Monday, April 30, 2012

...about sixteen sweet tips: Design on a Dime 2012.

The planning went back to January, and it’s an unconventional way to design: build a room around the generosity of donors and friends, styled to delight and propped to sell: Design on a Dime is the amazing annual event to benefit Housing Works. I was pleased to be asked back for my sophomore outing, and this year, I knew what I was in for (last year, I was blessed with some ignorant bliss!) and had more time to do it (last year, I was an eleventh-hour addition.) The extra time was both blessing and curse: Blessing, since it’s a major undertaking to round up a room’s full of furnishings, art and lighting from across the country and still have it converge in New York on time, so every second counts. The curse came from having time to over think, and it took away some of last year’s urgency that lit a little friendly fire under wavering donors.

The process, however unconventional, still gave me opportunity to pull from my own bag of designer tricks. In no particular order, here are my sweet sixteen take-aways from Design on a Dime 2012. With a lot of lamps (#15!!), it will help shed a little light on why I picked what I did... and how you can pull a room together using these same ideas.

1. Insta-Architecture
Not every room has the benefit of pre-war detail or architectural interest (which in turn lends things like grace and substance), and when you’re in a rental or watching your pennies, adding it  can be tricky, especially when you can’t enlist construction as part of the transformation. In this event, with three “walls” and no ceiling, I like to add something that creates the illusion of more sturdy construction, so I start with paper (actually, here a SEXY vinyl from Koroseal). And without windows, I wanted something for height and that gave the impression of a space beyond what we can see, so the four-paneled American Walnut folding screen from LazySusanUSA was the perfect addition. Both, relatively easy additions that can make up for a room’s shortcomings.

2. Get Out of the Woods
When you think of tables, desks and cabinets, the first material apt to come to mind is wood. But many more options exist, and give a room a layered and put-together-over-time sophistication. Here, a shell-topped table with bronze legs from John Lyle Design, a grasscloth covered desk from Bungalow 5, and concrete console from Currey & Company all happily coexist, and even if they did indeed all spring from boxes and packing blankets in a matter of hours, the combination gives the room a feel of personal history.

And if you do go woody, it doesn’t need to be brown. Now, I love brown as much as the next guy (actually, waaaay more than the next guy...) but it’s not the only color for wood. In fact, at the recent Architectural Digest Home Show, and in trade-only showrooms like the Frazier Collection and the New Traditionalists, bleached, cerused and tinted woods made a big showing (a deeper continuation of last summer’s driftwood trend.)

But why is such a variation of tones and materials able to happily coexist? Similarity, and repetition. The bleached oak has a lot of tonal similarity to the concrete. The red-stained Hourglass drum stools share tone with the Bernhardt upholstered ottoman. If every introduction into a room has something to back it up, nothing looks out of place, even if every piece has its own unique shape, color or texture. Your eye isn’t exhausted by contrast when you give it just a touch of similarity on which to linger.

3. Watch Your Tone!
The other thing that makes the woods work here is that each is a step up or down on the tonal scale... from the dark, almost-black exposed wood on the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams chairs to the pale cerused oak on the Josephine Chairs (a pair donated by Serena & Lily). If you can pair something in a room with something else that’s a notch up or down the tonal scale, you’ll end up with a room that feels established, not freshly poured from just one can of paint or ripped from one bolt of fabric. The walnut screen courtesy LazySusan USA is also a big mediator here... its richly-patterned graining pulls all the rooms tones in, making sense of them all in the process.

4. Texture Rules
Rooms get their richness from variation in texture. Here, the floor is covered with an exotic Ikat from NIBA Rugs, and has an earthy luster (and perfect, unique palette from which to build a room). The walls have an edge-blurring sheen that subtly bounces light (and hides imperfections with its embossed pattern; The alligator pattern also adds a softening organic quality to an otherwise  modern, angular  room). And the matte/shiny, rough and polished play continues from floor up and walls out. Velvet and silk, stone and concrete, matte and polished... all texturally rich and varied. And don’t forget the textural differences art can bring, even down to the bounce of light of the glass itself.

5. Art is Not Just An Oil
To paraphrase Mr. Charlie Brown, “I got a rock!” But, oh, what a rock! The artful accessory stopping this show was the Chinese Scholar’s rock, of epic proportion, instant history and color perfection. It married the concrete, stones, browns and even upholstery’s burgundy. It threw a lovely curve at the angular console beneath it. And, most importantly, it was unexpected... lucky me, for the generosity of Pagoda Red, a Chicago retailer/dealer garnering quite a reputation for their collection of these “painted” rocks upon which scholars through the ages have focused their contemplative energies. No wonder.

