If happiness were a person, she would live in Dena Fishbein's house.
Nearly every surface smiles with swirls of Fishbein's hand-painted designs: Pink flowers curl their petals across an overstuffed sofa; delicate vines dance around a window frame. Whimsy welcomes guests through a sun-yellow entry, sits them down in the family room on clouds of white slipcovers crowded with bright pillows and coddles them into complete comfort.
To be sure, the Lafayette home of one of the most sought-after textile designers in the country is a commotion of color, yet in the most delightful way. Decidedly eclectic with a tinge of French country, the house is the inspiration for, and evidence of, Fishbein's passion for patterns -- stenciled on walls, painted on frames, sewn into drapes.
The well-lived-in dwelling is also the subject of her latest book, "The Painted Home by Dena," taking readers on tour, offering fun craft ideas and shopping tips along the way (Fishbein's a regular at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire). The book even includes a cutout stencil in the back to get folks going on a project.
"I wanted to take people through our house, because it's living proof you can make a room beautiful and really personalized without spending tons of money," says Fishbein, seated on a zebra-patterned ottoman in her family room.
"There are some things you splurge on, but you can get a lot of things for very little cost at flea markets and tag sales and put your own spin on them -- a fresh coat of paint on a picture frame, reupholstering a chair, making it your own," she says.
Happy is as happy does
Her delightful residence also houses her craft studio and serves as the home base for Dena Designs, the company she founded with her husband, Danny, nearly 20 years ago. Since then, she's become an award-winning artist and textile designer with an impressive and ever-growing résumé: her home-decor, bedding, dishware, clothing and paper products are sold worldwide; she created and hosted the "Embellish This!" series on the DIY Network; she has a popular blog and syndicated column; and she's published several books on crafts, home decor and children's stories. You can even get "Dena" personalized checks.
She's now expanding her product line to include items for tweens and pets.
"Miles has modeled several things for me," she says, scooping up her little wirehaired dachshund.
With such a prolific artistic career, it's a surprise to discover that Fishbein didn't pick up a paintbrush until her early 20s. She grew up in Marin County, though her family moved many times, even to England at one point. She graduated from UCLA, then spent a year in New York studying architectural and industrial design. While there, she answered an ad for a job as a textile designer. "I'd never done that," she says, "but I figured I could paint some flowers as well as anybody."
Or better, as the following years of success demonstrate. Even now, all her creations begin with an original hand painting. She doesn't design on computers, but her three junior designers do; she jokes that she has "no idea what they're doing."
For the 18 years that Fishbein, her husband, two daughters, one son (all three now grown) and various dogs have lived here, the house has been a place of visual experimentation, of change, of adding new items, moving things around, taking some things away. And always painting.
"In our house, we're not afraid of change," she says. "It's a constant work in progress. I'm all about layering colors and patterns, experimenting with placement of pieces, kind of like an audition. I'll try this lamp out over here, but it might not make the cut, and I'll switch things up again."
She says she doesn't think twice about changing the color of a room.
"Paint is the easiest thing to change. Of course, it's a fine line to know when to stop," she says, laughing. "If it were up to me, I'd do too much. It's hard for me not to paint everything."
Virtues of patience
Many flea market pieces, personalized with Fishbein's paintbrush, dot the home. But she says it's not just a matter of rushing out and buying things willy-nilly. "You have to love something about a piece," she says. "Wait for that right thing to come along that has potential and that's something you want to live with. And make sure it has good bones. You don't want to put hours into decorating a chair that's going to break apart in a year or so."
She's also a fan of giving new life to old family pieces. In an office nook off the kitchen is a chair that belonged to her grandmother, the old upholstery now masked with a white slipcover with colorful appliqués of Fishbein's fabric designs.
Even her storage areas are decorated to provide an enjoyable visual experience. Drawer fronts in her walk-in closet pop with bright floral fabrics -- easily applied with brush-on fabric starch and just as easily removed. "Perfect thing for apartments," she says.
Fishbein is a master of glue guns and scissors, and her book offers 20 fun craft projects, from making paper medallions and decorating glass vases to using vintage salt-and-pepper shakers that add charm to curtain tassels.
Her advice to novice artists and crafters: Start small, practice with inexpensive pieces and enjoy the process. When you get comfortable, move on to bigger things.
"I've been doing this for 25 years, and by far the most important thing I've learned is not to be afraid to try something," she says. "My philosophy is all about our homes being a reflection of things we love, making it a place for friends and family to feel comfortable and happy."