The home of Michelle Carder is unequivocally a feast for the eyes. And just like any true maximalist, Michelle is a trained virtuoso at decorating her home in a stunningly excessive but curated style.
Formerly an insurance litigator living in Orange County, California, Michelle relocated to Cadillac, Michigan with her husband where they have spent the past five years renovating their 1902 Queen Anne home. A natural storyteller and writer, she launched her blog The Beige Blues to feature her home and design prowess.
Her motto is “Life’s too short for beige,” and her Instagram personality (@thebeigeblues) is just as colorful as her design style. We were beyond delighted to have her indulge us in a conversation about her extraordinary home. For the full unfiltered interview, click here to watch it on my IGTV series.
What has the transition been like moving from California to Michigan?
Like any move, there are great things and things that are a total culture shock. We love it here. The primary reason for moving out of California was the pace of life and the cost of living. Both of us had lived our whole lives in California, and we wanted something that was slower pace, less toxic, less frenzy, lower taxes, and would allow us to get a house for ten times less than what it would cost in California.
When we got here, the first thing that I noticed was the people were exactly the way everyone thinks of Midwesterners: salt of the earth, the nicest people. Worst drivers in the United States, there’s no question about it! But here’s the thing: they’ll run you off the side of the road and have no idea they did it, but they’ll help you out of the ditch!
And it’s a gorgeous state: the lakes, the forest, it’s just absolutely beautiful. The winters – that’s been the primary adjustment. Life is carefree in California; you can just walk out the door in flip flops, jump in the car, drive off to the market, drive back. It’s easy. Here, there’s logistics involved: there’s winter boots, winter tires. It’s a chore to do basic things in the winter because of the snow and the ice.
Either than the winters, it’s the absolute perfect place to live.
Coming from a corporate background, I can understand how design and decor became a creative outlet for you. How exactly did you fall into it? And why specifically maximalism?
I didn’t pay any attention to design and decor until I was in my late 20s. I started my first job out of law school, and my apartment was very plain. I went over to my office manager’s home, and it was beautiful. It was eclectic.
I was struck by the beauty of her home. I thought, “What would it be like to come home from work and not be within four white walls with nothing going on?” I was mesmerized by her home and that’s how I got the bug. It took about 12 years after that to finally figure out how to do it myself without it being a disaster.
Maximalism in particular: I don’t think I chose it as much as it chose me. It’s who I am as a person. I like people who are colorful and interesting and layered and complex. I like wit, I like humor, I like literature that’s deep and thought provoking. I like movies that are the same. Everything in my life that I love has layers and complexity and interest.
I think maximalism is a natural expression of that and who I am.
That’s what I find so fascinating about you. You have a “maximalist” way of expression – I love your captions. And I love that your motto is, “Half tacky is just tacky, but full tacky is haute couture.” What did your husband Mike think of your home when he first met you?
I was living in a historic house in Orange that was built in 1900: a cute little cottage. Every year (pre-COVID), Old Town Orange had a massive street fair party. I hosted a backyard party at my house and my friend Mo asked if he could bring his posse.
Mike was in his posse, and he walked in the front door and literally his jaw dropped. He said, “I have to meet whomever did this.” He actually fell in love with my house before he fell in love with me, I think.
You and Mike do a lot of DIY projects. Does he weigh in on your creative process?
When it comes to designing a room, the stuff that we’re actually trying to build, it’s very collaborative between the two of us. We bounce off each other. I’ll have an idea that I want to implement, and he’ll tell me whether it will work or not. I know when I can push him to be more open minded and creative to come up with a solution that I want.
The decor stuff: he doesn’t care that much. He knows what he likes. He’s very involved in picking out art. With color, that’s what we tend to disagree on the most. Sometimes the default is we’ll just do black if we can’t agree on a color. Stuff like the butterflies, he could care less.
What is one design rule that you swear by?
That’s a tough question because people will say that there are no rules. But really, there are rules that are important to follow. The key is: what is the look you want? So if you’re a maximalist, there are different rules than if you’re a minimalist.
For a maximalist, my design rule is: there has to be a backdrop of symmetry and balance. On a finer level, every ceiling should have something done to it. There should be no white ceiling unless the entire room is white and that’s the aesthetic. With floors, there should always be something interesting and intriguing whether it be painted or a rug. I’m also big on window treatments. Those are my rules.
When and why did you start using secondhand finds in your designs?