In any room, I promote the concept of Invest, Splurge and Save, and this scholar's rock might be the best splurge of the room (even though here, so generously donated). But an investment like this, which SUCH presence, sets the stage to save elsewhere in the space. I am also a big fan of what might seem like overscaled accessories in a small space... it keeps things intentional, not junked up. It also had the type of presence that let me play with the symmetry of the console’s composition.

6. Every Introduction is an Addition (or, Mixology 101)
I started with the rug and wallcovering, and EVERY step after that included an element of something already there. To make cohesion out of diversity, the visual game I play is taking the elements of an existing piece (color or shape or texture or vintage or style) and adding its traits to something already in the room to make sure it works. The two main chairs were the result of the addition of the rug’s golden tan tones and the walls Bourbon brown. The Bungalow 5 stools took the Asian inspiration of the Scholar’s Rock and added the reddish-merlot upholstery of the ottoman. The Currey & Company Algonquin Lamp took its flame-like energy directly from the rug’s fiery pattern, with a mix of the brass of the neighboring picture lights.

7. Frame for Fame
If I could make a living of taking things to get framed, I would. I love the process, and the transformative power of a perfect frame. When framing multiple pieces for one room, don’t feel like every frame needs to be identical, even if the artwork is similar. Here, the two drawings by Dan Romer (one of the many gallery-caliber artists who donated to my booth this year) are each framed very differently, but perfect for each piece. The airier reclining nude breathes easier in a plexi box (my FAVORITE way to up the edge on any art) while the gutsy and muscular portrait “Big Carlos” needed some sturdier containment, here a rust-colored metal frame that also draws from the charcoal-y grit of this strong piece. Regardless of frame style, ALWAYS spring for the 8-ply mat. And mat wider than you think... add at least an inch or two to what you think looks good to start with. For the extra pennies, you get buckets of look. Even a humble piece.. a friend's Facebook profile pic... looks gallery ready when framed wide and presented on a desktop easel.

8. It (Gets Worse Before It) Gets Better
I am a HUGE advocate for homeowners NOT being present during major days of installation. It is NOT pretty. Boxes, mess, chaos... nothing to instill confidence in a homeowner who's hired you. And while this event is an extreme case, it certainly shows why.

I also like homeowners to steer clear of installation because even a well-planned floorplan needs some organic flexibility when real pieces hit the real space. Here, the plan to have the desk jut into the space just didn’t work, and a last minute pivot made things fall firmly into place... and give the rug even more presence. So cut yourself some slack when something planned doesn’t pan out. It happens.

9. The Art of the Pull-Up Chair
I get to work on a lot of open plan and adjoining living/dining spaces here in Manhattan, and one of my very favorite tricks is stocking the living room with overflow seating that can be pressed into service for dining when extra company comes... or moved around when wine tasting turns to Wii party. The trick is to pick occasional chairs that don’t look like they’ve wandered away from the dining table. That hide-covered Tyler armchair is one dining chair hiding in plain sight, and the split pair of the curvy Josephines are the others. Speaking of split pairs...

10. Pair, or Not to Pair
I love the formality and eye-catching nature of symmetry, so I tend to buy (or in this case, beg for!) pairs when the occasion arises. But pairs don’t always have to be, well, paired. The Josephine chairs are pulled apart (but still have a conversation as they diagonally bracket the room), but I’ve kept the Currey & Company “Signature” table lamps as a pair to anchor an otherwise asymmetrical arrangement.

I’ve used two pedestals (custom-finished by the Alpha Workshops) but also chosen not to accessorize them the same way. (Confession time: THAT was the result of a vase-cracking accident, not design... I originally intended to have two of the Roxanne Mei Ping Covered Jars, but the laws of gravity conspired against me during installation! In a Tim Gunn-inspired moment of “make it work,” the cherry branches in the Wisteria Colossal Hurricane went in the place of the shattered vase up against the brown walls, where I loved— and got the most mileage from— from the stems’ pink blossoms. So tip 11.5: Go with the flow, even when your vase cracks under pressure.

11. Bend the Gender
When left to my own devices, I’m intrigued by, and tend to design toward, a masculine vibe (maybe because I don’t have that many male clients). I like to see how masculine a room can get without falling prey to bachelor pad cliché, and the alligator walls certainly set the stage for men’s clubbiness. But this is a sale, and like staging for real estate resale, I wanted to make sure men and women felt comfortable in the space (and I admit, I also wanted to garner some girl-blogger attention!) Color and curve tempered the masculine dark browns, animal skins and concrete. Bright yellows and the pinks and clays and magentas of the art all served to bend the gender toward a happy median.

12. Reserve the Right to Bare Arms
Like our first lady knows, bare arms can garner lots of attention... so when I saw these two new chairs from Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams, I knew they were a must have. The un-upholstered arm strips away all the mass from these ample chairs, mass that would otherwise overwhelm a small space (display booth or studio apartment). And yet these chairs still have room for a companion Norfolk Terrier or purring Siamese.

