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Traditional Home Decor

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Get a grid“Deciding what kind of art is right for the big wall behind the sofa is an easy problem to resolve when you remember that there’s power in numbers. Groups of similar images in matched frames add graphic punch and interest to the behind-sofa wall—which really is a blank canvas…an opportunity. This also solves a problem when a suitably scaled painting isn’t available. Here, a collection of antique bird prints are framed in a simple contemporary molding that echoes the style and finish of the side tables. I like to hang multiple images in a tight grid, just shy of the length of the sofa, with equal margins at the top of the sofa and bottom of the ceiling molding.”

Linen drapery from Carleton V set the tone for the rest of this bedroom. Blue-greens, cream, and hints of muted chartreuse also make an appearance in the plush bedding and upholstered headboard.

Get more ideas for your living room in Decorating Ideas: Unique Living Rooms.

In this St. Louis living room, the sofa’s silk pillows—a bargain find at T.J. Maxx—determined the soothing palette. The walls are painted a soft mint green, while pops of pastels appear in the window panels, twin ottomans, and Queen Anne chair.

A surfeit of square footage thankfully is not essential to an elegant design, as this cozy living room in the Atlanta home of designer Lori Tippins proves. In fact, the human scale of the space contributes to its elegance, for design is as much about how a space lives as it is about how it looks. Here beauty begins with the bones of the room. Pairs of French doors flank a small antique marble fireplace for a full flow of natural light, symmetrical balance, and pleasing proportions. The trumeau above the fireplace is a major player in getting the right proportions, drawing the eye all the way up to the same height as the curtain rods. (It’s also gorgeous!) These, too, are placed high on the walls, nearly a foot above the doors to skim just beneath the extra-thick crown moldings. Decorative elements are few but fine. The pair of floor lamps, for instance, were converted from gilded iron candlesticks. The vertical border on the draperies introduces color and pattern in an exquisitely subtle fashion.

Want more color inspiration? See our presentation on Colorful Living Rooms.

A single glance at the living room of this 1928 Mediterranean Revival in Los Angeles—even without furniture—was enough to announce the home’s elegance. The room’s original scalloped plaster moldings were a decorative feature architect Gordon B. Kaufmann brought to his early Hancock Park commission. Designer Mark Williams respected the original features, which include the fireplace, with quiet furnishings in creamy neutrals. “Kaufman kept the details rather spare so that the interiors feel tranquil rather than overly ornate,” he says, summing up all of elegance.

Ten designers each share a terrific decorating tip for your home

Who better than furniture designer Bob Williams to master the modern mix? In the living room of his home in Hickory, North Carolina, the cofounder of furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams pairs his new designs with vintage favorites from the mid-century. His eye for quality is revealed in his treasured old Lucite chair, Eames-style white leather armchair, and Frank Gehry cardboard chair, all of which mingle with his own clean-lined designs. Traditional toile draperies from Duralee and ice-blue walls set off the elegant mix.

Designer Brian Connolly saw the dazzling potential in this historical New York City apartment’s original parquet flooring. To set off the beautiful wood, he chose a terra-cotta hue to cover the Venetian plaster walls.

So can a living room be elegant and edgy all at once? The Honolulu home of designer Marion Philpotts Miller suggests the answer is yes. Certain stately furnishings like a grand piano are fixtures of finery, and music-loving Miller is a fan. But she’s an equally avid supporter of visual arts including those with a modern bent. The living room’s lavender pod chandelier adds an edgy layer of complexity to the room’s design, making it as interesting as it is elegant.

The quirky original wallpaper in this New Jersey colonial entryway was the unusual inspiration for the home’s hues. Described by the homeowner as “mostly neutral with hints of soft blue and pinky-reds,” the tones extend throughout the house.

Think sunny “Sunrooms should have a feeling of openness and be bathed in light. That’s why I typically recommend not obscuring the views with curtains, particularly in a sunroom like this with windows on three sides. I like to use a very warm ivory palette because it reflects the light so beautifully. The addition of glass [vintage Murano glass is a favorite of hers] is wonderful because it sparkles brilliantly in the light. There’s no better accent color for a sunroom than sunshine yellow. It’s that punch of happiness this room needs.”

How a single item can inspire the palette for an entire room

Dove gray and attention to detail create serene sophistication in the living room of this Connecticut home overlooking Long Island Sound. “I didn’t want a beachy home so we went with dark floors and classic details,” says the owner, architectural designer Louise Brooks. Farrow & Ball’s “Skimming Stone” is painted on the walls, while the wood comes clean in the venerable paint company’s “All White.” Silver-gray cocktail and side tables pick up the thread of color from the room’s gray-and-white striped  Elizabeth Eakins rug, while the furniture remains calm in white upholstery fabrics. Even the accessories on the fireplace wall’s shelves are pared down for importance. Most notable is the pair of antique lanterns on the middle shelves.

