Making a pretty home: grace notes

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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— Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

— Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!
$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

— Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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— Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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— Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!
At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

— Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

Making a pretty home: choosing and using colo(u)r

By Caitlin Kelly

This is the first in a series of four posts, each one focused on an aspect of making your home (more) attractive. As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot, and color theory was one of my favorite classes…

All those teeny, tiny paint chips!

Few decisions are as stressful for many people as choosing the colors for their homes: walls, ceiling, baseboards, floor, front door, interior doors, window trim, shutters.

Not to mention all the rugs, pillows, bedding, furniture, lighting.

Your wisest first step?

A few basic questions:

— Where does the majority of the light in each room come from? If north light, which is cooler in temperature (i.e. bluer), factor that in. If the room gets little natural light, will you paint it a rich, deep jewel tone that absorbs even more light?

The view, of a Pennsylvania field, out my friend Scott's window
The view, of a Pennsylvania field, out my friend Scott’s window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— What do your windows look out onto? We live on the top floor of a suburban building, and face trees, hills and a river, i.e. all natural tones. Maybe you live in the middle of a noisy, crowded city, or out in the quiet countryside. Consider your outdoor surroundings as well.

— What mood to do you hope to create? Bright and cheerful? Calm and soothing? Warm and welcoming? Bohemian gypsy? Formal and elegant? Every color, and combination of them, carries a feeling and a mood. Make sure it’s the one you really want!

— What are the most flattering colors in your wardrobe, the ones you wear again and again? Yes, really. Interior designers often take many of their initial cues by carefully observing what colors their clients wear. Makes sense — if you absolutely love black or navy blue or creamy white, (or coral or pale yellow), why wouldn’t you want these in your home as well?

— How adventurous am I willing to be? Unless your landlord forbids adding color to your walls, it’s all up to you to decide what your choices are: a ruby-red dining room, a bright yellow hallway, a charcoal gray bedroom? Simply defaulting to safe/boring white or beige can leave you and your family stuck in neutral (pun intended.) My living room, over 20+ years, has morphed from grey/beige sponge-painted to a rich deep Chinese red to its current pale yellow/green. The hallway has been several shades of yellow, coral and now the same color as the living room. Paint is the least expensive way to change the look and feel of any room.

— How much physical work/time are you willing to put in? Almost every piece of furniture can be painted to a more interesting and beautiful color. Some of my best finds have been objects that I bought in another color and later painted, like the wooden table lamp whose base was a sickly pale green with pink (!) striping, but the shape, size and price were perfect — $55; a $7 can of matte finish cream color spray paint and it looks fantastic. Ditto the enormous baskets I bought at Crate & Barrel but whose unfinished surfaces didn’t match anything. Two coats of pale turquoise paint later, they’re a nice accent atop an 18th century teal-toned armoire of the same color.

— Find inspiring colors and color schemes everywhere — from hotels, restaurants, even the movies! One iteration of our living room was inspired by the film “Gosford Park”, with deep ruby-colored curtains against rich red walls. Gorgeous! I’m still dreaming of the deep, rich turquoise walls in “The Last Station” about Tolstoy’s final days. The kitchen in “It’s Complicated” is often cited as one of the dreamiest ever.

A fact many people easily forget — the floor itself adds a large block of color! 

Before you start piling on even more new colors, look carefully and critically at each room’s floor color to make sure it will work well with everything else in the room. A common error is buying a bold carpet that ends up visually dominating the space when a softer mix of tones gives you inspiration instead.

The loveliest rooms are so harmonious in their mix of colors that nothing stands out on its own but adds to the overall look.

How, then, to choose the colors for a room?

If you’re starting from scratch, the two common and easiest inspirations are curtain/bedding fabric and/or your rug(s), as most will have a mix of several colors and tones to work from.

 

I lovelovelove this duvet cover from Pottery Barn: soft colors, classic pattern, rich but not wearyingly busy
I lovelovelove this duvet cover from Pottery Barn: soft colors, classic pattern, rich but not wearyingly busy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which is why solid-tone curtains are difficult! Do you really want an entire wall of…beige? Dark blue? Cold white? Check out the lovely linens from retailers like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie and Zara Home and see what sorts of color combinations speak to you; once you’ve  chosen a harmonious palette, look for ways to repeat it throughout the room, remembering that every piece of furniture in the room, even just the trim, (if it’s wood, for example), adds yet another color to the mix as well.

Download or buy a color wheel, so you understand color relationships.

