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Decorating Dos and Don'ts

Jamie Cline - August 30, 2010

Photo by Piotr Lewandowski/sxc.hu.

Obeying a few cardinal rules of decorating will prevent interior design disaster and give your home that show room look.

Admit it, you're addicted to those interior design shows where the designers do the incredible: take an unbelievably messy house and turn it into something fantastic, something you would see in a magazine. At the end of every miraculous transformation, you say to yourself, "Well, sure, they can do that - they've got the money, they've taken the classes, and they were born with a sense of style!"

But really, all designers do is follow a few simple rules. Heidi Tyline King, author of Design Ideas for Home Decorating and several other design books, gave us some helpful tips for a room makeover.

Do find a focal point. "Don't start decorating without knowing what your focal point is," says King. Because the focal point is the basis of the room, it must be determined before everything else. A focal point is just what it sounds like - something you want to focus on and draw attention to. It should be interesting and attractive; it can be something that is already part of the architecture, such as fireplace or a window with an amazing view, or else something that you add, like artwork.

King recommends using color to connect a focal point with the rest of the room. "If the focal point is a particular color, put a little of that color elsewhere in the room with a pillow or an accessory. It will tie the rest of the room in with your focal point." Also, furniture and accessories should be arranged around the focal point to bring even more of a dramatic effect to the space.

Do use color and texture. Furniture, walls, and floors can benefit from a little something extra. Texture can make the dullest room turn into something exciting! The easiest way to add these are through fabrics - pillows, cushions, and throws, says King. Accessories and picture frames are another simple way to bring in color. Also, an added benefit is that color and texture are very kid-friendly.

Do use odd numbers. "When you have odd numbers, it makes the arrangement look less planned. But symmetry is important too," King says. "Odd pieces add more interest, but certainly you don't need to do it every time." When creating an informal grouping for a coffee table or shelf, use one, three, five, or seven items. More than that and you're getting a little carried away. Proportions should be about the same, but heights should differ to keep it interesting.

Do use things that you already have. There is no point in spending a lot of money when you already have so much to decorate with. "Go shopping in the other rooms of your house and your attic," encourages King. "If you already have [an item], you probably like it, and it may look totally different in a different part of your house." Take a look at what you have and combine textures and colors.

Another helpful tip is to use paint to blend your previously owned items in with your new décor. "You can paint tables and picture frames. Color is a great unifier. It's a great way to pull a room together."

Don't paint first. You can always, always find a color to match a sofa, curtains, or a painting. We've all seen the thousands of paint colors available at stores like Walmart and Home Depot - it's obvious that there are many, many more colors of paint than there are sofas. Make your decision on curtains, carpet, and furniture first, and then choose your wall color.

Don't completely fill your room. Keeping blank space on your walls and in your room makes the space feel calm. Too much going on in one place can make your guests - and you - feel overwhelmed. All rooms need both negative (empty) and positive (full) space to keep it feeling balanced. Of course, the room's size is what really counts when considering the amount of furniture and accessories. As far as space goes, says King, the rule is that when you finish decorating, take one thing out.

Don't use floating rugs. A "floating rug" is a rug that is placed in the middle of the floor without being connected to anything else in the room. "You do need to have a rug; it defines space for you. Your furniture should sit on the rug so it pulls the pieces together," says King. Rugs should always be big enough to go at least under the front legs of your furniture. A large rug will pull together the different pieces of furniture in your room to create a unified space, rather than pieces floating in their own orbit.

Don't put your furniture against the wall. Most of us have grown up in homes where it is customary for the back of the couch to be seemingly attached to the closest wall. However, keeping chairs, sofas, and tables close to each other creates a more interesting and intimate setting. If you have a very large room, try to make two groups of furniture: a big group for conversation and a couple of comfy chairs, a small table, and a lamp for reading.

Don't be timid. "People aren't bold enough - they're scared to try things." King says that people are often afraid to use bold colors in their houses because they think the shade might be too intense. Painting one or two walls a brilliant shade while leaving the others a softer color is a great way to be bold without overwhelming yourself.

Be confident in following your own personal style. One of the most important things about your decorating job is that it connects to you and your family. You won't be happy living in the current trend if it doesn't appeal to you. If you are going to work with a professional designer, make sure he or she has more than one style, says King. "Find a professional who can work in many different styles so that the result is something that reflects you, not them." You might try collecting ideas from homes, magazines, and online pictures for a couple months to find what really clicks. Then pick a theme you like and go for it!

© LDS Living, September/October 2010. Photo by Samantha Villagran/sxc.hu.