A Dozen Design Hacks
By Ruthanne Johnson
Have you ever hung a piece of art and it didn’t look as striking as it should have? Or bought a rug because it looked so lovely in the store, but not when you laid it on your floor? Or moved your grandmother’s heirloom teapots from spot to spot, but they still looked like clutter no matter where you put them?
There are basic guidelines for decorating a home, from how high to hang art to how to blend new and old household items. Sure, there’s creative license, but a few rules of thumb are a useful starting point. With those in mind, eye-pleasing designs are easy to achieve, even for the inexperienced. To help decorating rookies get started, we talked to local interior designers to get their favorite design hacks.
Rules are meant to be broken, so never be afraid to try new things. “You need to know the rules in order to break the rules,” Donna Pocci of Pocci Design Group in Boulder says. “The best designs do not follow the rules verbatim.” Furniture can be moved, walls can be repainted, pictures can be rearranged and items can be swapped out. Above all, create a space that makes you happy and comfortable.
1Paint After Furnishings
Choose wall paint after the furnishings are in place. “Design your room first, then choose a paint color, even if it’s a year later,” suggests Donna Pocci of Pocci Design Group in Boulder. Once you’ve got the décor you want, find the colors that speak to you in your favorite accessories, like the artwork or fabrics, and paint accordingly.
A room needs a focal point. Natural focal points are fireplaces and beautiful window views, says Anne Jaffe with Boulder’s Jerdadan Designs. But you can create your own with lighting, striking art, and interestingly painted walls or special-textured walls.
When hanging art, a good rule of thumb is to center the piece and hang it at eye level—so some 56 to 60 inches from the floor and 5 to 9 inches above furniture. “That’s a great place to start,” Pocci says. Oversized or undersized art makes a more interesting design, she adds, and it can be visually pleasing if you have one wall with a large piece, another wall with a grouping and then maybe a third wall with a couple of medium-sized pieces together. “It adds more complexity,” she says. When doing groupings of framed art or photos, cut removable contact paper to each frame’s size and then group the paper on the wall so you can prearrange the pieces before drilling any holes.
Choose neutral tones for large items, like sofas and area rugs, suggests Debbie Marden of D. Marden Interior Design in Boulder. Unlike busy patterns and bright colors, neutrals outlast fads and trends, and you won’t tire of them. Bring in pops of color with art, or accessories like pillows and throws.
Mirrors invite and reflect natural light into a room, and make it look larger, says Marden. But pay close attention to what’s being reflected. Natural views and a gorgeous chandelier, perfect; dark walls and a messy office, not so much.
Coffee tables should be 15 inches from furniture to allow enough room for people’s feet while maintaining a comfortable reaching distance, Jaffe says. “If there isn’t room for a coffee table, moveable ottomans that can double as footrests and tables may be an answer.”
7Mix Colors, Patterns, Textures
A space needs a mix of colors, patterns and textures, Pocci says, like soft items to offset hard furnishings, and patterns and textures “to give the space warmth and complexity.” She suggests thinking of a space in terms of layers, so that you’re layering patterns, textures and colors above, below and on top of the furnishings.
8Like With Like
When it comes to hanging art, put “like with like,” Jaffe says. “When there’s a vertical wall, a vertical piece of art usually looks better than a horizontal piece that bisects the wall.” If you don’t have a vertical piece, hang two or three art pieces above each other. “If the artwork isn’t big enough on a horizontal wall, add artwork or accessories to the sides to elongate the visual impact.”
9Make the Old Stand Out
When mixing old and new items, make the old stand out in some way, Pocci says. For example, an antique chandelier above a freestanding modern bathtub helps to soften the tub’s hard lines. Or a traditional glass-front cabinet may bring beauty and interest to an heirloom collection. One caveat: Don’t use too much old. “Stick with maybe one or two pieces,” she suggests, “to give the older pieces a bit more grandstanding.”
When it comes to area rugs, the right size depends on whether it’s an accent piece or covers most of the floor. Jaffe suggests having at least two furniture legs on a large rug so it feels anchored. And make sure there’s enough open floor space around the rug and furniture to frame the ensemble. “Most rugs are used to delineate space and create a focal point,” she says.
Hang draperies 6 inches or more to either side of the windows to allow in the maximum amount of natural light when the curtains are open, advises Jaffe. As for height, some say the standard for mounting curtain rods is 4 inches from the top of the window, but you should also consider the space between the ceiling and the top of the window, and whether you’re installing a valance or have a cornice there, she says. “Depending on the room, floor-to-ceiling draperies are rich and beautiful, and give the illusion of height in a small room.”
Use unusual items to personalize a space. “People love history and architectural details,” Pocci says. But if your house didn’t come with these, you can always buy an old door for your master bedroom or an antique window to paint and hang on the wall. You could also forget the door altogether and hang fun curtains to separate a room instead, she says. “Finding art or objects or architectural details that reflect who you are will help you create more of a unique look.”