Designing Saratoga

The Saratoga House: The Fine Art of Concealment


How can your house look like a Pottery Barn catalog when a family of five actually lives there?

At one time or another, every one of our children has been fascinated with magic.  One had a book of magic tricks that she was obsessed with...somehow leading her to raid our house in search of household objects that could be configured into the greatest slight of hand ever (of course if you need a cardboard toilet paper tube for a project, it really helps to use all of the paper first... as opposed to just leaving a large pile of 2 ply in your wake).  Another was convinced she could learn how to juggle, leading her to seek counsel in my multi-talented husband, who also was fixated on becoming a juggling master.  So far, I am glad to say nothing major has been broken, but we won't be calling Ringling Brothers any time soon.  And the youngest was thrilled to have a magician as the guest of honor at his 5th birthday--let's just hope that the performer (or more specifically his rabbit sidekick) has recovered from the ordeal!

Making something appear or reappear, taking a seemingly ordinary object and making it extraordinary and multi-functioning with the wink of an eye or the swish of a does seem to dazzle each of us to a certain extent at some point and time.  For me, a magician in a top hat with a dove up his sleeve isn't exactly the form of illusion that attracts me...instead, it is the ability, rather the talent, of someone to be able to make household clutter disappear.  Because let's face it, with a dog, three kids, and half the neighborhood traipsing through here on a regular basis, it would take magic, or, quite frankly, a miracle to make our house look put together on any given day.

Older houses make this trick a tougher one--each one is notoriously short on closets and long on eccentricities, some of which need their own form of camouflage.  We have one room in our house which is literally C-shaped because one of our past residents decided to combine two tiny rooms into one and build a beautiful closet right in the middle of the new room.  A bit awkward? Yes.  Somewhat strange? Possibly. Very common when your house is 90 years old? I can almost feel through the computer screen the gazillion of you that are nodding furiously in agreement.  So along with finding places for all of our stuff, we need to make sense of the storage options, albeit illogical, we already have.

So how do we approach this clutter conundrum with all the grace and ease of an expert illusionist?  Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind that for some reason I am inspired to give you via Project Runway's Tim Gunn style:

  Make it Work:  We all know the drill...old house, weird decisions you now have to live with...I say unless it is majorly hindering your family's lifestyle, just own whatever you've inherited and transform it into a workable element of your household magic.  For example, the strange built -in bookcase in our second story family room is off-center, off-kilter, and just plain awkward, but by using a tension rod and one of the fabrics from the room's window treatment, I've curtained it off and gained a ton a valuable unseen storage space for all of the junk that seems to congregate around the family desk.  At the same time, the fabric and its pattern soften the hard lines of the computer/desk space and create visual balance.


You would be frightened to know what is shoved behind this curtain, but what our guests don't know won't hurt them!

 Hide it Well:  If you want to hide something in plain sight, be sure to do it right.  Open baskets filled with matchbox cars and legos are just that, and while this type of display looks great in your son's bedroom, it may not be what you are looking for in your fabulously redecorated dining space, so for goodness sake, get some storage that has a cover and fits the décor of the room that in your heart you know it will be sitting in.  This isn't just for the kids either--my husband leaves an electronic graveyard of accessories by our laptop on a daily basis, and for a while I would diligently put it all back in its proper spot 3 rooms away, but in order to prevent myself from completely losing my mind I finally found a place to stash it all that looked like a part of my living room, and peace was restored to our abode.

living room shelf.jpg

The square basket artfully displayed on this lower shelf actually hides an assortment of cords, attachments, and plug-ins for the nearby laptop

 If You Can't Hide it, Live with it Out Loud:   Ever read a magazine article about organizing your daily paperwork that tells you to put it in labeled boxes on a shelf in a cabinet somewhere, then have your child be the only one without an apple on apple sauce day in Kindergarten because the written reminder got shoved in a pretty box and was never looked upon again?  I have.  Know yourself and your habits, and if full concealment for some items is going to mess with your mojo, find a way to make that every day clutter appear artful and on your mind, or put it in a place that will force you to go through it on a regular basis so you can take care of what you need to but yet still maintain order.  It might be paperwork, laundry (which is why my hamper isn't in a closet, because it would be overflowing and I wouldn't see it overflowing and be annoyed enough to do it each week), shoes by the front door...sign a treaty with whatever you use on a regular basis, do your best to make it pretty in the process, and you may be pleasantly pleased with the results!

kitchen organization.jpg

When in doubt, make your clutter a part of your design! These great magnetic file folders found on etsy store stylishly but still allow everything to be accessible for day-to-day use...

So while we all can't be Harry Houdini, there is definitely something to be said for creating a little magic in your house and concealing all that annoys you on a daily basis.  It may take some effort, but in the end, I think you will find that it is well worth it to be creative with your storage.  Magic, I tell you. Magic!

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Kimberlee Billok
From humble beginnings redecorating my childhood bedroom every few months much to my mother’s chagrin, to years of life as a military spouse making short-term stops our own, to finding myself in Saratoga Springs in a 90-year-old home in need of lots of TLC, I have always enjoyed honing my home decorating and design skills in pursuit of making a house a home for the most important people in my world, my husband Mike and our three children. In pursuit of this goal/obsession I have put my undergraduate studio art studies to work, as well as the unofficial HGTV degree I’ve earned under the tutelage of Vern Yip, Genevieve Gorder, Candace Olson, and the other pros who make us all feel as if we can create as they do. I’ve had the good fortune to have numerous colleagues, friends and family who have trusted me enough to allow me to design their spaces as well, and even redecorated the office of my children’s elementary school principal, which although intimidating, was quite a good time (think a juxtaposition of animal prints and sharpened pencils…luckily she loved it!).

Outside of the decorating/design realm I inhabit in my free time, I am fortunate to spend my days teaching 3 and 4 year old preschoolers here in Saratoga, who can’t help but inspire me to be creative on a regular basis. So since every part of life is an adventure, please join me on this one…combining form and function, design and real life, making each room feel beautiful, comfortable, classic, and personal. All wrapped up in a structure that has been in existence before the invention of spray paint (it’s true—I looked it up!). Here goes!!