“Don’t be afraid of dark. I used this rich Benjamin Moore Midnight Blue on an accent wall—darker than I’d ever dared. It made the whole space come to life.” —Jean Larette
$5,400, John Stuart Clingman for Widdicomb Mid-Century Modern Lounge Chairs, 1stdibs
“Actually use your beautiful things! I have a chocolate lab and white furniture in my living room. It took some training, but now he knows the furniture is off limits.”—Lindsey Lane
Regardless of the type of space you’re decorating, there’s nothing more important than paying attention to details. Here, we share decorating pointers from our archives and tips from top designers to help you make sense of what good design really means. If you’re open to mastering a few basic decorating principles and putting your creativity to the test, you’re sure to enjoy a home that’s both comfortable and stylish.
2. Use decorative mirrors to add instant light to your living space.
It’s exactly what Jenny Cipoletti, founder of fashion, beauty and travel blog Margo & Me, did in her decidedly Parisian office (which is actually in West Hollywood). “Just like when you walk into a cafe in Paris, and you see all the details and the golds, silvers and light blush tones, all of these elements in this space really sing to me,” says Cipoletti. This lets you travel to your favorite destination without stepping outside.
As seen above, mirrors can also be used to make a small space feel larger. For larger rooms, or any room with a more limited amount of natural light, mirrors placed directly across from the windows, will add instant light. Decorative mirrors can also be used in lieu of art to fill empty wall space. Large or small, mirrors add light and dimension to your living space.
“Classics never go out of style. I hesitated about doing a white kitchen in my own house, thinking I’d been there, done that. But I’m so glad I did. I will never tire of it.”—Alexandra Kaehler
You don’t need to go bright in order to create visual impact in a room. “[My wife] wanted to dial it back into her aesthetic, away from the color,” says David Kaihoi of the 400-square foot New York studio he renovated for his family. “I agreed, but suggested we do that with texture and pattern.”
“When you’re given a dark space that doesn’t have great light, create your own light. In this kitchen, we used Sherwin-Williams’s sunny Energetic Orange, and it turned out just fabulous— so cheerful.”—Matthew Boland
“Get creative when thinking about form and function. A client in a traditional Georgian home needed it to work for her modern way of entertaining. We opted for an asymmetrical, organic space that encourages guests to float through the room while engaged in conversation.” —Kate Coughlin
$1,688, Interlude Home Lestari Petrified Wood Side Tale, Houzz
Throw rugs give warmth and can add great texture, color and personality to your living space. Hardwood floors are beautiful and easy to maintain but they lack the comfort that carpeted floors offer, especially in the cooler months. Area rugs can add fun and functionality to your living space. Use several of varying patterns and fabrics together to showcase your character. Or add several rugs of the same pattern and fabric, or different textures but the same color. The possibilities are endless. You can change your area rugs to reflect the seasons using warmer tones and fabrics for cooler months and lighter ones for the warmer days of the year. There are many lovely cotton, washable area rugs which are ideal for those homes with children. There really is no reason why a home with young children cannot also be a stylish one.
Graphic prints can have a major impact in small spaces such as a powder room. Here, an Ellie Cashman floral wallpaper is the star of a powder room a New Orleans manse designed by Sara Ruffin Costello.
“If punk rock has taught me anything, it’s to do everything yourself. All of my favorite interior designers were self-taught.”—Max Humphrey
Looking at your home from a holistic perspective—seeing how each room works in balance against the others—can help craft a welcome variety in your spaces, like this emerald and charcoal dining room that adds a touch of formality to an otherwise contemporary Los Angeles home.
It’s easy to gravitate toward the usual suspects like wood and leather when trying to craft a textured living space, but branch outside of your comfort zone. Emilie Munroe of Studio Munroe recommends drawing from your own personal style, especially the articles of clothing and patterns you’re attracted to.
“Buy one good piece of furniture every year, and in five years, you’ll have five pieces. Everything else may change, but these will remain constant.”—Jeffrey Bilhuber
Wicker baskets are an economical and elegant way to add storage to any room. Baskets can be used to store and display books, architectural and decor magazines, toys, towels and blankets to name a few. Place a couple of small wicker baskets on the counter-tops in your kitchen to beautifully display and store your fruit and vegetables.
The living room above is a great example of how to maximize a small living space. A room of this size has the tendency to seem cramped, but the large windows, light colored walls and ample use of mirrors not only reflect the natural light pouring in from the doors and the windows but the use of mirrors also gives the optical illusion of space, making the room seem larger than it actually is. Conversely, darker colors will make a room feel smaller. Even with the abundance of natural light and the strategic placement of the mirrors, this room in a darker shade would have a more boxed-in feel to it.
