You know those people who seem to have great taste without even trying? You're about to be one of them. Here, top designers share the best insider tips and tricks in the business.
For a head-to-toe makeover, the first step is creating a palette. "I come up with a basic color scheme for the whole house, and then I take that from room to room," reveals Gary McBournie, a designer based in Boston. "It plays itself out in different ways in different rooms."
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"Create strong verticals and avoid the horizontal," recommends designer Todd Romano. "I adore large mirrors because they add scale to a room. I also kept the furniture low-slung, so the rooms seem taller."
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"Window trim is an often-overlooked opportunity to make a statement," says designer Meg Braff. Jeffrey Bilhuber agrees. "I often end up painting them green, to blend in with the landscape," the eclectic decorator says. "Or sometimes I paint them pitch black, so the muntins practically disappear in the evening."
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"I'm really into saturated color with white to balance it out so it doesn’t feel over-whelming," says Joanna Gaines, the star of HGTV's and mastermind behind in partnership with Kilz. Having trouble picking out a bold color? Gaines recommends green, because it's found in nature and timeless.
If you truly love something, you'll want to put it on display. "Use and enjoy your antiques and unique finds, especially in a utilitarian room like the bathroom," advises designer Bunny Williams.
Mirrored panels like the ones lining this alcove can be elegant — but don't just slap them up, designer Jan Showers warns. Large sheets of mirror will look commercial, so try a sectioned pattern in the traditional French style instead.
Don't postpone a makeover because of naturally messy kids. "Put your money into a comfortable, well-made sofa that you'll have forever," advises Krista Ewart, a designer based in California. "You don't have to deny yourself that expensive designer fabric you love — just put it on something small, like a pillow."
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Neutral decor can be interesting — just include a variety of materials. "I used a range — from fine-gauge and open-weave linen, to raw silk and taffeta, to cotton velvet and distressed velvet," says California-based designer Ohara Davies-Gaetano. "Not only that, there's also the contrast of matte sheens that absorb the light, and lustrous sheens that reflect it."
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For the perfect color family, mix one batch of paint 50% lighter than the base and another 150% darker. "That's a failsafe method for striping a wall," says Mary Douglas Drysdale, who designed this bold blue kitchen. "It's also a very architectural way of using color."
Small living spaces don't have to feel cramped. "See how these living room chairs have smallish arms," says designer Elizabeth Pyne. "Most of their square footage is given to the seat, so you can curl up in them. They feel luxurious and roomy even though they're not big."
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A temporary space can look beautiful, even with a small budget. "We are so used to having painters sand for ages to produce mirror-smooth walls, but I wasn't about to spend the money to do that in a rental," says designer Max Sinsteden of his bright green entryway. "It turns out the irregular surface just sparkles all the more."
Kitchens with floor-to-ceiling cabinets can look dark, but here's how to fool the eye: Designer Caitlin Moran will paint the ceiling a slightly paler version of the walls, so the room seems brighter even with just a few windows.
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Matching can be so overrated — and expensive. Look online (and in thrift shops) for beautiful sets of antique china and silver flatware, recommends Williams. You'll save money and the place settings will feel more special to guests than brand-new ones.
Metallic finishes already add plenty of sparkle, but the sheen will make a bigger impact in a variety of colors. "I don't know why people don't mix gold with silver more often — they look so smart together," says designer John De Bastiani. "The key is to use a lot of both; you can't be shy with one or the other."
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You might think of straw as an outdoor textile, but it'll look just as good indoors. "Straw, jute, rush — natural materials and neutral tones are they always chic," says Braff. "They're the white T-shirt of interior design."
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Taking the plunge on a strong hue can be intimidating, but the best way is to dive in head first. "One of the most successful strategies is to paint a strong color on everything, from the baseboard and crown molding to the walls," says Garrow Kedigian, a designer based in New York. "It works well because it's not contrasted against a different trim color."
One pair of pillows always looks skimpy, says Melissa Warner, a California-based designer. Use two pairs, in contrasting patterns, colors, and textures. De Bastiani agrees: "I don't do dinky accents...small pillows look like something that came with the furniture."
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Most people opt for a frosted glass or an opaque curtain for extra privacy, but there's something to be said for transparency. Glass shower doors, like in this guest bathroom by designer Amy Meier, add instant square footage. To complete the illusion, run the floor tiles straight into the stall. "It makes the room feel larger," adds designer Alla Akimova. "If I had changed materials, it would have interrupted the space."
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When hanging mirrors, think carefully about what they'll will reflect, advises Showers. You want to pick up a great scene, like a pretty chandelier.
Dining room benches might not be conventional, but they sure are cozy. "You automatically feel more friendly when you're sharing a seat," points out designer Thom Filicia. "It could quickly become corporate if you were looking at a room full of chairs." Vicente Wolf, also a designer, agrees on mixing it up: "You wouldn't have eight identical chairs in your living area."
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It's counterintuitive, but the trick to pattern is to use more. "It's all about symmetry," reveals Meg Braff. She uses prints in pairs, so that there is the same textile on one side of the room as on the other. "It's comforting to the eye — you don't have to 'work' to take it in," she adds.
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If the size of the space mandates where the furniture goes, think about the pieces strategically. For example, if a bed has to go against a window wall, choose a headboard that still lets sunlight in, like this Florida bedroom by Todd Romano.
Cleaning up clutter can be a good thing, but there's one thing hosts should never stow away. "Show, don't tell, what you're serving with a well-appointed bar," says Bunny Williams. "Guests feel more at home when they can help themselves."
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