The purpose of this guide is to provide some practical and effective decorating tips to make your home the special place you want it to be!
People come into my home and the first thing that many of them say is, Did you do the decorating yourself? It looks so professional! I find that while most people would like to make changes to their homes, many are afraid to try. The questions arise: What if I don’t like the color? What if I buy the wrong furniture? For that matter, How the heck do I pick out a color or piece of furniture in the first place? This guide will show you how to make fool-proof decorating decisions to bring color and warmth to your surroundings and make your house simply beautiful.
We are bombarded by books, magazines and television shows about decorating. They show us fabulous rooms filled with wonderful furnishings, gorgeous colors and up-to-the-minute high-end fashion trends, much of it impractical and not designed for everyday living. What should you take away from all of this? A GENERAL IDEA of what you like and what you don’t like and INSPIRATION from the colors and/or design. Then you have to make it your own. If a room doesn’t function in the way in which you need it, then I don’t care how lovely it is; you might as well just throw your money out the window because I guarantee that you will be re-decorating again in a few months’ time.
So, where do you start?
First, decide on FUNCTION!
My approach to decorating is natural and organic. I’m not talking about the look of a room; I’m talking about the way to go about making your choices. First you must ask yourself: What do I want this room to be? What do I need or want to do in this space and how do I want it to function? Is it going to be a combination living room and office? Do I need a place for the kids to play while the grownups relax? Am I going to entertain in here or is this a personal retreat just for me? Write down your ideas! Professional designers and decorators keep a notebook with them at all times (electronic or hand-written). Get in the habit of writing down your ideas so you don’t forget them when life becomes chaotic and decorating seems but a dream.
Second, evaluate your SKILLS!
As you read the following, keep these things in mind: Enjoyment, Education and Time. Do you ENJOY these activities? Would you be willing to LEARN these skills? Do you have the TIME to do what is required? If the answer is no to any of these questions - and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that - you will need to rely on purchases and, most likely, pay someone to do the larger jobs such as painting and flooring.
- Can you sew and can you use a sewing machine? It really doesn’t matter how good you are. Practice will improve your skills, but the fact is that no one is going to be looking at the hems of your curtains or examining the job you did on your home-made pillows or seat cushions. Only YOU will know. I am a TERRIBLE seamstress, but my guest only seem to notice the wonderful textures and colors in the fabric, not the occasional dropped stitch. There are also many no-sew solutions. You just need to be able to cut and pin the fabric and use an iron and/or fabric glue.
- Can you use basic tools? A staple gun, hammer, screwdriver, level, measuring tape and pliers can usually fix just about anything. Personally, I wouldn’t be caught without my electric staple gun and my cordless drill and a basic glue gun works miracles. Ladies, if you don’t have these tools in your home, I strongly suggest buying them and learning how to use them. You will be AMAZED at how often you reach for these tools to do everything from hanging pictures to making minor repairs to creating something lovely for your home.
- Would you like to learn skills such as painting, furniture stripping or laying tile? You can usually find FREE classes on all types of home repair and decorating right at your local home improvement and craft stores.
It all depends on what YOU want to do.
Third, decide on BUDGET!
Are you doing a complete décor overhaul or do you just want to spruce the place up and inject some beautiful color and texture into the room? Do you want new goods or are you an antiques buff? Do you plan to shop retail or are you going to hit thrift stores and yard sales? You know, you can find nearly everything and anything for home décor right here on eBay!
If you answered yes to the questions in the last section and you are a true do-it-yourself-er, thrift stores and flea markets might be a good choice. You can find very nice furniture pieces that just need a coat of paint or stain, some minor repairs or new cushions. For other things, such as fabrics, artwork, lamps, pillows, vases and all sorts of colorful accent pieces, check out the offerings in my eBay Store and those of other eBay vendors. Whatever your budget – no matter how limited - you CAN improve your home and make it a prettier place to live. Even small changes can have a dramatic impact on a room.
