What We’d Do Differently In Our First House

Psst- We just learned about another awesome way to raise money for the relief fund for the Sandy Hook tragedy thanks to some generous Etsy artists who are donating money that they make this week from their Etsy shops to the cause. Check it out here.

We’re putting the finishing touches on Clara’s DIYed Christmas present, so we’ll be back with a ton of pictures and details for you tomorrow (ahhhhhicantwait) but in the meantime, lots of folks have requested a post about what we’d do differently if we were decorating our first house now, instead of 2-6 years ago. See, back in this video we mentioned that when we look at old pics we love it, but there’s always at least one or two things we’d change if we were living there now – and you guys have been asking for more details. Sing it with me “if I could turn back tahhhhhhhm.” So without further ado, here’s the room by room lowdown.

The Living Room


What we’d change:  We really didn’t use the living area of this room as much as we would have liked, especially in such a small house (it was only 1250 square feet). So anything to make it more functional/enticing might have made the difference. Like a round coffee table like this to use for games as opposed to our pretty glass table that was always full of props (our current padded ottoman never has anything on it so it’s always ready for Clara’s toys or game night). We also would have added more color, so from sofa and chair cushions with pops of happy color (like this) to patterned curtains or lamp shades and even brighter art, we definitely would have punched up the tone-on-tone look.

Wait, this would be more fun with a moodboard. Whoop, here it is. This isn’t a moodboard for one room, it’s a mish-mash of whole-house items that we think would add interest and color everywhere (I quickly linked to sources here and then explained where they’d go in the copy along with each room/picture).

1. This fabric is from here 2. This chair is from here (that price is for two, but still a little high so maybe a craigslist/thrift makeover could get the look for less) 3. This fabric is from here 4. This rug is from here 5. This sconce is from here (the outlet near our house carries them for 60% off sometimes).

6. This ottoman is from here 7. This pillow is from here 8. This coffee table is from here 9. This fabric is from here 10. This rug is from here 11. This chair is from here 12. This pillow is from here 13. This fabric is from here 14. This rug is from here 15. This mirror is from here.

The Kitchen


What we’d change: We loved that little kitchen of ours, even if it was narrow enough to touch both sides of the counter while standing in the middle. One thing we always wished we could change about it was to have a window that looks into the backyard (instead of looking into the sunroom, which the kitchen window in our current house does too!) but since that’s not a very easy change (moving a sunroom and detached basement) we probably wouldn’t have done that no matter how long we lived there. I definitely think things like the area rug and the wall color would have been switched out after a while, just to keep things feeling fresh. Maybe a colorful striped Dash & Albert rug like this with dark and moody chocolate or navy walls like this could have been a fun alternate kitchen universe!

The Nursery

What we’d change: Since we did this room a few years after some of the other rooms that we’ve looked at so far, it’s nice and happy and bright, which is more our jam these days than the more neutral tone-on-tone thing we had going on in the living room. So maybe just for fun we’d change out accessories like the rug (maybe for this cool one?), but in general we still love – and miss! – that sweet first nursery that we made for Clara nearly three years ago.


The Master Bedroom

What we’d change: Our bed was always on the low side, so I’d love to have built it up to have storage under it (that room was tiny so it would have been really functional too). I think I also would have changed out the bedding over time, probably with a fluffy white duvet and a bunch of patterned pillows like this. Oh and switching out the tan curtains on either side of the window for some patterned fabric like this could have been interesting. The neutral jute rug also worked just fine, but something plush and shaggy like this would have been an extra luxurious upgrade.

The Master Bathroom

What we’d change: This room was also something we did more towards the end of our life at that house (about a year before we moved, as opposed to 3-4 years before) so I think it feels more like our aesthetic now since there’s some color on the walls, some contrast with the dark mirror and the dark floors and the homemade vanity. Although I think if we lived there now I would have chosen a printed fabric like this for a roman shade in the window (sort of like the one in our current hall bathroom’s window), just to inject a little more print/interest into the room.

