My dirty little secret

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life45 Comments


I, Cathy Zielske, make my living in the realm of color and space; harmony and flow, balance and repetition, these are my trade tools…I take words and images and make visual magic. I’m a designer. It’s what I do. In short: I make things look real good.

But you’d never know I make big bucks doing this if you walked into my bedroom. My Room o’ Shame. (Dan would actually call it the Room o’ Fun…at least that’s what he might have called it on his birthday.) But I digress…

Looking at the wall above my bed it’s painfully obvious: I have no real understanding of the concept of scale. Like the whole wearing sweatpants thing—where home décor and my bedroom meet, I’ve essentially given up. Sure. I've got a nice bed and duvet. But that's really where it ends. Remember the grafitti blinds? How did it come to this?

Combine two people who a) think each knows what would work best, far more than the other, and b) are both Pisces and don’t like confrontation, and c) one of them is hesitant to spend money on things…like bedroom furniture (or…cars that run), and you have a recipe for decorating disaster. Okay—maybe ‘disaster’ isn’t the right word. How about decorating malaise?

I recently was reading, and saw picture’s of the Armstrong’s new grown-up bedroom . It made me sick. Sick with a jealous rage because there is no real reason I shouldn’t have the exact same room (minus the dog, of course…afterall, I've got Chip!) I am a designer. I have taste. I have good color sense. But much like my wardrobe and shoe collection, decorating is an area that has slipped into a perpetual state of naptime, where instead of doing anything about it when you wake up, you just go downstairs and eat.

For the past few years, I’ve entertained the fantasy that one day, I will make a video plea to Nate Berkus, and he will come to my rescue because a) he will see my video (or rather, the Oprah Show producers will) and find me so charming and funny and slightly pathetic that they’ll have to say yes, and b) they will realize that there are probably people all over America just like me: those with not a clue and yet a truly challenging space with which to work.

Why does it always seem like the before and afters are done in rooms that are the size of mansion rooms? Give me the closet-sized room, that will never fit a king-sized bed, and turn that into an oasis of serenity of design brilliance. I dare you.

In fact, I volunteer.

Where do I sign?

Cathy ZielskeMy dirty little secret

45 Comments on “My dirty little secret”

  1. #2
    Karen Breen-Bondie

    I get what you’re saying!

    Did you happen to notice a few weeks back on the Oprah/Nate challenge they re-designed a 350 sq. foot (albeit one-room) apartment? Sure, anyone can work with one large area and subdivide.

    I’m drawn to makeover shows like a moth to flame (with the exception of Extreme Home Makeover).

  2. #3
    Lyn Meeker

    Oh I so needed to laugh this morning.. and you did not fail me! … I’m with you… We painted our bedroom last year .. but have yet to add anything else … the wood molding and such … but at least we finally decided upon a color after living in the space for 13 years!… See .. you are not as pathetic as you think you are … there are those of us much worse! … But thanks for the laugh!

  3. #4

    Hey-approach it like a scrapbook page. You have a main element, with other things to work with, and it will look great on a 12×12 page. But your challenge is to put it in a 6×6 instead….Maybe bring back the folks who did the kitchen? You so deserve it. Along with that new car….

  4. #6

    So this is why we have seen several posts from your kitchen on your blog, and nary a pic of your bedroom. Until now. I think Donna Downey and Stcay Julian could put their heads together with you, and in a weekend you 3 could do a whole room makeover yourselves. It could be a Simple Scrapbooks special insert in the magazine…that way you all could spend money on the room and write off all the expenses, and still have fun in the process. Besides, you’d have more fun hanging out with friends than with the Harpo producers all weekend. I look forward to seeing the ‘after’ photo someday when you do redo this room.

  5. #8

    I think you could ad this to the magazine, scraplift your bedroom in a weekend. I, for one, would love it, it might help me with my curtains, okay, they are cardboard boxes but only because we can’t decide on real curtains.

  6. #9

    The Armstrongs room is nice and decidedly grownup, but yours has great potential. Should I point out that the Armstrong’s have art above the bed that is not much larger than yours? The difference is they have TWO. I bet if you got another piece to coordinate with the one you have, you’d like the scale maybe slightly better. Oh and one other observation from someone who really wasn’t asked in the first place; larger frames. Bang for buck. Just saying.

  7. #10

    LOL!! I never really thought about the state of my own home until you so eloquently stated the obvious! I am so in the same boat I think we’re rowing with the same oar!
    k, as soon as the rest of the paint reno’s are done in the house, i know i need to tackle the bedroom. if not for myself, then for my dear cathy. you are not alone fellow woman. stand strong and do not let it defeat you.

  8. #12
    Jen Donnelly

    Yep, I agree on the frames. Wide mats, big wide frames=looks like big money. I get all mine at Michaels. You choose a cheapie stock frame at 40% off and have a mat custom cut to fit. Instead of $350+ to frame something, it’s more like $45.

    Yep, all you need is a pair of framed somethings over your bed. Maybe a new lamp, can’t see it.

    For what it’s worth, our bedroom is very big and looks like crap. 15″x20″ of nothing. King size bed floats in the middle. Not good at all.

