How Breaking 3 Design Rules Made Our Home Feel More Like Us

Giving outside influence the cold shoulder, we turned our dining room into an entertainment hot spot.

“A house is a machine for living in.”

Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier made huge contributions to Modernism, urban planning and furniture design, but among all his contributions, the one thing I keep coming back to is this quote.

The challenge we all face as homeowners is in adapting our houses to our unique lifestyles instead of worrying too much about obeying tradition, design TV shows or our neighbors. And there are so many rules!

Here are three design rules we broke when renovating the dining room in our Omaha home.

The dining room, pre-renovation.

Rule 1: Every home needs a dining room

One of the biggest pitfalls people fall into when decorating their home is being afraid to change the purpose of a room. Sure, a kitchen is always going to be a kitchen, but dining rooms, formal living rooms, and bedrooms are ripe for repurposing.

Like many folks, we don’t make much use of a dining room. While we enjoy visitors, we don’t throw many formal dinner parties, and our eat-in kitchen works just fine for daily meals. Meanwhile, our living room is lovely but not particularly spacious — a piano, fireplace and stairway limit the amount of seating we can add to the room.

Our solution was to extend the “living area” into the adjacent dining room. Suddenly, we doubled the amount of space we have for casual entertaining, while creating a spot for a flat-screen TV for watching movies. The result is a cozy, calming room that the British would call a “snug.” We think that describes the space perfectly.

This layout — and giving up a dining table to get it — may not be the right fit for every family, but it more closely aligns with our needs and could easily be switched back by the next homeowners.*

Rule 2: Dark colors make a room feel small

You’ve heard it from designers on TV. You’ve heard it from real estate agents. Neighbors. The guy working the paint counter. “A dark wall color will make a room feel smaller.”

I have two responses to that:

  1. Not necessarily.
  2. Even if it does, is that always a bad thing?

In many instances, a darker wall or ceiling color will have no effect at all on the perception of room size. Very dark colors can, counterintuitively, make walls and ceilings appear to recede from the observer, creating the illusion that the room is deeper. So, the jury remains undecided.

What dark rooms inarguably do is create an environment that is cozy, elegant or romantic. While your eye may initially perceive a space as smaller, it will not actually be any smaller. You can fit just as much furniture and as many people into the space as before. So maybe it isn’t a problem at all.

Our adjacent living room (and much of the house) has stark white walls and big windows to bring in sunlight, so we decided to paint our dining room-turned-snug in Sherwin-Williams’ Tricorn Black. Nothing subtle about that, but once we filled it with artwork and furniture, everyone commented on how big the room seemed.

Post-renovation, the snug provides plenty of seating space for entertaining.

Rule 3: Too much furniture in a space will make it cramped

As designers and furniture manufacturers, we talk with clients about furniture layouts every day, and choosing too large a sofa in their home is a recurring concern.

While it’s true that the scale of furniture matters, you can often get away with putting more into a room than you might imagine. It’s all about placement and maintaining pathways.

Our snug is a great example of this. It measures merely 13 feet by 10½ feet, and has a wide opening to our living room, a door to our kitchen and three big windows. Into the room, we fit a 10½-foot-by-8½-foot sectional sofa, a barrel chair, three small tables, a bar cart, a large wall-mounted flat-screen TV and tons of artwork. Despite squeezing in seating for a big group of people, we haven’t compromised the critical pathway running from the living room back into the kitchen.

We absolutely love our cozy, compact lounging space and don’t miss our dining room at all. Our unconventional choices may not make sense for your lifestyle, but keep them in mind as you find the best way to live in your home.

* We’re staying in our house forever, so this point is irrelevant. (See previous blog posts regarding me making my husband promise we’ll never move again.)


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How Much Rent Can I Afford?

Is anything more exciting than the prospect of renting a new place? But getting excited is one thing—making it a financial reality is another. Before browsing listings and getting your heart set on new digs, ask yourself, “How much rent can I afford?”

Not totally sure? Get ready to take notes, because we’ve got you covered. Here are five tips to help you determine what your budget should be.

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What 2017 Can Teach You About Buying a House in 2018

What we learned in 2017

Homes are being snapped up at the fastest clip since we started keeping track in 2012. When homes are in short supply, as they are now, buyers try to get a competitive edge by bidding up the price and also by closing faster. Back in 2012, 57 percent of homes were still on the market two months after being listed—by this June, that number had fallen to 47 percent. The intensity is greatest, of course, in hot markets like San Jose, Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

What you can do in 2018

Don’t crack under the pressure of a hot market. Understand all the steps involved in the search process and in making an offer so that when you find the right place, you’re ready to make your move.


