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Explore inspiration outside your comfort zone

Years ago I was on a business trip in Copenhagen. I love going places like grocery and furniture stores in foreign countries when I travel. They aren't at all touristy and they are like little windows into a country's culture.

On this particular trip I walked through the city core and stepped inside a lighting store. I couldn't believe my eyes. I desperately wanted to bring home a lamp but it had a European plug.

Before that moment I didn't realize I had been searching or missing a design style, but in that moment I knew I found it. The shapes, patterns, textures and minimalist designs resonated and left me with the feeling, "This is it." There were no unnecessary embellishments. The chandeliers looked like sculptures that belonged in the museum of modern art.

A modern Scandinavian Style Lighting Store.  The sculptural chandeliers and pendant lights hang in a store display.

My entire life I had been surrounded by other people's style. We are in some ways a product of our surroundings. The Americana style furniture I'd always been surrounded by felt familiar and comfortable. But the artistry and clean lines of and neutral colors the furnishings in that Copenhagen store made me feel serene and inspired. In that moment it hadn't occurred to me that I could bring that feeling into my home. I had found something I was missing but hadn't been searching for.

This experience was years before I ever embarked on a home renovation or even owned a home. Later when we couldn't find a move-in ready home to buy, we decided to reimagine a two bedroom, one bath bungalow in a scenic neighborhood in Seattle. A lot of homes have that familiar American vibe. I knew I really liked something more forward and unapologetically modern, but felt compelled to conform to design conventions in the area.

I didn't really get that "this is it" feeling again until years later when stepped inside our neighbor's custom home. It has clean lines, exposed concrete, huge windows and a chic black kitchen. It made me want to reimagine the plans we'd just completed. But by then our renovation plans had been permitted by the city. Sunk cost syndrome kicked in so we incorporated the Scandinavian design elements with modern European cabinetry, lighting and color pallet.

Before we had our house designed, I wish I had explored unfamiliar design concepts more fully.

This was the lesson I learned. It is so important. The design-build process is designed for architects, designers and contractors. It is not designed for the homeowner. If I could add an additional step to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) design process it would be homeowner pre-work & preparation. I don't have connections at the AIA yet, so I created this phase here with the Renovator's Toolkit.

Broadly, it is to find your design style. In this example, this is what you need to do:

Explore inspiration outside your comfort zone

Find your Copenhagen. It's ok if you are drawn to different design styles than me. The important thing is that you search for it. Don't stop looking until you get that "this is it" feeling. It may even incorporate multiple design concepts. Ideally, this activity will take place at the beginning of your renovation journey.

Here are 5 ways you can find expand your design horizons:

  • Research design and architecture at the library

  • Read 10 wildly different design magazines

  • Drive aspirational neighborhoods

  • Tour open houses

  • Eat at a new restaurant (good food + design inspiration = win, win)

You are looking for that "This is it" feeling.

You can like something but here we are looking for love. If you feel indifferent about a design style or a designer, keep looking. You're embarking on an expensive, time consuming journey to transform your home. You may even be hoping to make your dream home. She can be illusive. To find her, step outside your comfort zone to see the place and the way you live. Look at the world and your environment from a new perspective.

"This is it!" feels so different from "This will work," doesn't it?


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