Toto: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore



The Stone Schoolhouse, built in 1870, now home to Peeking Through the Sunflowers’ Deserae


Emails, I get emails.  One of the first readers of Cote de Texas who ever contacted me asking for decorating advice was a blogger herself, Deserae from Peeking Through the Sunflowers.  She sent me a picture of her bedroom, asking for my opinion on how to change it up.  I remember I emailed the picture to Beach Bungalow 8 and together we discussed what I should tell Deserae to do to her bedroom.   It was my first blogger design consultation and I wanted to get it right.   I took that first consult very, very seriously.   



Before:  Deserae’s Red Fabric Bedroom


Back then, Deserae’s style was all about reds and toiles and white slipcovers.   She was definitely a more-is-more kind of girl and had all sorts of knick-knacks everywhere, and then some.  I gave her my ideas for her bedroom:  add drapes, get rid of the valance and substitute woven blinds for the white shades, add seagrass, slipcover the chair, etc. – all standard Webb Design advice.   Des surprised me when she responded very favorably to what I had to say – she had already thought of all those same ideas.  She was up for a change, but worried about her prior investment in her new red bedding.   I visited her blog and discovered that we had similar taste, except there were a few years between that similarity.  You see, some time ago red toile was my favorite fabric too, but I had moved on while Des was still in it’s throes. 

After that initial consultation,  we established a routine.  She would send me pictures of her decorating and I would give her my opinion.   What I soon learned though, was that Des really didn’t need my advice, she was quite talented all on her own and very adept at home remodeling.  She and her husband lived in a stone schoolhouse built back in 1870 somewhere in the middle of the Kansas countryside.  Together they had redone their house, including adding a new kitchen and bathroom – all on their own!   Even the maple hardwood floors were installed by Des and her husband – they bought the old planks from a nearby gym.    I was in awe of her boundless energy.    And so, although Des really didn’t need my ideas, she continued to send pictures, showing me whenever she moved an accessory, or a chair – which she did – often.  She actually liked to change her furniture around even more than I did.  After the initial bedroom advice, she turned her focus on to the living room, which she was particularly unhappy with.  She wanted a change, but was in denial about how much of a change she really wanted.   She had so much invested in “red” – that going with her heart was going to have to be done in stages. 




Before:  white slipcovers, red toiles and plaid.  I suggested she get matching plaid drapes in both the dining room and living room – that’s the dining room behind the sofa.  The walls in the dining room were red then.  Deserae soon started a major editing process.   She wanted seagrass matting but worried about her husband’s reaction – he didn’t like them.  And, finally, I suggested she hang something on each side of the door opening that matched – symmetry is always a good decorating tool. 



Before:  On the other side of her living room, is the study.   The three rooms – the dining room, living room and study, are all on a straight line, enfilade style.  I suggested she move the two white slipcovered chairs together to the living room, as opposed to splitting them up.  Again, there is always power in symmetry.   Des’s house is wonderful, it has very high ceilings and vintage decorative elements.  The decor looked like a page out of Country Living Magazine – it was very attractive with the mix of white slipcovers, red toiles, plaids and yellow walls, and her blog readers absolutely loved it just as it was.   They didn’t know that Des yearned for a change.  Slowly, she began selling the excess knick-knacks piece by piece, advertising the sales on her blog.  Almost weekly, she would have something to offer her readers from her endless supply of accessories.  With the money she made, she bought replacements for her new, cleaner style.



During:   Deserae moved her furniture around, almost daily, it seemed, sending me pictures to document the changes.  Here is what it looked like with the sofa moved along the wall.  By this time,  the red toile pillows and skirted tables have been long gone, replaced by two red print pillows.  She ordered additional panels of the red silk plaid curtains for the dining room to replace the toile curtains that once hung there.  She bought a set of botanicals to hang symmetrically next to the dining room door.  But, the biggest change came when all the red rugs were put away or sold – replaced by seagrass matting.  The seagrass immediately brought a more calming, less cluttered look to the house.   The section of wall behind the sofa changed the most.  Here, the black baker’s rack looked pretty enough, but it didn’t stay like this for long.  She tried an assortment of other pieces of furniture there.  Different mirrors were hung, switched out at different times with paintings, prints, and plates.    That one wall was a constantly changing vignette.


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Here she tried her hallrack, which made sense – the front door was right next to it!



Here Des tried some botanicals and ironstone.



During:  As the year wore on, more changes occurred, the set of prints flanking the dining room opening disappeared when she found these wonderful triple arm sconces.  She added textured window shades behind the drapes, getting rid of the white blinds – another great change – the natural shades complemented the seagrass rugs.  The two armchairs and ottomans added a calming symmetry.  All the country style accessories were sold one by one.  Deserae added a beautiful gold framed mirror behind the sofa and she bought white slipcovers for her dining room and study chairs – even monogramming them herself.  I thought the room looked lovely as shown here. 


