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. Vivvy says

    I think it’s amazing that you guys are doing so much DIY, and many of these projects are huge. And with a baby!

    We have a small 2 bedroom apartment that I would love to make over. With both of us working, and our 2 year old running around, it’s been pretty daunting. All I’m hoping for right now is that our living room doesn’t look like a tornado just landed…and maybe we can get a nice duvet cover for our bedroom.

  2. Lexie says

    Thanks for the informative post! This weekend I am finally going to start painting our baby girl’s room. I chose Olympic’s Cavern Moss, which I think will look great when softened up by all of the pale pink vintage fabric I plan on using in other nursery projects. Maybe you guys encountered this, too, but when people ask about the baby’s room and I tell them I’m painting it green, I’ve actually had several people say, “Oh! I thought you were having a girl.” Hah!

  3. lisa says

    sherry, this is off topic, but did you happen to find/buy that mirror you were looking for and was not available at the time? just wondering. hope you were able to find it.

  4. Aya M says

    We just bought our first house this past spring(a foreclosure) and we’ve steadily been working on it ever since. Your blog is definitely a HUGE encouragement to us, especially for the days we feel like we’ll be painting and repairing and redoing for the rest of our lives…

    So, thanks for your honesty and humor and great ideas(no matter where they come from). I know two readers who are excited for you and cannot wait to see what house #2 will be!

    • says

      Hey Elizabeth,

      John and I first crossed paths making this baby commercial (I wrote the script and John sold it through to the client) and the rest, as they say, is history (yes that’s Becki Newton who’s now on Ugly Betty). I’m probably best know for my Got Milk print ads though (you know the celebrity milk mustache campaign? I wrote the ones for Meredith Viera, Kelly Clarkson, Simple Plan, and a few others). That was fun because photogs like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle shot them with us. Oh the glory days of our youth!


  5. says

    good post :) ahh, we’re building our ikea cabinets and installing our Marmoleum checkerboard floor (gray and black – like you, wasn’t original but I was inspired by a single picture I googled)

  6. Joy says

    I’ve been working on our bathroom. I took down the wall paper last week. I started painting my samples of color on the wall without taking the glue off. I totally forgot about the glue. You can’t see it or feel it so I forgot it was there. I ended up buying primer and going over the paint. I have 3 coats of primer on!! I’m nervous because I didn’t do a good job at taking the glue off around the ceiling. I don’t think my gray paint is going to go on smooth. I’ve only done 1 coat of primer around the ceiling, should I do another one?

    Thanks!! Keep up the good work. I love checking your blog daily:)

    • says

      We also learned the hard way that the glue has to come out (no amount of paint or primer will remedy those bumps). So the best thing to do is let everything dry and sand things down to fully remove the glue. Good luck!


  7. cj says

    Hi guys! You have totally inspired so many people. With creative minds I think a lot of visualizing comes naturally to you. My question is how do you know what to put where? Like furniture arranging,or hanging artwork? I’m paralyzed as you said with knowing what stuff to put in what rooms or putting holes in walls and changing my mind later!!! Agghh!:) Thanks and Happy Halloween!

    • says

      Trial and error. No secret there! We just hold things up, move things around, trying about a million combinations if we have to until we find something that we like. We’re all about learning as we go.


  8. Connie says

    I love that y’all “steal shamelessly” when you find ideas that you like AND that you “share shamelessly” with all of us.

    I appreciate your great attitude about attempting, succeeding (or occasionally failing and correcting), and moving on.

    Good luck in your hunt for Casa Petersik II. When it’s found, I look forward to reading more of your adventures in DIY.

  9. says

    Thanks for this post. I always feel like I’m slacking in the creative department because I see things that inspire me and try to make it my own. Nice to know I’m not the only one! :)

  10. LauraC says

    Such a sweet post guys! While you are right, you still really are an inspiration to all of us, and have definitely had an impact on my design. I didn’t like all the white and neutral so much when I first started reading your blog, but now I love it. All our curtains are hung “high and wide”; my kids’ room has the same white curtains you have from IKEA, and I painted a buffet table white solely due to your influence. And that’s just the start. We won’t even mention spray paint. ;-) Happy Friday!

  11. Larissa S. says

    Everyday I find the inspiration that I need in this blog. I certainly would say you may be normal people but your DIY, design, and those wriring skills are extrodinary.

    Through your gentle urgings assuring me that I can do it… I bought some paint, brushes, sand paper and turned an old ugly china cabinet into something almost worthy of Pottery Barn. I even managed to impress my husband in the process SCORE for me! This weekend I am applying new hardware and muscling that bay boy into it’s final resting spot in my dining room. I CAN’T WAIT. Thanks for your dedication to your followers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *