Sunday, August 7, 2011

My room gets the Betsy touch

Betsy says....
Well you may know I had lunch with Elizabeth Speert, the designer/author that I have followed and admired for ages. Since I had  her in my clutches   invited her over for lunch I just had to ask her what she would do to my living room. She looked at me like I was crazy when I said to her, "Well what would you do with my living room?" She cocked her head to the side and looked at me over her glasses, and said, "Really???" like she was about to pull out my toenails with pliers.  I said, "yeah, I'm a big girl, have at it!".
 Betsy Speert, Traditional Home April 2003.
 It was a real queer feeling for me, having a big time designer critique my room while I stood there like the client watching and waiting for her pearls of wisdom to come my way. She has created so many magically pretty rooms, I was dying to know what the heck she would do. Understand this, we both operate with a directness and while it is searing it is not offensive, just a task to be tended to. No need for politeness! 
She sprang into action and told me to lift up the table skirt in the corner~she gasped, "oh my god, take that thing off that table right now! Rip it off! Don't you see how much better that looks?" I did as I was told.
She quickly grabbed things to arrange a tablescape. I was afraid to ask if my new phone didn't cut it, but I asked and she said it would stay, and then plunked a vintage painted dish on the table after yanking it out of its stand. She told me loves to decorate with plates. I do too. 
Table styled by Betsy Speert for Maison Decor~the french phone could stay!
Then she went over to the mantle and said "Get all these things off of your mantle. Do you have any big chunky candlesticks?" as she is grabbing the wire basket off of my coffee table and trying to hang it on the mantle wall. She ended up leaning  it there. She told me that my things were too small in scale. I told her that I thought the carved element was so bossy and it would fight with big things. She looked over her glasses at me and said carefully, "what do you mean bossy?" I explained how I call things bossy when they are taking over a room, and I do think the carved thing is bossy and have contemplated removing it. "No, its fine" Betsy said. 
Then I asked her what about this ruffled slipcover? "Pull it off! How many ruffles do you need in one room?"
I told her I was a whore for ruffles~but she didn't even blink an eye and kept right on moving about the room with her designer's eye looking for things to adjust. She said she liked the pillow, but not the trim, and told me to cut off the poms. But I like those poms and told her so. She said she gets that this style is popular, it just feels too sweet to her. I get what she is saying and why she is doing what she is doing. I just want to see how it all comes together the Betsy way before I decide what is going to be permanent and what will revert back. It continued...
The ruffled slipcover and the doily sitting in a pile with my lace panel from the stair case.
 "You have too many crystals, ruffles, gilt and lace in here!!"  as she stared at my bookcases.  I pointed out that nothing on my shelves was gilt or crystal or lace or ruffled...I guess it just felt like it did. She seemed to realize that and didn't take one thing off the book shelves. Small victory for me.  Next I asked her if she thought the fabric on the bookcases was good. She liked it, but did not like the application where you could see a gap and recommended I staple it on the surface and cover with ribbon or flat trim. I agreed.
Well I wanted to know what she would do for draperies in this room, as these are ready made from Pottery Barn. I want to do custom but am having conflicting thoughts on what to do. She asked me if I had more of the chintz. No, I only had a little  leftover. Well she thought I might do the same blue for drapes...maybe I could add a leading edge border in the leftover chintz. But she wanted me to get rid of my gold rods and paint them white and use bigger rings. I started to visualize the blue curtains pulling together the bookcases and the white rods over the white slipcovers sans ruffles....yes that would be "Betsy Pretty".....and as I was thinking of this and letting it all digest at warp speed I hear her take aim at my mirror.
"You have too many mirrors." She started counting all the mirrors and chuckling. (Well aware!) I do love my mirrors. Why, she wanted to know. "You need artwork".  I tell her I don't have any that I like enough to look at all the we are yattering back and forth as I climbed up on the couch and took down my new vintage mirror that I just bought. She wanted to see some artwork there, so I brought her around the house to look for something, and she thought my glicee from MarthasVineyard was quite good, and so, up it went.
Then she announced, "Now you don't need to have curtains made. The white curtains look fine now." She stepped back and took in the changes. Like a glutton for punishment I asked her about the rug and the coffee table. There is something about the coffee table I just don't like, and it is the boho paint job! Anyway, Betsy said, "The rug is fine, the coffee table is kind of busy." Well I could paint it I offered, and she told me to paint it a mushroom color like what was in the painting. 
New sample of Country Grey chalk paint by ASCP