And then…..her blog disappeared into the black hole of the internet.  Gone.   Along with it went her spirit for the stone schoolhouse that she had worked so hard on, for so long.  Being out in the country was taking a toll on Deserae.  She felt isolated.  The area is so windy, she couldn’t really enjoy the outdoors – she decided she wanted to move back to the city.   And so, along with all her knick-knacks she had for sale, her house too, was now included.  Des started a new Peeking Through The Sunflowers blog, but for the first time, nothing much changed in the schoolhouse for her to show her readers.   After all, why would you change anything?  The old schoolhouse finally looked like Des had imagined it.  Streamlined, less cluttered, with seagrass and white slips.   It was all so pretty with just the touches of red and anyway, the house was for sale - it would be silly to change anything now.    I heard less and less from Des during this time while she sat idly, waiting for her house to sell.   I thought our days of redecorating via the internet were over for now.

Until, that is, the other day, when I glimpsed something strange on her new blog – a white wall!   What????  Where were the rich yellow walls?   Deserae confessed she couldn’t sit still any longer and she just had to paint.  You know that feeling, you’re all bundled up against the cold weather, nice and toasty inside, and you decide to jump up and paint your entire house white!    I know, I know.  I can’t relate either – that feeling has never quite happened to me before, but then, I don’t have Des’s energy.  In the end, she may not live in her house for a long time with it looking exactly how she had wanted it to look, but she doesn’t care.   She’s happy now.    Enjoy!



After:   No, this isn’t Sweden, this is still the middle of Kansas, but isn’t this just beautiful?  I love what Des has done to her house!  In fact, I’m green with envy over her white!!!   


First, she painted all the walls in a flat white* with a semi-gloss white on the trim.  The red plaid curtains were replaced with long, flowing linen curtains layered over the textured shades.  The red pillows are now gone, replaced with a large French feed-style pillow and two plump white ones on the sofa, along with two zebra pillows on the chairs.  The brown wood coffee table was faux painted gray by Des, of course (that was my idea!)  The new all-white look extends into her dining room and through the study.  This is so dreamy – it’s hard to remember it all red toile and country-fried.    And this is the hottest look going right now – Swedish white. 

But even more important is how Des chased her dream.  We’ve talked it over how she could get her husband to agree to all the changes she wanted to make, like the seagrass, and the curtains, and yet – her worries were unfounded.  In the end, her husband absolutely loves the new look!   Piece by piece,  tchotkie by tchotkie, she sold what she no longer needed or wanted – not for a lot of money, but just enough to buy her the new  look.  She didn’t spend a fortune, she chased sales in catalogues and on Ebay, watching each dollar she spent, until she got the exact look she wanted.   The house is still for sale, though Des knows it might be a while before it sells in this economy.   And anyway, after living in such an romantic home - a century old stone schoolhouse -  the new houses she has toured in the burbs don’t hold much appeal.   It will be a special house that catches Deserae’s heart and that might take some time to find.   Until then, she’s very happy to be living in Sweden, sort of.   

* The paint is Antique White by Pratt and Lambert.



And at night with the chandelier on and the candles lit.   So romantic.




The antique buffet-a-deaux is now behind the two chairs.  The stairway was redone by Des.  When they bought the house, there was industrial carpet here, so she installed the beadboard and added the wood treads. 




Looking towards the sofa with the new gray French pillow.   Des’s ironstone is stored in the wood cupboard. 



The dining room with the slip covered chairs and her new Venetian mirror.  




The dining room this Christmas, with the real estate brochures on the table, ready for possible buyers.  Del has since sold the black terrarium in the corner. 



The study, newly white and sparse.  I love the wooden rocking horse on top of the antique armoire.  



The antique long clock in the study.   Something tells me that Deserae is going to be on the lookout for a Mora clock now!


What Deserae’s redecorating teaches us is that there is power in paint.   It’s been said over and over again, but the cheapest and quickest way to change a look is with a simple coat of paint.  Once the yellow paint was gone, the look in the schoolhouse changed dramatically.   With the white paint on the walls,  it became clear that the last remaining touches of red had to finally go, replaced by more whites and grays.  Drastic changes don’t have to happen overnight, as Des shows by example.  A slow, evolving process, makes it less painful on the pocketbook and easier on a husband who is against change (aren’t they all?)  Deserae persevered, she didn’t quit until she got her house looking picture-perfect – exactly as she imagined it, a long time ago.

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