Original Ideas? Pish Posh.

Q: How do you come up with your amazing home ideas? Is it all on your own? Do you have some secret inspiration method? Like the built in wardrobes in your master bedroom and the doorway widening trick that you pulled in your den/kitchen/dining area. I just wish you could teach me how to think like you so I could come up with some original ideas to make my house feel like it’s unique and cool instead of lame and boring! – Lisa

A: First of all, we’ll say this: we’re 100% confident that nothing that we’ve ever done to our house or on this blog hasn’t been done before. We repeat: there’s probably not one original project that we’ve taken on out of the 500+ that we link to on our Projects page. In fact there are probably multiple designers and regular people alike who have done a lot of the exact same things that we’ve tackled (from widening doorways to creating bedroom built-ins) before us, better than us, and maybe even cheaper than us.

Really, it’s true.

It’s kind of like advertising. As a copywriter I felt like every commercial I wrote must have unconsciously been inspired by something else (from my own life and personal experiences to other amazing ads that I studied in college or even from pop culture-ish things like TV or a favorite song). A script couldn’t really come out of thin air, since all that we soak up and experience on a daily basis makes up our sub-conscious and somehow reemerges when we’re channeling that part of our brains and trying to be creative.

And thus I’ve come up with this simple explanation: inspiration is everywhere and we’re like ShamWows- just absorbing it all.

Most of the time we don’t even know that it’s happening. We’re listening to a song or going for a walk and then bam, an idea pops up. Sometimes it’s obvious where it came from, like when we created the post card wall in our office after reading about it in a magazine (read more about that here) or when we whipped up some tone on tone stripes in our bathroom after being inspired by Jenn from Design Star Season Two (read more about that here).

And sometimes it’s just something that we’ve seen done a whole bunch of times that we can’t wait to try (like upholstering a chair, painting a ceiling, making a headboard, building a vanity out of a night stand, taking the door off of our linen closet, or painting the back of a bookcase). These are basic things that lots of DIY lovers have tackled, and in each instance we were excited to try our hand at something that we’d seen successfully done a bunch of times, both in magazines, the blogosphere, and even in our friends’ homes.

Sometimes a project that we take on is just a tweak on something that we’ve seen and thought “hey that’s cool but we can’t afford it”, like when we covered glass vases with cork after seeing a sweet but pricey cork lamp in a shop in Delaware (read more about that here).

Heck, sometimes we honestly have no clue where on earth an idea actually came from, but we’re sure it wasn’t all us (how could it be when we’re so surrounded by inspiration everywhere we look?).

The takeaway here: there’s no secret fountain of creativity, and the best way to tackle your home makeover head-on is to immerse yourself in inspiring TV, magazines, and life in general to find something that really excites you. Then take that ball and run with it baby! We actually think that 1% of the “hurdle” to making over your house is finding inspiration. That’s the easy part (read more about a few ways to do that here).

The other (more challenging) 99% of the process is actually deciding to get moving and committing to doing something that you’ve thought about- even if you’re nervous. Paralysis doesn’t lead to a new looking casa- action does. We’ve toyed with lots of things, but thinking about ideas doesn’t make our house look different. Actually tackling those tasks with excitement and a mild sense of “this-should-work… right?” usually does the trick. You can read more about how we prep for projects and gain confidence as we go here. But the whole act of committing to executing something that you’ve toyed with is really the way to that “I’m so happy I live here” feeling when you walk in the door.

In short: we’re so not special. And the whole mission of this blog is to encourage everyone out there to just do it. Wait is that someone’s slogan already? My bad. The point is that if we can do it, you can do it. There’s nothing magical about us. Quite the opposite actually. We’re so normal it’s crazy.

So go forth and DIY something! What are you guys up to this weekend? Anything particularly fun going on in your house?


  1. says

    Thanks for being so honest and humble as always. It’s true I suppose that the projects have been done before but they’re usually new for me which I love! Your idea with the weekly photos of Clara is something I definitely want to do when I have kids. Such a great keepsake. Those cork flower boxes are so handy too!

    ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ ~Ecclesiastes 1:9

  2. says

    I think you guys need to give yourself some credit!

    Sure anyone can exactly copy a photo out of a magazine, buy all the pieces, make it look great. But that is not at all what you guys do. Sure people have made headboards and such before, but it’s how you take all of those little inspirations and make them into your own cohesive space that makes you so talented!

  3. Sarah says

    Great post! I always feel better after reading posts like these, when I look at my living room/kitchen and think “sigh why can’t I make these over in a snap like John & Sherry?”

    This weekend we’re tiling our half bath with some snazzy teak gray tile we found at the Tile Shop – with Mobe Pearl Grout and then implementing a white vanity, white toilet, white beadboard, and Glidden’s “natural wicker” for the upper wall above the beadboard….. can’t wait to see the finished product!

  4. says

    You are definitely inspiring people! I love your tutorials and really enjoyed the table setting videos that you did with Katie! It makes dinner special when I can throw something together before I put the food on the table! I also made silhouettes of both of my boys! They are really cute Halloween/Fall decor on our mantel!

  5. says

    Although many of your ideas have been done before, it’s fun to read an honest opinion about them and whether or not they’re worth the effort (like the soda bottle glasses). Thanks for all your hard work in rounding up creative ideas!

  6. says

    So true. I often wonder about that with song writing… there are only so many chords and melodies out there, I’m sure I’m not the first to sing it! But to even begin making a melody you have to know what notes are in a scale. To tie that into design, you have to know what’s possible and what you like, then you can make your own design – even if the elements are nothing new.

  7. Laura says

    I’d love to know some of the blogs & magazines that you read. I know you mention them every once in a while as part of a post & I’m not sure if you have posted that topic before… but I’d be very interested.

    • says

      We have a list of blogs that we love in our blog roll (see the Link Love tab on the button on our sidebar with our mugs on it?) that you can reference to see some of our daily reads. We also love sites like myhomeideas.com and houseandhome.com for eye candy galore. As for magazines, I’m obsessed with House Beautiful, Do It Yourself, Better Homes & Gardens, Fresh Home, and old issues of Cottage Living and Domino that I have stockpiled.


  8. Elizabeth says

    My home improvement time has been severely hampered by college football season (GO GATORS!) but I am still slowly finishing all the projects that this blog has inspired. By springtime I should be finished and will feel like I’m living in an entirely new house!

    Knowing that you guys are not experts, but just get in there and DO IT has really helped me move from thinking about changing things to actually changing them.


  9. Kristin says

    What an amazingly inspiring post, and so true! Thank you!

    No home-related projects going on here this weekend, as I am preparing for a talk I will be giving next week. When I’m done with it, the next weekends will be devoted to bedroom renovation!

  10. says

    Props for bringing in Steve Porter. His Slap Chop video is just as good.

    And it’s really amazing how much advertising has changed from totally new concepts (the infamous Volkswagen ad?) to rehasings of what works and pop culture influences. As a former worker in the advertising world, I totally know what you mean.

    Actually, we’ve ripped off you guys for inspiration, we’ve collected, we even took an INSPIRATION WEEKEND to go to stores, look at what they’ve done, and then say “OK, how can WE do that.”

  11. Amanda V says

    Yeah!! This reminds me of US magazine when they have the section called “Stars: they’re just like us!” Y’all’s (did I just type that?) picture would be you two scanning a magazine on a corner in Richmond with the caption “They get ideas from magazines!” :O)

    I completely agree though! I cannot wait to try out that window that DeeDee (I think that was her name) from your Nate Berkus appearance did! What inspiration!!

  12. says

    You guys are amazing! My husband and I are closing on our first house Monday! Wish us luck! I think more than anything my head feels like it’s going to explode because of the constant “We need to do this” “We have to do that” so I’m really trying to calm myself down and realize making your house the way you want doesn’t happen overnight and I’m ready to embrace the mishaps and the fun that will come with creating our unique space. You all are an inspriration and we totally intend on using the “Projects” section weekly!

    Keep up the amazing work! I look forward to it everyday!

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