Red and green are complementary colors, and we tend to associate bright red and deep green with Christmas…but color comes in every possible tone and shade. Our living room works well visually because its color scheme is, at root, red and green — but a variety of reds, from rich bright red (rug) to Chinese red (a chest of drawers) to a burgundy/rust tone as the sofa’s trim. The greens range from sage (velvet sofa) to olive (cotton, loveseat) to pale yellow-green walls.

We found this small rug in Montreal, the exact colors and tones of the living room
We found this small rug in Montreal, the exact colors and tones of the living room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue and yellow work beautifully together for the same reason. Consider a room in the same tones on the wheel: cool tones like blue, violet, lavender, leavened with cream, silver, white, for example.

I love an English country-house look — a bit weathered, lots of antiques, pattern — and that sharpened my eye when I chose this fabric for our lined bedroom curtains, a metallic-printed linen from Ralph Lauren (yes, he makes fabric, too.) It was surprisingly inexpensive and adds a depth and warmth to the room that thinner, plainer curtains never did.

A soft metallic blue overprinted on pale blue linen; note the large scale as well!
A soft metallic blue overprinted on pale blue linen; note the large scale print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our vertically striped living room curtains, (like the bedroom, custom-made and lined), also offered a very wide palette of possibilities and I’ve used almost every single color in them, whether in pillows, sofa trim, rug, lighting.

Once you’ve chosen a color palette for each room, find ways to link each object in the room to that scheme — I repainted plain white Pottery Barn picture frames a deep turquoise, for example, in the bedroom.

And keep your color scheme coherent! Few things are more visually exhausting and confusing than a rainbow riot of color in every space.

In our one-bedroom apartment, the dining room and bedroom are a pale, soft gray (Sherwin-Williams Modern Gray), the living room and hallways are Gervase Yellow (Farrow & Ball), the kitchen Clunch, a cool cream (also F & B) and the bathroom a rich mustard (F & B again.)

The pale gray in the bedroom is starting to feel tedious, so it’s soon to become a clear, crisp pale apple green.

When in doubt, look to nature…it’s all there!

 

Gorgeous!  A fall sidewalk in Maryland, seen while out antiquing. These are the colors of our bathroom
Gorgeous! A fall sidewalk in Maryland, seen while out antiquing. These are the colors of our bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I can help you — send me your questions and photos! $150/hour.)

 

The kitchen renovation: Done! The Big Reveal

By Caitlin Kelly

After 25 years of ugly, we finally have our brand-new kitchen, which my husband Jose  — (thank you, Jose!) — took out a loan for, and which he allowed me to design.

(All photos here were taken by him as well; he is a professional photographer.)

Our contractor, Bruce, brought his terrific team: Tim, Mike, John, Ray and Kevin, whose patience, good humor, talent, experience, ideas and general fabulousness made this process as much fun as dust, noise and chaos for a month can be. I will miss their company, consultations and the chance to watch such skilled workmen doing amazing things.

If you live anywhere near us — north of New York City — hire them!

From initial demolition to “done!” took four weeks, as promised. That was even with a few delays — wrong tile, wrong door — that had to be dealt with and replaced.

Here are some photos — OK, lots of photos! — to give you an idea of the dozens of decisions we made along the way, and why, and how they all played together in the end.

COMBO 01A

COMBO 02A

Colors, Materials and Finishes

I chose the color scheme after reading dozens of design magazines, some of them French and English, like Country Living. I wanted something neutral, but not boring (not white!), something that would work well with the soft gray walls of the adjoining dining room and the pale-yellow-green of the hallway, visible beyond.

Having studied color at design school, I knew that red and green, (complementary opposites on the color wheel), would work — so I went with a sage green and rusty-red, accented with a rich cream, the color of very good vanilla ice cream.

I chose pale green granite counters, with a honed finish: I don’t like the high gloss of polished stone and this powdery finish is totally different in feeling. It had the artisanal quality I wanted.

I chose tile that is machine-made but appears hand-made, with minor curves, bumps and color variations. The accent tiles differ in size, shape, number and texture, but they contain all the colors in the room.

The new wooden floor is herringbone, a pattern more common in European homes.

RUG DETAIL ON FLOORA

The walls are painted a Farrow & Ball color, Clunch, a cool beige. The cabinets are painted French Gray, another of their colors. I’m a huge fan of this British company and its rich, calm colors.

Appliances

We chose a Bosch dishwasher primarily because they are extremely quiet — I work at home and the sloshing of our old dishwasher drove me nuts. If we ever sell this place, I also wanted to instal high-end appliances for re-sale value.

Our gas stove, four-burner, is 30 inches wide, and counter depth, made by Bertazzoni.

