Monday, August 9, 2010

about the "designer's touch."

I hear it a lot: "My room doesn't feel finished." And most of the time, it comes from people with already-beautiful rooms. Take Melissa, for example, whose current living room (shown here, all room photos) is practically magazine ready. Jaw-dropping view, great open plan, cohesive color scheme, stunning fireplace, rich stone, warm woods... so, um, you need a designer, why exactly? In her words, "I need some pillows? I don't know... something still feels like it's missing that designer touch!"

First, kudos Melissa, for everything you've done right... floating the sofa (with its rich cinnabar color) to hit not one, not two, but THREE focal points. That's like a triple word score in Scrabble. Picking a carpeting color which pulls the tones of the rich slate surround down into the room. Not being afraid to mix wood tones. Repeating the rich chocolate browns in different finishes (leather and wood). There's a lot to like.

And more good news... you've chosen the PERFECT time of year to shop for finishing details in this room... the fall palette out there now will make the shopping trip an Autumn breeze.

If you're still stumped on color, wait a few weeks til Autumn comes to your neck of the woods. The white bark and blazing yellows of Aspen trees, deep coppers and bright reds of Japanese maples, some deep brown catttails... done!

So that's what Mother Nature would do... but what designer trickery would I bring to the (coffee) table?

Tighten Up the Ranks. This is a big room, and while it can stand a floated furnishing plan as Melissa has so smartly set up, I think it can stand to be all a little closer, to make the seating area a bit more intimate. Bring the stools closer together, and closer to the coffee table... bring the two armchairs closer into the room... and center the whole thing more definitively on the fireplace. Your furnishings should be a cozy little island with lots of air around it... not looking like the first party guests trying to make the room feel full by spreading out.

Scheme One: Crate and Barrel's Villagio Rug; Napastyle's Sage Canyon Leather Chair; Crate and Barrel's Bennet Pillow, Tabasco; Pottery Barn's Grey Velvet Drapery Panels; Home Decorators Collections's Wuchow Three-drawer Cabinet; Crate and Barrel's Tempo Velvet Pillow, Antique Gold

Bounce your color around: While the basic color palette relates, Melissa needs to get some chocolate on her peanut butter. Or a little sofa cinnabar over near her chairs. Work with pillows that combine wall color with a little of the brassy golds from the lamp and the open-work hurricane on the coffee table.

Mix the levels of contrast. There's a lot of light OR dark here... some well-chosen mid tones will give this room a great settled in feel. It's sort of like music... you've got the bass, you've got the high notes, even a little sparkly, jazzy percussion... you just need the rich vocals in between to make this room sing.

Scheme Two: Pottery Barn's Kilim Pillow; Crate and Barrel's Circlets; Pottery Barn's Gray Velvet Drapery Panels; Home Decorator Collection's Left Bank Chest in Distressed Red; Napastyle's Silverado Leather Armchair; Crate and Barrel's Tempo Velvet Pillow, Antique Gold; Shades of Light Washed Gold Oushak Rug

Mix and merge. The room itself has lots of traditional formality built in, but the furniture and styling are all tending toward the contemporary. That can definitely work, but you'll like the effect better if something you bring in the room bridges old and new... a side chair with traditional bones perhaps, but in an unexpected color.

Head to the middle ground. I also think what you feel like you are missing is the middle layer when it comes to "visual real estate"... all the BIG pieces are in place, and there are plenty of smaller things. But what really weaves a room together is that middle step... and to me, here, what's missing from the middle are window treatments and an area rug. I can hear the gasps and shrieks... "Close off that view??" and "Rug over carpet??" Well, sort of, and youbetcha.

On the windows, I'd do one single (but wide) stationary drapery panel, to bring softness into the "envelope" of the room, and bridge color and styles. Position it starting just a few inches from beneath the crown molding, and overlapping the far right of the wall of windows, filling the wall where the modern organic column lamp is (it can stay, just in less of a "time out" position.) The other effect of the drapery is that it will help balance out all the visual weight on the corner diagonally across from it. My fabric choice would be a chenille or a silk, with simple pleats, and in a color that's the color of the sofa, just dialed down (so if the sofa's the lobster, the drapes are the bisque). Another color option: A variation of the stone-y colors of the fireplace surround and carpet. Hardware can be hidden, or I'd do an oil-rubbed bronze if you decide to do an exposed rod.

Ad yes, a rug over the carpet. An autumn-inspired Oriental or geometric carpet, to fully define the seating area to add a level of visual texture. Make sure to use an underlay made for placing rugs over carpeting.

Add a dash of cayenne. I'd also look at introducing one more accent color... perhaps something pulled from a rug, upholstery pattern or pillow. Consider a brighter shot of one of the colors here... tangerine, anyone? But don't feel like every new accent needs to be in the color range you've already established... a deep plum could drop in nicely here, in small doses.

Scheme Three: Crate and Barrel's Baxter Rug, Marigold; Crate and Barrel's Mendocino Pillow, Purple; Crate and Barrel's Bennet Pillow, Tabasco; Crate and Barrels' Tempo Velvet Pillow, Antique Gold; Crate and Barrel's Tux Chair, in Alchemy Spice

Introduce pattern. In this room (as in many) a little pattern can go a long way... so if you decided to make your pattern statement with the area rug, then go with solids on occasional chairs. Either way, you can probably get away with a little more complementary pattern on a pillow or throw.

Mix, don't match. I'd look for a less matched side table for the side chair set up, and more of a chest than the table you have. This is the perfect opportunity for a global treasure or flea market find (or your local retailer's reasonable facsimile thereof!).

On that chest, or on the sofa table, consider a statement accessory, with some height. The model pond yacht from Crate & Barrel also brings the rooms trim whites and ivories down into the room. Don't worry about it blocking any of the view... it will actually draw your gaze even faster to the wall of windows.

Crate and Barrel's Model Pond Yacht

Okay, your turn... which scheme would you choose? What would you tell Melissa to do?


  1. I'd use the more neutral rug (scheme 2) and chairs from scheme 1. Not sure about the red/orange chests or where you'd put them. I think they'd compete with the sofa if they're used to replace the sofa table. I may put the cubes by the fireplace under the sofa table. Not sure, but maybe deepening the wall color and painting the built-ins white. I'd definitely do stationary curtain panels to tie things together and soften the bank of windows. I'd also change the picture over the fireplace to something more horizontal than vertical.

    This is my amateur guess. One more thing I might do is put the television over the fireplace. It may give more options to furniture arrangement.

    Thanks for this opportunity, fun!

  2. I Love Scheme One but I'm also loving chairs and chest from Scheme Two...

    I have to agree with Kimberly, I would love to see those built-ins painted white... and the I would also place the TV above the fireplace.

    Good Luck,