We’ve all been there: You want to revamp at least one room in your home — or maybe every last one of them, but you’re stumped on where to start. You might have a definite style in mind, or you fear you might lose your mind trying to select one. That’s where our panel of professional designers comes in.
Our experts offer top tips, techniques and styling advice that will get you dreaming yet keep you grounded. Whether you’re starting with a blank canvas or just an empty nest, their best ideas for redecorating each distinct space include where to start and what to consider along the way.
Grab your imagination and open your mind. Here’s your room-by-room guide:
‘Livable, lovable living rooms’
Living rooms are attractive, hardworking chameleons, serving as both public and private spaces. Their design challenge lies in achieving a flexibility that lets them be used daily in a meaningful way, then turned around for hosting guests in elegant surroundings at a moment’s notice.
“Creating that alchemy where the energy of a person or family extends its welcome is part of the fun,” says Lisa Kahn of Lisa Kahn Designs, based in Naples, Fla.
Vision without limitation
Decorating begins by envisioning the ultimate “after” picture, Kahn attests. Don’t let your budget deflate your dreams. “Even if you can’t afford to implement all changes at once, take it in phases so everything meets that end goal,” she says. “I find the piecemeal approach of adding a piece here and a piece there with no thought to the overall plan usually results in frustration, lost time and wasted money.”
Every room has a few stars that need supporting actors, Kahn says. In a living room, she finds worthy splurges in a knockout piece of artwork, an exquisite light fixture or gorgeous drapery panels. A custom rug or handmade table also has star potential.
“There is a movement toward seeing our spaces as sanctuaries — spaces that speak to the comfort of the body, the curiosity of the mind and the nurturing of the spirit,” Kahn says. Touch on all three for a winning design.
“I think we want more than just beautiful backdrops. We are looking for deeply restorative spaces that facilitate living more joyful lives.”
She has personalized living rooms to foster hobbies such as reading, a cherished activity like sharing a bottle of wine among loved ones and to feature a collection of books or objet d’art.
Welcome them home
As for spatial arrangement, balance and symmetry put everyone at ease. To provide a sense of graciousness and authenticity, bring the outdoors in. Referencing nature in a subtle way, such as shells or birds, soothes your guests. Use a light but thoughtful hand. Excessive assorted collectibles or furnishings can crowd a living space, which needs room to breathe. Yet a room too sparse or styled can seem cold or contrived.
Kahn’s trick to accessorizing this dual-functioning space? “Simplicity is best. A fresh orchid plant in a crisp blue and white porcelain pot or a pile of beautiful books with an object on top are two of my favorites,” she says. “I also love a specimen of rock crystal on a stand. The energy crystals bring to a space can be almost incandescent.”
‘An eat-your-heart-out kitchen’
Does your dated kitchen have you feeling like a dropped egg? Designer Elizabeth Cross-Beard of Jenkins Baer Associates in Baltimore, assures home chefs that plenty of transformative changes can be done in a week or less.
Whether you’re redecorating instead of remodeling or you’re refreshing until you can renovate, you want the closest to a dream kitchen you can afford. “A face-lift can keep you happy,” she says, — and take your scrambled mess to perfectly baked in short order.
From a technical perspective, kitchens are a mix of two planes: flat surfaces like countertops and an island on the horizontal, set against walls and cupboards on the vertical. A change on one or both planes might be a big-ticket item, but your end result will certainly be dramatic.
Contemporary kitchens lean light, bright and white or an edgy contrast of black and white. Peruse an endless menu of images online, in magazines or elsewhere until you find a style that matches yours.
Short of changing out cabinet door and drawer faces — usually a complicated and costly endeavor — repainting them and updating the hardware will shed years from your kitchen’s tired persona, says Cross-Beard.
Season to taste
Installing new decorative lighting or a new backsplash adds sizzle without evolving into a full remodel, she says. To season the overall design, she is partial to unique counter stools or a vintage-style runner rug that functions as artwork underfoot. A gleaming new sink and pull-down faucet will improve prep, cleanup and your mood.
“My own splurge was a Le Creuset tea kettle,” Cross-Beard shares. “It sits in the middle of the range top, is a beautiful ivory color, and I use it daily, so it’s both functional and decorative.” Reflect your priorities in the few quality items you leave out on the countertop. A spectacular knife block, a pair of live-edge wood serving boards or a set of flavor-infused oils hints at your kitchen proclivities.
The appliance factor
Unless your fridge, dishwasher and stove are on the fritz, you may not want to replace them. “Appliances can be expensive, so think long term,” says Cross-Beard. “If you plan on remodeling within the next few years, hold off.”
A remodel often involves revamping your kitchen layout to accommodate your wish list, which in turn can affect the size of appliances you’ll need. What looks like a fabulous range today could actually restrict future possibilities for one that’s bigger and better.
No remodel on the horizon? A quick kitchen turnaround might come down to paint, hardware, lighting and accessories — a modern recipe for the heart of any home.
