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Bold Moves: Thomas O'Brien Validates My Creative Interior Design Instincts

Thumbs up imageToday I got a big boost of validation for my creative interior design instincts from Thomas O’Brien! Not that he has any idea he did this, of course. But I found out today that I have something interesting in common with this famous designer who has designed residential interiors for the likes of Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren, and who has become known to the masses with his Modern Vintage® line of home furnishings and accessories for Target just to name a little of what he has done. At this point in my career I can’t name celebrities as my clients and so far my designs are not found at Target. So what could have happened that makes me feel that he and I are in sync regarding interior design and that he would approve of my instincts?

I’m getting there, but I’m going to make you wait for it another minute or two.

If you know me, you know that I totally love lofts. I’m crazy about their open space and the total freedom to arrange your space any way you like. I want to live in a loft! However, my husband and I live with our six cats and two dogs in a 1970’s modern tri-level house. It’s architectural style is very contemporary with a pretty open floor plan, which we love, and it is in the forest next to the Sandy River, where we have total privacy. As much as we love it, and are grateful to have this home, there are some aspects of the floor plan that just don’t work for us and that have bothered us more and more lately. Here goes —

it has a big sunken living room facing South with big windows and fantastic views of the river plus a big family room off the kitchen that opens onto a deck over the river, also with fantastic views. It’s just the two of us, so we don’t need both, a living room and a family room. Plus, we recently got rid of our old sectional, so the living room was empty and unused. While these two rooms face South and have loads of natural light, the master bedroom is on the Northwest corner of the house, so it gets no morning light at all – very dark – and it doesn’t have a view of the river. Also, the en suite master bath just has a shower, no bathtub. My husband and I love bubble baths and the only tub is in the downstairs bath just off the living room. To top it off, my husband has been affected in a very pronounced way with Seasonal Affective Disorder and the lack of natural light in our bedroom has become a HUGE issue. Plus with two big dogs and their beds, the room felt crowded.

So, about a week ago in a burst of defiant creativity, I decided it was stupid not to use the house in the way that works best for us, and I moved our bedroom into the living room. Yes, that’s right. I have turned the living room of this 2100 square foot house into our master bedroom. We LOVE it! Waking up to have this enormous volume of space and big tall windows letting in all of this light has been so good for us. We now have a fireplace next to our bed which we’ve used every night. And, there’s a lot more room for our dogs and their beds so we aren’t tripping over those anymore. The bathroom with the tub feels as if it is our en suite master bath, and our guest room on the same level is going to be my new giant walk-in closet. We’ll put the guest room upstairs in the old master bedroom. After all, it’s just me and my husband so who cares where we sleep?

So Chic: Glamorous Lives, Stylish PlacesSo, back to Thomas O’Brien. Today I was in Borders Book Store and I picked up a copy of Elle Decor’s “So Chic: Glamorous Lives, Stylish Places“, written by Margaret Russell and the Elle Decor Staff. I usually just flip through these books looking at the pictures, but for some reason actually began reading the story on Thomas O’Brien’s New York City 1100 square foot, one bedroom apartment. And yes, you’ve probably figured it out by now. Thomas O’Brien moved his bedroom into his living room. He also concluded that his apartment wasn’t being used to it’s full potential and he just went for it. He loves his living-room-turned-master-bedroom too!

I just can’t begin to tell you how happy that made me! I had been embarrassed to let anyone (especially clients) know that we had moved the bedroom into the living room. I thought people would think I was out of my mind and that I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to good use of space. But when I read that a famous and wonderful designer like Thomas O’Brien had come to the same conclusion in his home and took the bold move of using his space however it suited him, I didn’t feel embarrassed anymore. In fact, I just realized that I’ve been wanting an open loft to live in all this time, and without having to spend a dime to remodel, I was creative enough to create a loft out of the space I have.

Have you ever used a room in your home in a completely creative and unexpected way? Did it work out for you? Did people laugh at you, or were they envious that you had the nerve to think outside the box? I’d love to hear your own stories. And Thomas, if you ever read this, thanks for sharing your unusual and creative use of your living space. You made my day!


Pangaea Interior Design specializes in residential interiors and also provides professional home staging in Portland, Oregon.


Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

Hi Pangaea ~ So glad to hear that you solved some major dilemmas by relocating your master bedroom!  When we're living in our homes, we must make them work for us, in whatever way makes us happy!!  Who cares how you use your rooms, except you and your family?  I'm currently using two rooms in my house in an unconventional way and it's fine with me ... but when my house goes on the market, they'll go back to being what they're "supposed" to be. 

