Untrained eyes can decorate flawlessly


January 20, 1991|By Michael Walsh

While picture-perfect rooms in decorating magazines give us something to aspire to, just as often they make us feel as if we have taste only in our mouths. We drool over those lovely spaces and know deep in our hearts that, unless we win the lottery and hire an interior designer, we -- mere mortals, amateur-do-it-yourself, make-do, shoestring decorators that we are -- will never be able to achieve the same results. You know, rooms that look pulled together, perfectly coordinated, all matched and mixed, decoratively correct and . . . well, finished looking.

There is no denying that some people seem to have an inborn talent for design and decorating. Unfailingly, they know what goes with what. They have unerring eyes when it comes to color coordination and pattern matching.

Then there are the rest of us. Either we don't know what we like in terms of furnishings or frills or else we like everything. In any case, we never seem to be quite able to put it all together so that it has that just-right look.

There are several things we all need to realize about design and decorating. For one thing, almost all design is derivative. Professional designers and architects steal ideas from each other shamelessly. When an idea shows up more than once, though, they call it a trend. Like the rest of us, they pore over decorating magazines and borrow liberally from their colleagues. So, for you and me, duplicating decorating solutions is a perfectly legitimate way to compensate for lack of taste, talent and originality.

If you look closely at enough design books and decorating magazines, you'll begin to notice some common-denominator shortcuts employed by both pro and am alike. One of the easiest and most effective is the use of a single pattern of wallpaper fabric lavishly applied to almost everything in a room . . . walls, windows, tables, sofas, chairs, ottomans, everything from pillow shams to picture frames.

The one-pattern approach takes the guesswork out of decorating. Effortlessly everything ties in with everything else, and a room has an instantly unified look. Finding one appealing pattern, available in both wall covering and fabric, automatically reduces your options and accelerates the decorating process.

You don't have to feel as if this is the decorating method of last resort. Some big-name decorators -- Mario Buatta, a k a "the prince of chintz," comes to mind -- have made their reputations by smothering entire rooms with yards and yards of cabbage-rose wallpaper and textiles. Probably the second most common fast-forward decorating approach is to rely on no more than three patterns. Typically, you'll see a small-scale pattern applied to walls, a medium pattern applied to window treatments and furniture and a large-scale pattern for pillows or tablecloths. There's no hard-and-fast formula for this, but one rule of thumb is the larger the surface the smaller the pattern, and vice versa.

Using three patterns is a bit trickier than using just one, but not by much, especially if you employ one more shortcut. The trick is not to shop for paint, wallpaper and upholstery and curtain fabric at separate sources. Like clothing manufacturers, the manufacturers of wallpaper and fabric routinely assemble entire "collections" of coordinated patterns and colors. So now you can make one stop at your neighborhood wallpaper store and find everything you need.

Thumb through almost any wallpaper sample book and you'll find that the designers and artists who work for the manufacturers have already put together dozens of design schemes -- stripes that correlate perfectly with floral prints that gowith plaids. You'll also discover that a wallpaper border is matched with a fabric border you can use on draperies or pillows.

What makes the decision even easier is the fact that more and more paint and wallpaper stores these days have decorating consultants-salespeople on staff. Although they may not be interior designers, they should be familiar enough with the various wallpaper/fabric collections to steer you to the right sample books. They may also be able to refer you to paperhangers, painters, upholsterers and drapery makers.

The point is, there's no use feeling inadequate or chronically dissatisfied with the rooms you live in just because you don't have what it takes to decorate competently or confidently. If you're like the rest of us, you probably don't have what it takes to tune up your own car, either. Or, like many of us, you buy your clothes off the mannequin because someone else has put together an entire outfit that looks good and that saves you the time and trouble of trying to decide what tie goes with what suit or what blouse goes with what skirt.

The same is true of decorating materials. Without hiring an interior designer, it is still possible to achieve a designer look by taking advantage of the wallpaper and fabric collections assembled by someone else and available at one-stop-shopping resources.

And even with these off-the-rack materials you can still get a tailor-made look, because no one else will be applying them in the same quantities to the same walls or the same furniture, or even in quite the same way as they will be applied to your rooms.

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