Fourth, decide on an overall STYLE!
This is much easier to do than it would seem. You just need to break it down into smaller pieces. Styles run the gamut from very ornate and “busy” to very minimal and sleek. The type of style you choose is really based on how you live and what you find comfortable. Do not feel that you have to be “locked” into a style once you begin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with eclectic design. Some of the best design comes from mixing and matching elements from various periods and styles. In fact, some very recognizable styles, such as Victorian, came about by blending the best of the past with the contemporary designs of the time.
Again, here are some questions to help you determine what might be the best design for you and your lifestyle.
- Do you like to have “things” all around you? Do you feel comfortable in a “busy” environment, one filled with collections of all kinds, books, flowers, and fabrics?
If so, you would probably like American Country, Victorian and English Cottage styles. Oriental rugs, floral patterns mixing with stripes and solids, figurines, fringes and tassels, baskets and all sorts of collections are frequently used in developing these styles. Another popular style suited to this category is Shabby Chic – a term coined by Rachel Ashwell – which combines distressed and painted furnishings with lots of white, pastel colors and natural accents. This is a good way to blend together flea market finds into one unified look.
- Does clutter make you nervous? Do you prefer to hide everything away behind closed doors leaving lots of open spaces? Do you prefer large-scale or singular art pieces and blocks of dramatic color rather than collections of smaller items? Do you like sleek, rather than overstuffed, furniture? Do you like the look of metal and glass?
If this is the case, choosing a style with a minimalist look would probably suit you. Art Deco, Techno/Industrial, Modern and Japanese décor are considered calming, use neutral colors with a few well-placed and frequently bold and large scale accents. Solid prints and geometrics are favored over floral; frills, flounces, ruffles and ornate carving are generally not used. The chosen materials may be manufactured or natural (for example, Japanese décor makes frequent use of rocks and bamboo), but the overall look is sleek and minimalist. The Industrial and Modern styles all make use of metal and glass for an overall look that can be calming or dramatic.
Examples of décor that fall somewhere between these two extremes would be French Country, Tuscan/Mediterranean, Scandinavian, Arts and Crafts (Craftsman) and Contemporary. Each of these looks combines the use of bold colors and the use of natural materials and simple, sometimes rough-hewn furniture. The look is generally light and airy and falls somewhere between elegant and rustic. Collections of pottery, books and artwork are common.
Of course, the vast majority of us tend to combine styles, but these terms might give you a place to start in developing your own style.
Fifth and Foremost – Decide on a Color Scheme!
This is where most people balk. They are afraid to choose color, probably the single most important aspect of design.
How should you go about choosing the right color for you? The answer is right outside your door. Go outside and look around. Just relax and take in your surroundings. What appeals to you most and catches your attention? Is it the blue sky and fluffy white clouds or does your eye go instead to the brown of tree bark, the pale grey of river rocks and the deep green of the grass under your feet? Or are you immediately drawn to the brilliant oranges, reds, yellows and purples of butterflies and wildflowers? What catches your attention: pastels (sky, clouds), earth/neutral tones (trees, rocks) or jewel tones (flowers)?
You can also take a look in your closet. When you select clothes for FUN (clothes that you WANT, as opposed to clothes that you NEED for work), what do you buy? Looking at the colors in your own closet can give you insight as to what you might choose for your home design. Keep in mind, too, color choices often change with age. As you age, receptors in your eyes perceive colors differently. You might find at 40 that you suddenly like reds, oranges and yellows much more than you did at age 25 when you preferred purples and greens. (I know I do!)