  9. #13
    Rochelle McGee

    i am so with you on this one! our bedroom is really just a room with a bed and armoir, thats it. We have no door. NO DOOR! And it is so small that you have to shimmy around the bed (its a queen)to make it. I have perpetual bruising from banging my legs all the time. But, I love my bedroom because my husband and I chose this really great, vivid color for the walls and somehow it makes up for the lack of space, it does not, however, make up for the lack of a door.
    Good Luck,

  10. #14
    denise (imchatty)

    I think if you turned this exact blog entry into a video for Nate you would have a great chance at being accepted. Like you said, you are a designer yet have troubles in home decor…that should peak his interest. And the whole small room make over should too since he recently did that tiny one room apartment that looked awesome…so it will challenge him too. I say make a video and send it in!

  11. #16
    Vicki Jackson

    Right there with you Cathy!! Our Bedroom (whole house for that matter is small!) and really no one does makeovers or magazine layouts with that kind of small space… So maybe you should do a 3 part blog series on your room make over… We all could use alittle help!

  12. #17

    OK…I have to admit, the room isn’t great…and I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but along w/ admiting that you are heavier than on your 40th, that you too get in a scrap rut, it is comforting to see you are ‘real’. That is…for your seemingly effortless ability to make a picture look amazing in a scrapbook, your amazing commentary on your life, your amazing eye for all things on a 12×12 page and your amazing ability to do what you love for a living, you too have your shortcomings…and you are secure enough with yourself to admit it…to just a few…

    Thanks for sharing your dirtly little secret…now about that picture above the bed…..:-)

  13. #18

    Doesn’t it drive you crazy???? I hate that rooms are shown are gigantic spaces that everything just ‘works’ in or that people have bottomless budgets to do what they like. It’s just not fun. I like those ‘Design on a Dime’ type shows who show you how to make things work in smaller spaces and on a budget.

    Just for eye candy/ideas…try Domino mag. They can be a bit over the top, but they like to use smaller spaces for room/design ideas. They could at least get you to think beyond the ‘norm’. Good luck, kid! 🙂

  14. #19

    As luck would have it (and I am not kidding here), I am an interior decorator (and huge CZ fan) who lives in Chicago, and who would LOVE to provide you with some design ideas for your bedroom. Small spaces are a specialty. I live in a house that is actually just a tad bit bigger than a walk in closet. Just a tad. Except with windows. And virtually no closets. Seriously.

    I know this probably sounds freaky (honest, I am not a stalker) but I would love to do this for you. I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from your books and your work — I would really like to give something back to you… some ideas and potential resources (read: trade discounts!) for making even the smallest of bedrooms an exticing oasis… well, it would be the least I could do.

    Email me if you’re at all interested. Who knows… could be fun! 🙂

  15. #20
    Lori Hudson

    I am right with you. I too, make my living as a designer, but my house looks awful. I can’t even stand the thought of doing something about it. I would love to just have someone come in do it. I can’t stand all of the choices and all of the ideas – yet I do it in a different way (print graphic designer) everyday and love it. What does this say about us?

  16. #21
    Sharon in FL

    Ok, Cathy. I’ve been keeping up with your blog for over a year now (I think) and have never bothered to post…being that you have a multitude of fans and I doubt you get around to reading ALL your fan mail, but I had to post today. Your Dear Peter and Dirty Little Secret posts have had me rolling on the floor. Not to mention that link to the Armstrong’s new bedroom. She had me crying!
    I don’t know what it is about you. We’re so different, yet I get you, or you get me (however that works)…I see life in much the same way as you, but when I experience it, it’s just life..interesting…but ordinary. When YOU write about it, all of a sudden, it’s funny…no…hilarious. Thanks for that.

  17. #22
    Barbie L Schwartz

    Don’t you just love those decorating magazines that have articles about re-doing a small space on a budget…and then you read further to discover that their “small space” is in a 3,000 square ft. home, and the “budget” is $100,000?

    Our house is tiny. I mean, barely over 1,000 square ft tiny. And the biggest closet in the whole house is 3 ft. square. In 14 years, we have become masters of space management! But oh how I long for the days when I don’t have permanent bruises all over from bumping into furniture trying to go to the bathroom!

  18. #23

    I have to agree with you. I would be a little depressed about the bedroom too. Just a weekend with paint, and a couple of hundred bucks would do wonders for that room of yours. I would not have the patience to wait for harpo studios to come in and chances are you won’t keep it that way anyway. Suck it up and make a change. Change might make it the bed o’fun and RELAXATION. Oh, and by the way, when Chip returns home I think a big ol’ basset hound would do your bedroom some good too. Just a thought.