Don't you know I had that table painted before the sun went down! She told me she liked the chandelier better now, so maybe that will be staying. Of course these are all things she did with what was on hand. She said the fat frenchy table had to go. She liked my new pink teapot lamp. That was given her blessing.
 She said something about it being a short and stubby and bad reproduction!
And the doily was gone, baby, gone~in an instant. "Get rid of that!" She also wanted me to replace the black and gold nesting tables beside the couch with something else. "A garden stool?" I ventured. "Yes". I agreed with that too. Lots of things we know we need to do, we just live with anyway.
Table gets a coat of Country Grey chalk paint per Betsy's suggestion before nightfall.. 
24 hours later I applied dark wax. The damask stencil work is faded under the paint.
Betsy pulled my rug towards the fireplace, shoved the table and couch to center it between the windows.
"Why didn't you center this couch?" she wanted to know. "Because I had the big skirted table in the corner".
Problem solved. Easy enough, right. Then she darted around pulling out little things, like my small fake flowers and saying stuff like, "These are wonderful! What are they doing hiding over here?"  Um...I put those over there because I wasn't using them I guess....It all happened in about 15 minutes. A big Betsy blur of a designer tornado fixing up the overload of shabby chic in the living room. 
Other things I asked about was the lace panel hanging by the staircase. "Do you think this is weird?" "No...but maybe a tapestry would be better". I pulled out a cotton and lace fabric coverlet or tablecloth I bought at Rustique and asked her if she liked this better..."yes, its very nice" she said. I was happy to see that she liked everything (except the doily) I have bought from Bridget's store in New Hampshire, Rustique. 
This cotton pieced  cloth came from Bridget's shop (on left), Rustique
I am sure Bridget will be happy to hear it too. Betsy loved my dining room chairs and remarked three times on them, telling me she really liked them, the color, and the paint job. Score one for my relationship with Bridget! 
She thought the best thing I had was my purple transferware collection. She also like the wire garden seat in my dining room and of course, loved the dining room chairs.  She told me to ignore the purple in the dining room and just work with the blues. She questioned my  linen pillows on the chippy recycle box~"Why are these pillows in this fabric? They don't go!"
"Yes they do!" I grabbed it and plonked it next to my dining room toile chair covers, "see???" "Oh, Ok, they do..."she said quietly surprised. 
Betsy Speert approved of the chairs and finally the pillow fabric.
That was the pace of the day, and it was super fun and nothing needed to be sugar coated. Just my kind of communication style. Quick and productive.
Things were rearranged and suggestions made. I was digesting my fabulous and surreal experience with a top rate designer whose work is, well, top rate! After Betsy left I went up to my office and pulled out a big stack of old Traditional Home mags I keep in a trunk. I found an April 2003 issue featuring Betsy. 
I read the article and when it delicately said that Betsy had to work around the homeowners rugs and chairs and sofas that were a little too sweet in nature, I had a nice laugh with myself. I could just picture Betsy looking at the yellow rug with the flowers and bows and know what she was really thinking. When I asked her over the phone about that client and her possessions that Betsy had to use, we shared an insiders laugh over it all, because that is exactly what she had to do with me, Miss shabby chic lover!
 Betsy was stuck with the rug, but slipcovered the sofa and chairs as they were super saccharine in style. She balanced off the florals with the striped draperies and added a solid blue sofa. Remember that this room was done almost ten years ago. There are the big white poles and rings she wants me to use. And artwork! And plates on the walls, and not a crystal in sight. Her rooms have an English country look to them, with dark antiques and florals all mixed together. She thinks I let my room get too pale~ and maybe she is right.
Traditional Home by Betsy Speert~she does allow crystals and gilt! 
We were both ready to go looking for treasures. She was going to find me a table to replace the nesting ones.
So we were off to the antique co-op, a kind of creepy underground place. "How did you have the balls to go in here?" she wondered aloud.  I thought she would be impresses with the co-op, as there was so much to see and want. She swooped right in and after 20 minutes we were back out in the parking lot where she pronounced flatly that "all that stuff was junk". She was referring to what she could buy and sell in The Boston Design Center, where she sells antiques. There were plenty of things she would use in her own home she told me. She also told me that I got a great deal on my Louis Chair which I  found last week. She said a lot of these chairs have been painted with gold paint, but mine did look like real gold leaf upon her close  inspection. I didn't get a chance to pick her brain about reupholstering.....darn it.
I loved every minute we spent together, learned a lot, and best of all, I got to see her in action~THE Betsy Speertdecorating my room and that, my friends, was priceless!