Jan 24, 2010 07:15 PM
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
Retired New Hampshire Home Stager

I'm so happy for you!  In my past house I used the living room for our master.  But, it wasn't all that strange.  It was a cape style house and when you entered the front door you could go right into the living room and there was a closet on the left.  We closed off the entrance to the living room and removed the closet so you entered to the left instead of the right.  We actually restructured so the room was no longer an obvious living room.

Jan 24, 2010 11:50 PM
Külli Yee ~ Metro Vancouver Home Staging
Ilus Design ~ Home staging, re-design and organizing - Port Coquitlam, BC

Pangaea, I'm glad you found a creative solution to using the space in your home so that it better fits your life.

I have become more interested in this topic after reading a book that my husband gave me for Christmas. It's called "House Thinking" by Winifred Gallagher. In her book she talks about how most us don't have the luxury of building a brand new behavior inspired home and most people work with the house or apartment they have. We usually make our lives fit into the home when we really should make our home fit into our lives.

She also writes about how most people don't even know what kind of support they need from their apartments or houses and suggests to start by answering some questions about how you live in your home, what your daily patterns are and what makes you feel good.

As architect and home designer Robert Stern observes: " There are a lot of houses built that most of the population doesn't even want. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask, yet so many of us end up buying the house we hate the least."

Your home sounds wonderful with all the views and natural light and I'm sure with your talent and your eye for design it is a great place to live:)

Jan 25, 2010 03:49 AM
Pangaea Interior Design Kitchen & Bath Design, Remodeling
Portland Oregon - Portland, OR

Maureen - I resisted this for a long time, worried that we would have to sell our home and I'd have to move everything around again. We got a loan mod, so I'm more hopeful that we can stay. Also tired of living in fear, so it's also sort of a leap of faith to just go ahead and use my home the way we want without regard to selling later.

Sharon - So glad to know I'm not alone. You, me and Thomas! Sounds like you did a nice job of actually separating it from the rest of the house for privacy. This is actually the second time I've put my master bedroom in an unusual spot. In my last house the floor plan was very awkward due to an addition on the back. It meant we had to walk through my husbands music studio to get from the main part of the house to the family room. So we made the family room our master and gave him the actual master bedroom for his studio. Worked great! In both instances, I have not done any actual building of walls or doors. Right now, it's very open -- no hiding it -- so this took the most nerve for me.

Kulli - I need to go read that book! That sounds great! I think with the movement toward sustainability and less wasteful living the design of homes will improve - I hope! And the author is absolutely right, we do force ourselves into whatever pattern is dictated by the home's layout. This particular house is bigger than we wanted or needed. I always say we would have bought a pup tent if it had come attached to our deck and the view of the river. The living room has always been wasted. We've only had one party (among many) where people actually went into the living room. Everyone wants to be in the family room because it's attached to the kitchen and the deck.

I hope some more people respond. I think it's going to be interesting to see how many are altering the "intended" use of rooms.

Jan 25, 2010 04:34 AM
Janice Ankrett
Burlington, ON
Staging Professional

Pangaea, Good for you! While it's true you are supposed to show the rooms as intended when you sell, you may not need to change the rooms again. Think of the homes that offer a master on the main floor. I'm sure they will become more desirable as the Baby Boomers look for homes that offer one floor living. With your arrangement everything they need is on one floor.

Jan 26, 2010 10:12 AM
Paula Springer
Key Elements Inc. Home Staging & Interiors - Portland, OR


So glad you are vanquishing SADD with this simple life-enhancing move. I totally did this too once when i was living in Seattle...pretty much to put the bed in the sunny room next to the fireplace just like you did. it was also cool that the back door was a better FRONT DOOR so rerouting the traffic made it less odd to have the rooms switched. Here's to Thos O'Brien !


Mar 12, 2010 11:45 AM
Pangaea Interior Design Kitchen & Bath Design, Remodeling
Portland Oregon - Portland, OR

Janice - true. I just don't think most people looking at a 3 bedroom house would imagine the bedroom would be open to the rest of the house. I'll worry about that if I ever decide to sell.

Paula - Hey! So good to know I'm not alone in this. Great minds think alike!

Mar 12, 2010 02:27 PM