Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When The Paints Go Marching In: Down The Well-Appointed Rabbit Hole Of Home Decor

Matthias Kulka

Okay, background information first.

As an apartment-dweller, I have lived for 20 years in a series of white-walled boxes with neutral carpets. I have assembled and eventually ripped apart the kind of furniture that comes with an Allen wrench. And I have had my adventures. When leaving an apartment in Brooklyn, I tore a sofa bed apart with my bare hands and feet — broke it and destroyed it — because it was old and I knew I'd never get it through the door again.

And the last time I moved, I did it all myself: packed everything onto the truck, drove the truck, moved everything out of the truck into temporary storage, took everything back out of temporary storage, moved everything into my new apartment. And when I say "myself," I mean "myself." If you ever need a downsizing strategy, by the way, commit to personally transporting every item you own several times. It does wonders.

("Temporary storage" was the front two rooms of the home of my best friend, who was on vacation, and whose cat I am fairly certain still thinks of that brief period as "the time they built an amusement park made out of boxes in the dining room.")

But now, it's time to move again, and this time, I'm moving to an apartment I am encouraged to decorate. So, with an innocence better suited to a pre-Parent Trap Lindsay Lohan, I asked the internet for good places to look at home decorating ideas. (And I begged people not to send me to Pinterest, because I don't understand it.)

Little did I know that asking the internet to recommend home decorating idea generators is a little like asking a four-year-old to recommend an episode of Dora The Explorer: you will be there for a while, because they are so excited and they were just waiting for you to ask because there are so many good choices.

Everyone was very enthusiastic about Houzz, which sounds like an AARP grandchild-outreach subcommittee, but is actually a site full of photos that you page through to see all kinds of rooms and craft projects and other doodads. You can look through zillions — and I do mean zillions — of decorating pictures and clip them into "Ideabooks," which you can then peruse at your leisure when you want to feel like you're working on your new place without actually going to Home Depot. Here's my "Colors" ideabook, for instance; you can see that I enjoy blue, green, degrees of cleanliness I could never achieve, and things I can't afford.

This is a running theme in internet decorating research: on the bright side, you can think of it as everything hopeful and aspirational about what you want in your new home. On the less bright side, you can think of it as fantasy failing. It's like fantasy football, except you imagine the precise way in which you would mess up whatever the project is. I put this upholstered headboard in an ideabook that I called "Projects," because if I called it "Things I Would Probably Accidentally Set On Fire While Stapling My Hand To A Board," people would think I suffered from low self-esteem.

You can also visit any number of design blogs — Apartment Therapy, which I like but which I find embraces a really minimalist aesthetic that wouldn't work with my love of stuff; Design Sponge, which I find intimidating; and any number of personal blogs from people who are just great at decorating, including my friend Anna Beth. (Shameless Anna Beth plug.)

The internet will also give you all the advice you could ever need. And then possibly more advice than that, sometimes, but that's okay! Just in the world of painting, they have advice about taping, not taping, edgers, whether there's such a thing as one-coat coverage, and whether anyone who tries to paint on her own is stupid. (I really don't think it can be worse than doing an entire move by myself.) You can hear from people who have painted small rooms, people who have painted large rooms, people who paint professionally, people who wonder whether you've considered wallpaper, and people who can't understand why you don't just leave the walls white and will not accept "Because I think I have exhausted the mood-enhancing possibilities of total decorative sterility" as an answer.

And the paint companies ... oh, the paint companies have outgrown those little strips of colors you look at. They still make those, of course, but now you can go into a virtual room and virtually paint the walls, and then you virtually congratulate yourself on what a neat job you did. (No tape!) Everyone will remind you that it's important to actually test colors, because they will look different on the walls, but virtually painting a room will, in fact, sometimes tell you that a color scheme reminds you a little too much of a brand logo, your office, or Thanksgiving.

In fact, some advice-givers will tell you that you have to test your paints in every possible kind of lighting situation, which I think would require approximately a year of testing in order to fully evaluate the way the paint looks in the summer sun, the darkness of night, the orange glow of fall, the icy gray of winter, and the cheery day every April when I fall briefly in love with the D.C. weather because I've forgotten all about the previous August. For me, it will probably be slightly less involved, and will consist of painting a couple of square feet, stepping back, getting a drop of paint on my shoe, and saying, "Well, I think this is fine."

There are online charts that tell you what emotions go with which colors, and which colors have — and I am quoting here — "Gastric Connotations." I would take issue, by the way, with the pink they have listed as "Sensuous Femininity," which I personally associate with Barbie's RV, which might have been sensuous for Barbie, depending on the circumstances, but not so much for me.

Of course, once you have painted, you have to actually put things in your home. Some of these will be the things you have already accumulated, but with every new home come various hankerings to put the perfect thing right there. You know — there. In that spot on the wall, over the bed or next to the chair, you need something right there. And especially in the age of the internet, you can get as specific as you want. You can search a site like Etsy for dog pictures, flower pictures, pictures of buildings, or black and white photography.

And not to scare you, but you can also get people to paint really unsettling and weird portraits of you. This is a thing now, although I don't have the heart to link to any of them, because I love artists even when they're creepy.

I will be here only sporadically for the next ten days or so, because the rest of the time, I will be picking colors, moving boxes, and (I am just guessing) pulling pieces of tape out of my hair. Until then: It's a huge pain to paint a bathroom, right?

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.