Working with Ugly

In decorating school we had to do what was called “The Ugly Carpet Project”. Our teacher walked around the classroom carrying a bag of carpet samples in varying horrible colours, and we each had to take one. The goal of this exercise was that each of us learn the art of decorating in a less than ideal situation. In this case our “client” had this horrible carpet, but it was in good shape and they couldn’t afford to replace it. We had to design a space that made this carpet work.

Often that’s how this business works. Not everyone has the budget to gut a room/house and start fresh. It’s important to learn to work WITH that ugly tile, carpet, or sofa if at all possible. (This can be extremely useful when buying houses too! See the potential, not just the negatives.)

I will use my own bathroom as an example. It is a step back in time, to be sure. I am blessed with a salmon tub and sink, 60’s mahogany cupboards, and a checkered floor comprised of vinyl tiles of cream or salmon, flecked with GOLD… this matches the cream and gold arbourite countertop. Let’s not forget the fabulous mixture of blue, pink and black ceramic tiles covering the tub-surround. Awesome, no?

So, what to do? Paint the walls green, gray or blue in the hopes of achieving the “spa” look? GOOD LORD, NO! Pink is a warm hue. So is the wood of the mahogany. Putting anything cool next to it like green, gray, blue etc. would serve to amplify the salmon theme. At the time I moved in the walls were painted a cream colour (probably in the hopes that people just wouldn’t notice much). Fair enough. Still, everyone commented that it was the ugliest room in the house; so clearly that wasn’t working.

I painted my bathroom walls an orange that has a pink undertone. Benjamin Moore’s “Adobe Orange”, to be precise. I had all sorts of questioning squeaks and murmurs from onlookers as I started to paint, but when it was done everyone simply LOVES that room. It was meant to simply make it liveable until such time as I could renovate, but it’s been a few years now and still to this day everyone comments on how fabulous my retro bathroom is. Orange/pink is the theme, towels and shower curtain of black and white and all of a sudden it’s a funky room with personality instead of just plain ugly.

My point is this: sometimes you are just stuck with something that you can’t get rid of. Instead of fighting it or trying to hide it, sometimes the best way is to camouflage it. Justify that fuscia carpet with other fuscia accents, and make the rest of the space black, white and grey. You’ve got a green chair in the corner that belonged to your grandma, so put something with a green undertone onto the walls. Work WITH what you’ve got. Make it look intentional. Sometimes this is the best way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…and sometimes it’s just enough to make it liveable until you can get new furniture, or renovate to your heart’s content!