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At Home with Marni Jameson: Decorating from a Distance

So sight — and site — unseen, with no more than a handful of photos on a cellphone, I help them cobble together a look.
By Marni Jameson Published: July 12, 2014
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I walked into the condo with one eye closed.

The nerve-wracking moment is like the reveal in one of those TV home-decorating shows — only in reverse. Rather than revealing the newly remodeled space to a homeowner, who had been blissfully unaware, the reveal was to me, the default designer who helped coordinate the home makeover from five states away.

A friend from Orlando, Fla., had purchased a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Phoenix. The place was one part investment property, one part home for his 25-year-old daughter, who had gotten a job there.

It needed a complete remodel — to meet his liking and hers. Both were new at this, and didn’t always see eye to eye. My friend, D.C., asked me to help.

“So, you want me to weigh in when you and your daughter disagree?” I asked.

“Or when you disagree with us,” he said.

“Is this a remodel or an intervention?” I asked.

“Both,” he said.

“Great, so I either upset you, or her, or both,” I said, summing up what was clearly a losing proposition.

“Or just make sure we’re on the right track,” he said, as if there were a right track. Did I mention they were new at this?

Faced with a decorating project fraught with awkward family dynamics on top of a distance disadvantage and thus a high probability for failure, I realized this had never stopped me before. Why not?

D.C. presents their wish list. He wants a “desert contemporary” style, and favors walls painted in a color he’s used successfully: Sherwin Williams Bagel. He also wants floors covered in porcelain tiles that look like wood. She wants granite counters and new cabinets to replace the Formica and dated oak.

So sight — and site — unseen, with no more than a handful of photos on a cellphone, I help them cobble together a look.

The process feels like one of those new robotic surgery techniques being tested where a doctor in Los Angeles does surgery on a patient in Washington using a robot. While on paper it should work, there is no guarantee.

We mix floor samples, paint swatches, granite and tile candidates. I suggest a darker wall color, Sherwin Williams Totally Tan. He’s unsure. But his daughter likes it. Totally Tan it is.

Because the floors and walls would be midtone brown, I said paint the golden oak cabinets white, which is cheaper than replacing them, and go with dark granite counters (ultimately, Verde Butterfly). Neither was too sure.

“Trust me,” I told D.C. “Spaces need high and low values — white and black — to balance the midtones.”

“Trust me,” D.C. tells his daughter.

I feel more responsibility than an Air Force One pilot.

Because I’m in this far, I said replace the skimpy baseboards with 4-inch moldings. The move isn’t in the budget, but I convince D.C. it’s necessary. Still I worry. This is his money I’m spending.

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