Family

Decorating with what you have

Rules? What rules? You get to use a house the way that suits you, not the way the builders might have envisioned decades ago. That's why Paulette Bruce turned what's supposed to be the living room of her 1940s-era Land Park house into a dining room.

The departure from what's expected works for her throughout the house she's owned since 1976, and it's a good way to get maximum use out of minimally sized spaces. Bruce has mastered the art of what we'll call creative reuse, as well as living with what she's collected and updating on the cheap – all talents that we can learn from in today's stressed budgetary times.

Best of all, the result is a house that's warm, cozy and comfortable, both lived-in and utterly livable. And it's stylish, as is Bruce herself, a Sacramento public relations veteran and longtime cooking instructor.

"It's a collection of many years of memories of me living here and raising three boys," says Bruce, 65. "Everybody who comes here loves it."

She likes to feed people. That much is clear from the way she's arranged her dining room, painted a vivid carnelian hue with a huge oak dining table placed right in front of the fireplace for evenings of toasty entertaining.

"At night from the street, you can see the red room and the lights," she says. "It's really pretty."

Richly upholstered dining chairs surround the table. The room also contains an antique oak sideboard she bought years ago at Hollywood Hardware, of all places.

(A word for people who feel in awe of antiques: Don't. Antique is just another word for really old, and old furniture is the cornerstone of creative reuse.)

From here, step through the sitting area – originally intended as the dining room – and into the kitchen, where she taught her now-grown sons to cook and hosted her first cooking classes years ago.

The kitchen looks new and upscale, with its travertine floors, glass-paned cherrywood cabinets and butcher block countertops, but Bruce says it's anything but: She installed the cabinetry and counters in 1980, with an eye on quality and durability.

"I sand the counters down every year and re-oil them," says Bruce. "See all these marks? They're from my boys learning to cook. My kitchen is not a decorator kitchen. It's a working kitchen."

In one kitchen corner stands a built-in cherrywood hutch filled with deliberately mismatched crystal stemware. Guests choose their own wine glasses, and then they can wander through Bruce's get-togethers without losing track of which glass is theirs.

The kitchen cabinets have been refinished a time or two, of course. And the far wall, made of exposed brick, is a monument to reuse: It was originally an old flue.

"When we knocked down the original wall to expand the house, we exposed the brick flue," says Bruce. "So I made my boys chip out the brick and clean it up after school. They made that wall."

They also water-blasted the brick fireplace in the family room that the house's original owners added onto the structure.

"It was painted white," says Bruce. "We got it back to the original brick color. I can cook in that fireplace. When my boys were home, I cooked in it all the time. It has a grate and racks."

In her years as owner, Bruce has remodeled the house twice and has added a second story, which once housed her sons' rec room and now contains a storage room and her home office. She has painted and repainted exterior and interior walls, but what homeowner doesn't?

She also refinished the tiny guest bathroom, putting in new black-and-white octagonal floor tiles and a new tub and filling the room with nice soaps, Paris-themed collectibles and elegant crystal perfume bottles.

"I like it when people look around and say, 'There's so much to see in this house,' " Bruce says. "I think of it as a little junk-stuffed house."

That's because she likes to collect things – pewter candlesticks, crystal she inherited from her mother and grandmother, ceramic dishes, books, her grandfather's watches, family pictures in pretty frames and anything else that strikes her fancy – and she displays her collections throughout the house.

During the homespun Americana trend a few decades ago, she admits to hanging dozens of baskets from the beamed ceiling in the family room. Then the country trend died a well-deserved death, and the baskets came down.

When she inherited a box of linens once owned by her grandmother, Rosa Lorenzi, who immigrated from Italy, she decided to use them in the house.

"My mother kept them stored in a box," Bruce says. "They're fine linen from Italy that my nana embroidered for her trousseau. I made shades out of them for the bathroom windows and pillowcases for my bed."

Ultimately, creative reuse simply means finding ways to fill your everyday surroundings with what's significant to you.

"If you have it," says Bruce, "you should use it. When my father died, I did a breakfast for my family. I got out my mother's china and crystal, and she was very upset by that. But if you have these things, you should use them.

"Make it special every day. That's my philosophy."

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