Lighting

I chose three wall sconces from Restoration Hardware, and ordered them on-line. I wanted a rustic, patina-ed finish to complement the hand-made feeling of the tile. Their color echoes the accent tile, copper sink and oiled bronze faucet.

Two high hats (ceiling pots) add more illumination. I didn’t want under-shelf lighting, as it would have been visible. The sconces and high hats are both on separate dimmers.

COMBO 08A

Faucet and Sink

Hammered copper sink, from Lowe’s, ordered on-line.

Oiled bronze faucet, bought off the floor at our local Home Depot; the small spout to the right contains dish soap.

I chose those colors and finishes as all hardware in the apartment, (replaced from ugly, cheap brass originals), is oiled bronze, creating a unified look. I also wanted the deep rich brown of the copper to echo the rusty-red of the sconces, the color in the accent tile and the objects on our open shelves, some of which is brown-and-white Victorian transferware, which I collect.

COMBO 09A

Cabinets

Custom-made, lower ones only. The kitchen is small (eight feet long). I’m short and hate reaching for stuff. All the messy things are now stowed in a cabinet around the corner.

Details

I blew $700 on outlets that are completely flush with the walls. They’re gorgeous.

DOOR DETAILSA

I specified no hardware on the cabinets. Styles date. They also get grubby. They also hurt when you bump into them, which in a small, narrow kitchen, you always do.

We chose to have cabinets custom-made. It was a no-brainer. I wanted what I wanted — no compromises. Yes, they were more costly than Ikea.

My reasoning? It’s an hour’s drive to Ikea; I didn’t want to waste even more time fussing with fitting the stuff into a room whose walls (it turned out) were in appalling condition. Time is money. I’m fine with this choice.

For those of you trying to decide which route to take, here’s a recent post from Apartment Therapy on the pro’s and con’s of Ikea kitchens; and 124 comments from another AT post on the same topic.

The wooden box with French writing was all of $12; I found it at a local garden nursery and, lined with plastic, it keeps salt, pepper, oils, sugar, peanut butter and honey (the bare essentials), nearby but hidden.

The cotton throw rug, $20 from Pier One, is washable and, we hope, will keep our floors looking lovely.

The shelves, and brackets, also from Restoration Hardware, were stupidly expensive, but I didn’t have time or inclination to shop around endlessly for something less, and possibly less well-made. They turned out to have a subtle pale green finish, which was perfect; had my color scheme been different — not so much!

FRENCH BOXA

I’m short, and so always need a step-ladder to reach upper shelves. Here’s the pull-out drawer I also specified that keeps the step-ladder handy, but hidden.

LADDER DRAWERA

We also re-made an adjacent closet into a stone-topped breakfast bar (that holds toaster, coffeemaker and juicer, with a built-in outlet in one wall.) The three drawers below it hold all work-related papers and documents.

PANTRYA

We are loving it — everything glides smoothly and quietly. It’s both efficient and sensual.

Now I’m looking for clients, locally and by email/photo/Skype consultation. Happy to help you choose colors, furniture, lighting, fabrics, even just one room. 

You’ll find me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com or 914-332-6065.

The value of re-making your home

By Caitlin Kelly

Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design
Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone passionate about interior design, and who has studied it seriously at the New York School of Interior Design, I enjoy this blog, the public face of an American design firm, McAlpine Tankersley.

I liked this recent post about why it’s worth re-making your home:

Change is always necessary to promote growth and without varying from the comfortable and the everyday, lessons are seldom learned. Faced with potential, however, fear kicks in and says, “let’s just keep things the way they are”; even if a situation is stagnant, it’s my stagnant situation and I’ll sit in it. But how can change have value? An example I can show (because you do tend to come here for visuals to accompany my soapbox) was evident in Bobby’s personal Montgomery home.

In the ten years he lived in this English cottage, the interior underwent three major transformations. As designers, we always use our personal homes as living, active laboratories. We try things out on our tireless, often unsuspecting, families before we suggest them to our clients. Experimentation and change in our environs are personal tools of lesson and discovery.

This is so true!

I’ve lived for 25 (!) years in the same top-floor, 1,000 square foot one bedroom apartment. I doubt I’ll live anywhere else, which is a little depressing, (it’s small and New York is brutally expensive for most larger spaces in neighborhoods we like), but also focuses us intently on making our home the prettiest, most efficient and most comfortable and welcoming we can make it.

It’s absolutely been my design lab.

When I moved in, it was all a bland, boring beige, with cat-pee-stained/stinky oatmeal-colored wall-to-wall-carpet. Gross!

