Fads are interesting and trends are inspirational, but personal taste is the key when it comes to decorating your living space in a style you can live with and love.
While the actual tasks you’ll carry out will vary a bit from project to project, room to room, and situation to situation, the basic designer’s “To Do List” tends to come down to roughly the same basic steps.
Different people do things in different ways, of course, but FWIW this is my three-step method of approaching a home decorating challenge:
1. Color It your Way
Start by planning your color scheme, paying close attention to the hues that you find yourself admiring in friends’ homes or your own rooms, in clothing and fabrics, in the wide world around you.
Open Window by Henri Matisse via National Gallery of Art
What colors make you feel calm, positive, serene, secure, strong, alive and happy?
Collect swatches, paint chips, and magazine or catalog pictures of whatever attracts you. At this stage, don’t restrict yourself in any way. Don’t worry about practical considerations like muddy paw prints on pastels, or what goes with what — just stockpile pictures to build up a clippings folder of images that have some kind of personal appeal for you.
Gradually, a color scheme will begin to emerge from that treasure trove of images.
You’ll need to select a main color, a secondary color, and a key accent color. Additional accent colors will creep in as you begin to look at specific furnishings, fabrics and accessories, but naturally and in smaller proportions.
For now, consider that your main color (possibly expressed in two or more tones of that one basic color, from pale through mid-range to dark) will represent about 60% of the room — walls, for example, and possibly the floors. The secondary color will be about 30% of the space (major furniture and draperies, perhaps?), and the accent color accounts for the final 10% in throw pillows, lamps, works of art and other accessories.
Test the color scheme by laying out pieces of colored paper or paint chips in the appropriate colors and proportions.
Do you like what you see? If not, play with the various colors and the balance of those colors until the results are pleasing to the eye. Then you’re ready to move on…
2. Style It your Way
Turn again to your collection of clippings and swatches, this time with an eye to any patterns you can see in terms of line and style and mood.
Collage by Christine Dorothea Maris via LayersUponLayers
What similarities can you see among the images that you’ve assembled?
Do you find yourself attracted to the spare clean lines of Swedish modern? To retro 1950s curves and chrome? To the spicy textures and ornate carved wood of a Moroccan bazaar? To the opulent furnishings, lush draperies, and excessive ornamentation of a Victorian bordello? To the slick plastics of techno-geek chic?
Listen to your instincts, and listen to your heart.
By all means, take note of current trends — the global village, handmade, ethnic look is particularly hot right now, for example — but don’t feel compelled to follow any fad if your eye leads you elsewhere. It’s all about expressing your own personal style, not slavishly reproducing a designer showroom display or magazine photo spread.
What if you’re furnishing with a raft of hand-me-downs that don’t match your style?
That’s not necessarily a problem.
Consider how a change of color or a change or upholstery might bring the look of a certain piece a bit closer to your dream decor. A little decoupage can work wonders on a nondescript bookshelf, chair, or nightstand, too.
I once used a 1960s brushed-steel floor lamp (once part of a hotel room’s uninspiring decor, purchased for next to nothing at the Byward Market) in a room where a pair of Fin de Siecle side chairs and a one-armed “fainting couch” set the tone for the decor — all it took was a change of lamp shade from the orginal faux sea-grass item to a curvy soft plum silk shade with a short aubergine fringe.
Interior of a Hallway by Henri Le Sidaner via ArtGazebo
You don’t want your furniture to be a cutesy-poo matched set, in any case! Where’s the personality in a catalog-page cookie-cutter decor you could see in a dozen homes on any street? If you keep your eye on the overall mood of the room, it’s remarkable how you can play it fast and loose with the style of any given piece.
3. Accessorize It your Way
With the color scheme chosen and the major furnishing in place, it’s time to add those finishing touches that will truly imprint your own one-of-a-kind personality on the decor.
Drape a fringed shawl, or strew around a few eye-catching cushions. Display a few amazing pieces of artwork and family photos in carefully chosen frames. Create a focal point of your favourite objets d’art or collectibles on a side table or fireplace mantel…
What you choose to do here will depend on the particular room, on your lifestyle, and on what goodies of home accessories you love to have around.
To narrow down the endless possibilities, take a hint from your hobbies and your passions. But don’t be in a hurry to “finish” your decorating. Leave room to add the odd thing as time goes one — the cross-stitched map of post-war Denmark found in Granny’s attic, a hand-painted trinket box you discover at a craft fair, the heart-stopping portrait of someone you haven’t yet met…
No other place will ever have quite the same look and feel as yours, when you create your living space as the birds build a springtime nest — by instinct, with loving care, one piece at a time.