Making a lovely home: what to buy and where to put it

English: A tape measure. Deutsch: Massband
English: A tape measure. Deutsch: Massband (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This comment on my last post has made me wonder how to be more helpful:

“The best way to have an attractive home is to have a design sense. It is not about how much it costs or where you buy it, but about what you buy and where you put it.”

Buying and placing furniture and objects feels intimidating and overwhelming and confusing to many people.

There are so many choices — and money is never endless — so what is the right thing to buy?

Think of your home as you do your wardrobe, something you build over time, adding better quality when possible.

Whatever your gender, you always need basics: a dress or suit (something elegant); some casual trousers (khakis, jeans, leggings, whatever), and so on. We tend to buy clothes without a ton of hand-wringing, and know that our tastes are bound to change over 5 or 10 or 15 years — or maybe months!

We also know, intuitively, that buying better quality means enjoying your things longer.

Then we add fun, color and personality with ties, scarves, socks, jewelry, stockings, pocket handkerchiefs. Your home needs some of that as well, not just the basics.

What to buy:

A sofa or loveseat

I’d vote for a loveseat: cheaper, more versatile, easier to move (physically) and less expensive to re-upholster or slip-cover. Much as it seems like a fab choice, I’d skip brown or black leather. What people forget is that every single thing in your space, (including the color of your floors), adds a color to the overall mix. Do you really want a huge hunk of something shiny and black or brown in the middle of your living room?

New Orleans This is the living room finished. ...
This room has  a nice mix of colors and shapes (note the three circles). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An attractive and sturdy bookcase

You can make one from plywood and paint or sand it any color your like, not just white, black or brown, the normal colors you’ll find at Ikea, for example. Don’t assume you have to buy stuff from a store. You can design one and even have a carpenter make it for you for the same price. Our living room bookcases, low enough to double as end tables, are painted a deep olive green.

A table large enough to seat four to six people

Round, oval, square or rectangular. Glass? Marble? Wood? Antique or reproduction? Some tables come with leaves so you can easily expand them. The best tables are adaptable for use as a desk or dining area. In a small space, a glass table takes up much less visual room than a chunk of dark brown wood.

Table lamps

No overhead lighting! (If you must, on a dimmer, always.) Very few sources of overhead lighting — certainly ceiling lights — shed sufficient light to read, cook, work or relax, or offer a flattering light. Table lamps, with customized shades in fabric or cardboard, can add color, interest and style to any interior.

Rug (Photo credit: Irish Typepad)

Throw rugs

Rugs do not have to be dark or wool or huge. Nor should they add eye-blasting hits of color or pattern. Exhausting! So much of what’s on offer is really ugly. Flat weave rugs — like kilims and dhurries — are easy to move from room to room, easy to wash, (I clean mine in the bathtub with Woolite) and add lovely color and pattern. Sisal with a colored border is crisp, clean and adds texture. Wall-to-wall can look granny-ish and get really dirty and smelly if you have kids and pets.

A mix of shapes

This is easy to overlook. So many pieces are rectangles, (sofa, tables, bookcases, rugs), or squares. It gets really monotonous. Look at every item you own, or are thinking of adding — can you soften the room by adding in something that’s a circle, half-circle or oval? That might be a mirror, a demi-lune table, a side table or a pair of stools.

Something old, weathered and interesting to look at

It might be an old store sign or a tin toy from the 20s or a mixing bowl from the 1940s. Unless your taste is 100 percent contemporary, you’ll want a mix of old and new to add character.

Decorative mirrors and frames

We have two in our living room and one (so far) on the bedroom wall. They add light, depth and fill up the space nicely without adding a lot of additional color. Frames in silver, gold or cream are easier on the eye and more versatile than (yes, she repeats) black or brown. I buy cream-colored frames from Pottery Barn and paint them whatever color suits me.

Throw pillows

Even the most boring, basic sofa can perk right up with some terrific throw pillows. Same for your bed.

Where to put it:

That’s where your eye — and your family’s needs — come in.

In general, you need 24 inches between every item; i.e. sofa and bookcase.

Buy and use a tape measure to educate your eye about scale and proportion. Look at your rooms the way a stranger might — a realtor or buyer — and see what seems to work and what doesn’t.

Move stuff around! I’ve lived in my one bedroom apartment since 1989 and have changed my living room arrangement a few times over the years as I get bored or acquire new items. I bought two round metal side tables for bedside use — one now sits in the living room and another in a corner. A chest of drawers might work better in a hallway or dining room. Don’t be too literal about where things “should” go. Our bed sits in the middle of the room so we wake up every morning facing north up the river.

Every room needs a mixture of textures, colors, sizes, shapes and heights. If everything in the room is tiny, find something large to mix things up — a huge poster, a rug, a cabinet. If everything is enormous, a collection of small drawings or photos on one wall gives the eye a break.

Look for, and create, relationships between things — our dining room is pale gray and almost everything, (photos, engravings, fabric and drawings), is an image of Paris, my favorite city. The color scheme is neutrals, including the artwork: gray, cream, brown and black, (the picture frames are mostly dark wood, for example.)

How much light does each room get? Designers have very mixed views on this. Some say keep a dark room pale and add lots of light and mirror while others say make it cozy with deep rich tones.

8 thoughts on “Making a lovely home: what to buy and where to put it

  1. It’s so nice to have a comment of mine serve as a springboard for a post. I have this pleasant useful feeling. (That is not said tongue-in-cheek although I think it might sound like it).

    I have an art background and spent years looking at architectural and design publications as an architecture librarian, but the objects in my place are there only because I like them–and as the years go on, there are fewer and fewer of those. I’ve been told my home has a stark charm, but I imagine the simplicity (and the occasional weirdness–like the fish skull I’m particularly fond of) just suits me.

  2. What a REFRESHING post with Spring coming in this cold little town of New Brunswick Canada where I live! You have put “it” all in there. Yet, it’s simple and “stimulating”; now I want to move things around without having to look at a magazine. Thank you so much!!!

    1. Yay! I find making even a few small changes can be helpful. It’s nice to see your home with a fresh eye; I almost always make a fairly major change after being away for a week or more, as I can see it all anew.

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