With instant gratification seemingly the law of the land, it's nice to know that decorating on the installment plan can be more satisfying than getting it all done the day after tomorrow.
It's not only easier on the budget, it can be more interesting. "If you do it all at once, the room lacks the richness that a room put together over time will have -- it's like a song with only one note," says Lyn Peterson.
Peterson is founder and president of Motif Designs, a wallpaper and fabric design firm headquartered in New Rochelle, N.Y., and has decorated innumerable homes over several decades. She recently wrote her first book, "Lyn Peterson's Real Life Decorating" (Creative Homeowner Press, $27.95 softcover).
Those just starting out need to outfit a home with the basics. "These days, that's typically defined as a bed, sofa, table, chairs, TV, decent lighting, and I would add, a computer, but most of these items can start out as hand-me-downs or as inexpensive new purchases, if that's all the budget allows.
"Shop at Mom's, and find out if your town has a bulk garbage day when people put unwanted items out on the curb," she advises. "Americans generate a lot of waste, including old TVs, sofas, unused tiles and much more that's usable."
Peterson says this early period when people are making do with second-hand items is an ideal time to experiment with taste. There's no harm in having a country French bedroom, a vintage kitchen and a contemporary living room. In fact, the experimentation is likely to show you which styles you enjoy living with the most.
Especially for young people who are furnishing a first home when their tastes are not set, it's a good idea to not to rush into expensive purchases.
"Instead of buying a costly dining room table, for example, why not buy a kitchen table and use it in the dining room with six side chairs?" she asks. "Later, when you can afford it and your taste is formed, you can use the kitchen table in the kitchen and buy the dining room table and new chairs."
When a room is furnished with number of mismatched items, either color or pattern can be the unifier. One strategy is to emphasize two colors that go well together, like red and green or blue and yellow. Make one color dominant and the other an accent. Various hues of the colors can be used.
When furniture is not perfect -- say sofa and chair hand-me-downs -- patterned covers can disguise the wear and tear. Similarly, a table that has seen better days can be covered with a patterned cloth.
When it is time to buy new pieces, try to steer clear of fads and focus on selections that represent trends. The difference? "Fads don't last while trends can last for decades," says Peterson.
Often there's a longer-lived version of the faddish item. For example, to Peterson the all-white room (walls, furniture, fabrics, accessories) is a fad that will wear thin, while a room that emphasizes neutrals is a trend that will continue to be fresh for a longer time. Well-made down-stuffed throw cushions are a trend, while pillows decorated with dangling crystals are a fad. Huge extra deep chairs -- such as the so-called chair-and-a-half -- are a fad, while comfortable flare-armed sofas that invite you to stretch out and relax are a trend.
To avoid fads, Peterson advises that you "never buy anything that is in the height of fashion. If something is not a hot fashion item, it will never get cold."
Some tips from Peterson on how to have an attractive room regardless of budget:
-- Choose comfortable, sturdy furniture in classic styles that can take abuse. Two of her favorites for comfort are sofas with low rolled arms and footstools that can be pulled up to easy chairs.
-- Even when there's overhead lighting, include table lamps in your plan. Overhead lighting is good general illumination but not so good for tasks, and it's harsh and unflattering. Your head casts a shadow on a book in overhead lighting. An inexpensive lighting enhancer is a dimmer switch for $10 or less that you can install yourself.
-- Even with wall-to-wall carpeting, a patterned area rug provides visual warmth and color.
-- Select paint colors carefully. Eastern and western exposures are more flexible, but be careful how you use gray and blue in rooms with northern light, which tends to make these colors feel cold. Yellow can be too intense in a room with a southern exposure.
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