The Office/Guest Bedroom/Playroom

What we’d change: I was afraid to put floor length curtains in here with the sofa in front of the window, but I think we could have popped the sofa out from the wall a little (like we did with the floor length curtains that ran behind the sofa in the living room) and it would have been fine. Don’t you think long dramatic curtains in like this would have been awesome hung high and wide on both windows? I think it would have made the room feel taller and more airy (it was very very tiny in real life). And as for those sad desk chairs (we reused table chairs with little seat cushions from World Market) I think today we’d totally go for chairs like this (maybe found on craigslist and then self-reupholstered to keep costs down?). Oh and this larger and wider (more storage!) ottoman would be awesome in the place of the little thimble-ish one we had.


The Den

What we’d change: The addition of that sweet Clara rug helped to wake up the room (here’s where we started moving towards pops of color and prints in rooms to add interest since the old jute rug that was in there was a little too tone-on-tone and washed out for us). And I can see how in taking this photo I even tried to get other pops of bright color into the room (the pillow on the chair, the bowls on the round table to the left, the tray on the ottoman, etc) so I think we would just take that further if it were our room today. One giant piece of colorful art above the entire sofa (like this, which has meaning since it’s a map of NYC – where we met and fell in love) would have been awesome along with brighter pillows and maybe even subtly patterned curtains.

What we’d change: I also think switching out the desk chair with something less traditional and more fun, like this (and adding a bold patterned lampshade on the desk) would have been awesome. And to balance things out I’d hang a brighter scarf or bag on the coat rack on the right for balance (there was always in-rotation stuff as well as I-just-hung-it-there-because-it’s-pretty stuff up there). Your house should make you smile, right?

The Laundry Nook


What we’d change: This was actually a really functional and fitting space for us (we still miss it, actually) so we really liked that we could watch TV in the adjoined living room while doing laundry and shove a whole bunch of ugly stuff up into the shelves above the counter, which were hidden by bamboo blinds. Other than switching out some of the art leaning along the back wall for things with a few more pops of color, and maybe changing out some things on the counter for bolder and happier items, I don’t think we’d change much. Oh but you know I’d ORB the gold doorknob in a hot minute.

The Half Bathroom



What we’d change: We really liked the stripes, so hmm… what would we change? I definitely think the sconces could have been more fun, maybe something like this (the lighting outlet near our house has lots of discounted Shades of Light sconces like this)? And the mirror could have been a lot cooler – like this guy (who I’ve been obsessed with for years) perhaps? And then we could bring in some brighter and more playful art and a patterned fabric shade made from this fabric (not sure I could get John on board with it, but a gal can dream) on that crisp white window frame would have looked awesome.

The Sunroom

 What we’d change: We’d get a bigger rug I think, maybe jute and a few feet wider and longer so both daybeds could sit on it a lot more and feel nicely defined by the larger rug (which would ground the room). I also think the floor cushions could have been a lot more fun if they were covered in this fabric. And these pillows could live on the daybeds instead of the mostly-tan ones that were there before. And as for the stenciled floor, with a larger jute rug I think we might have been tempted to paint it all chocolate brown again and let the textiles in the room be the focus (as well as the view). We also loved the blue ceiling but if we were going to be there for years longer we probably would have manned up and painted the walls (so. much. cutting. in.) bright white to play off of the color in the daybeds and the other furnishings in the room (instead of leaving them tan like they were when we bought the house).

The Patio


What we’d change: More color! Planters in lime and teal and even tangerine full of flowering plants would have been awesome along with some bright outdoor cushions like these for the chairs and loungers. And I think we’d plant more colorful plants around the perimeter too.

The Basement

What we’d change: This basement upgrade was actually a really fun project for us, so I think we’d do a lot of things the same way. I don’t think we’d have chairs down there (we didn’t really sit much, although we did use the desk area to take tupperware bins out of storage and open them up to find certain things). I probably would have painted the door bright red like the front door, just for fun. And I definitely think we would have outgrown that paint storage method (we have about 50% more cans now) so we’d have to add another shelf or two for more can storage.


