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Pro Pointers: Designers' Top Decorating Tips

Looking to revamp or simply perk up your home? We collected an array of outstanding advice from tastemakers who can help any home stand out.

By the Family Circle home editors

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Books Make a Home by Damian Thompson
Courtesy of Damian Thompson, from Books Make a Home
Courtesy of Tim Street-Porter
Courtesy of Tereasa Surratt
Kerri McCaffety
Pieter Estersohn
Erik Kvalsvik
Debi Treloar
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Damian Thompson

In Books Make a Home (Ryland Peters & Small), Damian Thompson, an editor at The World of Interiors magazine, offers his tips for displaying your titles with style.

—Create an instant reading nook with a tall shelving unit flanked by cozy chairs.

—Arranging books by color creates a striking rainbow effect, especially against white walls.

—Keep cases from looking stuffy by breaking up rows of books with knickknacks, artwork and collectibles.

—A stack of books can fill an empty corner or provide a perch for a lamp or a set of speakers.

—To personalize a built-in or plain bookcase, paint the interior or line it with a patterned paper. 

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Mark and Sally Bailey

Designers Mark and Sally Bailey share a passion for artfully designed interiors in Handmade Home (Ryland Peters & Small). Here, they offer their decorating know-how.

—Eclectic furnishings, handcrafted objects and personal touches lend character to a home.

—To find unique objects, visit galleries, craft fairs and artists' open studio days.

—Layer contrasting textures, like smooth hardwood floors and a shaggy wool rug, to add warmth to a room.

—Enjoy your beautiful pottery, baskets and vintage tools by using them every day.

—Avoid a cluttered, haphazard look by grouping art and objects by theme or color. 

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Deborah Needleman

In the charmingly illustrated new book The Perfectly Imperfect Home, Deborah Needleman, editor-in-chief of WSJ magazine, shares her insight on what makes beautiful, well-loved rooms.

—Use the "law of threes" and tie a room together with a color—here, the red in a chair is picked up by the pillow, rug and lamps.

—Cluster objects—like mementos and treasured pictures—on a surface to make an artful yet meaningful display.

—Place a table lamp anywhere you want a soft glow—on a mantel or even on a counter in the kitchen.

—Cover a side table with a tailored piece of fabric to add a sleek look. Use the space underneath for stashing odds and ends.

—Children's artwork—whether framed or not—personalizes a space. 

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Katie Ridder

In Katie Ridder Rooms, the interior designer reveals how she creates spaces that are both stylish and practical. A few favorite tips:

—Ridder designed a girls' bedroom for multiple uses with a desk area, a daybed and a sofa.

—Each room benefits from many sources of warm, welcoming light—sconces by sofas, table lamps, standing lamps and an overhead with dimmer are essentials.

—You'll save time and money if you have a plan in place before purchasing furnishings. The goal is a combination of open areas and intimate clusters.

—Highlight the focal point of the master bedroom with an upholstered headboard in an unusual shape. 

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Celerie Kemble

Designer Celerie Kemble explores the versatility of a classic palette in her book Black & White (and a Bit in Between): Timeless Interiors, Dramatic Accents, and Stylish Collections. Here, she tells how to make these colors work.

—High-gloss black trim and moldings set against natural wood furnishings make a sophisticated statement in a room.

—Update black, white and neutral furnishings with accent items and accessories in pops of color.

—Turn a group of mismatched chairs into a unified set by painting all of the pieces either black or white.

—Re-print your family color snapshots in black and white and group on a wall for a chic, unified look.

—Revive old furniture with white, machine-washable slipcovers in linen or cotton canvas. 

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Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard's book Live, Love, and Decorate showcases the glamorous homes of celebrity clients like Cher and Elton John. He shares easy ideas for creating star-quality decor.

—Create a summery look with a mix of ethnic print pillows. In winter, opt for plaids or faux fur.

—When decorating, look to what you love to wear and play with those tones.