  19. #24

    I really think a new furry friend is just what you need to make that bedroom look perfect…it needs a little Daschund or a Pomeranian…or a small Yorkie. Someone little who likes to snuggle. Believe me. That’s all your room needs 🙂

  20. #26
    tammy L

    Cathy, it is so funny that you posted this! Since January I’ve been redoing my home -throwing out clutter and telling my hubster that I’m trying to get our home to the state of one of cathryn zielske’s scrapbook pages: a lot of breathing space, great color, square frames with black and whites in them, a few cute embellishments here and there,… you get the idea. And he knows your work, he even met you with me of course, and he agrees with the whole idea. Your room = your page and your bed/bedding = your photos. What if you pull a solid color from your bedding and paint the walls that color and then add some cool black and whites above the bed in black frames? Add a simple “cathy” embellishment elsewhere in the room – hey, you like to add flowers to your layouts, how about flowers in a mod vase on your dresser? Thanks for listening! Hope I helped, not trying to be a know-it-all it’s just that I’ve used you and your work as an example for simplicity in redecorating my own home. :o)

  21. #27

    Oh for Pete’s sake (no pun intended)…Just go out and buy a cute little Beta fish and a plastic ficus from M’s…there ya go…a bit of color, a little nature…and it’s junkyard cheap…bwahahahah!!

    (if it make you feel any better, we didn’t get a ‘for real’ bedroom set until we hit 50! The garage had better decor than our bedroom!)

  22. #28
    samantha Jo Campen

    I think it’s a rule that master bedrooms are ‘the last on the list’ of things to accomplish. Think about it: guest harldly EVER see it, so therefor it gets moved to the back burner. And really, it should be the FIRST room that gets done because we all need our serenity at the end of the day. A cozy place to retreat to. Oh. And to get all romantic too.

    I applaud you for airing your dirty secret. Makes me feel better. And yeah, just get a second pic to hang above the bed and you’re set. Easy peasy.

  23. #29

    Oh Cathy, I just love your blog. You make me laugh out loud, you make me feel better. And, I never went to that other blog before, thanks for the link — she seems just crazy enough for me to enjoy on a daily basis!

  24. #30

    Now look what you made me do. I bought that jewelry box. (The one on Heather’s dresser…) Just. Like. That.
    I really musn’t stay up so late…

  25. #32

    Oprah would be lucky to have you! Firstly because she would have so many opportunities to look amazed and slap your knee and say .. WOW Cathy..the way you just sarcastically described that was such a light bulb moment for me! and..

    Secondly because your room needs a lil TLC!

    Why dont you create some art… hello..this is clearly a talent. Make a big canvas… 2 – 30 x 40 canvases.. OR.. 1 30 x 60 etc.. and MAKE something.. something meaningful and special..something you.. print .. frame.. hang.. and be inspired to do something else. If you need a lil Nate.. there is always his collection!

  26. #33

    Cathy, I think I have you beat! My husband decided to redo our bedroom while I was pregnant. And while I was here and watching I let him do the color selection and now we have a bedroom with colors reminiscent of the Oscar Mayer Weiner-mobile!! The curtains I thought would tie it all together (I’m doubting this now) are still not done and my son is 10 months old. I’ll redo your’s if you redo mine!

  27. #34

    oh i love decorating….i almost studied intior design but walked into the graphics dsign room instead….then got sucked into the darkroom…but anyway….

    Think of something you and Dan both enjoy..a place, an activity…and create a color wheel from the colors of that place or activity…and work from there..beige isn’t a color. (lol)

  28. #35

    oh…yah. i’m right there with you on THAT one. i have a small gift boutique and my everyday is filled with color, creativity and constant “decorating”. my bedroom at home looks just about like yours except my walls are mossy grass green. it is soooo boring. but serene. as is yours 😉 enjoy it.

  29. #36

    more unsolicited advice. hang your picture(s) lower. put it where you think it should go and then lower it a few more inches. even margins all around do not apply to picture hanging. the two picture advice is right on, or three if they are smaller and you’re hung up on odd numbers like i am. 🙂

  30. #37

    I have collected some ideas and was hoping to be so email them over to you.. but i cant see an email address. If you want to send me one.. I can send the ideas back. 🙂

  31. #39

    I either want Vern Yip or Lawrence Llewlyn-Bowen come and do my bedroom especially if LLB would just stay and do the entire house

  32. #40

    Dooce’s bedroom rocks, there’s no doubt about it. Yours is off to a great start. Let go of the fear…just start on it 🙂

  33. #41
    Gina G Rolsma

    BS in Interior Design. Love the Aero Bedding and it is a great set. I have used it before for a master bedroom. feel free to email me for some online advice and great RESOURCES for design. Would love to give back (*for free!!) something to you, since acquiring both of your books and learning to let go and set me free. i feel like i owe you a lot and it would make me feel good to give something back. email me. gina

  34. #42
    Tara Kelly

    Ahh! glad I’m not alone. Our bedroom which is now bigger than I need – is a big blank white boring box. I have no idea where to start. ugh. I’m so not liking this. hope you find something good. Maybe it will give me inspiration.

  35. #44

    First off, your bed is made, and the sheets look like they were recently changed; that’s more than I can say. Second, I’d do just about anything to get Nate into my house. I don’t think I could let him leave though.

  36. #45

    I have this problem with my whole house! We painted almost 3 years ago now and I still haven’t hung up a SINGLE thing on the walls. My bedroom was repainted 5 years ago and NOTHING is on the walls. In fact, I need to repaint now. I am paralyzed by my fear of making a mess of the decorating thing.

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