These chairs also have no bad angle... so they can face pretty much any direction and still shine: a necessary quality when a floorplan calls for floating furnishings to designate a seating area or function zone... so look at a chair from all angles when purchasing. Even if your current plan calls for a wall position, a float-worthy chair will get you more mileage down the road.

13. Get Leggy...
Since I wanted this SEXY rug to stop traffic at the event, I looked for furniture that stayed up and off it. Leggy furniture is also a great space-expander in a smaller space, since your eye doesn’t stop at the base of a couch or the skirt of a chair. So the major upholstery pieces and the side chairs all show a lot of leg (and what’s sexier than that?).

14. ...Then Don’t
Eero Saarinen was famous for his quote on furniture legs, and the genesis and goal  of his Tulip pedestal bases was to “clear up the slum of legs” that at the time was a downside of the airy modernity of Mid-century Design. Here, while I wanted the pieces on the rug to let the rug shine, the pieces around the edges needed to not add more legs to the party... or at least a different, more substantial type. The desk had a blocky Parson style leg (which all but disappear into the dark wall covering) and the concrete console has my favorite waterfall style side/leg. Even the Room & Board Moro cabinet (set up as a bar) avoids the leg race, with a clean-lined plinth base.

15. Lamp Light It
It is RARE I work with a client who already has enough lamps, so the lamp story here is the practice of what I preach: The most flattering light is the light through lamp shades, and the best-lit rooms have multiple sources and types... incandescent, halogen, overhead, direct, indirect, low, up, bare bulb and shaded... of lighting. With the venue’s overhead lighting standing in for recessed or track, every type is represented here. Lighting is ESPECIALLY important in a dark-walled room, where it creates pools of light accenting the best the room has to offer. That trick also has remarkable capabilities of making a small room seem bigger.

I’ve also used what is found in almost every room I do: Picture lights, pharmacy lamps, and accent uplighting. What keeps the collection of lamps from feeling like a Bowery showroom is similarity... all the lighting shares a warm-metal finish (golds and brasses) and the fabric shades are all rectangular. Those common notes let the differences happen without getting noisy.

16. Home Stretch
During installation (a mere one-and-a-half days, from empty booth to party ready living room!), there was a stage where all art, lamps, and furnishings were in place, and the room looked finished. But what brought it to life was the introduction of smaller elements, and turned fictional booth into possible home. As a stylist, these are my very favorite details. Books, flowers, vases, candles (large hurricanes and small tealights), a SEXY brass Alessi ashtray courtesy SWITCH Modern, custom pillows, glasses, wine bottles and bar accessories, horn boxes and magnifying glass much courtesy SWITCH Modern, NEST Interiors, and Mortise & Tenon... all started to tell a story about this space’s fictional occupant (a world-traveled, art-savvy gentleman, in a very Mad Men meets Indiana Jones kinda of time travel) but do the same in any home: They bring a room’s scale down to a very personal level, tell a story about the homeowners, and give the room a detail and texture that keep it from feeling like a model apartment. And bonus... since each room is up for grabs at this charity sale, these smaller accessories FLY out of the booth when the shopper’s starting pistol first pops.
Which tip or trick are you already employing? What one will help make the most of your room? Let me know!!

A HUGE thank you to all my donors:

Koroseal: Wall covering: "Alligator" in Bourbon
Currey & Company: Concrete console, Signature Table Lamps, Algonquin Table Lamp
The Alpha Workshops: Custom graphite finish on pedestals
Pagoda Red: Chinese Scholar's Rock
Mortise & Tenon: Accessories
Scott Frances: Signed copy of "MonoVisioN"
NEST Interiors: Horn boxes
Jonathan Adler: Bristol Table Easel
Good Design: Kaiser Porcelain Reliefware Vases

Dan Romer

Thank you
Phil Fairley
Erik Retzer
Ron Dudding
Jody Kivort

And a HUGE shout-out the Housing Works crew, from the box-breaking volunteers, to the pricing team, to the sales force on party night, to my great friends, new and old, Joseph, David, Erin, Bill, Barbara, Rebecca, Denise and especially Mel.

...about getting a little coverage: Design on a Dime 2012

It's an honor to be part of the annual Housing Works Design on a Dime event. And even better to get a little coverage out of the deal! So I was super honored to be able to give some tips and help tout this event that does so much, for so many. You can see the piece here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

…an embarrassment of riches: artfully gifted friends, part 2: Design on a Dime 2012

Art makes a room. It’s the color, the grace note, the personal expression. Art, if well-chosen and nicely hung (oh my!) can make up for lack of architectural interest, balance an odd floorplan, and tell a story about a home’s inhabitants like no other detail. It can keep a traditional room from feeling like a dusty museum, and it can take the edge off of new construction.