“Faux paint, lush lacquer, or wallpaper on a ceiling will garner that ‘Wow’ response.” —Leslie May
This is not the time for e-shopping, people. “It’s just so hard to tell on a computer screen what the color really looks like,” Arnold says. “You might think it looks red, but in reality, it’s watermelon pink.” Not to mention the texture of the rug may be totally different than what you were expecting.
$225, Safavieh Adirondack Round Area Rug, Bed, Bath & Beyond
Instead of fighting against rusticity, embracing the natural character of a home can create a natural richness in the space.”My father found artisans to decorate the bathroom in red limestone, a typical Rajasthani material,” Siddharth Kasliwal, heir to India’s famed Munnu the Gem Palace, explained of the former-cowshed-turned-home he inherited from his father. “All the other elements—the brass sink and hardware, the mirror— are vintage or antique.”
Some people have a natural eye for design, but if you’re more in the camp of those who can’t do anything without consulting Pinterest board upon Pinterest board before making any major changes, we feel you. We’d love to have an interior designer on speed dial before deciding exactly where and how hang to hang that sweet new wall art we bought on a whim, but until we win the lottery, we’ll have to settle for trusting our guts, and taking plenty of design tips where we can get them. We’ve compiled some secrets straight from the pros to help you with all your decorating needs.
“Use tall pieces in a low-height room. Short furnishings would make the ceiling feel that much lower to the ground.” —Jason Oliver Nixon
The best way to balance out sleek lines and contemporary furniture is by adding a few unique natural elements, from drift wood to greenery. “I don’t like to look around a house and not see touches from the outdoors,” interior designer Tamara Magel says.
“Old and new belong together. A mix of modern pieces and antiques never tires.”—Caleb Anderson
This instant pop of color will brighten and re-energize any room! It’s amazing how something so simple as a coat of colorful paint can instantly energize and transform your space. This built-in bookcase would be simple and ordinary without the bright blue interior. Perhaps the simplest and most inexpensive way to transform a boring space is to apply a coat of paint somewhere unexpected. Bookcases are an ideal place to start because you don’t need to paint a large area. Other fun places to add a pop of color include painting fireplace mantels, the insides of closets, hallways and ceilings.
Instead of meshing a color scheme with a sense of place, designer Irakli Zaria used rich gold and turquoise as an antidote to gloomy London days in this chic pied-a-terre. “In a place where there are such cloudy skies, it makes no sense to have a gray interior,” he said.
“You mix things up with old and new,” suggests textiles and interior designer Kathryn M. Ireland, as she did in the living room of her Santa Monica home; a room where the furnishings include 17th-century French chairs, an 18th-century Mexican console, and a cocktail table from her furniture line.
“Update your light switches! Elegant controls add a spectacular element to an older home or character to a new one.” —Courtney Hill
“A lot of people love the idea of really simple, modern living—it’s appealing, it’s nice and it seems serene,” says Erika Yeaman, a Homepolish designer and owner of YES Associates. “But the reality of maintaining that is a little tricker. Mixing Scandinavian design with bohemian style warms it up and makes it feel more homey and attainable.”
What inspired you? Personally, I’m just mad about these animal hide rugs that seem to be all the rage lately. The question is, do I go for the cow or the zebra? Or both, and just say that I live in a barn!
“Bringing a touch of the Old World into the mix creates a home that will never feel dated,” designer Alex Papachristidis explains of the art-studded Manhattan apartment he designed for a family friend. For example, the silver leaf–and–rock crystal chandelier from Liz O’Brien that he hung in the otherwise modern dining room.
“Look up! We use ceilings a lot. Through them, we define the lines and beauty of a space.”—Julio Salcedo
“The most important first step in design is a good floor plan.”—Jessica Helgerson
“Pull floor patterns from ancient buildings. One inspired the checkerboard pattern of the marble floors in my Los Angeles home.”—Nate Berkus
Rather than art, a high-impact wallpaper can give a subdued room some wow-factor. The 19th century wallcovering from this luxe Milan apartment was purchased at auction in France and adapted to the room. “We created the missing parts, the plinth and the ceiling frame, to depict an Italian capriccio, a fantastical and bucolic landscape with architectural features,” Laura Sartori Rimini of Studio Peregalli says.
There’s a fine line between kitschy and curated. Rebecca Robertson unifies vintage and new pieces by grouping them by color.
“Great art and fabulous antiques only get better with age. It’s better to cry once and have a forever piece.”—Chandos Dodson Epley
Floor-to-ceiling shelving never fails to add character to a room. In his Los Angeles home, acclaimed chef Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre opted for this shelving style for his collection of more than 1,000 cookbooks.