  1. Wow! What a productive experience! I wonder what you will keep and what will change back?

    I work as a Home Stager and can't tell you the number of times I just go in and re-arrange and re-purpose and edit items that my clients have and then they say, "Wow, why didn't we do this years ago?!"

    Anyway, loved the post and read every word!

  2. Want another frank opinion? I much prefer your own look. It's YOUR home, YOUR look, what YOU are comfortable with that matters. I like the sweetness of your look. Actually, I love the look you had achieved, and that's why I follow your blog. Her look is fine for her, but the place of a great designer is to make spaces work for the people occupying them, not make them suit her own style. Your style suits you and is great. Stick with it.

  3. What an experience. i am not too familiar with how it looked before but she sounds really opinonated and I guess on the other hand you asked her so she told you.
    Some of the changes seem very nice, and most important thing is hope you are happy with them.

  4. Mwaxter~yes I asked her what she thought about most things and she told me her thoughts. I did not ask about the table skirt or mirror. Those are the things that she keyed in on right from the start. I wanted her to do her thing in my room and see what would happen. It was really great for me to watch it unfold. Much like watching myself in a clients home taking apart their spaces.

    Amy wouldn't take no for an answer. I tried to be tactful and she just wanted me to go balls to the wall. Again, she asked "what would you do if you lived here?"
    Anyway, 25 million mirrors in one room is too many!

  6. But on a different note---I loved her style and wouldn't have been so vocal if it hadn't been so much fun to play with Amy!

  7. How fun! I think it's great that she gave you a fresh perspective. Sometimes we look at our stuff for too long in one way, and it's hard to see a different way to arrange it. I can't believe you painted that table before the end of the day. Your ability to do things at record speed amazes me :)

  8. I like the bigger items on the mantel. And I think I like the coffee table painted the solid color although I did love it with the stencils on it but it was kind of busy. But I loved the ruffle slip cover on the sofa. I also like that antique mirror you took down....I didn't know you had another mirror in the room. Maybe you just need some plates around the mirror. I could see that if you use that painting in the space you'd want to add some colors in from it. How long till you paint that table you just uncovered?

    You know Debra at Common Ground has started feature where you send her a photo of a room you need help with and then you just let everyone have at it. It could get ugly.

    I could see if she was doing this under the premise of this is what I would do if I lived could be way different. If I lived there - there would be lots of pillows on the sofa to discourage anyone from sitting on it. I freak when people squish my pillows.

  9. Cool! But I just knew when you asked what she'd do different, she'd say not a thing. I was surprised. LOL But I think it looks great both ways. You are both very talented designers and neither look is "wrong". Right? ;-)

  10. What a fun experience! You were brave to take the critique. Your place always looks gorgeous.

  11. I really enjoyed this post. What a fun day you must have had!


  12. How fun that must have been. To see someone you have admired for years, redesign your space. She had some wonderful ideas too.

  13. What a cool experience, and a great post. I am sad about the fat frenchy table though, I really love that thing (though admittedly I am not a fan of the marble top). I sometimes come creep on your blog just to look at that table! I saw a pair of them in a shop that I might have to go buy if I can't look at yours anymore.

  14. p.s. Betsy, if you are reading can come do that at my house anytime!! I would love your critque and suggestions. Sometimes, it seems like I am in a rut, when it comes to my style...fresh eyes would be great!

  15. Okay. I loved this post for so many reasons. How awesome that you were able to bring your design idol through your home. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to get his/her thoughts on a space? Many things that she had to say weren't necessarily 'opinions' (i.e. scale of pieces on mantel, centered sofa, too many mirrors) but rather the things that should be done regardless of style. But I {LOVE} that in instances when, at a glance, she didn't approve of something, you were able to explain your thought process (i.e. the pillows on the trunk) and then she approved. Good for you for having the confidence to do so. I prefer tell-it-like-it-is people when the purpose is productivity and the sharing of ideas and not for the sake of being rude. (I saw her comment above...hehe!) I don't think any of the changes she suggested compromise your own style. I have a feeling you'll put those ruffles back where she found them and that's just fine. (You know I won't argue there.) Will that round Frenchy (side) table fit at the end of your hallway? It's such a lovely piece and if you're going to move it from the living room or at least from beside the chair, which I agree you should, it should be a spot that commands attention (i.e. end of hallway, foyer, etc.). I love that table! Anyhow, I love it when creative, design-oriented minds get together and 'do work.' It's tough looking at our homes from our own lenses all the time and it's refreshing to get someone else's thoughts (especially a design icon) once in a while. Good for you, Amy!

  16. Meh, keep the Frenchy table there. Ha!

  17. Tracy,
    You're right, it's mainly the marble top that doesn't appeal to me.

  18. Oh my gosh Amy, that had to be the funnest thing ever! I soaked up every word. I love the way ya'll just went at it, sounds just like working with a friend where you can look at something and say "get that outta here"!... or "what the hell is this" I've totally done that with my friend. I like the touches of deep yellow ochre she brought in to offset all the white. NEVER touch that piece over your mantel, it is stunning! And cut off the pom poms! GASP, but maybe she's right. And, Uh oh, too many mirrors... I'm so guilty of that, you can't scratch your ass around my house without someone seeing it. and, I think i want to make you a painting for over your sofa. I just have to figure out what... not sure yet. I think a little soft meadow scene maybe, with some of your blues in the sky, and a softer version of the yellow ochre... Kinda like mine in the kitchen. She's awesome, and you guys were totally cute together.


  19. This was so much fun to read. It addressed a lot of the balance issues that I struggle with. I like ruffles and frills and a little whimsy in my decor, but I also like tailored and refined. Its so great that you got the chance to work with Betsey. I know her work from many years of reading Traditional Home Magazine. I noticed that I was always drawn to rooms that she did. She sounds like she's a load of fun and a wealth of information. What a great experience for you!

  20. You are one brave girl. I know people that ask for suggestions and then don't use them at all. Love her ideas.

  21. Well, I think it was a great opportunity and I'm glad you asked Betsy to do it, Amy! Although, I could see maybe hiding stuff behind my back after a time so that she wouldn't see it. : ) I think that the mantel is one of my favorite things she did. So will you take the advice I'm sure you give your own clients? Live with it a little while before you make any changes to it?

  22. Amy, I loved this post, it's one of the best I have read in blogland in a long, long time. I devoured every word and bit of advise that she shared with you, and you in return, so graciously shared with us. Now I can use that wisdom and advise on my own rooms, thanks so much for sharing your day with Betsy with us.

  23. i think betsy is great...exactly as i would have imagined her to be. i think it would be so fun to have a real decorator come to my house and revamp it. betsy would probably lay down and cry if she saw mine though....

    this was such a fun post. i can't wait to see what you do with her suggestions....

    for the record, i love your decor, is so pretty!

    hugs, cindy

  24. Don't forget my websit!! Amy is going to help me design my blog on Wednesday. She's going to come to my house, so the shoe will be on the other foot.

  25. I've followed your blog for so long that I remember each and every change. It was exciting to read along and see the suggestions that Betsy made. I was holding my breath for fear that she may not like the chintz backed bookcases and the "bossy" element on the firplace. So thrilled that they made the cut.
    The one thing I couldn't live with is the picture over the sofa and I realize that you just grabbed what was on hand. Take down a mirror some where else if you have to but consider returning the mirror, painting it soft blue and adding plates or something pretty around the sides.
    Thanks to you and Betsy, it was a wonderful post to read and enjoy.

  26. Great post Amy! I enjoyed every bit...especially hearing her say she liked the transferware!
    I see her comment above so I'm going to check that out. Now, are you going to post about your visit to her house?!? That will be fun! Hope she lets you take lots of pictures to share with us.


  27. Amy, this was just so much fun to read. You must of had the best time watching her move this and that. Love the mantel now. I think I need some candlesticks.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. That was fascinating!!

    I've not read all the comments but I have to agree with anonymous in post #2 - I understand that Elizabeth is talented and so on, but so are you and if you loved what you had I don't see any reason at all to change it just because another person (allbeit an interior designer) says you should.

