An Ordinary Home Seeking Splendor Meets a Design Notebook

You laugh.  You’re incredulous perhaps?  A design notebook?  What for?  You’re very comfortable with your design expression of ‘Contemporary Crayola’, thank you very much!  Or perhaps you find your style most likely resembles “Baroque”n furniture.  😉  Or maybe you don’t feel like your home has a style at all?

I’m not sure how I’d describe our style.  I’m certain eclectic traditional must be in there somewhere.  I enjoy rustic country simplicity and down-to-earth straightforward beauty.  What else?  Practically-cleanable?  Simply-functional?  Delightfully-beheld-out-of-reach-on-a-high-shelf?  Toy-tractor-wheel-marks-below-the-chair-rail?  Shades-of-tan?  That last one describes our walls to a ‘T’ right now!  UGH!  We’re remedying shades-of-tan as we speak!

More on that later, but for now, let’s talk about family style and home design notebooks (which is an altogether different thing from a homemaking notebook)!!  Perhaps along the way you’ll see that we uncovered our family style simply by “becoming what we are” – family. (Source: Venerable John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio)

Many of us are spring cleaning for Lent!  Ordering our homes.  Purging the unnecessary.  As we do so, we begin to uncover a style – the style of the family.  It is practical (hopefully), livable (by necessity), welcoming (to everyone but Mom’s arch-nemesis…the virus), open (to life and all its sorrows and joys), and breathes (which means it takes in and lets go…and occasionally hiccups).

I enjoy re-reading a favorite book, Splendor in the Ordinary by Thomas Howard.  In this book, year after year, I find direction and inspiration for ordering our home.  Our home is an ordinary place, an ordinary space, but within these walls, the mystery of life and family unfold and we find ourselves living out sacred Mysteries within ordinary spaces!

“…we will have to recover the sense of the hallowed as being all around us.  We will have to open our eyes and try to see once more the commonplace as both cloaking and revealing the holy to us.  We will have to refuse resolutely the secularism that has made ordinariness unholy.” (Splendor In the Ordinary)

Hallowed ordinary spaces.  ORDINARY spaces….as holy. 

I hope I don’t make this idea seem unattainable – it isn’t – though it is a journey!  I hope in these images you will see our home AS IT IS (and know that I don’t stop considering what IT COULD BE).  I hope that you may find inspiration to look deeper within and beyond the ordinary spaces of your home to the beauty and order waiting to be revealed…in the ordinary.  I found my design notebook to be a helpful tool in uncovering our family style which, it turns out, reveals the sacred to us through the ordinary beauty it reveals.

“…as is true of any holy place, this one has for its activity the marking and celebrating of what is true, and the keeping alive of the vision of what is true; namely, that all is holy.  This is done by offering those things up in acts of consecration and praise.  This is what lifts those things from the heap of mere ordinariness and makes them extraordinary (holy).” (Splendor In the Ordinary)

Like me, you may find that your style is what surrounds you, what welcomes your family every day.  Contentment envelops you as you seek to make ordinary spaces (some of which are less than conducive to family living) into functional spaces that are practical, livable and have a touch of pretty in them.

When we first moved into our home 8 years ago, it was a blank canvas.  Literally.  At the time of purchase, our home was still somewhat unfinished, save the tan walls.  No finishing touches.  No gardens.  No flowers.  No pretty.  Just workable bones and…those tan walls.

“The secular, or the profane, which is how we usually think of ordinariness, is actually holiness unrecognized.”

We bought a home and 3 beautiful acres on a hilltop that we hoped we could work with and grow into.  The foothills of the Appalachians are within view from our front porch and comfortably close to the 62 acres of my husband’s family farm.  We are blessed to be here and it is a home we can be content with.  Satisfied.  At peace.

The job before me as I stood within our new home (which seemed so large 8 years ago) was to make it beautiful, to begin, as the heart of this home, to breathe life into the spaces.  My job is the same today – I still seek to breathe beauty and life into the spaces of my home.  How would I fill all these ordinary spaces?  Where would I find inspiration?  What would our style grow into?  Mid-century madness?

Enter the notebook…

I began to collect ideas…but they needed a place to land.  One place.  A place so that I could begin to build a collection of inspiration.  A place that would begin to function as ideas that might tell me more about our style.  I wanted to collect ideas so that I could turn them over in my mind.  Consider.  Brainstorm.  Be creative.  Work within a challenged budget and a spacious place.  I started with a simple 3 ring, 1 inch binder and added cardstock pages.  Then, I had the thought to divide the notebook into rooms and spaces (both indoor and outdoor) leaving 5 or 6 cardstock pages in between each divider.

