Interior Decorating 101

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Interior decorating isn’t as difficult as you may believe. Knowing the basic rules of design is essential, but pulling the room together is as simple as having a good eye for what items work in the space.

In this series, Interior Decorating 101, we will outline the basics of interior decorating. You will learn how to decorate your home like a pro. Each stage of interior design is broken down into 8 lessons: color palette, rugs, big ticket furniture, small ticket furnishings, metals, lighting, plants and accessories.

“It’s about knowing the rules and knowing when to break them.”

~Candice Olsen

Lesson 1 – Color Palette

A well designed room has at least 3 colors. The two most prominent colors should be complementary colors or contrasting colors. Contrasting colors are across from each other on the Color Wheel, while complementary colors are side-by-side. The third color is your accent color (small furnishings, accessories, drapes, etc).  You may choose a fourth color, but tread lightly.

Having trouble picking a color scheme? Use one of these design tips for inspiration:

  • Area rugs with colorful patterns are used for inspiration by many designers. Whole rooms have been built from the color palette of just one rug.

  • Throw pillows, bedding or curtains are decor items used to gain inspiration and bring a color palette to life.

  • Magazine photographs are a great solution if you just need to copy someone else’s imagination. “Imitation is the best form of flattery. ~Charles Caleb Colton.

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Lesson 2 – Area Rugs

Area rugs are islands for furniture placement. Purchase the largest rug possible if your budget will allow. Place the furniture inside the confinements of that rug. If you must purchase a smaller rug, the rule to remember is –  front legs of sofas and chairs must sit on the rug, the rear legs can sit directly on hardwoods or tile.

Lesson 3 – Big Ticket Furniture

Big ticket items such as the sofa will be used for many years and will be a part of several redecorating projects over that time. Keep these items neutral in tones of beige, taupe, cream, brown or gray. When purchasing wood furniture such as dining tables, armoires and console tables, remember this important rule – no matchy-matchy! If all wood furniture is the same stain color and style, your place will look like a staged model home. Look for pieces of similar stained finishes in light, medium or dark tones, but never the exact same stain for every piece in the room.

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Lesson 4 – Small Ticket Furnishings

Accent tables, chairs and window treatments add your personality to the room. These should be items that speak to you! Bring in your accent color selection with these pieces and fill in the bare areas that remain after placing your large ticket furnishings.

Lesson 5 – Metals

The general consensus is – don’t mix metals. If you are a bit of a rebel and like to break the rules, keep the metals to just two finishes in one room. All of the hardware (curtain rods, door knobs light fixtures and hooks) should be in one metal finish, while accessories and wall art can be in a second metal finish.

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Lesson 6 – Lighting

Lighting may very well be the most important stage of successful interior design. You want light to wash the room from the ceiling to the floor. Use at least 3 forms of lighting: Fill Light, Task Lighting and Ornamental Lights. Fill Light is what lights up the body of the room, usually a ceiling mounted light fixture or recessed can lights. Task Lighting is used for reading next to chairs or placed on a desk in the form of table or floor lamps. Ornamental Lights give the room ambience at night. Ornamental lighting should be used to light the lower levels of the room in the form of up-lights, placed in the corners of the room. Track lights are another form of Ornamental lighting, attached to the ceiling, and used to highlight artwork or tapestries hung on the wall. Mix in one more form of lighting – candles – for a warm inviting glow.

Bulb choice has a huge impact on the feeling of a room. Pure white bulbs (Halogen) are by far the prettiest lighting. These types of bulbs show the true colors of the items they are lighting. Incandescent bulbs, while next to impossible to find these days due to new Federal Regulations, have a soft warm hue that adds a pleasing feel to any room. Incandescents were the staple for lighting beautiful rooms for many years. Eco-friendly bulbs (CFL & LED) have an unpleasant greenish or purple hue and will alter the true colors of your room.

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Lesson 7 – Plants

Large plants such as a ficus, fig or palm tree should be used to fill the vertical space in the corners of the room. Plants set on the floor in large planters offer another location to insert “lighting”, by the use of up-lights set behind the planter.

Lesson 8 – Accessories

Accessories or chotchkies as designer’s affectionately refer to them – are the synonym of jewelry. They serve no real purpose in the function of the room – but no room is complete without them. The use of decorative items such as vases, bowls, candlesticks and sculptures set atop tables, consoles or armoires complete your decorating project. Larger accessories may be set directly on the floor next to other furniture pieces. This is where you will highlight your third (or fourth) color selection from your color scheme.

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That’s it – the basics. Now, students of design, head out into the world and apply your newfound knowledge! It’s as easy as Plan – Purchase – Execute. Good luck to you!

Published by in 2 parts 3/2014 & 4/2014