Home Renovation & Decorating Tips with Cynthia Ruff
You recently completed a home renovation and left some areas ‘unfinished’ to work on throughout the following year. How did you prioritize those spaces and keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed?
Renovating #ThisRuffHouse was really stressful. Finding mold hiding on the original plaster walls forced us to remove and replace them. Plus, I had no interior design experience outside of Pinterest inspiration, so we had to figure out how to convey my idea into a tangible design. Luckily, we had a great team of contractors and an architect who made sure what we wanted to accomplish was feasible. The rest - designing and filling in the “unfinished” spaces- was up to us.
This is where the stress turned into fun weekend projects. After the major renovation, a lot of the projects were prioritized by: immediate expense, labor capability, and current inspiration. I had just started my MBA at Georgia Tech, so my priority was to sand and repaint all of the Ikea furniture in the office to have an inspirational place to study. This was the easiest and least labor-intensive job on the DIY list. Completing this also gave me confidence that I could do other projects as well, since I had mastered getting a smooth finish on furniture surfaces. After that, my husband and I built a media console inspired by one I saw at Anthropologie. And finally, once we mastered square corners and smooth finishes, we tackled the Dry Bar!
If you’re embarking on doing some projects at home I’d definitely recommend building up to the big stuff. Painting and refinishing surfaces is easy with the right tools (and patience) but building full-on furniture and cabinets takes time and practice. Plus, we’re not professionals, so there are definitely imperfections and we embrace that – she is a 110-year-old condo after all!
How do you know when a room is ‘finished' being renovated?
A finished room is somewhere between the feeling of pure joy whenever you enter it and if adding one more thing would detract from the overall vibe. The half bath was the only room in the house that was 95% finished when we moved back in. I knew it needed art and a few other decor elements but hadn’t come across the right pieces. It was 3 months later when I discovered a lithograph print featuring some beetles. Finding that print made me realize it was the perfect piece of masculinity to balance an otherwise very feminine space. That’s how I know it’s finished - every time I enter it, it feels unique, personal, and joyful.
What tips do you have for someone decorating a new home or newly renovated space?
It’ll probably take time to get the space how you want it, so don’t rush “settling” for the piece you may think you “need”. If you’ve spent all this time renovating or saving up for your dream home, take the time to fill it with the pieces that you can’t live without.
I made the mistake of buying to fill a place in my last space and when it came time to move in with my husband, I realized I didn’t really love most of the things I had. There was nothing personal to them, or unique. I now subscribe to mixing a little new, with some old, thrifted, and high-end pieces.
I’ve always been an avid thrifter (my first blog was all about thrifted fashion before Gen Z made it cool). I’ve seen a rule floating around Instagram lately saying “you should always have something in your home that others can’t swipe up for” and I just love that approach to keeping your decor unique to you. I love shopping estate sales, thrift stores, Facebook marketplace, and refinishing roadside furniture to bring that unique “one of a kind” feeling to our living space.
Now that your house has been renovated, what does it feel like to be at home?
I feel like I’ve lived in a lot of places (from contractor standard apartments, historic condos, and big homes in suburban neighborhoods) and it wasn’t until moving in with my husband did I finally feel like I was in my space, with my people, in my area. The home effuses love and safety. It’s always been about who we invite into our home and share these memories with more than where we bought our couch. It’s nice that we were able to do the renovation before the pandemic, but the real home feeling comes from who you spend time with in the home. We just welcomed a pup home who makes these days feel more like home every moment- even if he is trying to chew on my vintage rug every time I leave the room. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and can’t wait for the chewed rug to come with us to the next house where I’ll smile to remember the time Pickles was teething in our first home.