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Art in Her Life: Q&A with The Nester

It is with extreme excitement that I post this, a Q&A with Myquillyn Smith, aka The Nester. (Seriously. I've had her responses for several days, and I've nearly burst from waiting to publish this post.) While the questions came from myself and the members of the (in)courager community group that I'm privileged to co-lead, I believe that her responses can serve to inspire us all!

Before we begin, an introduction:

Myquillyn Smith, The Nester, is a full time home blogger and design school drop-out. Her last home (a rental) was featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Cottages & Bungalows, Ladies' Home Journal and in her #1 Best Selling Design philosphy book, The Nesting Place: It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. She and her husband and their three boys have moved 14 times in 18 years of marriage. They just bought a little fixer-upper on 12 acres. Myquillyn's favorite place to be is home and you can usually catch her there moving furniture.

1. If you have limited resources and money and can only do one room to begin with, where do you start? 

If you are asking which room to start with? There’s no wrong answer. Start in the room that makes you the most depressed?! Maybe that’s the main room where your family hangs out, your bedroom or the room people see when they walk in the door?

2. and if you could only do one or two things to begin making a room beautiful, where would you begin? 

I’d start with two things. First, quiet the space. I’d find a little holding area like the dining room table and move everything out of the room that isn’t big furniture or hanging on the walls. So baskets, trinkets, toys, books, junk, plants, EVERYTHING that isn’t the sofa, drapes, rug and tables, remove it. Live with that space for 24 hours then evaluate how you feel about it and how it could serve you better. 

Then, shop the house. Everything is up for grabs. Find the items that look the best in that space and let them have a fresh start there. Sometimes I play a game with myself and try to see the least number of things I can add to a room and still have it feel cozy and look the way I like it.

3. How do you foster an atmosphere of peace in your home (particularly a bedroom) - outside of the visible, do you ever turn to things like music... or prayer?

If you are asking if I listen to music or pray, um, yes :) I certainly am not going to give some cliche answer of 3 steps to have peace in your bedroom, it would be a lie and you all are too smart for that. I don’t believe in formulas. 

As far as thinking about an atmosphere of peace, I’ve found if I’m in a ‘mood’ then it sets our entire house on it’s end. Honestly, right now I’m in one of those moods. My husband and I are in the depths of a disagreement/misunderstanding and it’s obvious to me, him and our boys, that today, home isn’t necessarily perfectly peaceful. But it it a safe place. A safe place to disagree, to tell the truth and to work through the hard junk that will come and that’s important too.

4. [in reference to chapter 3 of your book, specifically “it’s not the picture’s fault”] I am intimidated when I see someone else’s “art” - whether that’s a room, a painting, a meal, something they’ve written... the list goes on - is your freeing perspective one that you’ve always had, or is that something you learned along the way?

I think I learned a lot about the purpose of shelter magazine shoots from having my own house photographed. I think before that I kind of felt like shelter magazines were on one side of the fence (the look at all the perfect stuff side) and I was on the other side (I’m a real mom living with brown dog hair). But the truth is, EVERY home is full of mess. If not, it’s not truly being lived in. Having kind, encouraging, story-filled magazine editors at my home, shooting my VERY imperfect rooms (and asking to come back again) helped me realize that they are doing this so they can encourage and inspire others to make their home beautiful. They have NEVER photographed a perfect home (the HGTV dream home doesn’t count because no one actually lives there). Their goal is to inspire and encourage, not shame.

And as far as the “intimidated when I see someone else’s art” I highly recommend my sister (Emily P. Freeman’s) book: A Million Little Ways: Discovering the art you were made to live

5. Along the same line, how do you let go of the need to make it almost perfect before you open your home to company?

I’ve learned to think about purpose when I have company. The purpose is to connect with them. If my house is full off stinky dirty diapers or has dog hair tumble weeds blowing around, then that will probably not set the mood for connection. Same goes for if I’m all fretting over trying to get my house and family to behave and look all perfect for the guests, that can steal the focus as well. It about balance. I want my house to be clean and comfy so my friends and I can relax and so we can focus on what’s important. 

If I’m focusing on impressing my friends, I’m doing it all wrong. I’ve done that and regretted it, sometimes that’s the best way to learn hospitality and give up on trying to impress and entertain--do it wrong and really regret it.