When decorating a bath space, limitations can lead to striking transformation. “As a small room comprised mostly of cabinetry and hard surfaces, there can be minimal decorative ways to create a large impact,” acknowledges Cross-Beard.
The upside is that every change counts. A few savvy updates, even on a modest budget, can create the jewel-box effect that attracts all those “likes” on social media — and in your home.
In the scheme
She says the first step comes in question form: Is there a decorative element you could add that would also enhance the functionality of your bathroom? Perhaps baskets or shelves? “If you find a gorgeous Moroccan basket that works perfectly as a laundry hamper, pick a fresh paint color and hand towels based on the colors in that basket. The item you love becomes your inspiration.”
While storage or laundry baskets in particular can be functional sculpture that add color and pattern, you could pluck your design cue from a romantic floral shower curtain, a striped Turkish bath towel or a hand-painted vase.
Swap it out
Modifications to a bathroom often straddle the line between redecorating and remodeling, notes Cross-Beard.
The bigger the refresh, the more refreshing your space. At the very least, you can swap out the mirror, faucet and cabinet hardware. In some cases, you can paint the existing vanity. If you want to dip your toe in the renovation waters, a professional can replace your old vanity with a new one — sink, countertop, tile backsplash and all.
“If you plan to fully remodel within the next few years, decorate with smaller items that can translate into the new space or aren’t a big investment in the interim,” Cross-Beard advises. Adhesive panels that mimic tile might satisfy your yen for a quick fix.
New lighting fixtures, such as a set of sconces or a chandelier, illuminate your upgrades. Choose wisely for their looks and brightness. “A trendy light fixture that only allows for one bulb and low wattage creates a cavernous space,” cautions Cross-Beard.
The pretty details
With space at a premium, stick to one style, be it farmhouse, boho, beachy, modern or spa-inspired. Layer in choice accessories such as a wastebasket, towel ring and toilet paper holder. “Quality bath towels withstand the test of time and look beautiful when hung,” says Cross-Beard of a favorite indulgence. A set of vanity accessories (soap dish, toothbrush holder, lotion pump and tray) offers instant oomph.
“Take full advantage of whatever storage you have to declutter surfaces. Then create opportunities for pretty storage wherever you need it,” says Cross-Beard. “Fill wicker baskets with extra toilet paper rolls. Install floating shelves and add apothecary jars with mini shampoo, conditioner, lotions, etc. for guests.”
‘Dining rooms made for gathering’
The dining room is a place for making memories,” says Marcelle Guilbeau of Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design in Nashville, Tenn.
Whether you need a formal setting for entertaining or a family-friendly enclave that’s casual enough for every day, “understanding your aesthetic and lifestyle creates a space that makes you feel alive.”
Will it stay or go?
First, let’s be honest: What do you love and what do you dislike about your current dining setup? The more you can keep and work with, the more you can budget for additional pieces. “If your furniture is tired, but good quality, it is amazing what you can do with just recovering or refinishing it,” Guilbeau notes.
Defining your dining space
Feast on images in design magazines and on Pinterest. Your preferences will reveal your color palette, furniture style and how dressy or casual you want to go. Once you notice your dining flavor emerging, take a leap of faith. “A fresh coat of paint is instantly gratifying and an easy, cost-effective way to experiment,” Guilbeau says.
If the table gets lost in an open-room plan, she suggests anchoring your furniture under an oversize chandelier. Create an accent wall with paint, wallpaper or stained wood paneling to distinguish the space.
Seating makes the setting
The table is the main course, the focal point of your space. Secondarily, if you have one, is the buffet (enhanced with a large mirror above, flanked by large pillar candles or lamps). Guilbeau says her traditionalist clients favor a farm table paired with cream linen-covered chairs.
“Alternatively, I’m loving the trendy reuse of high-quality vintage and antique furniture,” she says. “Often you can find something gently used for a fraction of the cost. With a coat of paint, a little retouching or a reupholstery, they’re as good as new and infinitely unique.”
The built-in banquette has become extremely fashionable, she adds, and not just for space constraints. Built-in seating creates warmth and comfort, making a cozy nook out of your dining space.
Focus on finishing touches
Wainscots, wallpaper and ceiling treatments, such as wood beams or moulding, add depth and dimension to a dining room.
Over time, add layers to your design using wallpaper, a painting technique like a faux finish, a beautiful rug and drapery.
The biggest misstep is feeling like you have to tackle the whole room at once, says Guilbeau. “You really need to plan or place all of the furniture before locating a chandelier,” she says. “People often forget the buffet will nudge the table off-center.”
At the end of the day, literally and figuratively, a bedroom should beckon like a hug. At its best, it’s a serene place for respite and refreshment where you feel free to be yourself.
Keira St. Claire-Bowery of Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md., believes calming colors, coupled with natural materials, are the first step to creating just such a place. Get set to unwind and leave the demands of the day at the door.