“The splurge everyone should make is a fabulous master bathroom. I used hand-painted porcelain sinks in mine.”—Todd Richesin
“Art, art, art! Start young and buy the best you can afford. Its ability to transform a room is unlike any other design tool.”—Jean Liu
“Follow your gut. If you have to talk yourself into liking something, you probably don’t.”—Olivia Erwin
1. Paint smaller rooms in softer, lighter colors to help make the room feel larger.
Kate Reynolds, co-owner of Studio Four NYC, believes in pairing big-ticket items with budget finds. “I think a room balances out better when you have different levels of price and craftsmanship,” she says. “It helps you notice the statement piece more.”
Every room can benefit from accessories that have a history. Rather than showcasing your collectibles on a shelf, set them out on a table, as seen in this Italian apartment. Just be sure your collection is highly curated to maintain a sense of balance in your display.
Allow your space to continuously change—as your life does. “Remember that your home should always be evolving, just as you are,” says Kelly Framel, creative director, stylist and founder of online magazine The Glamourai. “I am constantly picking up new treasures on my travels. Your nest should always be a place of comfort and inspiration, and it’s a constant work in progress.”
Kitchens are meant to be warm and inviting. We spend much of our time in them whether it be for preparing meals, serving meals or entertaining. A hanging pot rack is useful elegance. Kitchens are meant to feel as though they are in constant use and a hanging pot rack certainly makes one feel this way. In addition to looking so wonderful, (there are many sizes and styles available) additional cupboard space below is now freed up to store other items. Seldom has anyone complained of having too much storage.
“When clients want a quick, impactful update, I recommend the pieces that take up the most surface area, like rugs, paint color, or window treatments.”—Tina Ramchandani
Want to make a variety of bright colors cohesive? Think about how you would arrange a flower bouquet, as Sasha Bikoff did in this SoHo apartment. “The same can apply to a space, but you need to find a connection,” she says. “Here, that connection is the fabric on the dining room chairs, which showcases colors also found throughout the room.”
“Make sure you’re having fun. What’s more fun than making your own home more beautiful.”—Eche Martinez
Art director Vivia Horn’s zen upstate New York home makes use of an unexpected gift to give her traditional kitchen a dose of fun. This breakfast table made of a refurbished hibachi—a present from the late wrestler and Benihana restaurateur Rocky Aoki.
“I love to see the layers of time and renovations,” says California-based interior designer Patrick Printy. “To me, it deepens the effect.” Achieving a sense of harmony that feels organic is key.
To avoid being locked into a single style, lighting designer Lindsey Adelman switches up the fixtures in her Park Slope home on a regular basis. “It’s part of my creative process,” she explains, “I love to see things in context, in real life—to live with them.”
Allowing unique items to dictate some design decisions can lead to unexpectedly beautiful results. On the hallways leading into this Art Deco Chicago apartment, dramatic doors and paneling were inspired by a special stack of uncommon lumber. “There was a guy out in Oregon who had a barn full of exotic wood and everything was marked ‘NFS,’ as in Not For Sale,” architect Phillip Liederbach recalls with a laugh. “It gave us a responsibility to elevate it. We obsessed over it.”
Add plants to your living space. Add them to every room, small or large, few or many. Plants are an inexpensive means to accessorizing your space and adding color and texture. Not only are plants beautiful but many can clean household air and balance humidity. They can absorb pollutants and remove harmful gases from the air. No home should be without these wonderful greens!
“In an open seating plan, always use a well-proportioned statement coffee table to ground the arrangement and give it a sense of place.”—Sean Michael
“In the master suite, decor can deviate from the common areas and really reflect your personality.”—Ali Vanderpool and Ariana Villalta
$375, Arturo 8-Light Rectangular Chandelier, Ballard Designs
When renovating a building that already has plenty of character, like this 1920s Spanish Colonial home in Los Angeles, it’s all about striking the balance between what you add and what you leave. “We wanted to make it feel more holistic while still honoring its heritage,” designer Steven Johanknecht says of the decision to keep the original hand-carved ceiling beams and wrought-iron chandeliers while removing mismatched materials from previous renovations.
Whether you’ve just moved or are looking for a quick, little home pick-me-up, or perhaps something more significant, there are some well-known interior design tricks that designers employ that you too can easily do with minimal effort and cost. Sometimes the smallest things make the greatest impact. It could be the addition of a mirror, a painting, a lamp or even a plant. Maybe you want to soften your walls, brighten a room, or add some warmth to your living space. Take a look at these clever design tips and see how they can inspire you!