—There's no need to travel to far-flung bazaars to get jet-set chic—fake the look with a few exotic accessories from places like zgallerie.com and worldmarket.com.

—Use and enjoy your favorite china, crystal and silver pieces every day—not just for holiday entertaining.

—For the luxurious effect of custom drapes scrunch two sets of ready-mades together on one rod. 

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Tereasa Surratt

In her book Found, Free, and Flea, Tereasa Surratt shows treasures she discovered while rehabbing an old summer camp. She shares ideas for decorating with collectibles.

—"Curate crates and containers in pops of fun color, stacking a wider base to accommodate bedside amenities, like a reading lamp or fan," says Tereasa.

—Transform your bathroom by using vintage medicine jars and tins to hold Q-tips and cotton balls.

—Collect dishes and glassware from yard sales and thrift shop—the styles and eras may vary but you can unify them with a common color scheme.

—Use old containers—like milk bottles and pitchers from flea markets—as vases or to hold flatware. 

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Bryan Batt

Actor Bryan Batt, of Mad Men fame, is also an interior designer. In his new book, Big, Easy Style he shares how to achieve his stellar look.

—"Every room should have at least one comfortable piece of furniture to rest your weary bones on," says Batt.

—Don't be afraid to mix styles and periods—just keep proportion and balance in mind to find the perfect combination.

—Collect a group of dining or kitchen chairs from garage or estate sales, then lacquer them in a vibrant color or faux finish to make a statement. The same goes with stemware—mix it up to set a fun, eclectic table.

—A room needs a single focal point—a great work of art, a dramatic piece of furniture, an architectural element or a stunning view—and the rest will fall into place. 

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Susanna Salk

As a mom of two boys, Susanna Salk, author of Room for Children (Rizzoli), knows firsthand how to design for the tween-to-teen set. We asked for her tips.

—Remember, decorating is all about self-expression. Set up the basics in kids' bedrooms, then let their personality shine through.

—Start with a great rug and pull paint colors from the pattern. Make the rug comfy enough to sit on by choosing one with a thick pile or sliding a quality rug pad underneath.

—Furnishings don't have to come from a children's store. Kids love pieces from grown-up places like Pier 1 or Anthropologie.

—Avoid collectibles chaos by letting kids keep only what can be displayed—if it's shoved in a drawer, it can't be that special.

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Terry John Woods

In Terry John Woods' Summer House, the designer/author opens the doors of his weekend retreat. He shares bright, breezy decorating tips for any season.

—Use varying shades of white to give a small space a more airy feel.

—Use an inexpensive canvas drop cloth (check your hardware store) as an easy-to-wash slipcover for your sofa. For a truly tailored look, have it custom-sewn to fit.

—A sisal rug is a wonderful neutral accent for a living room that can be added into any design scheme.

—If you have the space, place a comfy reading chair in the corner of each bedroom to create a quiet, private nook.

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Barry Dixon

In Barry Dixon Inspirations (Gibbs Smith), the Virginia-based interior designer presents a dozen of his favorite interiors along with real-life tips for achieving each look. Check out his advice for creating the house of your dreams.

—Redo the room you spend the most time in, rather than the for-company-only area.

—If you have a beautiful view outside your window, avoid using busy printed curtains—make the vista the focus of the room.

—When it comes to pairing colors, opposites attract. For example, cool grays work with warm yellows and soft lavenders go with rich browns.

—A bamboo coffee table or tray is perfect for a family room—drinking glasses won't leave water rings on this sustainable material.

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Holly Becker

The blogger and style enthusiast follows the best design trends. The coauthor of Decorate (Chronicle Books) and decor8blog.com shares tried-and-true tips she's discovered.

—Outfit a living room so it's both a chic entertaining zone and a cozy spot for reading.

—For a low-commitment makeover, tie back drapes with velvet ribbons picked up at a craft store—use three different colored ribbons for major impact.