Sweet dreams of soft colors
“You want everything in your bedroom to exude comfort,” says St. Claire-Bowery. Hues can express your personality, but keep them soft and toned down. “Whether you are attracted to warm or cool shades, select colors you naturally gravitate toward, but steer clear of energetic colors like reds and oranges.” A hushed palette needn’t be boring.
Natural materials impart a sense of peace and oneness to your spirit. Cotton, linen, cork, wood or bamboo accent this safe haven.
“Flower arrangements are a lovely thing to wake up to in the morning,” St. Claire-Bowery adds. “They don’t have to be anything extravagant, and you can place them anywhere: nightstands, dresser or vanity.”
Add texture, shape & shine
Layering textures is St. Claire-Bowery’s secret key to bedroom bliss. Needless to say, piles of work-related items and general clutter don’t count. “Keep clutter out of the bedroom,” she urges. In addition to being hard on the eyes, visual disorder may prevent a good night’s sleep as much as a terrible mattress.
Once clean and clear, add texture for dimension and character without overdecorating.
You can incorporate velvets, faux fur, suede and a textured wallpaper. An area rug atop a sisal rug can help frame the bed. Geometric shapes can give a trendy balance to a classic wall mirror. “Mirrors make magic happen,” St. Claire-Bowery notes.
“They make any space feel larger, brighter and more unique. Hang one up or prop it against the wall. If not for putting your outfit together, get one just for the high shine and design factor.”
Lighting is key
Create multiple lighting options to match your moods and the way you plan to use the space. Place lights at different heights, add dimmers, table lamps and play with different types of bulbs to get the desired effect.
And don’t forget natural light. St. Claire-Bowery created a treehouse feel in one bedroom with vaulted ceiling and dormers, adding mirrors to reflect the views, and plenty of windows provide a framed picture of the treetops.
Buy one special piece
“Splurge on one element that catches your eye, helps tell your story and makes you happy every time you see it,” says St. Claire-Bowery. That item could be the bed-of-a-lifetime or a piece of sentimental artwork.
When selecting art, don’t overthink it, she says. “Go with a statement piece that speaks to you or inspires, whether it’s a photograph, a flea market find or a child’s drawing.”
‘A better, brighter basement’
Basements can be cold, dark and unwelcoming. It’s not their fault.
These subterranean retreats often get a pittance of our decorating attention and resources. There’s no reason all that square footage (and potential!) should go to waste. If you take some simple steps toward an upgrade, an abundance of useful space for relaxing, working or creating can be yours.
Before you begin plotting, address any risk of flooding or water leakage. Bring in a professional to assess and recommend safety measures. Use a dehumidifier to dry out any damp spaces. As basements tend to be storage catch-alls, decluttering is next.Spend a ruthless weekend throwing out, donating or selling what isn’t critical. Then dedicate a proportional area for legitimate storage needs.
Pick your purpose
Choose a specific mission for your newfound square footage, or two if the space will accommodate it. Be realistic about your intentions, says Sayre Ziskin of SVZ Interior Design in Los Angeles. “If you make it into a game room, how likely are you to go down there and use it?”
Some envision a creative space to sew or scrapbook; others see a home office or meditation zone, free of distractions and foot traffic. Basements make an easy media room, too, due to the typical lack of natural light.
Warm it up
Many homeowners avoid their basement because it’s cold, Ziskin says. Maintaining a reasonable temperature is key. For comfort, low-pile carpeting is warmer than concrete and is basement-friendly. Carpets and rugs also improve acoustics. Lastly, select upholstered furniture with soft, warm textures. “Stay away from leathers and vinyls that feel cold and slippery,” says Ziskin. Add a big basket of cozy blankets to keep everyone toasty.
Go light and bright
Another warming trick: Ditch cold, unflattering fluorescent lights in favor of warm bulbs and add more light as needed. “It’s important to have at least one overhead light,” Ziskin says. Opt for a flush-mount that drops no lower than 6 inches below the (typically lower) ceiling. Fill in with wall sconces, floor lamps or table lamps.
The idea is to have light coming from different angles, including up-lights in the corner. A dimmer lets you choose brighter light for working or games and softer light for socializing or screen time. Basements are a best bet for design risks. Paint the floor a whimsical teal or a bright, happy orange. Dress one wall in a wallpaper you always loved but feared was too bold. Even in a basement used for storage or laundry, airy colors add a positive ambiance.
Invest in quality
Although it may be tempting to skimp on a room few guests ever see, treating your basement to the same level of quality and beauty you give the rest of your home will pay off in your desire to spend time there.
From an inviting chair with a soft throw to the tailored look of crown molding and built-in shelves, these elevated details go a long way toward giving a basement the feel of a “real” finished room like those upstairs — instead of an after-thought space filled with cast-offs and leftovers.
— Associated Press writer Melissa Rayworth contributed to the article on basements.
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