1. Declutter your life, mind, and space.
If your problem is chaos and clutter, decorating isn’t going to help. First, check out my page on Decluttering. And then come back and decide what you want to do with your space.
2. Respect the architecture of your home.
- Decor: It is extremely difficult to decorate any traditional architecture with entirely modern/postmodern furnishings, fabrics, and art without turning the place into a Frankenstein monster. If your taste runs along more modern industrial lines or different ethnic ones than the structure you inhabit, you are usually better off to go for an eclectic mix of traditional and modern/ethnic.
- Formality and Symmetry: Similarly, it is difficult to turn a formal, symmetrical structure into something informal and asymmetrical, or vice versa. Again, mix it up to make it more believable if what you want is completely opposite to what the structure demands.
3. Respect the natural lighting, weather, and geography
- Warmer or cooler climates can make a home look or feel colder or hotter than you might expect. Even individual rooms will feel different from other rooms in the house, depending on which direction they are oriented, whether there are overhanging architectural features or trees that shade them and so on.
- Rooms that feel too cold: Avoid icy wall colors. Add a little warmth by choosing warm paint colors or warming up a too-cool color slightly by adding drops of warmer colorant into paint mixtures. Avoid pure whites and blue-whites. Add wooden furniture or trim, fabric patterns containing warmer colors or a mix of warm and cool. Even neutrals can be warmed up. Try warm beiges, whites, grays.
- Rooms that feel too warm: Use cool colors, light colors, icy colors. Try trim or other items in greyed cypress wood, ash and cooler shades of brown. (Don’t forget you can also paint wood.)
- Rooms that feel dark: Use lighter colors, especially on interior walls, hallways, rooms that feel shaded. Colder climates may require a warmer tone; warmer climates a cooler one (or it may not matter). If the climate is cold for six months of the year or more, more visual warmth is needed. If the reverse is true and the climate is pretty warm or hot for six months or more, cooler colors may be required. Nothing is set in stone. If you are going for a Latin American decor, remember that typical colors are often either warm or cool.
4. Colors that don’t go together, e.g. furnishings and textiles that don’t go with a new home or apartment and you have to rent or can’t spend a lot of money.
- Check out paint colors and fabrics similar to colors in rugs, upholstery, or curtains in your home. Sometimes a greyed version of a dominant hue is a great segue between items that are the same hue but different temperatures.
- Try colors that fall between the strict warm/cool categories — like aquas, some greens, neutral temperature reds and plums, soft violets. Try complementary colors. Read the case history at the bottom of this page.
5. Keep as much off the floor as possible in decorating. It makes for easier cleaning and a less cluttered look.
6. Try massing together what you have too many of. This might be a great focal point.
Or if you have too many decorative items, rotate them in and out. You don’t have to display everything you own at once. Pull out your favorite pieces, store the rest, give things away.
7. Prefer rugs? Consider keeping only a few for cold winter floors.
I have some that I put away in summer — makes the house look roomier, cleaner, less cluttered, and is easier to keep clean. Love carpets anyway? If wall-to-wall is your bag, consider larger carpet pieces that leave a foot-wide perimeter along the walls. Much easier to pull out for cleaning.
8. If it’s cabinetry you need, it’s far cheaper to buy it at Ikea and install custom doors than to build from scratch.
You can also add doors to open cabinets (my husband even enclosed the sides of a table I couldn’t stand, and turned it into a rolling cabinet complete with added shelves and a door!).
9. Spend what it takes to get the quality you need. BUT … don’t be swayed to spend money on more quality than you really need.