The Front Yard


What we’d change: Well, this might be the boring answer, but not much. Haha. We hated the light-colored worn-down roof that you see in this picture but we got a nice new one about a year before we moved (no idea why we never updated the pic!) and the new roof seemed to help with resale as well as general curb appeal. We still miss this cute little facade and the big green lawn. Although one thing we’d probably change about that lot if we could would be to have less to mow and rake (there was much more to mow/rake out front, on the side, and out back then we currently have to mow here since more of our property is woodsy and wild). So maybe we’d turn the side yard and more of the back yard into a wooded space by adding trees, bushes, and mulch over time.

The Front Porch


What we’d change: For some reason the outside spaces are harder for us to say “that’s not really our style anymore” (as opposed to the rooms inside), but I think we would have loved to build big planter boxes for all the front windows, which might have meant moving the rocker and the glider a bit (along with the potted planters too).

The Backyard


What we’d change: As I mentioned in the front yard blurb, I think having less to mow would have been nice, so maybe naturalizing more of the yard so it was half the size (still large enough for kid & dog pursuits) and adding more trees and bushes and other wild no-need-to-mow items would have been nice. I’m not going to lie though, we loved this lot. It was so private and sweet. We still miss it all the time!

So there you have it. A brain dump of what we might do differently if we were to decorate our first house now instead of 2-6 years ago. Do you guys look at photos of your previous homes (or even rooms in your current house) and think about what you might do differently now? It’s so funny how our style seems very similar in some ways (we still love wood floors, white cabinets, textures like jute and faux sheepskin, dark wood and white furnishings, floor to ceiling curtains, and white frames) yet our current house seems a lot more colorful, playful, and happy to us (just click here and scroll down to see what I mean).


  1. says

    This is such an interesting post because it’s definitely evident that you’re styles have evolved over the years. {And, it’s been a pleasure to be along for the ride…}. I do have one question though: It seems like you guys don’t really get paralyzed by having to choose a color scheme; as in, no color seems to be off limits and it somehow magically works. Is that true? Do you try to keep a cohesive color scheme or do you simply purchase what you like and what you think will work in the space?

    P.S. Just got my copy of your book in the mail yesterday and I just want you to know that I blame you two for my sleepless night last night… my mind was racing with all kind of ideas for my house!

    • says

      Aw you’re so sweet! So glad you’re loving the book! As for colors, I think there are definitely tones/shades of every color that we can make work (and others that we stay away from). For example, dark colors like maroon and evergreen don’t seem to really “go” with our styles (we love neutral/natural or pops of bright colors like lime, yellow, red, teal, etc). At the same token, pastel-y colors don’t usually work for us either (we prefer muted toned down colors with gray undertones instead, like our new plummy gray bathroom, or a blue-gray wall color over a pastel purple or blue choice). So I think we try to use every color that we can, but we just use the shade of it that seems to fit most with what we love!


  2. Sandy P. says

    Hmmm … me personally, I wouldn’t change a thing! There’s something about that house that still today I keep going back to for a tour. That’s where YHL started …

    • says

      Aw thanks so much Sandy! We love that it’s where we started. Such a cute little house. I keep wanting to just ring the bell and crash it, but the owners have our contact info so they know they can always call us if they want us to see it. Haha!


    • says

      Really? I spent hours on this due to many requests for it. Sorry to disappoint you though. Can’t win ’em all! We painted a wall yesterday (which we probably do once every few months, so it’s a big-ish project for us) and we’re building/painting a Christmas gift for Clara that we’ll share tomorrow. We just can’t make every post a project – so very sorry if that’s your expectation. You can see by perusing our Monthly Roundups that although we usually share 2-3 house-related projects/updates each week, we still end up getting a ton done each month. It’s that “magical” pace that has allowed us to do this for over five years without burning out :)


    • Meredith says

      Sherry, you are *so* classy. I would be inclined to respond with “wow, what a worthless comment” but no, you’re very polite and rise above. And perhaps that is why YHL has been such an overwhelming success. My resolution for 2013: take a page from the book of Sherry and resist the snark! :)

    • Kathi says

      wow – what a rude comment. YHL works hard to provide us with content (that we get to read, for FREE). If you’re not into a post, then skip it. Why take the energy to post something so hateful?

