Decorator, know thyself
Posted by Denise Ellsworth Saturday, 19 March 2011 08:41
By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal staff writer
When it comes to decorating, six little words often stand between dreams and reality:
”I don’t know where to start.”
It’s inertia rooted in fear — fear of making mistakes, fear of wasting money, fear of being judged unfavorably, interior designer Lauri Ward said.
”People are terrified of decorating,” said Ward, who pioneered the concept of interior redesign, or decorating by rearranging the furniture and other items people already own.
She thinks the fear is especially acute among women, who often believe decorating ability should be inherent. ”Just because you have two X chromosomes doesn’t mean you’re going to know how to decorate,” she said.
So how do you get past that fear? Knowledge, Ward and other decorators say — but surprisingly, not so much knowledge about decorating. It’s more about knowing yourself, they said.
Here are some suggestions to help you take those first steps.
Evaluate what you like
Noted interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge believes one of the things that scares people into decorating paralysis is not knowing what their style is. But style doesn’t have to have a label, he said. Rather, style is just what appeals to you, what causes you to respond.
That’s a central message of his new book, No Place Like Home, which is intended to help average folks find design inspiration and use that to improve their surroundings. He’s made a career of helping people fulfill their decorating aspirations through his television appearances and his House Calls column in Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
Saint-Onge suggests homing in on your style by gathering a bunch of magazines and catalogs and then spending 20 minutes tearing out photos you like. Don’t spend too much time analyzing your choices; just pick the photos you respond to.
Later, you can spend more time studying the pictures you chose. Think about what you liked in each image, what feeling it gave you, what you noticed first, Saint-Onge said. Mark up the images or write notes on them to remind yourself about what works for you.
You’ll probably start to see patterns — maybe furniture styles you’re drawn to, colors you like or room layouts you find appealing. ”You start to learn to see things and see potential in your own space,” he said.
Saint-Onge suggests pasting those photos into an artist’s sketchbook or large scrapbook to create a look book, which you can refer to as you start to make decorating choices. Add to it as you see pictures, paint chips or other things you like.
Take a look around
The things you own can also give you a clue to your decorating preferences, said Gary Babcock, creative director for Arhaus Furniture, a retail chain based in the Cleveland suburb of Walton Hills.
Start with something you love, Babcock recommended — perhaps a garment, a rug, a dish or a piece of art. Then think about what it is you love about it, and use that as the starting point.
Maybe you respond to the colors, which can give you a palette for your room. Maybe you like the shape and the amount of detail, which might tell you whether you like a clean-lined, tailored look or a little more fuss. Maybe it’s the style or feel of the piece —for example, contemporary, romantic, classical or whimsical.
The same can work with your wardrobe, Babcock said. Go through your closet and study the things you like to wear. Maybe even try them on and take pictures. Your clothing will give you a sense of your style and color sense — whether you’re trendy or conservative, whether you’re colorful or more restrained, whether you like lots of accessories or just a few carefully chosen pieces.
Furniture stores are another great resource, Babcock said. Most are set up in room vignettes designed to give people ideas on how they might decorate their own homes, so go ahead and mimic them.
Wander around a few stores and notice the vignettes you like. Study what it is you respond to — the arrangement of the furniture, the mix of fabrics, the placement of accessories. You might even ask a salesperson whether you can take pictures for reference, he said.
You can also bring in pictures of your own room and ask for recommendations from a salesperson or staff decorator, Babcock said. The more information you bring, the better, he said — paint chips, fabric or carpet swatches, anything that shows what you’re working with.
At home in Hollywood
Saint-Onge also finds inspirations in films — perhaps not surprisingly, since movie sets are carefully designed to evoke certain feelings. Like perusing photos, studying the houses in films can help you recognize your preferences, he said.
Take the beach house in the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton movie Something’s Gotta Give, for example. Its open layout and casual, classic look struck a chord with many viewers. They remember it, Saint-Onge said, because it reflects a way they’d like to live.
He suggested spending some time watching DVDs of movies with homes you found memorable. (The accompanying list of Saint-Onge’s favorites will get you started.) Pause the scenes with sets you like, and take notes about what you’re responding to.
No time to watch? Try a Google search for images from movies that feature homes you like. It may turn up some pictures you can use.
Ward, who runs Use What You Have Interiors in New York and Florida (http://www.redecorate.com) and wrote Use What You Have Decorating to teach her methods, believes that what overwhelms people about decorating is the sheer space involved. They’re fine at choosing individual items, but they find it daunting to combine those things and put them into a space.
That’s why she advocates breaking down the process. Start with the shell, she suggested — the walls, windows, floors and lighting. Address those first, so you’ll have a backdrop for adding furniture and accessories later.
Work high to low, too, she said. That’s a matter of practicality, since things fall down. You want to add recessed lights in the ceiling before you paint so you won’t get dust all over your fresh walls, for example, and you want to paint before you put down flooring so you don’t drip on the new carpet.
Listen to friends
A little reassurance also helps, which is why Saint-Onge likes the idea of forming a decorating club.
Maybe get a group of friends together once a month to work together on decorating projects. One person could benefit one month, another person the next. It’s a good way to get things done while spending time with people you like, he said.
Saint-Onge cautioned, however, that you should choose the club members carefully. Particularly if you’re uncertain, you want to work with friends who will help you identify and express your own decorating style, not force their preferences on you. ”It’s . . . a matter of surrounding yourself with people you trust to ‘get’ you,” he said.
OK, maybe you still need some professional help. That doesn’t necessarily mean hiring an interior designer, however. Help is available on a more limited scale.
One alternative is hiring an interior redesigner, someone like Ward who can spend a few hours rearranging your furniture and accessories and helping you see a room from a fresh perspective. Just seeing new possibilities can motivate you to take the next step, she said.
Ward said her company also creates a design plan for each of its clients, with suggestions for projects that can be done immediately and those that can be tackled as time and money allow.
Prices vary by the region, by decorator and by the extent of the job, but you can expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $200 to $400 for a few hours’ work.
If you’re planning a furniture purchase, check out stores that offer free decorating help. Particularly for larger projects, some stores will even send someone out to your house to help you blend the new pieces with your existing things and choose things like colors and accessories, Babcock said.
Another little-known option is the free decorating consultation that Sherwin-Williams offers with the purchase of a $75 gift card — a particularly useful service if your hangup is choosing colors. Your local store will send its decorator to your home to help you develop a color palette for your rooms and possibly make other decorating suggestions. You can then use the card to buy paint or other supplies for your project.
What’s important, Saint-Onge said, is that you figure out what you like and then follow your instincts.
”There are some people who feel like they have to keep up with the Joneses,” he said. ”But the Joneses don’t live in your house. You do.” And what you like is all that matters.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook.Comments are closed.