A barely blue French fabric with a circle motif at the windows sets the color scheme in this dining room, where dining-chair upholstery and a grass-cloth wall covering are a smoky blue-gray. A wool-and-silk rug has taupe branches winding on an ivory background.

Vintage botanical prints in the dining room were the springboard for this home’s color scheme. Smart and sophisticated, chartreuse details are found in the Cowtan & Tout fabric of the dining chairs. Complementing the green hues are gold accents on the china and on the chandelier.

Architectural Design: Louise BrooksInterior Design: Lynn Morgan

Used as both a family room and a living room, the 20×30-foot space in this Atlanta home gathers its elegant energy from patterns that are even more subtle than tone-on-tone—they’re created entirely from textures. The pair of modified wing chairs at the fireplace are covered in a beige fabric woven in small diamond motifs (no coincidence, the Pollack fabric is “Diamondieu”). Then look inside the fireplace. The brick firebox is laid in a herringbone pattern. Subtle. The fauteuil facing the fireplace is a taupe velvet cut to create a 3D swirl pattern. And both the sofa and the club chair opposite it play the texture game with their small-weave diamonds. With the exception of the decorative pillows, the only non-textured pattern is at the windows. A tone-on-tone. Quiet. Elegant.

In our most recent reader survey, we asked what you needed from us to improve your homes. “Decorating ideas!” came in loud and clear. To give you the very best, we approached 10 of America’s hottest designers for their No. 1 tip—hits for your home, and classics all.

Dixon shares another horizon-stretching tip: “So often when we decide to do built-ins for our dressing rooms and closets, we just presume they must go floor to ceiling and have conventional doors. A much more interesting look is achieved when you build quasi-furniture for your storage. As built-ins, I designed five large armoires that fall a few inches short of the ceiling and are raised, on bun feet, a few inches off the floor.”

In the same Hancock Park house you just viewed, the other side of the living room portrays elegance on a much grander scale. Here the room’s original double-decker wall of leaded-glass arched windows soars tall and airy, overlooking the garden. Still, there’s nothing ornate in the design. The elegance lies in the arches—pure and simple beauty.

When sophistication is the design goal for a seaside home, it pays to pause before bathing the living room in blues. “You have to test them to discover the ones that read sophisticated and not silly,” says designer Jack Fhillips, who did precisely that in the living room he designed for the Shippan Designer Showhouse in Stamford, Connecticut. A pale, almost Prussian blue painted on the walls reads as Old World elegant, especially brushing against white-painted dentil crown moldings. A white silk tufted sofa commands the conversation area with a formality that’s made approachable by a pair of comfy blue club chairs.

Needlepoint chairs plucked from a Paris flea market inspired the soothing color palette throughout this entire Houston home.

A colorful and luxurious Scalamandré weave on custom club chairs inspires the theme of this Key West home. Matching pillows sit on the sofa; custom fringe on the Robert Allen drapery echoes the floral fabric’s soaring notes.

Mix freely “I’m a big believer in the mix. A single object on a tabletop or a single work of art on the wall can be nice, but for me, mixing collections provides the most excitement. Instead of grouping the pieces from only one collection, which typically limits you to ‘like’ objects, I like to combine different collections to ensure a mix of textures and shapes and even history, to increase the visual interest of the arrangement. The mix in the girl’s bedroom shown here is more about pattern than collectibles. Pink toile on the little chair and bed curtains mixes with stripes on the wall, a hand-painted floral design on the commode, and florals on the lamp and lampshade. Start with a pivotal fabric, then mix other patterns of different scales from the same color family.”

The homeowner’s collection of blue-and-white china influenced the Lee Jofa fabric chosen for Hickory Chair armchairs and a Stark rug in the sitting area of this Indiana home.

Find your “little black dress” “Design is like fashion. Every home, like every woman’s wardrobe, benefits from a little black dress. In my family room, the oyster-colored Belgian linen sofa, along with the raffia on the ceiling and the sea-grass rugs on the floor, work like the little black dress—they are a versatile starting point for building a fashion statement. They create a neutral palette that allows me to accessorize with a mix of patterns on the throw pillows and on the chair cushions. These are my punches of color. Pattern on pattern works best when you go all the way—don’t fear it. Variations of blue and white work in my family room. I could change the ‘fashion’ of the room in one day with loden green and chocolate on pillows alone, because the raffia, sofa, and walls are all neutral. Don’t try to match exact colors; don’t be afraid to layer patterns or texture. The subtle changes in wall color, blended with rich textiles, can be compared to fashion where a blue paisley silk blouse and chocolate wool gabardine slacks are worn together blending texture and color. Just think ‘fashion’ when decorating.”