That started because I grew up with hand-me-downs and antiques from my family. Our family doesn’t tend to get rid of anything, at least from my mom’s side, everything is passed down. When I had my first home out of law school, even though I didn’t have a lot of stuff, I had antiques from my grandparents and my great grandparents.
I appreciated the quality of antique furniture, objects and decor – the character and the history, feeling a connection to family and people of the past. It’s important to me: it helps create a character and an energy in a home that a home full of new stuff can’t.
As far as maintaining an aesthetic that looks intentional and well curated (and doesn’t look like a hoarder lives there), how do you achieve that?
Some would argue that I don’t! The house is a much different experience in person than it is in photos. When you walk in the house, it really does have a feel of intentional design. That goes back to my rule that there has to be balance and symmetry.
There’s a commonly stated rule with decor that things should be done in odd numbers: there should be 3’s, or don’t have a pair because it’s not interesting. But I have a lot of pairs. Whether it be lamps or two chandeliers centered in a room, whether it be two pieces of art, I use symmetry and balance as a backdrop for all the more creative and whimsical things.
For instance: if you look at our bathroom, straight in the back you have cabinets perfectly symmetrical, an arch in the middle, a medallion over the center of the tub, a mural in the center of the opening, a chandelier right in the middle of the room.
When you have something with a strong sense of balance, it enables you to open up artistically and layer on with finishes and a lot of decor. That’s when you can start playing with asymmetry. People have this innate desire to have balance.
When you walk into our house, you don’t notice it consciously. But it’s represented strongly in every room. It creates a subconscious feeling of symmetry and settledness. There’s not an explosion of senses that is overwhelming people when they come in.
Tell us about your curation process.
It’s been a long process of acquisition. There have been times where I go out and intentionally try to buy things to finish a room. I don’t like waiting for the perfect thing. The best way to create a room is to move forward and just do it. You learn a lot by putting things in there and maybe it doesn’t work. I find that they’ll end up somewhere else in the house and it will be absolutely perfect.
I believe in the law of attraction: if you walk into an antique shop and you see something that you’re drawn to, then it is somehow going to work somewherein your house even if it’s not for its intended purpose at the time. They say buy what you like: I do that.
I tend to buy fanciful things, and that becomes the center of the room. Like the peacocks or lamps, things that are gaudy become the launching point.
I personally want to know where the peacocks came from.
Some are taxidermy. They come from a fellow in Visalia, California: Joel Donahoe of Nature’s Design. The other peacocks are actually faux and I get those from Christmas Central, they’re Christmas decorations. One of them is a Mark Roberts creation. He’s the one that does the fairies and the witches and the Santas for Christmas.
Was there “something that got away” or a unicorn item you’ve been looking for?
I’m not looking for it anymore because I can’t afford it anymore. There was a piece of art called “Metaphorical Journey” by Vladimir Kush that I could have bought for a few thousand dollars in 2005. Gigantic – almost 100” long, a fantastic piece of art.
I elected not to get it, I got a couple of other pieces instead. Well, that thing just skyrocketed in value and now it’s appraised for $36,000. That’s the one thing that I regularly think, “Ugh, that was a mistake.” I didn’t get it at the time because I was living in a condo. While I could have rearranged the art to accommodate such a large piece, I didn’t really want to.
As for a “unicorn,” I would love to have a unicorn. There’s really nothing that escapes my grasp either than that one painting.
Was there anything crazy you had to do to haul something into your house?
Probably not in the traditional sense. When I was living in Old Town Orange, I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to put some mirrors in my kitchen. I was three to four blocks from some of the best antique shopping in the western United States but the parking and traffic was terrible.
I walked into town to get a mirror, and ended up with three. I brought them back, whacked them on the wall and said, “Three’s good, probably 15 is better.” I literally was walking back and forth carrying mirrors, whacking them on the wall. If it didn’t work, I would take it back. It took me an entire weekend to get this entire gallery of mirrors hung in my kitchen through at least 30 trips going back and forth to the antique stores.
That was stupid. I’ve done a lot of stupid things, but that’s on the top of the list.
Where do you go shopping in Cadillac?
If I want antiques, I have to drive for at least an hour. They have some good shops in Traverse City: I like Wilson Antiques.
What is one thing you’re proud of now being a Michigan resident?
I love the state. We’ve got the most beautiful lakes. It’s just a physically stunning state. And like I said, the people are just fantastic. It’s a great place to live.