—When looking for paint, choose a shade or two lighter than what you're drawn to. Paint chips often differ from the final product.

—Blogs are a wonderful way to check out new ideas. Try thehappyhomeblog.com, acreativemint.typepad.com and, of course, decor8blog.com.

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Kelly Hoppen

In Kelly Hoppen Interiors, the renowned decorator has created a little black book of design ideas. She shares her top-notch tips.

—Warm-hued accent pieces, like the amber glass vessels, liven up a neutral scheme.

—For an incredibly flattering glow, scatter table lamps around the living room.

—Freshen up for the season by removing and then rearranging the objects on a bookshelf or mantel.

—Identify your family's needs and wishes before making any decorating changes—every voice counts.

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Charlotte Moss

In Charlotte Moss Decorates, the interior designer shares tips for achieving her signature effortless elegance. Her advice for embarking on your own project:

—In a windowless or view-challenged room, hang landscape paintings and photos to simulate a vista.

—To help hone and define your tastes, fill a scrapbook with images and things that inspire you, like pages torn from magazines or catalogs, favorite photos, and fabric swatches.

—Furnish your rooms with what speaks to you. Just like the current skirt lengths, "it" home accessories or colors aren't a must for everyone.

—A touch of humor brings a space to life; try a quirky table object or a witty needlepoint pillow.

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Christiane Lemieux

Twelve years ago Christiane Lemieux founded DwellStudio, a graphic, geometric line of table and bed linens. Next came a sister collection for Target. In her book, Undecorate, this mom of two advocates breaking all the tried-and-true rules of interior design.

—Try a stack of your favorite books as an impromptu side table.

—Follow your instinct, even when it's telling you to do something a little crazy, like wallpapering the ceiling.

—Decorate with a blend of heirlooms, new furniture, and treasured collections to design a space that's unique you.

—Painting a bedroom a dark shade creates a cozy sleeping environment—plus, it'll make everything in the room look new.

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Stephen Saint-Onge

In his new book, No Place Like Home, the decorator and dad of two shares a DIY plan for cozy and sophisticated decor. His favorite tricks:

—Remove the books and tray from this ottoman-turned-coffee-table for a comfortable spot to rest your feet.

—Lowering the wattage in a lamp will instantly (and easily) transform the look and mood of a room.

—Mirrors give the illusion of more space by bouncing light around. Hang one over a mantel or lean an oversize version against a wall.

—Take a cue from book clubs and form a Friday night design group with friends and neighbors. Every week members meet at each other's houses and help paint, move furniture, or just share ideas and inspiration. Some projects can be completed in a night, others may need more like a weekend.

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Lili Diallo

As a professional stylist, Lili Diallo can pull a room together with a few small tweaks. In her book, Details: A Stylist's Secrets to Creating Inspired Interiors, she reveals all.

—Bring harmony to an eclectic mix of objects with hints of a single color palette, like the citruses shown here.

—A space that is too perfect can be boring. Always include one item in an unexpected hue or shape.

—Change the look of an old sofa by casually throwing a fabulous piece of fabric over it—the result is an easy, instant reupholstery!

—Add character and soul by mixing textures, like tossing a linen pillow onto a leather chair or placing a silk lamp shade near a wooden table.

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Chris Madden

In The Soul of a House, the decorator (and mom of two boys) opens the doors to her own home. She shares easy tips for creating warmth.

—Symmetry, like a pair of lamps or tables, creates an instant harmony and balance.

—A successful room incorporates all five senses. Get the look with a textured throw, scented candle, good music, pretty art, and a cup of delicious hot chocolate or tea.

—As your family grows and evolves, freshen up your decor with personal touches and perhaps a new piece of furniture to suit your needs.

—To beat the dreaded winter doldrums, bring in a potted plant, like an orchid (Madden's favorite) or holly. It'll instantly add cheer and vitality to any spot.