I’ve changed the wall colors here many times, currently a deep mustard in the bathroom, a cool beige in the kitchen, a soft gray in the bedroom and dining room, and a soft yellow-green in the living room and hallway; since there are few doors, the sight-lines make a major difference if the colors and tones relate poorly.

I’d also rather invest in fewer, better items, (like many Europeans do, living in small spaces) than face the expense of designing, furnishing, cleaning and maintaining a large(r) house. Not to mention the cost of new roof/boiler/furnace and all the attendant work of cleaning and maintaining any outdoor property.

If you’re wealthy, great!

But if you’re not, re-using your home-space to its best advantage is often more about being creative and open-minded: re-purposing, re-covering, repainting, moving things around, editing heavily, building your own items and scoring great finds at flea markets, tag sales and auctions.

I read every shelter magazine out there, every month, so I see the blinged-out mega-mansions some people live in.

But I also read blogs like Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy, which feature regular folk with smaller budgets or less opulent taste.

As we finish up our kitchen renovation — one for which I waited 25 years — I already see the enormous difference it makes, emotionally and practically, in our lives. We didn’t pour $50,000 or $100,000, (yes, people do) into our small galley kitchen.

But we did splurge on some items: honed granite counters, high-end appliances (a Bertazzoni gas range and Bosch dishwasher), and spend-y Farrow & Ball paint for custom-made cabinets and walls.

I love the little surprises that (happily) occurred — the shelves we bought have a subtle green-ish gray stain that perfectly matches the cabinets. The narrow grooves in our drawers and cabinets (in lieu of external hardware) create runnels of sunlight reflected from the windows. The new cream tile, with its glossy surface, bounces much more light, both artificial and natural.

At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze ...
At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze style interior. Definitely more formal than our place! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an amazing experience, and the second reno we’ve done; we re-did our one, tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom four years ago.

I gained a lot of confidence from the results, and now hope to find some part-time work as a designer using these as my portfolio.

The next major step?

Refinishing and darkening our hardwood floors.

Have you re-made your home?

Changed its colors or designs?

If you ever need a cab in the rain, I’m your girl

color wheel
Image by unleashingmephotography via Flickr

It takes some serious cojones to nab a cab in Manhattan.

First, you have to know which cabs are actually willing to pick up a passenger — forget anywhere near 4:30 — you, know when people actually need a cab — because as locals know, that’s when they all change shifts and you, ‘o hapless tourist laden with shopping bags, are SOL.

But how do you attract their attention in the first place?

Using one of my three hidden talents, the ability to whistle really loudly using two fingers and a curled tongue. While amateurs waggle their fingers hopefully, and the rest fling out their elbows and sprint, I can stop a cab half a block away, in the rain. I rock!

My other hidden talents?

At any time of day or night I can tell you what time it is, within 20 minutes. It doesn’t always work, but it’s reliable enough.

I can remember a color exactly enough to feel completely confident buying clothes, accessories, paint and decor and knowing they’ll match what I already own. In Thailand, I happily bought ten yards of raw silk (for a staggering $10/yard) the color of a glacial lake, and it worked nicely at home in my New York apartment.

In the 1990s, planning to become an interior designer and leave journalism, I studied at the New York School of Interior Design. I loved my classes, (except for drafting), and one of my greatest accomplishments was getting an A in my color class. It was taught by a ferocious Swiss woman, whose high standards terrified even the wealthiest Connecticut housewives in our class. We learned to mix color from the ground up, painting tiny box after tiny box until we began to memorize the subtleties involved.

What are your hidden talents?

Sprucing Up Your Castle — On The Cheap

Almost a Castle
Time to spruce up the castle...Image by liber via Flickr

As we head into winter, hunkering down into long, dark, cold evenings, now’s a good time  — before the costs and frenzy of the holidays — to consider sprucing up your home, even if you can’t spend much. I once planned to leave journalism and studied full-time at the New York School of Interior Design, some of the most challenging and happiest days of my life. I’m still here, but my passion for design and making my home clean, calm and lovely remains as strong as ever.

Some ideas:

1. Flowers, greenery or a plant add color, texture and life. A bunch of supermarket tulips can cost as little as $8; if you can splurge on several, arrange them in an unusual container — a teapot or low bowl or basket. Florists will sell you a block of Oasis, that green spongy stuff they use in arrangements, and cutting it into the shape and size you need gives you plenty of options.