Once you figure out if you are a pastel, neutral or jewel tones sort of person, you can decide to use one of these as your backdrop. Wall color, floor color (whether using wood flooring, tile, carpet or area rugs as your budget allows) and large furniture pieces should reflect your primary choice for color. Your accent pieces - side chairs, fabric and artwork – will focus on your second and third color choices. For example, you might create a neutral or pastel backdrop with jewel tone accent pieces. Or you might go the opposite way and create a dramatic jewel tone room with deep red walls, but use neutrals or pastels in your large pieces and accents. It is very difficult to go wrong with color IF you work along the following lines, keep the Color Wheel in mind at all times and keep the major colors in the room to no more than three. That doesn’t mean you can’t have other colors, just don’t make them a major issue in the room.
- Achromatic: The use of black, grey and white can create a dramatic room. This color scheme usually works best in a very modern setting and design scheme.
- Monochromatic: This means variations of the same color. A monochromatic scheme is usually considered soothing. You would select a single color (blue for example) and then use the lighter tints and darker tones and shades of this color against a neutral background. A tint is a color plus white; a tone is a color plus grey and a shade is a color plus black.
- Complementary: This means using colors that are on the opposite sides (180 degrees) of the color wheel. Red and green, violet and yellow, blue and orange – think school colors - not just the pure shades, but all the different shades within this color palette, plus a neutral if desired.
- Analogous: This means using colors that are NEXT to each other on the color wheel. Red, red-orange and orange are frequently used in Chinese and Mexican décor. Blue, blue-green and green along with a touch of white or beige can create a very effective seascape-themed room. Throw in some shells and you’re at the beach!
- Triadic: This means using a combination of every 4th color on the color wheel red, yellow and blue or orange, green and violet, for example. This combination usually makes for a very colorful room and is frequently a scheme used in decorating children’s rooms. If you can’t imagine these colors together, think about the current craze among teenagers: hot pink, orange and neon green are dominating the Teen Decorating World at the moment. On a much calmer note, French Country and Mediterranean styles also frequently use this scheme and the colors blue, red and yellow. French Country uses bright, true colors and Tuscan style frequently uses deeper, jewel tone versions (cobalt, scarlet and gold) of these same colors.
- Contemporary – soft neutral tones for the walls, floors and large furniture pieces with punched up jewel tones in the decorative accents.
Down and Dirty Quickie Decorating
What will give you the most punch for your money and create the greatest change for the least money?
Living Room: Accent pillows, colorful throws, area rugs, curtain tie-backs, artwork in frames that create a collection (make all frames black or gold or silver – different sizes, different shapes, but uniform in color) and re-arranging the furniture (if possible) will give a quick lift and spice up your décor.
Bedroom: You would be amazed what new bedding will accomplish. Lots of pillows and nice bedclothes will make all the difference. The bedroom should be a retreat – a place to go to get away from your worries and everyday cares. Keep it simple, keep it romantic and keep it free of clutter! A pretty bowl on your dresser or nightstand can corral your keys and loose change. A new lampshade or a scarf tied around your current shade will make a big difference (be sure not to get the scarf near the lightbulb!) Add scent and sound – scented candles, incense and a small fountain – to create a serene environment.
Bathroom: It's unbelievable what a coat of paint and a new shower curtain and a few matching accessories will do to brighten up a bathroom. Cabinets looking a bit dingy? Spruce them up with new hardware. A pretty bathroom rug can make all the difference in the world. Candles are a nice touch too!
Kitchen: Nothing will spruce up a kitchen faster than new hardware on the doors and cabinets. Pick up a few bright accessories - an area rug by the sink, new canisters, a tea pot, a beautiful ceramic pot to hold commonly used utensils - these are quick and easy ways to give a drab kitchen a lift.
Of course, there are other considerations, but these basics can get you started. If people find this article helpful, perhaps I’ll write a few more focusing on other elements of Home Décor. Please review this Guide and let me know what you think!
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This article was written by Suzanne La Cour. Please do not copy or distribute without permission from the author. In case you are wondering, I have been trained as an interior decorator (not designer – that is a different profession requiring many years of vigorous schooling and certification), have been involved in both residential and commercial decor and have managed a decorating accessories shop. I hope you enjoyed my article and I hope that you'll take a moment to vote!!