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Frank Fontana

The interior designer and HGTV host tells all in his book, Frank Fontana's Dirty Little Secrets of Design. His top tricks:

—Decorating is like creating a sandwich: Add "garnishes" until you achieve a taste you like.

—A room needs at least one clash piece, like zebra pillows or colorful art, to add that dash of whimsy to an otherwise straightforward decor.

—Paint or embellish your ceiling—it's the largest blank surface area in your home and shouldn't be neglected.

—Forget the myth that you must paint a small space a bright shade to make it feel bigger. Choose whatever hue you like.

—For a DIY dark wood stain, mix three parts strongly brewed coffee, one part water, and four tea bags. Steep for a day before brushing onto furniture.

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Mary McDonald

The decorator is known for vintage Hollywood movie-worthy houses, as seen in her book Mary McDonald: Interiors. She shares her tips for bringing a touch of glamour to everyday life.

—Every space needs a dose of whimsy, whether it's unusual lamps or a large graphic painted element.

—A soft rose-colored ceiling creates a warm, flattering glow and lends a subtle feminine flourish.

—For a touch of luxury, paint the inside of a small closet a vibrant glossy color and add new decorative hooks for bags.

—Look to rooms in your favorite flicks for decorating inspiration. McDonald loves the sets from the 1939 film The Women.

—A pair of anything, like chairs or lamps, lends balance to a room—just don't be too matchy-matchy.

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Tricia Guild

In her book, Tricia Guild: Colors, Patterns, and Space, the acclaimed British designer showcases 14 of her favorite interiors. She shares tips for creating an exuberant home.

—In shades of gray and white, wide bands are bold yet soothing in a bedroom.

—Enliven any space with a bold print, whether it's a big statement like wallpaper or just an accent pillow on a sofa.

—Decorating in one style—using exclusively antiques or modern pieces—is a bit cookie cutter. Mix up designs to give your rooms personality.

—When choosing colors, always include a touch of black-and-white. In stripes, florals, or solids, this graphic combo looks glamorous.

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Judith Wilson

In her book, Casual Living, stylist Judith Wilson makes a case for relaxed decor. She shares her tips for creating a warm and orderly family home.

—Jazz up a neutral palette with a few key accessories in unexpected, zingy colors.

—Set up the layout of your furniture so the space is easy to move around in.

—Keep rooms simple, but have fun. Try propping art against the wall instead of hanging it, or tuck snapshots into the corner of a mirror.

—Cut down on chaos by stocking every room with a big basket for stashing for shoes, magazines, and other clutter culprits.

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Serena Dugan and Lily Kanter

Seven years ago Serena Dugan and Lily Kanter teamed up to launch a home-decor company. Now their website serenaandlily.com is a one-stop shop for lively linens, geometric rugs, and vintage finds. These moms share with us their relaxed approach to family-friendly decorating.

—A kid's room doesn't have to be juvenile. Create a happy space with a mix of sophisticated prints in cheerful hues.

—For a low-cost, high-impact way to display kids' art, paint black frames on a wall and use double-sided tape to mount paintings inside.

—Bring new textures, patterns, and colors into your home with a few cozy throws neatly folded and draped over a chair.

—To make any space seem larger, take advantage of natural light by swapping out heavy curtains for lighter panels, like sheers.

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Joe Nye

Interior designer and event planner Joe Nye, author of Flair, believes the key to a successful party is creating a welcoming atmosphere. He shares some ideas for easy entertaining.

—A mix of colorful glass goblets and bowls lends a festive feel to even a casual gathering.

—Inexpensive and long lasting, carnations are a quick way to add color. Just cut stems short and place in a pretty container.

—Always group in threes, whether you've got candlesticks, frames, or other small objects.

—Shortly before guests arrive, light a scented candle in the bathroom.

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Thomas O'Brien

In his new book, American Modern, designer Thomas O'Brien offers a behind-the-scenes peek into his signature style. He shares his top secrets for creating contemporary, comfortable rooms.