    S x
    (I deleted my above comment due to typos *blush*)

  30. Wow ... what a neat experience! It's always fun to get another's perspective on our decorating, isn't it? However, I must say, that I loved your room before, too!

  31. Hi Amy,
    I realize that she is a big time designer but quite honestly I prefer the way you had your livingroom. I remember all of your posts about many of the items you created for your livingroom. I prefer the mirror to the print and I love your mantel.

    I'm glad you had the experience of working with her, sounds like fun.


  32. What a great opportunity Amy!...but I agree with Miss Anonymous up there in the of the reasons I subscribe to your blog is because I love YOUR style! I think it's awesome...and it is YOUR home. There is no way in HELL I would be getting rid of that ruffled slipcover and frenchy table any time soon! LOL! But it's always fun to see what other people think...just stay true to yourself! (*_*)

  33. Hey, Amy! I've so enjoyed reading these two posts about Betsy! But I loved this one! I'm quite envious! Sometimes, even as designers, so many things get in our way when we design our own homes and I loved hearing how you and Betsy worked together. How she saw wanted to change things that you agreed with as well as when you stood up for your choices! What I'd love to know is how on earth you remembered all you wrote about? I would have had to audio tape the entire thing to have been able to remember that much. I would have been too excited!
    Thanks so much for sharing Betsy with us!

  34. Thanks Amy...I have not had this much fun reading a post ion quite some time!

    I think I like this Betsy lady ;->

    Happy you are now BFF's with one of your design idols.

    Have a lovely week,
    Janet xox

  35. AARRRRGGGHHHHH!! Who gets to do things like this?... YOU!! A world class designer redoing your living room for less than the cost of a latte??!! Sometimes life just isn't fair! Lol!! I'm eating all this up like ice cream I've gotta tell ya! And I can't wait to hear what you'd do in Betsy's house!! Oh this is all too good! *winks* Vanna

  36. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing so many details and pictures. I think your "bossy "piece above the mantel looks much more comfortable now that it has the larger, round piece to complement it. Good job!

  37. Loved this post! I'm certainly no Betsy and my own personal style is...well, my own. But I do have to say although I love your rooms and your blog, there are some of Betsy's choices I too agree with. I'd love to have Betsy come critique my home...oh man! She'd probably DIE and say something like "How do you LIVE in this place?!?!" LOL! You were a very good student and a very good sport. Kudos to you for giving us a play-by-play! But as many others have said, this is YOUR home after all. Decorate the way YOU like. (Did she ask you to come to her home to give her the Amy-Touch? Hee hee!) Thanks so much for this wonderful post!

  38. OMG I'm laughing out loud at Betsy's response that 25 million mirrors are too many! She sounds great, and I'm glad you got to do this with her. Obviously you really admire her and wanted her honest opinion. What kind of decorator would she be if she didn't tell you? But like any good designer, I'm sure she'll want you to take or leave her advise as you see fit....of course she will want you to love your home and keep it your style!

  39. I liked YOUR own style better.
    Don't get rid of the mirror or the french table.
    They are lovely. And so are the shelves.


  40. Your post made me chuckle over my morning coffee....must have been quite a time and your room must look stunning! Amazing how someone elses view makes us see things differently.....and by the way.....your dining room chairs are GORGEOUS!

  41. Amy, What a fabulous experience and I like Betsy's suggestions! She is welcome to critique my home anytime.

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  43. Looks nice. I loved the table you did over with the stencil, was sooo pretty, so I have to say I miss that piece (I wouldn't have painted it).

  44. I loved what you did to the coffee table. Wow you are so brave to ask for her opinion. When I had my sister here a year ago she had opinions for everything. She kept on wanting to take all my craft stuff outside. I told I'll take the paint and that's it. I put my foot down on that. I don't have too storage out there and and I didn't want things getting lost here and there. Now I want to see more pictures of the "after" in your living room. Your new Louis chair is absolutely gorgeous!

  45. Amy - so brave of you to ask for such honest feedback. Not sure I'd have the guts! But, when you have someone on hand whom you admire, why not learn from them? Afterall, you can always keep tweaking!

  46. OMG you are a brave lady. Loved this post and love your style. Decorating is so personal and getting the opinion of a pro is wonderful but ultimately it's your home. Our personalities show up hugely in our homes and I love yours.
    So funny, I was going to ask where I can get that yellow floral rug, I adore it. Great minds. . .well you know.
    ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~


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