6. When you finish a room in your home, are you able to relax and enjoy it, or do you immediately move on to the next project?

My rooms are never finished! Which I LOVE! Right now we live in a fixer upper and my job is as a home blogger and my husband works on our land and we are fixing up a barn, 12 acres and a house. So we for sure have rest times, many of them, honestly, we both work kind of slow but also I wouldn’t want anyone to compare their work in their home to ours because for us, it’s our job and livelihood--and my favorite hobby even before blogs were invented.

7. Any tips for gently redoing a space when your husband has an adamant decorating style that is the opposite of yours?

Start REALLY small. Like with a pillow. If he likes it or doesn’t notice it move one step forward and go on from there. I believe there’s always a middle ground and often that makes for a better ending result, even in designing a room.

8. What is the best find you have ever scored for a room redo?

It depends on my mood. Right now our main eating table is a $15 yard sale find and I’m pretty happy with that. 

9. and where are your favorite places to look for affordable items - any go-tos?

There really are no secret places. You’ve heard them all. The secret is in persistence and attitude-- go often to the places you enjoy. Yard sales, thrift stores, online shopping, bartering, retail... getting things for your home always have a cost, but you get to decide if you have more money, time, or DIY abilities. Currently, I’m enjoying antique malls. The prices are a little higher than thrift stores (are yours getting more expensive like mine are?) but the volume of home items is so vast that it’s worth shopping all in one place, especially now that I live out in the country a big drive away from anything.

10. Your encouragement of renters is, well, encouraging! What is the biggest change you’ve made to a rental?

I’ve painted the cabinets in two rentals. Looking back, I’m kind of shocked at my boldness to do that. I think I just felt so hopeless (they were both REALLY ugly spaces--one had orange laminate counters!) that I needed that visual change. But, we did lose our deposit in one of the places. It was a good learning experience for me to realize that it was worth it for me to pay a little more to NOT have the orange counters.

11. So, in your book you mentioned spilling paint on the floor of a rental, which I imagine is similar to burning a small area of carpet, hypothetically of course... were you able to “fix” that? Or did the flooring have to be replaced? 

It actually spilled on laminate flooring. I was mortified but it actually cleaned up fine. But  I was hugely pregnant, home alone and it was an ENTIRE GALLON people! I can laugh about it now.

12. [in reference to chapter 6, specifically “We assume when others chose that bold color or bought that vintage sofa, it didn’t feel like a risk to them”] It can be both exhilarating and frightening to be in the presence of a risk-taker when you’re not one! Your book and blog are wonderful resources - can you suggest any other sources to inspire and encourage someone stuck in a riskless rut?

Here’s the thing. We are ALL risk takers. Just in different areas. Did you get married or have a baby? Did you apply for the scholarship or job? Did you learn to drive a car or swim or color your hair? Those are all risks and you took them because the idea of a positive outcome was worth the risk to you.

My number one risk encourager is truly Pinterest. But also, I find so much encouragement in non-decorating endeavors too: reading Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield & Austin Kleon, listening to inspiring music (I’m so cheesy but when I was fretting over working on my book proposal I listened to this song so many times) It still brings chills because DORKY. But whatever it takes. And this song isn’t talking about books and writing, it’s talking about risking and living. I even wrote a post about it. Home is the safest place on earth. Next to heaven, home is the dearest place there is. 

You can create whatever kind of home you want and money has almost nothing to do with creating a beautiful, meaningful inspiring home. You can do this, it’s your home. Take that risk, move that chair, love the home you’re with.

I leave you with the cheesy song lyrics put to music.

Applause, cheers, and many thanks to Myquillyn for her thorough and delightful responses! Along with them, she also linked a recent post to encourage creatives that you should definitely check out.
[Join the conversation on Facebook - and follow her fabulous blog. And get your hands on a copy of her new book!]


Karrilee Aggett said…
I love this so much and I am over 1/2 way done with The Nesting Place and already have ideas swirling around in my head for all the projects now (again)! So - thanks for that... (for real, from me... slightly possibly sarcastically, from My Honey!)
Karrilee Aggett said…
(Oh - and great job Sarah Jo!)
Barbara Keegan said…
I loved the book too! My husband is wondering what has gotten into me - using a hammer without him - and painting stuff!!!!! LOL!

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