House and Home

3 Reasons Why Your Home Might Fail to Impress


Do you ever worry about what people think of your home when they walk through the front door? This might be because you’re not exactly proud of your place, but that can change fairly easily according to interior designer James Swan. Swan, who recently came out with his first book, "101 Things I Hate About Your House," has more than 20 years of experience transforming homes. He spoke to us about how anyone can fall in love with their home in just a few painless steps.

What inspired you to write this book?Two years ago, the idea came up in conversation over dinner and my friend asked me when I would come out with a design book. I wasn’t really interested; the world doesn’t need another coffee table book. But my friends kept pushing the point and it got me thinking about it. Then I found myself saying the title of the book—it just came to me: "101 Things I Hate About Your House." It was something fun and a little irreverent. I spent time coming up with a voice and an angle to make it relevant.

You chose to use illustrations in the book rather than color photography. Why?That was a huge hurdle to get over with publishers. They kept saying, “you need color photos!” I sort of negotiated what I wanted the book to be. I wanted it to be entertaining, but empowering. Millions of people will never hire a professional designer, but that doesn’t diminish their desire to have a beautiful home. I wanted this book to be pertinent for them. Photos are aspirational, but they are also limiting. The subtext is, “if your living room doesn’t look like this, you’ve somehow failed.” The only thing that should matter is that you love your home, and anybody can do a few special things to make a home more gracious.

So what are three of these “special” things that can make a world of difference in your home?

1. Lighting: A well-lit room can cover a multitude of sins. The biggest mistake is over-lighting; using a 150-watt bulb or having a ceiling filled with ceiling cans that are all fully lit. Homes are often lit for cleaning, or so you can find a contact on the floor, and nobody looks good in that kind of light. You don’t want to look like a pasty, washed-out zombie in your own home. I’ve learned how to install dimmer switches. They’re not a lot of money at all and I put them on everything. You can set your lights at all levels, depending on what you would like to do. You can use them to create beautiful, softly lit rooms in which you'll look best.

2. Furniture arrangement: A pet peeve of mine is when you walk into a room and the sofa is slammed up against the wall. It’s almost comical to look at. It’s like a doctor’s office waiting room. There is nothing appealing about that. It doesn’t encourage conversation. Pull your sofa from the wall. Put seating next to bookshelves and around side tables. It can completely change the dynamics of a room.

3. Clean it up: A freshly organized room where everything is put in its place can change a space entirely. You don’t have to live in a mansion to have a clean house.

So it sounds like you don’t need a huge budget to get your home in better shape.Absolutely not. Be conscious of your concept and have a plan. Roll up your sleeves and make it a family affair. Start investing energy into the home you live in, and you’ll start to fall in love with your house all over again.

What do people most commonly overlook about their own homes?Clutter. There’s this muscle in our brain called “denial.” I do it. I’m terrible about this. I have two little pockets of clutter I discovered by taking digital photos of my house. It’s an exercise I have my clients do. Give yourself a day or two and come back and start looking at those photos. Photos don’t lie. I did it and ended up saying to myself, “Oh wow, that’s what I do with mail that I don’t want to open?” Get beyond your denial about troubled areas and you’ll feel empowered.