In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at booklocker.com or amazon.com.

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In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at booklocker.com or amazon.com.

Joanne Palmer: Decorating Steamboat style

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Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at jpalmer@springsips.com

Find more columns by Palmer here.

"Mom, you are a turkey vulture!" My son shrieked, embarrassed and horrified that his mother would slow the car down to inspect a free couch on the side of the road.

Comments like these make me wonder, why don't children come with prerecorded messages?

By simply pushing a button, he would have said, "Mom you are the best, most wonderful mother in all the world. Thin and beautiful, too. I can't believe how resourceful you are. Here you are once again filling our house with furniture without dipping into my college fund."

Instead he said, "Do. Not. Stop. The. Car."

"It's free!" I whined. "We need a couch."

"Turkey vulture!" my son repeated. "I am not helping you."

Too late. I had already plopped down on the brown paisley couch.

"It's comfortable," I said. "Try it."

Before he could refuse, I had taken the cushions off and was doing my best damsel-in-distress routine - hoping to find someone to help me load it into the car.

I am not a scavenger.

I do not have a problem.

I am not in need of a 12-step program.

I am simply decorating, Steamboat-style.

My style can be best described as "early American garage sale." Except for the mattress on my bed, I don't think I have paid full price for any piece of furniture in my house. This guarantees there is a story behind everything I own, and I can bore dinner guests into a somnolent state by recounting these tales.

Like the time I bought a white couch on the crazy premise I might someday own a fabulous house like the one the couch came from - I know, therapy is in my future. But sitting on that couch was better than therapy. Its oversized down cushions enveloped me and transported me into a state of nirvana. Or a good nap. I loved that couch. Alas, I soon realized a white couch is high maintenance, and I did not want to be a slave to spot-cleaning it daily. So, I washed the slipcovers - according to the directions - and shrank them. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

To spare you this furniture faux pas and dozens of other decorating disasters I have experienced, I consulted Irene Nelson, of Irene Nelson Interiors, for tips that will keep you off a therapist's couch and happily at home on your own.

- Match the dirt. Do not buy carpet without first looking at the color of the dirt in your neighborhood. Dirt is what will be coming into your house, and unless you want to spend a small fortune getting your carpets cleaned, buy carpet that is as close to the color of dirt as possible. "You need a rusty, brownish color," Nelson said.

- Match the pet. If you can't match the dirt, match the dog or the cat.

- Measure. Measure. Measure. "People frequently buy the wrong size furniture," Nelson said. Duct tape areas of the floor where you think furniture should be placed and live with it a few days. Make sure you can walk around it (duh!). Then measure a few hundred times before you bring any furniture home.

If I followed this advice, I would have realized my free paisley couch is exactly 12 inches too long for the space I planned to put it in.

Here are two more tips of my own:

- Buy a couch you can cuddle on. Snuggling on a couch is important and may even be the key to marital bliss. Make sure you buy or find one long and deep enough to hold two people.

- Never wash slipcovers according to directions. Take them to a dry cleaner instead.

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