All About ReDecorating
Designing Woman
Originally published in the Newport Daily News, Home & Garden Spring, 2006

Meaghan Wims

Designing Woman

Local interior decorator makes most of what you have

Helen Brennan realized her living room needed a new look after she played host to a meeting of friends.

There was no easy way for Brennan’s friends to chat in her living room, with the furniture spread out in corners of the room. The white walls looked bland, and her furniture was starting to look less like treasured heirlooms and more like dated pieces.

Brennan has lived in her Marin Street house, built in 1907, for 25 years, but she admits she’d overlooked the living room.

She decided it was time for a brighter, more inviting look. But where to start? She settled on a mossy green flower print for reupholstering two of her chairs. That’s as far as she got before she decided to call Jan C. Girouard, an interior decorator who owns Newport-based All About ReDecorating. The company specializes in helping clients work with what they’ve got when they redecorate their homes.

Girouard arrived at Brennan’s historic home, paint samples in hand, to consult with the retiree about how she could update her living room.

“It’s just gotten tired,” Brennan said. “It’s really cold.” This is Brennan’s first major renovation project, except for getting her kitchen redone a couple of years ago.

She loves her period and Victorian=era furniture and her clock, trinkets and carpet. But she’s bored with the white walls and wants them to be warmer.

Beyond that, she said with a laugh, “I just don’t know what to do. “She’s game for just about anything. “Sometimes you really need a new set of eyes,” Girouard said. “Homeowners will watch the television decorating shows, but they don’t know if it’ll work in their houses. I’m seeing everything live.”

The two looked at Brennan’s furniture, which she’s adamant about keeping. “I like my furniture. It has meaning to me. This is my stuff.”

Girouard plays off of that. “You have to be sensitive to what’s important to them,” she said. “She loves her things, but they are not warm and inviting. When you walk in a room, it speaks to you and your inner well-being. It affects how you feel.”

Girouard said she works “ceiling to floor” like a makeover artist would work head to toe.

Girouard suggests a warm, beigey-peach for the walls, drawn from the color of the flowers in the upholstery fabric Brennan picked out. The color will brighten the room and accentuate the tile that frames the fireplace, a feature Brennan admits she’s never really noticed.

Girouard and Brennan talk about covering a small sofa in pumpkin-colored velvet and her Victorian-era chair set in a green brocade print.

Next, Girouard eyes the ceilings. “People tend to say white ceilings,” Girouard said. “I know you’re conservative.” Brennan grinned.

But Girouard suggests a lighter, peachy “tint” in the same color family as the walls. It would make the white crown molding “pop” and will “pull your eye up,” she said.

Brennan laughs nervously, but agrees that the unconventional idea might work. Next, Girouard starts moving furniture, aligning the couch with the fireplace and bringing the two Victorian chairs to face the couch, forming a “vignette” conversation circle in front of the fireplace.

On the right wall, Girouard suggests a shorter table lamp, and moves two wingback chairs closer to a side table and away from the wall. Girouard pauses after each move and Brennan takes it all in, nodding.

“That looks good,” Brennan said, “I can see it.” Now to light fixtures. “You do,” Girouard announced, “have lighting issues.”

The room faces north and doesn’t get much light. Girouard suggests more lamps to “layer” light. She loves Brennan’s 1850’s glass lamp, which she shifts on a side table to get more focus.

Girouard suggests moving a large potted plant out of the room…it’s too casual. Next, to tackle the short, cream-colored drapes. Brennan wants to keep her curtains sheer and plain. But, Girouard points out that longer curtains would be more dramatic and add more height.

“That doesn’t upset me too much,” Brennan said. The only new pieces Girouard suggests for the room is a lamp or two, a mirror to hang above the fireplace and a long console table on the left-hand wall, plus artwork.

And, there you have it. In about an hour, Girouard has created possibility where there was uncertainty.

I’m excited. I can see things now that I couldn’t see before,” Brennan said. “The ceiling…OK, I’ll think about that. I just feel I needed some color. It will be a whole lot warmer.”

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