Designing Saratoga

The Saratoga House: Picture This!

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So we all have them.  And we all want to display them.  But how do we get started?


Whenever I pick up the latest Pottery Barn Catalog, I have to say that even though the furniture is beautiful (as long as you don't look at the prices), and the displays are eclectic and engaging (because no one really lives there), the thing that really strikes me are....the photos.  Granted the family photographs in such publications are most probably made up of fabulous models treated with a secret airbrushing formula not accessible to the average joe, but they still draw me like a moth to a flame.  Yes, the people in the pictures are usually abnormally beautiful, but more so than the subjects, the placement and arrangement make me drool.  Somehow, the editors of such catalogs have the enviable talent to make family memories feel organized, artful, yet casual and unexpected at the same time.  And that of course is what we all want to pull off in our own homes.

It would be wonderful if we could just throw our favorite family photos into a few frames, hammer a nail or two, and call it a successful day, but for me, it really does take a bit more effort than that.  At the same time, the techniques many DIY experts recommend involving the creation of frame templates et al (picture Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Bacon in She's Having a Baby with their newspaper furniture layout) are a bit high maintenance for those of us juggling staff meetings, cub scouts, and an 11-year old with the flu, so a set of guidelines that falls somewhere in between might be the most helpful.  In light of this, here are a few thoughts to consider when you are making your personal photo extravaganza a reality:


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I love this photo...and part of that love is how it looks on our wall.  The exposure is close-up and unexpected, and these two distressed frames I picked up in a craft store make it fresh and interesting.

1.        Get Creative with Your Favorite Subjects.  It would be fantastic if every member--or sometimes at least one member--of our family was naturally photogenic, but that being a perfect world where none of us actually resides (aka Pottery Barn Land), sometimes when it comes to family pictures you need to (and I can't stand this phrase but here goes...) think outside the box.  Do you have a non-smiler? I do, and one of my favorite photos of her is of her adorable little face peeking over a hydrangea blossom, so you can't tell if she is grinning or not.  Is it hard to get everyone to look in the same direction, much less have a look of happiness on their faces?  Try taking a photo from behind...it will feel contemplative and eccentric.  Also, try getting in close--on hands, feet, eyes, your subject's best feature  if you wish--and see what cool results you end up with.  And when you do get that great shot but the colors are dull or the angle isn't what you hoped for, don't be afraid to use the magic of digital photography to play with your pic!

2.       Pick a Common Thread and Run with it.  Some designers can put together a mix of frames and photos that have nothing to do with one another and make them work, but for me, I need one trend to resonate throughout for my display to make me smile.  In this way, I suggest keeping all the frames the same finish (or get out the spray paint and make your existing frames match), or the photos all black and white or all color, all the mats in the frames the same width...pick one thing to tie your wall or shelf all together and your display will feel finished and on purpose.


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I may not have drawn blueprints to hang these photos, but it definitely did help to lay them out on the floor beforehand then use a laser level to get them up on the wall.  My favorite parts?  The letters, and the shoe photos...a unique reminder of how tiny each of my kids once was...

1.       Once You have One Connection, Mix Up the Rest.  Once you find that one thing that ties all the parts of your collection together, mix up the other elements to keep it fun.  Combine close-ups and more traditional pieces, choose frames for your black and whites in various shades of silver and black...or pink and green for that matter, to keep things fresh.  And just because your main objective is to display your picture, don't limit yourself to photos in your display.  Use mirrors, monogram letters, framed postcards or correspondence, shadow boxes with special trinkets or momentos, anything that enhances the feelings you have when you look at the pictures of the ones you love.  This type of approach will keep your vignette fresh and unexpected, and make your guests pause and look longer at what you have created.


hawaii photo.jpg
This oversized family photo is hung lower than usual, but I like the way it then traces a line from this picture to the lamp then the plant, drawing your eye in that visual triangle that we all hear is ideal.  The fact that it is a picture from behind makes it feel unique, and highlights the beautiful Hawaiian sunset in the background.

1.       Make Your Memories Make Sense in Your Room.  When we hang a piece of artwork or add an accessory to our space, we usually tie it to the rest of our room through color, style, or some connection to what we have already designed.  The same needs to be true of our photos...they need to have a connection and make sense in the space we put them in.  For this reason, think carefully about where your photos should be placed--connect them to a piece of furniture or an existing display so they enhance the spot they are in, or have a color or a theme tie the photo/s to what else is going on.  And if your pictures are going to stand on their own, like on a big wall in a hallway, or going up a set of stairs, go big or go home---have enough of them , close enough together, that they can make a statement and, in turn, make your guests gush.

So be intimidated no more!  Get out those beautiful photos and get to work making them a part of the design that makes your house not a catalog, but a place where real people live and love and grow.  Because, with a few guidelines in mind, your memories can only prove to enhance the space you call home.

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The collection of baby photos is a great idea! Most of us can pick up on the concept of matching frames, but the idea of having the collection of photos of when each of the kids is a baby is great. Usually they are all together in a group shot, or all of that year's school pics. Thanks again for wonderful ideas and suggestions that are...out of the box!!

Thanks for your opinions.By Lahm on August 26, 2008 6:47 PMDear Tun,

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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!!