You surely must know what those little tabbed dividers are, don’t you?  You know my love for all things Post-it!!!  They’re Post-it Index Tabs, of course!  I know….this is not the first time I’ve waxed poetically on the topic of pretty notebooks OR Post-its!!  (You will see a very familiar scrapbook paper cover in that post!)

The ideas I gathered for the spaces in our home I collected in my home design notebook and they came from many sources – some I thought of and scribbled onto paper, and some I clipped from magazines and saved.  Paint samples for consideration were tucked in the front pocket until decisions could be made…apparently, no decisions could be made for 8 years.  I hope it doesn’t take you that long to make that kind of decision!

Below is my kitchen inspiration section.  Looking at the clipping below, you can see one of the beginning sources of inspiration for the transformation of our beloved cranberry cabinet.

Also in the kitchen section, there are drawings and sketches of ideas I had for a wall of cabinets.  It’s enjoyable to revisit some of those old ideas…and even in those early ideas…I see the beginning of what was to come.  The delightful cranberry cabinet that ended up filling our spaces bears an uncanny resemblance to that early idea.  That’s how it starts.  With an idea.  You don’t know where that idea will go or what blessing you may encounter as you challenge yourself to work within a modest budget…but those initial ideas begin to take shape

“It is simple and homey and candid, as though to say, ‘When you come in here, you are welcomed into the very bosom of life here.  We do not keep you sitting stiffly on a plush chair in the hall.  Welcome to the inner circle.'” (Splendor in the Ordinary)

In our living spaces, I kept all the fabric swatches that came with new furniture and new pillows.  I knew it would help when I EVENTUALLY got around to painting these tan walls.  Tan.  sigh.

Consider, if you might be just starting to furnish a space, that keeping swatches of fabric, receipts and picture labels is just as important and helpful as the collection of ideas you’ll assemble in this book!

“The family situation is, as it were, the elementary schoolroom where we start learning in small, easy, and natural ways to love – that is, to discover that self-giving, freedom, and joy are all one thing.” (Splendor In the Ordinary)

Jot notes next to the pictures – why did you like something?  The color?  The scale?  The organization?  The architectural features of a piece?  Make notes!!

” Once more, this rhythm that seems to move in all our experience.  Work and play, mountains and valleys, hot and cold, black and white, giving and receiving, activity and rest, sun and shade, man and woman, day and night – all calling back and forth in the lovely antiphon of creation.  And this one: after our work, sleep.”

The page below is for our girls’ room.  I saved the little insert that came with a quilt and taped it on the page of my book.  A few years later, when we picked out colors for their room, I saved those swatches here, too!  You can’t imagine how helpful this is, if….say for instance….6 years after painting you need to touch up, but don’t have leftover paint, and don’t have a clue what color or brand you used!  If you don’t have the color cards from the home improvement store, but you DO have paint, consider painting an index card in case you one day have to go get touch up paint.  Now, you have a swatch of color for matching!

“Ordinariness, in a word, opens out onto mystery, and the thing that men are supposed to do with mystery is to hallow it, for it all belongs to the Holy One.”

In addition to all the inside spaces, don’t forget the outside of your home!  I just can’t tell you how much of a help having sections for outside gardens has been over the years!  It was a help when building gardens, and it still serves me well!

The ideas I started with have evolved and blossomed and grown – some of them very literally!

If I did not have my notebook, I would not be able to tell you what these pretty shrubs are.  I would simply have to say — “Aren’t these lovely green bushes growing in my garden?  I don’t have a clue what they are, but sheesh they got big!”  BUT…I kept all my notes, all my receipts, all the records of what I planted and where in my notebook.  Pictured above is an Abelia, a lovely flowering bush that is semi-evergreen and flowers in the most delicate, sweetly scented white flowers in late spring.

And these are the delicate flowers of the creeping phlox that form a living carpet in my front gardens.  If you’re looking for flower garden ideas, and you’re working with a budget, could I recommend one of my favorite sources?  In addition to enjoying our local nursery, I enjoy ordering from Springhill Nurseries and have had very good luck with the plants I got from them.

Save all those tags that come with potted plants from the nursery!  How helpful these have been over the years!!!

When we began planning for our front gardens, we asked a professional landscaper to help us.  Our front gardens are ENORMOUS and I was overwhelmed considering how to layer and plant.  We found someone that was just getting started in landscape design, and willing to just do a small job.  He offered an amazing and large grid-plan that showed what to plant and where.

Though we didn’t follow his plan to the letter, we did to a great extent and found it so very helpful in envisioning how to landscape and add greenery and life around our home.

This plan, when unfolded, is much larger than my binder…in fact, when unfolded it’s about 18″ x 24″.  I hole punched a section and then folded it so that it too could stay in my home design notebook.