But art is also highly personal, and as someone with art school training and as an interior designer, I understand that the “right” art for a space to me is not always something about which a homeowner will share my unbridled enthusiasm.

So art is one of the most fun parts of Design on a Dime, since the room is pure folly: no client cues to shape the space… just my own choices, and then (and more importantly!) the generosity of the donors who make the 50 or so designers chosen for this event look so good.

Last year, I was artfully well-represented, with painting and photography (always my favorite mix)… a large piece by Babette Herschberger, and some amazing (and remarkably modern) photography of birds in flight by the talented photographer Marty Maynard.

This year, I am building on the lovely work both Babette and Marty used to set the stage, and set the bar so high, for. I'm OUTRAGEOUSLY excited about this year's art that has been soooo generously donated to my Sophomore venture into this fundraising event to benefit Housing Works. And boy, did I SCORE this year, art-wise! Babette Herscberger. Dan Romer. Victor-Raul Garcia. Margaret Petttee-Olsen. My own little gallery! And little in square footage only. This is GOOD stuff.
Last year, Babette Herschberger, a long-time friend and one of the most visually acute people I have ever met (we share past lives as Graphic Designers) got the ball rolling for me in a big way, and her piece was the anchor for the vignette. I love Babette’s work for its two-stage discovery… her paintings seem like brightly colored blocks of color (which alone, delight and have room-making potential). But a second glance, and the surface woos you… with its flecks of color, linear underpinnings, areas of gloss and chalk. Babette has a reason for everything she does, and yet her pieces never lose their buoyancy. The story is there in each piece, but the success of her work is not contingent on knowing every line of the play. She also donated last year one of her “Tidbit” collages, favorites of mine.

I did not want to overtax, so this year I worked with Babette to secure a small piece instead of a large one. Well, her generosity overrode my request, and I ended up with a pair from her “Drawing” series… small, blocky canvasses best shown in multiples. These two golden squares will command far greater presence than their diminutive size would suggest, as they zing off the deep brown alligator-clad walls (courtesy Koroseal). Any wise visitors to the booth will scoop up the set.

I’ve admired Dan’s work (well, admired is probably too tame a word…) since seeing it on the Walls… of Facebook. His exuberant drawings, mostly figure studies and portraits, seem ridiculously casual. But like Babette’s work, there are serious and studied underpinnings. I’ve said before that to me, Dan’s work is a combination of David Hockney and (the good parts of) Leroy Neiman. Dan’s color palette is remarkable, with pairings that shouldn’t work but do. His slashes of oil stick and smudges of charcoal capture anatomy, sensuality, gesture and mood, and he makes it all look as casual as a wave.

I responded so strongly to Dan’s work that I must admit: I pursued him for Design on a Dime like a crazed and stealthy stalker… er, suitor: A series of Likes on his posted work, introductory conversation, then outright request. Well, then, comedy of errors: Even at the moment of selection, there was some sorting out to do about whether these would be donations or loan (This is no showhouse: nothing donated to Housing Works for this event comes back to the donors.) I’d like to think it was my charm that won out, but it was actually Dan’s generosity and belief in the cause… TWO pieces “Young Man,” a nude in repose, and the heroic and muscular “Big Carlos,” a head-only portrait that validates my theory that sexiness comes, more often than not, from the face before the first belt is unbuckled. 

Dan’s two pieces also gave me and my space the ability to bring in a whole range of new colors, and the creative license to work with colors I don’t get to work with much: a spring-y splash of clays, terra cottas, and… PINK! The perfect colors to take the edge off a room I didn’t want to be too bachelor pad cliché, for all its dark walls and concrete and cerused wood furnishings.

I did not have to stalk Victor-Raul Garcia (although you can see why I might!), but he did cross my path in the virtual hallways of Facebook, one of the many social media tools Victor-Raul uses to great marketing effect. What started as a gallery visit to his Chelsea garret ended with one of his works earmarked for my Design on a Dime space. And it was my very first and favorite choice. This charming gent’s generosity did not stop with me… he donated to another designer for the event as well.

Another of Victor-Raul's pieces, in his residentially-styled Chelsea display space.

This top piece, shown in Victor-Raul's studio (and heading up the post, above), as the seagulls say in Finding Nemo: "Mine! Mine!" Well, at least for a day!

Victor-Raul is an energetic self-marketer (another reason I admire him!) and he works hard to get his work shown around town, like nearby Nest Interiors. Victor-Raul also helped broker a deal with his friends there to get me two gorgeous horn boxes for Design on Dime, too. Like last year, that kind of item is sure to fly out of the booth before anyone finishes their first cocktail.

