Bring It, Dirt


When we bought our lovely house several years ago, it was clean and white. White walls, white trim, white carpet. And it was clean.

And then we moved in.

Now, I’m not saying that we’re the dirty-nastiest family I know, but we’re not a family that’s going to keep a clean, white house clean and white while we reside there. No. While I have lots of rules about “no food and drink upstairs” and “keep food on plates” and “wipe your shoes off before you come inside” we amazingly have spill-stains all over the white carpet and a thin layer of grime that covers every surface in the house. Either I don’t nag enough or those kids don’t listen.

I’m not going to lie: I’d love to have an immaculate house. But I am too lazy and too otherwise-engaged to be the housekeeper I wish I had. So instead we live in a decently picked-up, but never perfectly clean house, oh well. I’m really OK with this, because it works for me/us: the day I stopped stressing about guests tracking dirt in when they entered my house was a good day for everyone. So I pick up enough so that the place looks clean-ish, and friends and family know that they’re not going to be the first ones to mar some pristine home.

But let me go back to the points about “clean” and “lazy’ for a bit. I admit that I do, indeed, want a clean house, while I also admit that I am lazy. So what to do? Well, this is where I am very proud to admit that I ALSO can pull out some seriously brilliant decorating moves that use sweet style to mask housekeeping ineptitude. Booyah. Mmmm!

Let’s take a tour back to my basement stairway. When we moved in, the previous owners (who were very clean, classy people) had this stairway painted white. The walls were Contractor White and the floors and trim work were semi-gloss white. And it was lovely: fresh and bright (and clean and white). This stairway is a high-traffic space, connecting the upstairs to the downstairs, duh, but it also has an outdoor entrance at the landing. Now if I remember right, I think that those semi-gloss white stairs got their first indelible stain on, um . . . Move-in Day. And it’s gone south ever since.


So I made the smartest tactical-clean decision of my life. I grabbed a handful of paint chips from Wal-Mart, got down on my hands and knees, and matched paint chips to the grubby dirt stains on my stairway steps. You think I’m lying, but I did. (And apparently, my high-style kids track in a color of dirt that matches Newsworthy Neutral BH-378. It’s an elegant taupe-gray with birch undertones.) I scrubbed every surface in that stairway and then painted the stairs in their new shade of dirt.

Then, in another bold move of proactive decorating, I painted the trim in a darker-than-dirt coal-black. So now, even if I wanted to, I cannot see the stains that will settle on handrails and spindles. Excellent. On the stairway’s dado, I chose a mis-tinted charcoal that matches Rollerblade scuff marks and kicked-off shoe dirt. It’s tasteful and elegant, but not so dark that it’s overbearing.


With the dirtiest parts of the stairway painted in hues of medium-to-dark dirt, I wanted a light and bright color that would keep the space feeling open, not closed in like a coffin. So I turned to my favorite stairway for inspiration. (Who else here has a favorite stairway? Anybody? Nobody?) My cousin lives in a beautiful pre-war flat in Evanston, IL. Her place is lovely, with original wood floors and tall baseboards throughout. But the stairway leading up to her flat is what really does it for me. The ornate banisters and thick, carved spindles are painted a dark espresso brown gloss, while the walls are painted in a light wheat yellow. Basically a neutral palette, but somehow it’s an exciting color combination. So I chose a modern wheat yellow that wasn’t too yellow (I’ve chosen some seriously garish yellows in my time and I didn’t want to do it again).


After painting all these surfaces, with all these different colors (and remind me to mention some time how I got up to the 15 foot ceiling corners) I saw that the stairway now had a cool Euro feel. Something from an understated Parisian flat. So I put up my slowly growing collection of Paris Street photos. I’ve found a few of these framed photos at garage sales, and I always pick them and paint the frame black. I don’t like to over-decorate (you know: several staged pieces, with some props hanging out, too) so a group of framed photos is low-key, but still pretty.


Now this basement stairway is one of my favorite places in the house. (The photos don’t do it justice and that’s my fault.) The color palette is hip and fresh, but still really tasteful. And the inevitable dirt is not as noticeable. Happy sigh.

So what now, dirt?! What have you got? (If this were a street fight, I think I won.)