    • Emma says

      No need to defend yourself or apologize Sherry. This is obviously an interesting post – look at all of the positive comments! Add mine to the “positive comment” list too! ;)

    • heather says

      I think sometimes people forget Sherry and John are real who words affect just like you and I, and not just here to churn out material for our entertainment that suits everyone. Hearing (reading) someone call another person, or their efforts, worthless simply because it didn’t suit your tastes is heartbreaking. Please spread kindness and love throughout this world. Right now, the world needs it more than ever. With that said, I’m so glad this community is one that is 99% of the time positive and it’s part of the reason I keep coming back. John and Sherry, you owe us nothing – thank you though for doing this. It’s fun to read.

    • Kitty says

      Major respect for you Sherry for not only leaving this snark up, but by giving such a classy response.

      Love ya $herdog!

    • says

      Oh yes, nearly every single comment that we receive goes through (we just remove spam and maybe once every two years or so we’ll delete something truly ridiculous that we think an angry teen submitted like “your baby is ugly” or “you smell like farts” – but otherwise it’s all here in the comments – hahah!). I think we’re just blessed with exceptionally kind and encouraging readers. This is totally our happy place :)


    • Kim says

      I thought it was a great post. Sherry~ way to keep it classy. Heather~ I like your reminder and point of view :)

    • Jennie says

      Sherry, I really enjoyed this post. I think it is always useful to be reflective … It is a great way to learn. Thank you for all the posts you guys do – they are a major source of Internet enjoyment for me, and being a writer myself, I understand the amount of work that goes into even the simplest posts (this not being one of those … it was quite detailed!) Thanks again for being a positive role model in the way you handle negativity.

  3. Amy says

    I never thought of your first house as being all that small, but comparing it to your current house is kind of nuts. That office is so teeny tiny!

  4. Ray says

    I just had to leave a comment because the pillow you mentioned above with the oranges and blues is one of the first fabric samples I got before I moved into my new house! AND the navy kitchen is one that I saved when we were getting ready to paint our kitchen cabinets white and wanted to gather up some ideas. Btw, I followed your kitchen painting tutorial exactly as you described in an older post and it turned out AMAZING! We have a small kitchen that was full of honey oak cabinets and the white made such a huge difference to open and brighten things up. I’ll make sure to send you a picture once everything is nice and accessorized. Thanks for continuing to inspire/motivate me to do the work!

    • says

      No way! That’s so funny about the pillow and the fabric sample. What a small world. And I’m so glad that painting your cabinets worked out so well! Wahoo!


  5. Meghan, UK says

    I thought this post was really interesting – having just moved house ourselves (two months in!) to our second owned-home, I find myself doing the same thing mentally. It’s great to see you doing the same and figuring out how tastes change/mature!

  6. says

    Very interesting post (not “worthless”, in my opinion) — I think it’s interesting to see what we grow from and where trends take us. For example, in college I bought all BRIGHT things – orange, yellow, pink, bright anything, you name it, I had it. But now I really adore the Pottery Barn look and the classic neutrals with only a bit of “pop!” Our tastes change as we mature and I think this was a great post to highlight that. Thank you for taking the time to put it together!

  7. Brenda says

    I agree about adding pops of color. I think that’s my favorite difference between your styles from old house to current house. It has more personality, seems more like a place a family lives and plays. I think too much white/neutral subconsciously makes me feel worried about getting anything dirty, so I find it less relaxing.

  8. says

    I just loved that first house of yours – it was so cozy and the lot was gorgeous. I was relieved when you chose a similar house when you needed more space. Looking back at those pics, there’s nothing to be ashamed about – you guys have a great sense of style, then and now!

  9. says

    Oh, I love the striped walls in that bathroom. LOVE. Like a string of pearls on the walls. Glad you wouldn’t change that. I’ll have to hunt down your post about painting that one of these days. I wouldn’t want you to change the turquoise stencil on the floor of the sunroom. Those are rad.

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