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From Home to Palace
by Anneli Rufus

The summer of their wedding, seven years ago, they went house shopping. All over Seattle, they trailed their real-estate agent through Victorians and Craftsmans, cottages and almost-mansions, brick and wood, stucco and stone. They had their pick.

Though his list of "musts" was short — a garage, backyard and functional toilets — she was hunting for a dream home: lovely, perfect, something from a fairy tale. And it had to have a dishwasher.

As for turning it into a castle ...
Sit quietly in the still-empty house, look around and jot down ideas. Let your stream of consciousness flow.
Does your house have the soul of an Italian villa? An artist's retreat? Peruse picture books about the Middle Ages, Frida Kahlo, or whatever works for inspiration.
Save big bucks by buying "mismixes" at paint and hardware stores: cans of paint that customers pre-ordered but decided they didn't want. (These are also called "mistints" and "dump stock.")
For handmade curtains and cushions, prowl yardage shops for large interesting remnants. Some thrift stores sell remnants, too.
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While they were turning down nearly perfect houses without dishwashers, the real-estate climate changed. Like Silicon Valley, Seattle suddenly became a Mecca for home-buyers with huge bankbooks. It was a dog pile, and in the blink of an eye all the fairy-tale houses had been sold.

She settled for a squat little cinderblock square. Its price nearly doubled during a bidding war, and when the dust cleared she saw hideous wallpaper, harrowed carpeting, a ceiling done in orange burlap, and warped woodpaneling in, of all places, the bathroom. And, having spent their last dollar on the house, they had none left for painters or designers.

So they headed for the library.

"The panic right now is about just getting a house," says Sally Kiskaddon, owner of Builders Booksource in Berkeley, Calif. "And that means people are buying houses with problems built into them. When you're mortgaged to the hilt, Kiskaddon says, you aren't going to be able to afford a contractor to prettify the kitchen.

Books abound on design, color theory, low-cost restoration, feng shui, faux finishes and how to make ravaged furniture look chic. Take a good look at your house. Try to see past all its needed repairs and former owners' lapses in judgement to discern its intrinsic qualities, its inherent style. Is it lean and plain, lending itself to a Southwestern or Swedish-modern minimalism? Or does it have the heavy textures and built-in trim of an earlier era? Where is the light best?

You don't need a degree in architecture to suss out a house's soul. Just sit very still in it for a while.

"The new situation you have created in your life is the house purchase," Kiskaddon says. Now it's up to you to work with it.

Be bold — not with your exhausted checkbook, but with your ideas and then your arms. Who says you aren't as smart as the professionals? You already know what you don't like — whether it's that stained wallpaper or that uterus-shaped ceiling lamp — so any change you make will feel like a big improvement. Even if it doesn't come out looking House Beautiful-perfect, the satisfaction of having brought your own home closer to its ultimate potential is a thrill worth savoring (not to mention the added bonus of turning a money pit into a money maker). Bonding with our houses is crucial — after all, our futures, for better or worse, lie within their walls.

You can always do more. Add a standing screen here, unscrew an awning there, stencil a few stripes — sometimes you just need a little direction. And for that, let us help you get started toward your belle maison:

Are you more Martha or Laura Ashley, Ikea or Ethan Allen? Find your inner stylist with our Home Dιcor Quiz.

Bring Europe to your home with a backyard chateau.

Nothing destroys home design like a television. Still, don't kill your TV, hide it.

The MISTAKE: the use of mass-marketed, brand-recognizable clutter to "dress up" a room. Go BIG, instead.

Make your home charming and personal with Objets Trouves.

Page:9 Simple Steps That Go a Long Way
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• Color Do's and Don't's for Your Interior

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Related Stories
• Profit From a Fixer-Upper
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• Tips for Doing it Big
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Web Links
• Helpful renovation books

Related Books
• Beautiful Home on a Budget, Emilie Barnes
• Be Your Own Home Decoratior, Pauline B. Guntlow

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