Zhuzh, cont.: scale, light, texture, color

By Caitlin Kelly

A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.

One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.

The most attractive rooms have one as well.

How?

 

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Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.

 

Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?

Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.

Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.

Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table.  We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.

 

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Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.

 

The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.

Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.

Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.

Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.

Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.

I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.

12 thoughts on “Zhuzh, cont.: scale, light, texture, color

  1. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I will never tire of reading your thoughts and advice – and seeing your photos – on this subject! I particularly love your first photo, of the framed print next to the curtain. Where on earth did you find that picture frame?

    1. Thanks…I certainly have foregone many other uses of $$$ to make it so, but also work at home so I really enjoy the value of that decision every day. Jose has very generously allowed me a free hand as well.

      Studying interior design seriously, especially color! (got an A in my class, huge thrill) really helped me understand design principles more clearly.

  2. Good post, I’m going to recommend it to Cathy. I offer her advice but only after having a look at the whole plan, and never if she’s really committed to it. In return for this consideration I get the biggest room in the house all to myself. It’s 12’X20′ and is equal parts workshop, library and teenager’s bedroom, except with half a century’s worth of my memories all over the walls. You would love it, maybe.

    1. Wow…lucky you!

      Our living room is a lovely 12 by 24 and we use it carefully — dividing it using a low bookcase topped with a pair of matching lamps into 2/3 sofa/seating facing the TV (in an armoire) and two wing chairs facing to the river and the view. Using space well and attractively takes inspiration and practice!

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