And last but not least, in scale or generosity, Margaret Pettee Olsen, with whom I attended RISD. I’ve admired (and written about) Margaret’s work here before, but I dared not ask for one of her lush, heroically-scaled pieces. Well, I didn’t have to: Margaret stepped up without prodding (well, unless you count my incessant posts about Design on a Dime to be prodding!) And not only was it a donation… it was a CUSTOM COMMISSION. The yellows, golds, reds and raspberries that had emerged as my palette are a little outside of Margaret’s paintbox, but she created a stunning work that is very much Margaret, even if the colors were, for her, a departure.

I also have my friend and framer Steven Amedee to thank... he's generously underwriting the framing of Dan's pieces, and a donated self-portrait by architect-friend John Spencer.

I’m almost a TINY bit guilty using these gallery-caliber (and gallery shown) pieces in such a “decorative” setting… but I would gladly use these pieces the same way in a home interior project. And for those bristling at my references to the art driving the room’s palette, I may not be a fan of “art matching your sofa.” But I’ve never been opposed to your sofa matching your art.

Even more delightful to me is how this roster of art stars is almost a marker of my own personal timeline… from college, to a first career, to a New York life, and an awakening to activism and social media: every chapter is perfectly marked. I will be, as I stand in that completed booth, among friends. And that is the best, and most beautiful place to be.

Which piece would you build a room around? How do you use art in your space? I want to hear from you!

This year's Design on a Dime opens to the public during preview and party night, April 26th, 2012 at Manhattan's Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea; It remains open to the public Friday through Sunday. If tickets are still available, you can purchase them here.

Read about the many other talented and "Artfully Gifted" friends I have here. And see which rug this art will be hanging above here.

Get social! Find Victor-Raul Garcia, Babette Herschberger and Marty Maynard on Facebook! And follow me on Pinterest!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

...about bringing it home.

It’s usually the people who need my help the least that I’m most excited to help (like Randi and her “work in progress”), just because their distinct vision, great start, and love for interiors make them fun clients. Lacy, and her Connecticut home she shares with handsome hubby and adorable Golden Retriever, was no exception.

Spread out on the dining room table (shortly before WARM SCONES!!!) were Lacy’s inspiration images (including one of my very own projects!). As is often also the case, the connections among the images were far more apparent to me than they were to the homeowner: The images were a mix of modern and not-so, often in otherwise traditional rooms. There was a collected feel of woods, metals and stones. There was a vintage vibe, but not MCM overload. The palettes were calm and sophisticated, but warm and earthy. The rooms felt “traveled,” with faint (not theme-y) traces of exotic locations. There were mixtures of rustic and refined, beautifully illustrated, too, in a book on African Safari style: elegant English set-ups, with dark woods, beneath canvas tents and surrounded by natural elements… including the wandering leopard and passing zebra.

This room, a past project of mine, was on Lacy's inspiration board! Photo: Jody Kivort

Even while showing off her amazing thrift and Craigslist scores, there were more common denominators than dissenting opinions. A tea set was elegant but far from uptight, great shape and banded simply in gold. A knife set was both burnished and modern, but softly so.

All these were traits that she wanted to continue, but had stalled just a bit when uncertainty about wall color left her second-guessing her decisions. (I see that a LOT! A first choice, on its own, seems to be the wrong one. Trust your instinct and SOLDIER THROUGH!)

But she’s already done a LOT right. That neutral gray on the walls (I love it, even if she is unsure): Benjamin Moore’s hardworking and shade-shifting Coastal Fog, and one shade slightly darker in the dining room (Berkshire Beige). She’s considering natural woven shades (yay!). She’s purchased a traditional but-not-stuffy sofa (and bonus points for the fact the rolled arms are NOT oversized.)

So what does Lacy need to do to “bring it home”? Since I still have those scones on the brain, here's the baker's dozen steps I’d take.

Clockwise, from upper left: Foxed Mirror Side Table, West Elm; Silk Dupioni Panels in Gray, Pottery Barn; Reston Corner Media Cabinet, Ballard Designs; Olivia Glass-Topped Table, Ballard Designs; Kuba Cloth Kidney Pillow, Wisteria; Pair of woven baskets, Horchow; Hourglass Lamp, Wisteria; “Sleek” Marble-topped Side Table, Wisteria; West Elm’s Carved Wood Side Table; Duncan Leather Cocktail Ottoman; Decorative Bowl Wall Art, West Elm; Medici Secretary Desk, Ballard Designs; Pair of Polished Pink Abalone Shells,; Sweep Leather Arm Chair in “Elephant,” West Elm; Catherine Rug, Ballard Designs.

