really like your distinction between pretty rooms and livable rooms. Like you, I have to have a livable room. I always evaluate photos of beautiful rooms with that criteria near the top because our home is for our family and friends, not simply to look good. Making people feel at home is much more important to me than making something that is simply beautiful. By the way, your rooms, to me, always look functional, cozy and inviting…like rooms my family could live in. :)

  15. Erin_D says:

    HOLLA!!! I am tired of this “reupholster a completely impractical, stiff-looking old chair and put it in your living room” trend. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned comfort?? I want sofas that recline. I want chairs that I literally sink into. I want tables for puzzles and sippy cups, not carefully-curated vignettes of things my kids will steal and break. Thanks for keeping it real!!

  16. I love those wooden doors. The shire called and the hobbits are jealous.

    I want them!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Yes! I love this post. I need permission to look at things for functionality and beauty both. And to use my imperfect things in a room and see them as part of the beauty.

  18. Absolutely!! I pin alot of pretty stuff but you are absolutely right, most of them I could never live in. Now I’m going over to my Pinterest boards and see which rooms I’ve pinned I could actually live in. :)

  19. I have done a few posts like this because I kinda sorta feel like my call in blogging is to help people:
    1. realize they don’t really want to live in a Pottery Barn Catalogue
    2. understand that we all have ‘instincts’ that can be trusted as we make choices about our homes

    I’m building a house (ok, well, not *me* per se, but the builder dudes are building a house I’ll pay for) and I’ve been pruning my pinterest boards, reorganizing and such as you suggested here. SUuuuper helpful for those of us that like lots of styles.

    Here’s the post I wrote on this that I’m proud to say is one of my finest….
    It give specific exercises (hate that word, but….) to help folks narrow down their choices and such.

    Awesome post! (yours, not mine, though mine’s pretty good)

  20. Absolutely! I pin photos that I can pull inspiration from, like a color, a texture, arrangement of the art, etc. Funny you mention the chair. Often times, I see pinterest photos and I think, “how on earth are they comfortable in that chair/couch? ugh.”

  21. Laurie says:

    Love the rustic wooden door table and huge wooden doors!! … makes me think of a lovely Renaissance chapel… or Tolken’s Shire as someone mentioned : ) Love the plank walls too. I think I will seek out some rustic wooden finds for our beachy family room. Nester, thanks for the livable room inspiration! Can’t wait for your book! : )

  22. I love the title of this post! It is so true that lots of rooms in magazines, on blogs, or by “professionals” have no personal touch. That is why your blog is my all-time favorite (even over my own). ;)

    Thanks for the reminder to keep it realistic, imperfect, and beautiful!

  23. Valerie J. says:

    Yep! I do love to look at some places and just love being in others. Some rooms can look beautiful but I somehow could not picture myself relaxing, just being me in them. Nice post!

  24. Definitely! I’ve realized that, while I like an all white room on paper, and have pinned quite a few, I really can’t stand to live in a room that isn’t dark and saturated. It’s so fun to stare at an inspiration photo and decifer what I love about it.

    By the way, that large scale bird art has been on my must-have list for a year now. I need to start painting!

  25. I know what you mean. I love to look at white shabby chic style homes but am too in love with my dark wood antiques and it would break my heart to ruin serious antiques with paint. Nope…next life I imagine. :)

  26. Haha – “Crest White Strips”. I love Darlene’s Ditto posts too and the series now. A lot of times when I pin something there is at least one thing in the room that I love, if it’s not the whole room. Of course as my tastes change I may go back and wonder “what was I thinking??” about a pin down the road. :)

  27. Love this post and love both of the pictures! Definitely in the process of thinking through what I would be comfortable in as I look through photos. Most of the time when I pin, I make a specific note about what I loved that made me pin it. Right now, we’re in the “be happy with whatever we’ve been given stage”; but I’m also trying to prepare and work toward that “make this place uniquely and lovably ours” goal. Thanks so much for inspiration that’s practical!

  28. You are so right. I pin so much but mostly it’s for one element in the room. I find myself going back to what I’ve pinned and no matter what board I’ve pinned it to I’m always drawn to the same element even if it really has nothing to do with the title of the board. Sometimes the color of a sofa may draw me in but when I walk around my own home it would never fit.

  29. Nicole W. says:

    Almost 100% of House Beautiful & BHG photos that take my breath away have white couches and white carpeting – which are NOT practical in my life. One of my favorite Mad Men episodes is when Megan Draper installs white carpeting because she thought her advertising executive husband liked it. Her husband Don points out that even on the photo shoot they had to have extra samples standing by. Nester, I know you make white slipcovers work – I stand in awe.

  30. Those shingles on the wall…how innovative!

  31. Hi the nester,

    You are absolutely right that sometimes what looks good on the page, may not be right for living. Those lamps, in particular, would not be the kind you’d want near children. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing such great advice and stories on your blog!

    I’ve taken a look through your website and we think you’ve done a fantastic job in covering topics that our brand’s active audience would be interested in reading about, such as DIY home projects, renovations and home décor. It would be great if you could join our community to feature your blog entries.

    If you would like to learn more about this, please send an e-mail with “DIY” in the subject line to info [at]

    Tina Jin

  32. I have definitely noticed this. Not only the *feel* of the room but also the *affordability* of the room makes a difference. I’m down with DIY but there are just some things that we can’t do based on money, expertise, size of the room or yadda yadda. I love pinterest but sometimes I despise it too. ;) All of those ideas that are taunting!

  33. When I pin something in my “decor” board I usually note exactly what it is I pinned it for: the flooring, lighting, color scheme, etc. Although most of the rooms I could live in, I think that’s what draws me to images in the first place.

    The first is a pretty room, but I’d say the shingles/shakes are not something I could live with long term without a maid service, dusting them is a royal pain.

    We lived in a farmhouse for 3 months which had been expanded with a back sun room/rec room that had one wall of cedar shakes and they collected dust and fibers and every little bit of fluff in the air. They had to be vacuumed every other week, and even with that the little bits of fiber stuck in the wood didn’t come out. If you didn’t vacuum that often it was that much harder to get them clean. Maybe if you live in pretty sterile environment (less textiles) or a place that is not so dusty…

  34. Love this post. It is SO important that your home serves YOU, and not the other way around… and that is what this is all about.
    {and blush. thank you for the link love!!}

  35. I definitely did my visual research when changing our bedding. I was so overwhelmed with how to make the bed look “finished” so I pinned all kinds of pictures of beds I thought looked complete and pretty and livable and tried to figure out why I liked each of them!

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