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Surprising design tips from the pros

Ilyce R. Glink
Y! Homes | Design Center
August 17, 2012

Ever wonder what makes those designer rooms look so good? It's not always the expensive furniture or the brilliant vintage finds. It's the little touches that a designer adds that elevate a regular room to the living spaces you see on the pages of glossy home magazines.

Here are some easy ways you can dress your rooms for success:

Look for the focal point. If a room has a fireplace, a stunning view or large bookcase, build your layout around it. If there is no natural focal point, pick out a spectacular piece of artwork or a dramatic piece of furniture. Arrange the future around the focal point. You want your guests to see what you've decided should catch their eye.

Pillows come in pairs. Having one pillow in each corner of the couch or cropped up against a chair seems like something is missing. Use two pillows in different patterns, colors or textures. Balance is extremely important, when it comes to pillows, chairs, and table lamps.

Embrace whites and neutrals. You simply can't go wrong with a palate of whites and neutrals. Add color and texture through well-placed accessories, but consider keeping the basics, like walls, couches or fabrics some version of white, beige or grey.

"You can't go wrong with crisp white sheets and luxurious white towels," interior designer Tom Riker of JamesThomas said. "Always classic."

Pick your paint colors last. Find accessories and furniture that you love and build around those. It's easier to change your mind about a pillow or a chair than the colors of your walls. And, think about your future flooring choices, since changing out carpet is even more of a pain than repainting walls.

Lighting is key. Don't rely on your overhead light or a single lamp to light up a room.

"One of the things people miss when designing their rooms is correct lighting," said Chicago-based designer Catherine Schager. "Layered lighting with a combination of overall, task and accent lighting can take a room from elegant to exceptional."

Overall or general lighting comes from overhead, task lighting is specified to one area, like a desk or table lamp and accent lighting shines on walls. Light at least three of the four corners of a room.

Don't fear painted furniture. Natural wood is lovely, but not everything in a room can be brown. A blue table can bring a room's design together in the way a plain wood table just can't. And, color can create a focal point where none previously existed.

The power of threes. Accessories look better in threes or odd numbers. If you're buying candles, picture frames or decorative vases, aim for three of each in different heights.

Don't overstuff. A big designer pet-peeve is overstuffed bookcases. A bookcase should have room for books and designer elements. Imagine books alongside an old typewriter, framed piece of art, vintage clock or a small potted plant.

Wallpaper works. Beautiful, modern textures and designs are making their way back to walls around the country. If you're still hesitant about using wallpaper, try using it small spaces, like a bathroom, the inside of a large closet, or on an accent wall.

Think of color in layers. The flooring — whether it's carpet, tile or wood — is the first layer of color, followed fabric and window treatment colors, topped with wall and trim colors and if you want to add a bonus layer, the ceiling color. Don't ignore any of the layers.

Hang curtains near the ceiling. Don't hang curtains just above the window, hang them higher for a more elegant look.

"In catalogues, you see them hung just above the window trim, but that's not where they're supposed to go — it's just cheaper to make them that length," New York designer Elaine Griffin said. "Get ones that are too long and have them hemmed by your dry cleaner. It elongates your windows and makes them look much larger."

Think big with area rugs. An area rug should anchor more than just your coffee table. For the most chic look, the area rug should anchor your whole seating group, Griffin said. Here's another opportunity to create a focal point, while adding layers of texture, so don't be timid with your area rug choice.

Don't ignore the powder room. This tiny half-bathroom is a great place to experiment and take chances you wouldn't in other places of your home.

"Paint the powder room a bold color or use a very graphic wallcovering," Riker said. "Add a very dramatic chandelier or sconces. Think outside the box. These are little spaces that if you tire of in a few years it won't cost you too much to change it up."

Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host, and managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.