1. Plan Your Party.

In any gathering, whether dinner party or cocktail soiree, you want the guests to have a lot in common. But not EVERYTHING, or else, you’ll be hosting a real snoozefest. I use that theory in room design: every room is a party, and everything you purchase to fill it is a guest. This theory has gotten me past lots of roadblocks, and it will work for Lacy, too.

So start by inviting someone for anybody who’s already on the guest list… so far, the ivory sofa is the only ivory in the room, which makes it a little lonely. Whether in stone tabletop or even a lamp or lampshade, give that ivory somebody to talk to! And it does NOT need to be an equal quantity. One lamp, across the room, in a great shape, could be plenty.

Then invite in someone a little louder (an accent color on a chair, a pattern on a pillow)… the proverbial life of the party… which, usually, is best in small doses!

You can also look at it like a big game of Compare and Contrast: everything should have something distinctly in common with something already there… but also some definite difference. Case in point: The exposed wood arms of Lacy’s pair of vintage chairs plays well with the warm wood floors, but they are more modern than the room itself. It’s the perfect tension, without feeling tense.

Clockwise, from upper left: Randolff Mirror, Pottery Barn; Capitol Lighting Taylor Medallion, VanDyke’s Restorers; Confetti Cube Pendant, Currey & Company; Pair of Polished Pink Abalone Shells,; Velvet Panels in Maple Leaf, Pottery Barn; Parsons Chair in Toscana Ikat, Ballard Designs; Seaview Woven Natural Grass Shade, The Shade Store; Florence Buffet Lamp, Ballard Designs

2. Start Weaving.

Lacy has done the right thing: kept her biggest upholstery piece a neutral (with a great chunky texture, btw, keeping that neutral from falling flat). Which starts off the room with gray walls, an ivory sofa, white molding, and warm-wood floors. So the next decisions (window treatments and an area rug for the living room) need to build from these givens (who are we inviting next to the party?). I call it "Weaving": combining the elements of color and existing material, and weaving them into your next decision.

On the windows, Lacy was already considering one of my very favorite treatments: woven natural shades. Using the “Weave” approach, we narrowed down her choices quickly… the winning “Seaview” from The Shade Store was both the cool gray on the walls and a touch of the floor’s woody warmth. Inside-mount grass shades are the perfect choice for the “base layer” of the entire first floor… since privacy is not a huge issue. They bring the floor’s warmth up onto the walls, and they also demystify the tricky bay window trio (read on to see what else is in store for the other windows). And the bonus is that natural materials, like these woven grasses, are highly forgiving when it comes to pairing with other materials and colors, since they really work as a neutral. Plus, I LOVE the humble material against the windows more stately moldings. They also look cool and coastal in the summer, warm and reedy in the fall and winter.

For the floor, and to give Lacy a jumping off point for more color than is already in the room, I’d do a modern take on a traditional carpet (my favorite place to turn to create a color scheme) like the Catherine rug from Ballard Designs.

What makes it modern? The tan and gray palette. Its broad tonal range also opens the door to making lots of other stock upholstery and pillow choices work, a great trick when you can’t rely on custom choices to precisely match a textile color.

3. Consider the Picture.

This tidy and sweet house, a lovely balance of traditional rooms and open-plan modern living, has created some great framed “pictures” (or the makings of them!): The view from the living room into the far dining room wall, the view from the sofa, the view from the kitchen into the dining room…so those are the opportunities for great color and solutions to attract the eye. To stretch a budget and get the most impact fastest, I’d focus some attention, and make the biggest statements, there. These are the places for a showstopper light fixture, a color risk, a fabric splurge. Let your rooms tell you where the eye, attention, and money should go.

To find the “pictures” in your own home, get your camera out! Imagine the Afters… and where you’d take the best pictures… if that doesn’t help, pick up a magazine and see how the photographer has framed a shot... and why.

4. When is a Doorway Not a Doorway?

When it’s wiiiiiiiiiiiiide. Here, the double-wide opening between living and dining rooms does a nice job of separating the spaces but not stopping the flow, and Lacy has already taken a step that most won’t, and it’s the right one: use part of that opening as a place for furnishing. She’s floated one of her pair of gorgeous vintage chairs here, and while I think those chairs would work better as a pair at the bay end of the room, I’d replace the one floater chair with another (perhaps armless) that looks good from front, side and back. And don’t be afraid to use something with a higher back here: It will help define the room’s boundary, even if the eye still wanders past it. One of my favorite chairs on the mass-market today is the West Elm Sweep Chair, and the fact that it’s now part of their custom upholstery program has made it even better. Here, I’d do the stock “Elephant” gray leather, to play up the grays of the rug, but you could make a case for the Honey and Ivory leathers here, too. But since we’ll probably do a cream-stone or caramel leather coffee table, I stand behind the Elephant. Well, maybe beside the Elephant!