—Surround yourself with what you love. Trends may come and go, but your personal style is always in fashion.

—The quickest way to change your decor is with a set of sheets in a dramatic new color or napkins in a bold print.

—Trust your own instincts but learn from experts—visit museums and browse books for decorating inspiration.

—Don't postpone collecting because you think you can't afford it. You can find paintings and pottery at every price in flea markets and online.

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Kathryn M. Ireland

The interior designer and author of Creating a Home believes that all rooms are meant to be lived in, not just looked at. This mom of three boys offers her expert family-friendly tips.

—When decorating, trust your instincts. Choose colors and patterns that make you smile.

—Since everyone gravitates toward the kitchen, make it a hangout zone with comfy chairs or a love seat.

—A throw or even just a piece of fabric tossed over a sofa adds color and pattern, plus it protects furniture from pets and messy kids.

—Let your personality shine in your rooms. Keep favorite books out on display and frame concert tickets and kids' art.

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Lotta Jansdotter

The indie textile whiz is known for her graphic and folkloric designs. With a can of paint and the reusable plastic patterns that come with her book Lotta Jansdotter Stencils, you can put your stamp on nearly everything in your home.

—Go for the unexpected. In lieu of a rug, continue a wall stencil on the floor.

—Start with something easy, like decorating a pillow or a napkin with diamonds.

—Using coordinating colors, play with an assortment of painted shapes in a room—it's more fun than repeating the same one.

—If the end results aren't perfect, relax. Small smudges and color variation are part of the handmade look.

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Monica Rich Kosann

The author of Living with What You Love says that putting together a collection of treasured mementos can be a great way to express your personality. Try her expert display tricks.

—Ask thrift store owners for first dibs on pieces that might fit in with your collectibles.

—Group like items to make a dramatic visual statement.

—Showcase small objects, like pottery, with books on a shelf or on a tray in a cluster.

—Hang images of grandparents, aunts, and uncles close together in coordinating frames to make a family tree wall.

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Rosanna Bowles

Tableware designer Rosanna Bowles, author of Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions, shares her easy tips.

—Get in a sunny mood with pretty floral dishes and pastel linens.

—Giving a wall a new hue (like light blue) can change a room's mood and make it look larger.

—Rearrange furniture to give the space an airier feel. Take advantage of seasonal light by removing anything that blocks windows.

—Store any accessories—like pillows—that have a dark color or heavy pattern. Replace with lighter shades and materials.

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Grayson Handy

The author of Flowers for the Home says that blooms are not just easy on the eye—they're also good for the psyche. Follow his lead in using nature's mood lifters.

—Think beyond the traditional vase. Raid your cupboard for a pitcher or teapot.

—Tailor blooms to the space. In a dining room a tall arrangement can block conversation, but in a foyer it's dramatic.

—Flowers don't have to match your paint color or decor. Just pick what you like.

—Play with monochrome hues for an easy, sophisticated composition.

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Emily Chalmers

The author of Cheap Chic believes that style is all about how things look together, not what they cost. She shares her tips for making a room beautiful on a budget.

—Got lovely dishes? Instant wall decor!

—Try your furniture in unexpected places, like using a chair as a bedside table.

—Food with great packaging, like colorful cans, makes pretty displays on kitchen shelves.

—Arrange the titles on your bookcase according to the color of their spine.

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Annette Tatum

In her book The Well-Dressed Home, designer Annette Tatum proves decorating a room is like putting an outfit together. Try some of her tips for living and looking sharp.

—Replicate a runway look with your bed linens.

—Take your cues from the patterns and colors of your clothing. For example, if you wear mostly neutrals, you probably won't want a bold paint.

—Love the hue of a favorite shirt? Have the shade matched at your local paint store.

—Just as a new belt updates an old dress, small accessories like throw pillows can freshen up your decor.

Copyright 2011 Meredith Corporation.

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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