The mellow golds and browns from the Parisian chairs continue into the dining room. Window panels are a cooler shade of cream to balance out the rich Fabricut fabric on the chairs.

Homeowner and reality TV star Jill Zarin updated her New York City home with a personal touch. Friend and designer Brad Boles decided on a palette that complements Jill’s physical features—eyes, hair, and complexion. What resulted was a spacious apartment awash in blue-greens and teals, balanced by shimmery neutrals.

An eye-catching elephant mosaic in the living room lends its vibrant hues in unexpected accents throughout the rest of the home.

Making the right decorating decision sometimes means doing nothing at all. When a living room like the one in this East Hampton house is blessed with beautiful French doors and an abundance of light, a smart designer knows to leave well enough alone: Keep the windows undressed. Designer Larry Laslo did just that. He also enhanced the architecture’s airiness with a monochromatic palette of soft pearl and sand with dark wood accents.

Soothe yourself “To create the most serenity in a bedroom, use a tone-on-tone palette of a restful blue or green, then make it dynamic by using a wide variety of textures. Here the wall color is what I call a ‘tall glass of water’ aqua blue—which also happens to be my client’s favorite color. Except for whites and creams, it is the only color in the room. That’s soothing, but to keep things interesting, I’ve used probably 25 different textures, including flannel curtains with striated woven bamboo sheers, a hammered-metal coffee table, Lucite lamps, a tufted cashmere bed [headboard and footboard], wool carpet, a Belgian linen sofa, lacquered side tables with inlaid steel, and peeling paint on an antique Swedish settee—mixing slick, soft, rough.”

Live large, open up “Opening an enclosed staircase can create interesting display options in most any venue. Here the walls that had run floor to ceiling, encasing the staircase, were removed. This relatively simple change added architectural interest and a far greater sense of space in this kitchen.”

The classic burgundy of a pool table’s felt is the inspiration for this billiard room. Fiery reds appear in the grasscloth wall covering, Kilim-covered George Smith club chairs, and the geometric folding screen. The round mirror above the mantel takes its “cue” from the billiard balls.

Interior Design: Heather Dewberry and William C. Huff Jr.Architecture: William Harrison and Bulent Baydar

Be strong, soften up “Use a patterned wallpaper to strengthen a room, and an unpatterned paper to soften a space. One of my favorite patterns is this floral, with its creeping branch and blossom designs in chocolate, blush, and green. It’s a perfect example of how a patterned wallpaper, as a single design element, can enliven a space and set a new decorative direction. Be sure other design elements play down to the paper. When wallpaper is unpatterned, it can wrap a room with color and texture and soften the space.”

Tip: Repeat motifs to knit a space together. The border design on this living room’s rug recalls the angles of the mirror’s Greek-key pattern.

Do the math “Chandeliers are famously tricky for people to figure out because they’re hanging in the middle of the room with no points of reference against which to gauge for size. A great rule of thumb that I learned years ago is to take the width of the room in feet, double the number, convert it to inches, and that is the minimum dimension for your chandelier’s diameter. I say minimum because it can always be fun to oversize a chandelier, but one should never have it look dinky. Finally, for utility’s sake, make certain that a chandelier never hangs too low over a dining room table. Always keep in mind that you want to look at your dinner companions, whether they’re family or guests.”

Turquoise pops boldly against warm golden hues in the dining room.

Venetian plaster walls and antique beams give this new Atlanta home the sense of history that figures so prominently in elegant Southern style. Gracefully turned-wood furnishings including a fainting lounge (what’s more Southern than that?) join posh but soothing fabrics to increase the elegance. Window treatments are important in the South, and these full panels hang ceiling to floor. But the palette of dreamy cream and taupe with accents of blue and chocolate ensures that all is easy on the eye, an imperative for true elegance.

This fireplace view of designer Skip Sroka’s Washington D.C. living room reveals more of his secrets to creating an elegant space. The gold-leaf mirror above the fireplace is ornamented with a Greek-key motif, the grandfather of classic patterns. (Think the opposite of trendy.) The mirror does more than introduce classic lines, however. It also swings out to reveal a flat-screen TV. This kind of cleverly concealed hard-working function provides one more clue to the meaning of elegant decorating. Efficiency. (Apple products’ efficiency makes them the most elegant in their industry. The same rules apply to both interior and industrial design.) The entire fireplace presentation is refined through the symmetrical balance of the mirror between a pair of antique sconces.