5. Know When to Say Goodbye.

Lacy has one of the best eyes I’ve come across when it comes to thrift stores and online classified ads, and the green upholstered chair in the living room is a great example. But its deceiving scale (it’s lonnnng in the seat!) means it may need another home elsewhere in the house. That sets the stage for pairing her other two chairs side by side, with a table in between them, my first choice of where this handsome duo should park at the party.

6. Don’t Leave it Hanging.

Lacy admits that the TV is too high… but it’s all hard-wired, with an outlet that would show if the TV were brought down to a more comfortable viewing height. So aside from rewiring, I’d use a piece made to NOT hang the TV… and choose one that’s designed to work in a corner. That makes the top candidate the Reston Cabinet from Ballard Design. Don’t think that putting the TV in a larger piece gives it even more importance. Actually, just the opposite, as the piece itself, not the TV, is what you’ll notice first. And the room will be the richer for the warm wood tones.

7. Balancing Act.

That TV, especially if in a larger dark wood unit, has the potential of throwing the whole room out of balance, visually, even if the intent is to make it a focal point. So on the other side of the entryway into the room, let’s get some visual weight there. There’s opportunity on that prime slice of wall between entry and windows for a great little étagère or secretary, like the Medici Secretary with Hutch, and the balance would benefit from some height.

But height is achieved not just by the piece you pick… it can also come from what you put above it. Because this room has few walls for art (and fewer by the time we get done... keep reading!!!) I’d go with a shorter piece like the Medici, but without the hutch, and a great, substantially framed piece of art above it, linked with a lamp. For Lacy, my very first choice of art would be framing a charming wood turtle picked up from a local craftsman on an island getaway. The rustic piece, framed in a modern shadow box, above a more traditional piece, and this one corner has all the room’s attributes rolled into one. Plus, it gives a place to set up a bar for some casual entertaining. The two pieces (for the TV and the the desk/chest) should match in wood tones, but don't have to be a matched set.

8. Lead… and Supporting Roles.

Adjoining rooms, even if open plan, do not need to have identical color schemes. But there should be some commonality and flow. My trick is to swap the “Lead” and “Supporting” colors in adjoining rooms. The living room’s mostly cool palette can use a tiny touch of earthy warmth, like the rusty accents on Wisteria’s Kuba Cloth Kidney Pillow, perfect on the sofa, or their Kuba Cloth Pillows on her vintage chairs or doorway chair. I’d also throw a warm color onto the wood-armed pair of chairs when it’s time to reupholster. Their pairing, at one end of the long combined space are then the perfect companion and balancing element to the drapery panels at the far end, so relate those two fabric choices.

But in the dining room, I’d go bigger on the warm color… and frame the far window with cognac or straw-colored silk, like Pottery Barn's Dupioni SIlk Panels in Deep Amber. (To save some pennies, get the inside mount shades done professionally, but find off-the-rack window panels and hanging hardware from a retail source, even if your local dry cleaner has to shorten the hems.)

And I’d bring some of the rug references (gray, and pattern), which is a star player in the living room, into the dining room’s supporting cast: Two Parson's Chairs, in Ballard Designs' Toscana Ikat in slate gray, cream and camel fabric, at the table’s ends, and the party is really getting started. These two upholstered chairs work well with Lacy's existing side chairs, on which I’d do a DIY reupholster, popping off the seats and brandishing a yard or two of fabric and a fully loaded staple gun. Don’t feel like the seats have to match the other chairs… I’d reference the curtain color, instead, or something that marries the two.

So the side dining room window doesn’t feel underdressed, I’d do a fabric valance (outside mount) in the same fabric as the stationary panels…. And, paired with an amazing light fixture, our “picture” from the kitchen in to the dining room is done!

9. Window Trickery.

Two windows seem under-scaled for the role they need to play in the room. On the end of the dining room, that smallish window needs some backup for it to take the starring role it deserves, and to paint the picture it’s already starting to, based on prime visual location alone.

On the side wall in the living room, the couch seems to teeter on a small center point window. Since window replacement isn’t in the credit cards, there needs to be another solution. And that solution is window treatment trickery.

For both windows, a rod stretching far past the window frame then hung with stationary hanging panels will give the windows more visual weight, introduce more softness and color into the dining room, and give the couch a suitable backdrop. For the illusion to work on any window, the panels need to cover the window’s side frames all the way into the glass, making it appear the windows are far wider than they actually are. Rods should be mounted about a third of the way down in the space between crown molding and window frame, and fabric panels should be ample enough (you may have to double up on store-bought panels) to give the illusion they could be pulled closed across the entire expanse. Dinky drapes won’t do! It will look like you ran out of money.