“Every house should have a great bar. It is the central point of a party, and if you entertain a lot, it will be celebrated, so put some thought into it.”—Jordana Joseph
“Black works with any style. The misconception is that dark colors make spaces feel smaller; they actually recede.”—Carrie Fundings Land
Sure, your eyes may want the most modern, chic couch in the showroom. But your back may not. “In my experience, it’s really better to test out seating and take the time to look at the dimensions,” says Sharon Blaustein. If you’re tall, for instance, you might want to opt for a depth of between 40 to 42 inches for a sofa (rather than the standard depth of 36 inches).
“Choosing the right light bulb is very important. LED bulbs are energy efficient, and they can look great.”—Paloma Contreras
To soften the modern edge of stainless steel, decorator Alisa Bloom put a traditional spin on the kitchen cabinetry of her 1920s Chicago penthouse with brass inlays. With the help of a local hardware maker, she even designed her own hinges and drawer pulls. “I would never go into a store and just buy something,” she says. “It’s all about the process and the hunt.”
$3,295, Rococo Iron & Crystal Chandelier, Restoration Hardware
“Don’t settle. If you have your heart set on a piece, don’t try to find something similar just to save money. Chances are, you’ll never be completely satisfied with the substitute (or its quality).”—Brian Watford
“My clients ask about the most important pieces to invest in: I believe in upholstery and art! They help anchor a room.”—Ashley Darryl
“Never underestimate the power of paint. You don’t have to break the bank to achieve a new look. A fresh coat in a vibrant color takes an old piece of furniture or empty white room and gives it new life.”—Chauncey Boothby
$170, Skyline Furniture Linen Talc Nail Button Storage Ottoman, Overstock
If you tend to be more reserved when it comes to color choices, step outside of your comfort zone by choosing a bold hue, like purple, for a hallway. It’s unexpected and can be a chic backdrop for showcasing an art collection like this design by David Hicks.
Slip covers often get a bad rap but they are truly wonderful things. They can serve as a means of changing your furniture’s look to reflect the seasons. These easily removed coverings allow you to have a sophisticated look without constantly worrying about people dirtying or spilling on your furniture. Slip covers are ideal for rooms used frequently by children. Above the white slip-covered couches gives the air of a casual, comfortable, easy yet sophisticated elegance.
If Chip and Joanna Gaines have convinced you that your abode needs shiplap, you’re usually best off installing the boards horizontally rather than vertically. “It can really expand a space, making it feel larger than vertical boards can,” says Jason Arnold. “Horizontal boards also feel more contemporary.” Vertical boards, however, can be ideal for rooms with high ceilings.
“Wicker is an element I love for its texture and versatility. Wicker baskets are so functional for storage, but a wicker animal brings a sense of whimsy.” —Amy Berry
We all have items in our possession, probably packed up in boxes somewhere and haven’t given them a second glance. Your home needs some accessories. Instead of running to the store, take a good look at what you already have. Trays, wooden, acrylic, metal or silver can be placed on top of luggage racks, tea carts, trunks, bedside tables and coffee tables for extra texture and dimension. Arrange candles on them, frames or pile books on top of them. Plates can be hung to create wonderful wall art. Art from children’s books can be framed and hung in nurseries, children’s rooms or their bathrooms. You will be amazed at what you can do with what you already have!
Layering patterns in a range of styles and scales is an easy way to add visual interest to a room. Here, Refinery29 Global Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich pairs black and white pillows with green chevron bedding in her Brooklyn Heights bedroom.
“I love to use wallpaper in mundane spaces. Hallways, pantries, powder rooms—all become moments of joy and funkiness. Areas of transition can be places you enjoy spending time in.”—Fawn Galli
Looking beyond the traditional with wallcoverings can create a truly standout design presence. “I do think I might have scared [architect Ken Linsteadt] a little bit when I announced I was planning to install two levels of green floral fabric on the walls of the grand salon,” says Ken Fulk of his Sonoma Valley lakeside retreat, yet the fabric gives the high walls a richness that wallpaper alone might not have achieved.
3. Mix it up. Mix up patterns and textures. Mix up old and new, expensive and inexpensive.
There’s nothing wrong with placing family heirlooms alongside your modern couch. All good interior decorators will tell you that the most important aspect to decorating your home is that it reflects who you are, your personality and your style. The antique Chippendale desk that was your grandfather’s tells a story. It tells the story of your past. The modern couch you fell in love with and simply had to purchase also tells a story, your present story, and there is no reason why the present and past can’t co-exist beautifully together. The same can be said for art. Now you might not want to place a painting by Salvador Dali on the same wall next to a Monet, but there’s no reason why they can’t be in the same room together. With fabrics whether it be furniture, rugs or pillows, varied colors and patterns can bring warmth and texture into your living space.