2. Lighting is the jewelry of a room. How’s yours? If all your lighting is from overhead sources, put as many of them on dimmers as possible. Offbeat, unusual table lamps can be found cheaply in thrift shops, flea markets, consignment shops, yard sales and estate sales. A new, fresh, pretty lampshade can make the difference between chic and shocking; try Pottery Barn or Bed, Bath & Beyond, even Target or KMart for simple choices. Dust all lampshades and bulbs. Over-lit is as depressing as dim.

3. A pair of new, fresh hand towels — $20 to $30 for two — freshens up any bathroom. Thick, plush cotton feels luxurious every time you touch it.

4. How about your bath soap? Quality soap, even at $8 a bar, will last a month and scent the room. Try Roger & Gallet’s scents (the carnation is exquisite) or Maja, an old-school Spanish brand whose olive green bars come wrapped in crisp black tissue paper.

5. A new wooden spoon or sharp kitchen knife can inspire a weary cook, while a few fresh dishtowels can add color and life.

6. Clean! While housework is a miserable chore for some people, a sparkling, fresh-smelling home shouts “Welcome!” A bottle of lavender water, about $12, spritzed onto your pillowcases as you (yes) iron them offers a gentle way to drift off to sleep.

7. A throw rug adds softness, texture, color and pattern. Consider a cozy sheepskin, sisal, a dhurrie or a rag rug. If you live anywhere near a decent regional auction house, check out their offerings in person; the Senneh kilim — an antique flatweave with intricate designs — in our hallway was $50 at one of my favorite spots, William Smith’s in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Most auction houses list their items on-line and you can always call and ask for more details about size or condition.

8. A can of great paint, some rollers and a few hours of your time can totally change a room. Farrow & Ball, a British company whose products are sold internationally offer terrific, interesting colors; Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams also have lovely choices. Check out SW’s Modern Gray, a pale, gentle shade the color of cigarette ash and F & B’s Blazer, a soft red, Gervase Yellow, a pale yellow-green and Babouche, a brilliant, rich, egg-yolk yellow. Put ’em together with a crisp white — gray and yellow make a gorgeous combination.

9. Make a folding screen. Wood, hinges, glue and a few yards of fabric can be sourced for about $100. I made ours from cream-colored barkcloth and silk obis I found at a vintage textiles fair — it hides our clunky, old, black TV in the corner. This weekend I’m revamping it with striped faux-silk for a new look.

10. Visit a few fab websites, like apartmenttherapy.com for inspiration. Borrow some gorgeous coffee-table design books from your local library, read them slowly and make notes of whatever inspires you most. Start a design file of colors, textures, materials and periods you love, whether mid-century Noguchi, Art Deco, 18th.-century mirrors — or the newly classic Ghost chair, made of clear plastic.

11. New knobs and/or a fresh coat of paint on kitchen or bathroom cabinets can instantly and stylishly change the feel of a room.

12. New cushions, or cushion covers, can add a spot of style to your sofa or loveseat. Here’s a fun sunflower cushion, $35 — a pair would be great. Symmetry and repetition adds punch.

A few favorite sources:

Rugs: Dash & Albert (small, cotton rugs in plaids, stripes and solids); Ballard Designs

Decorative Accessories, like mirrors, small frames, vases, and lighting: Wisteria, Anthropologie, Gumps, Sundance

What Color Is Your Paradigm?

COLOURS OF MY LIFE
Image by FUNKYAH via Flickr

In this lousy economy, it’s a safe bet that the classic job-hunter’s guide “What Color is My Parachute?” is selling even more than usual. I’m crazy about color, and in awe of its complexity.

In July’s British Vogue, a writer whose name combines a fruit and a color, Plum Sykes, wrote about her love of a soft pink especially flattering to her pale English complexion. August’s issue of House Beautiful is devoted to color and reveals how some interior designers figure out what to suggest to their clients — a standard trick is observing what clothes they choose and what flatters them.

Planning to leave journalism and become an interior designer, I studied at The New York School of Interior Design, where I learned firsthand, by mixing it from scratch, how incredibly challenging it can be to mix every permutation of a color. (Earning that A- was a triumph.) Creating the color of putty doesn’t sound difficult, but it is. Yellow is everything from daffodil to butter to turmeric. I learned what chromatic means and when a color is just too loud, how to mute it (not by adding white, but its opposite on the color wheel.) Some of the most beautiful combinations, not coincidentally, are color wheel opposites — for example, the classic combination of a pale pink and wine bottle green, variants of red and green. When two colors work in harmony, this is often why. Look at a sunset — all purples and yellows — and look at the color wheel. Nature gets it right. Continue reading “What Color Is Your Paradigm?”