But while the dining room windows should be dressed in warm-toned panels (like the Deep Amber Dupioni already mentioned, or these Velvet Panels in Maple Leaf... and the room is big enough to handle the wall-to-window contrast), I’d go with something cooler, and closer to the wall color in light/dark value for the sofa wall, like Dupioni Silk in Gray, or West Elm's Silk Panels in Pewter in the living room. But the living room panels don’t need to match the wall color exactly… just close in value, so they're not too contrasty. I’d actually pull one of the rug’s grays up and into the room. The panels and hardware should be pretty close to the sofa’s full width… or even better, just a bit past. Don’t panic: you CAN put side tables in front of drapes, even with lamps on the tables!

As noted before, this window trick in the living room means a tiny bit less space for hanging art. But the sofa-grounding balance, and-room-enveloping coziness it will give overrides that.

10. Phase it In, Phase it Out.

Not everyone can throw everything out and start over. Nor, generally, should they. So I always look for ways to temporarily transition or repurpose existing pieces. Since Lacy wants a new coffee table, (I agree the two cubes are too chunky and traffic-stopping where there are now) they make perfect interim side tables for the sofa (even if they're a little low). Their dark finish, even in small amount, helps hold their own against the TV wall’s dark woods and big screen.

11. Table Talk.

So what would I use for a new coffee table? Something leggy (let that rug have its star turn!) and Lacy’s suggestion for a stone topped table could be great (again, marrying the molding’s white, the sofa’s ivory, and the rugs grays) into one natural palette, itself then a perfect party-companion to the window’s natural grasses.

I love the finish and nesting sides of Ethan Allen’s Evan Coffee Table if we’re sticking to stone.

Aside from stone, I love the shape, modern air and hardwearing leather top of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Duncan Coffee Table Ottoman, or their vintage-y Nash. Of all these, the EA Evan or the MG+BW Duncan are my strong frontrunners, and worth the slightly higher investment value…. Just keep an eye for sales, which both vendors frequently offer.

All these would be perfect if the side tables stay the cubes. If side tables go airier, the coffee table can get a little more heft and visual weight… the Wisteria Avant Garde table, for example.

12. Light, Fantastic.

Every room needs lots of lighting options, and without fail, I find that people underlight (and "under lamp") rooms. Lacy is willing to forego both the living room’s ceiling fan and the dining room’s pleasant but underwhelming (in style and scale) fixture. Remember, the dining room overhead fixture is a big part of the “picture” we’re orchestrating here, against the newly-redressed window wall.

To get that dining room fixture exactly where you want it (not centered over the table) use an oversized ceiling medallion to hide the source of the wiring when the new fixture is ceiling mounted, like this simple version from VanDyke’s Restoration, which could easily look like it came with the house.

I am NEVER a fan of a general overhead light in a living room, with recessed or track lighting the only exception, but here, they’d be too modern for the space. So I’d do something simple, pretty, and ceiling-hugging, that perhaps feels of the vintage of a past renovation, like Horchow's Silver Satin Ceiling Fixture. But honestly, I’d never turn it on except during some serious Spring cleaning.

But in the dining room, we need JEWELRY. And even in a traditional home, I love more modern or and more exotic lighting. I’d even break the metal-matching rule here, and go with something brassy or gold to the rest of the space’s nickels and silvers. This is your most entertaining party guest, so make it something with great personality. My first choice for Lacy would be the Currey & Company Confetti Cube Pendant (How’s THAT for a party guest??). Also consider Horchow's Alita Basketweave fixture, shown further above.

Another option could be Currey’s Arabiah Pendant (an transportive companion to the exotic Ikat in the chairs) or the equally high-profile Sputnik Filament Chandelier from Restoration Hardware, but I’m betting good money the eagle-eyed Lacy could also find the perfect vintage fixture in her travels.

13. Odds and Ends.

Back to the living room: I’d consider Wisteria’s Sleek metal and marble accent table between the two vintage chairs, in their new home centered on the bay windows. Reupholster those two chairs in a designer to-the-trade fabric… a great place to splurge, since the design of these chairs is sparing of yardage.

Finally, add a basket or two (like these from Horchow) beneath the legs of a side table or atop the Medici Secretary Desk.

And remember, a little room (the front living room is not ginormous, and still needs to function as circulation) can take way more furniture and layered detail than you realize, and this space is no exception. But Lacy is most certainly up to the task! Hopefully this plan lets her add pieces as she goes, with a cohesive but collected end goal in sight.

What did I miss? What would you do to design Lacy’s space? I’ll be eating my scone while you think about it.

Get social! Find Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams, Ballard Designs, Horchow, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Currey & Company, and Wisteria on Facebook.