” The great eucharistic mysteries of Charity are all there – obedience and freedom; rules and liberty; self-giving and fulfillment; life from death; sacrifice and oblation; My Life For Yours – observed and enacted in the common routines of this house.” 

 Whether you have a new house, an old house, just moved in, or have been occupying your home for some time, I hope you’ll consider the usefulness of a Home Design Notebook as an assistant as you seek to apply a sense of beauty and style to the ordinary spaces of your home!  I pray your Lenten observances are blessed!

“I would like to suggest that at least one place (among others) which may be hallowed anew as the place where the celebration of all the mysteries may occur, and where all of life may be offered up in oblation to the Most High, is the family household.” (Splendor In the Ordinary)

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  1. I love this post. Good for you for having the forethought to save all those things. You just gave me a push to get going with my living room that needs a makeover.

    Happy painting!

  2. I am beyond inspired by your organizational abilities! What a delightful project…it is so important to have a vision for one's home and to maintain some sense of the beautiful if we can do so in the midst of family hubbub. One question: are your notebook pages cardstock? I have tried to do something similar (but ever-so-much-more pathetic!), but gluing mag. photos and paint chips on regular paper didn't go. so. well.

  3. This is genius. We're building a house (drywalling right now, actually) and I have *so many ideas* in my head. The budget only allows for so much, though. But if I can get my ideas out of my head and into a notebook I can 1) share them with others (who may help make them happen :D), 2) stop thinking about them and 3) give my visual hubby a better idea instead of “well, I was thinking of something white for the walls. But not WHITE WHITE, white WHITE. You know?”

    Thank YOU!

  4. thank you for this post. Lately, I have been looking around this house and sighing. Things around here are looking very very functional but without charm.

    I need to revamp. I do get overwhelmed with where to start and many of our projects take a while because of time and that we have so many “littles”.

    Hopefully, this summer we can finish the wainscotting ( I love waintcotting) and the painting and the crown moulding…..

    In the meantime, I can clip ideas and start a binder (what a great idea!) to gather what would fit our needs and reflect our home. God bless.


  5. I've done this for a few years, though not as beautifully! I love the ease of bringing my book when shopping – I don't make bad purchases!

  6. As always, Jen, brilliant. Thank you for sharing your gift for instructing mothers in the beauty of focusing on our vocation. I return to so many of your posts for inspiration.


  7. This is such a gift, thank you for posting! We'll be embarking on a home remodel next year and I am gathering ideas. A home design notebook will be so handy — and save time & frustration (I cannot tell you how many times I wish we had saved paint color choices!).

    Thank you so much for the inspiration.

  8. Oh, I'm so glad you ladies enjoyed the post! Thank you so much for your kind words!

    Do share if you have a home design notebook! How does it work for you? Do you anything differently that we can learn from? I love improving systems!

  9. Wow, thank you for sharing these great ideas. It is so funny… We moved in our ouwn home 10 months ago and right now we are planning our backyard…and, of course, many rooms inside are not “done” yet. We are still settling and thinking about our style, our colours, etc. Last week I came up with the idea of making some kind of “notebook” with all my collected pages, old magazines… and now I read your post. I think this really means I should start with the project 🙂 Thank´s again and god bless from Germany, Nicole.

  10. Jen, your ideas are absolutely inspired and so very lovely! We've always had to decorate using the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and work-with-what-you-have methods…if life ever settles down, we'll be sure to remember your beautiful Splendour in the Ordinary work of love! You always encourage and inspire with your wonderful ideas! Thank you so much for sharing the lovely pictures of your grace-filled home.

  11. Jennifer,
    Beautiful and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your lovely ideas! God bless you and your family this Lent.

  12. Very inspiring and pretty! Oh, my kids are *so hard* on our surroundings. It seems like something breaks every day. A dish. A chair. Many things limp along until they can be replaced. I call our style “Early American Thrift Store”, haha!

  13. I loved the post but I do have one burning question for you! Where did you get the wonderful, colourful blocks in the 6th picture down please? 😀

    Thanks you so much for sharing!

  14. LOL! I'm glad I'm not the only one who enjoys this sort of thing. I just repurposed an old homeschool binder also b/c of the pretty paper and turned it into something very similar to your idea. My hubby (he's a chef) and I plan to open a B&B one day. We are planning on buying our house in the next year or so and then raising our kids in it w/an eye on turning it into a B&B after they are out. B/c of that I need to have an idea now of what to look for in our dream house. I set up a binder very much like this for that very purpose w/tags also for advertising, finances, menu plan, etc. Hmmm…see a post coming on. LOVE your stuff!

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