Map it out “Start a map collection and decorate with it. Decorating with maps is one of my favorite things to do for clients. Maps of the region personalize any interior. Use them as art or blow them up and use them as a whole-wall covering. This one’s sepia tone is beautiful—that wonderful ‘colorless’ thing—but hand-colored ones can be a room’s colorful accent. I’ve been a collector of old New York, Long Island, and Hudson River maps for years. I buy maps from around 1833, the year my house was built. You can find old maps from $60 to $200 on up to $10,000 for early ones.”

The large living room in this DC Design House (Washington, D.C.) exudes elegance with a deftly played palette that keeps all parts of the space in harmony. A tasteful mix of icy blue, ivory, yellow, white, and khaki creates the polished look. A large table in front of the fireplace divides the space into two conversation areas, and its yellow-and-white cotton striped skirt introduces a sunny spirit that’s essential for a room so large to feel livable. Matching sisal rugs define both sides of the room, and their Greek-key edges are banded in yellow to plant the palette underfoot.

“The design of the house really evolved around a classic American look,” says designer Suzanne Kasler.

Embrace infinity . . . expand your horizons “To make a room feel larger, use a round rug on the floor. The circle represents infinity, and a round rug brings that esoteric idea of ‘no boundaries’ into reality as a visual element. In this client’s dressing room, I used both a round rug and an overscale round tufted ottoman to create a sense of unending space. Besides helping to increase the perception of space, the round ottoman provides a panoramic view of that gorgeous Virginia countryside.”

Elegant living rooms display fine design without appearing flashy. And it’s harder than it sounds. This living room in the home of Washington, D.C., designer Skip Sroka reaches the pinnacle of elegant traditional design with gentle curves on the window treatments and furniture. Both chairs and the sofa have beautifully rolled arms as well as subtle curves at the back. The windows are adorned with curved Roman shades in a damask tone-on-tone that underlie simple pleated silk panels. All together, the curves convey a shapely beauty that ties the room together. This is the essence of soft decorating.  The coffered ceiling and quiet palette continue the understated charm.

Along the history-conscious East Coast, the living room of an Oyster Bay, New York, home in which George Washington really did sleep (during a 1790 visit) had a lot to live up to. So when designer Sallie Giordano bought it as her family’s weekend retreat, one of her overarching impulses was to honor its age. (The Long Island house was built in 1651.) For the living room, that meant glazing the walls in a multi-layer gray plaster finish that looks like it’s been there since the founding father’s sleepover. “It resembles old plaster that’s been painted many, main times,” says the designer. The striated finish adds depth, patina, and a sense of history. And those add up to elegance.

Calming blues and greens are a natural for a home on the shore. This showhouse porch evokes Maine-inspired nostalgia with its sea-glass hues and playful turquoise paisley.

The soft pink and dusty blues of the entry’s wallpaper also appear in the master bedroom.

A collection of contemporary art drives the palette of this Newport Beach home. Golden taupe armchairs repeat colors in a painting of California’s Crystal Cove beach hanging above the limestone fireplace.

For a less obvious seaside palette, designer Patrick Lönn used a “dry beach” concept. “I was propelled by the water, sand, and driftwood on the beaches of Long Island, the majestic sailboats with their canvas sails, and Montauk Point’s grand lighthouse with its bold horizontal-striped tower,” says Lönn.

“We really started the whole design with this fabric,” designer Todd Richesin says. “The weave is fancy, but the coloration makes it playful and fun.”

Interior Design: Larry LasloArchitecture: Tony Greifenstein and Keith Boyce

Inspiration for the bright white living room in this Seattle home was the Hamptons house of Diane Keaton in the movie Something’s Gotta Give. That clean, almost effortless look of the movie’s beloved home actually is as sophisticated as it is simple.  As interpreted here, it’s a crispness that emanates from the architecture. A deeply coffered ceiling works in tandem with the careful gridwork of shelving that flanks the fireplace to define the space in bold, linear strokes. Symmetrical balance extends to both the architecture and the clean-lined furniture to impose formal structure on an informal, feel-good style. So just two words to remember: clean-lined and balanced.

In New York’s renowned Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse, designer Noel Jeffrey went against trend by allowing the living room’s original dark-stained woodwork to have its say. And it is the language of elegance. By not painting the lovely paneled walls and fireplace, Jeffrey allowed the space to bask in the warmth of the wood’s rich grain. He underscored that warmth with creamy furniture upholsteries, a white rug, and billowy beige silk draperies that ensure a dramatic contrast between dark and light.

Connolly also pulled the strongest hues from the homeowner’s art collection to punctuate the living space in bright corals and tangerines.

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