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2018 Home Design Trends: Wallpaper, High Gloss Lacquer, and More

Finding a home requires trade-offs, whether in the house or neighborhood. And though it’s not easy to change your neighborhood, you can certainly change the way your home looks and feels. To help homeowners and renters make their house a home, the Trulia Design Panel, an expert group of interior designers, home stagers and organizers from across the nation, is here to share their home décor advice and insights.

Ahead of 2018, the Trulia Design Panel gave their predictions for 2018’s big design trends. What’s in, what’s out, and why?

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It’s Christmas Year-Round in These Yuletide Towns

Most places celebrate the holidays just once a year, but there are a few cheerful communities where Christmas is built into the very fabric of town life. Be it North Pole, Alaska, where locals live on Snowman Lane, or Santa Claus, Indiana, with it’s Holiday World theme park, residents in these festive towns ensure that they live up to their merry monikers. If you’re crazy about Christmas, consider moving to a place where the holidays never end.

Santa Claus, Indiana

After several spirited town meetings in 1856, residents changed this community’s name from Santa Fe to Santa Claus. Today, it embodies its title, brimming with fairy tale-inspired buildings and a Santa Claus Museum. It even hosts the country’s only post office bearing Santa’s name—a responsibility it takes seriously. So seriously, in fact, each year, a volunteer group of Santa’s Elves replies to thousands of Dear Santa letters sent to the post office.

Interested? If you’re keen to join the pointy-eared crew, hang your stocking at this 3-bed, 3.5-bath lakefront barn home, listed for $269,900. From the screened porch, you’ll enjoy close-ups of Christmas Lake, one of three festively-named lakes in this wooded town.

Check out more homes in Santa Claus, Indiana.



Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

This college town was named after Jesus’ birthplace, following its settlement by Moravians on Christmas Eve in 1741. To celebrate the area’s heritage, more than 800 trees are illuminated in the town square each December.  And if that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, the Christmas walking tour led by a jolly costumed guide certainly will.

Christmas towns

Interested? This 4-bed, 3-bath colonial home sits on a half-acre lot and is surrounded by a patch of evergreen trees, making it Christmas card-perfect—and a steal at $269,900.

Check out more homes in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.



North Pole, Alaska

Can’t find the fabled home of Saint Nicholas on a map? Just look in eastern Alaska, one of the best places to view the Northern Lights. Here, you’ll find North Pole, a fitting home for the world’s largest fiberglass Santa, an annual Christmas ice-carving competition, and a network of holiday-named streets like Kris Kringle Drive.

Christmas townsInterested? Those seeking a festive lifestyle can find it here, at this 3-bed, 2-bath log cabin, on the market for $399,900, where the indoor wood stove and the outdoor firepit are fit for Father Christmas himself.

Check out more homes in North Pole, Alaska.



Christmas Valley, Oregon

Christmas Towns

Coined after historical figure Peter Christman, whose surname locals often mistook for “Christmas,” this Oregon town was dubbed Christmas Valley. These days, it has wholeheartedly embraced the holiday it shares a name with. There’s a cheerful Christmas parade and plenty of holiday streets, like Mistletoe Lane, bringing a celebratory feel all year round. But the community is best known by all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts worldwide who ride the famed Christmas Valley sand dunes.

Christmas TownsInterested? This 3-bed, 2-bath custom-built home, recently reduced to $349,900, is a prime hub for holiday entertaining, thanks to its multiple decks with views of Christmas Valley’s deer-filled landscape.

Check out more homes in Christmas Valley, Oregon.



Rudolph, Ohio

Christmas Towns

Holiday greetings mailed to this tree-lined, 458-person town get postmarked with a reindeer stamp in honor of the town’s namesake. But truth be told, the northeastern Ohio community didn’t nab its name from Santa’s red-nosed crew member; instead, it was borrowed from a local merchant named H.J. Rudolph. Strangely enough, birds—as much as deer—are abundant in Rudolph, as evidenced by the annual Rudolph Christmas Count, where area bird lovers flock to town to count winter fowl while donning Santa hats and faux reindeer antlers.

Christmas towns

Interested? If you count yourself a wildlife enthusiast, consider making this 4-bed, 3-bath home, available for $215,000, in Arlington Woods your nest.

Check out more homes in Rudolph, Ohio.




Know of a town that hosts a unique Christmas celebration? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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