Advice for the decorating-impaired: Limit paint, fabric

September 27, 1992|By Michael Walsh

One reason decorating is so difficult for many of us is that we get conflicting advice from the experts. On the one hand, decorating magazines trumpet visual harmony, unified style and the compatibility of furnishings. On the other, they rail against the matched-set syndrome that produces anonymous, assembly line-looking rooms in which all the furniture is of the same style and period.

Compounding the problem is the fact that redecorating a room involves more elements -- walls, floors, furniture, windows, accessories -- than most of us are prepared to deal with simultaneously. What's even worse is that we are confounded by too many choices when it comes to materials, colors, patterns, finishes and furnishings. What goes with what? How do you make the windows harmonize with the sofa, the sofa with the chairs, the chairs with the throw pillows? How do you pull it all together without making it look as if it were lifted from the pages of a furniture catalog?

Those who have a natural flair for decorating may be able to sift through the contradictions and the complexities and to craft rooms that are coordinated and highly personal. Those of us born without a single decorating gene, however, need to find another way.

One way is to deliberately restrict your scope and limit your choices. In effect, by making only two decisions and two choices -- paint and fabric -- you can redecorate a room. In record time, without running all over town armed with paint chips and fabric swatches, you can dispense with a room's two major elements, the background and the furniture.

Once implemented, those two solutions will help dictate what follows: the color for carpeting or the pattern of an area rug, even the kinds of artwork and accessories that are appropriate.

Pick out one easy-to-live-with color of paint and use it on the walls, the ceiling and the woodwork. Instead of considering all those surfaces separately and complicating the problem in the process, you make one decision and -- presto -- you've got a nice, clean, pleasingly monochromatic background.

Another low-risk, quick-fix solution is fabric. Anyone who has ever tried to redecorate knows you can drive yourself to distraction trying to coordinate the draperies with the upholstered pieces. Why bother? If you lack the time, talent or inclination to engage in this kind of anxiety-producing enterprise, don't.

Instead, find one kind of fabric with an appealing pattern and then use it everywhere: on the windows, the sofa, the chair, the ottoman, the pillows. If your sofa and chairs are of different styles or periods, covering them with a single style of fabric can make them members of the same furniture family.

If that's not enough variety for you, consider the precoordinated patterns available from companies such as Laura Ashley, which market complementary patterns, such as a large scale print and a matching smaller print, for easy decorating.

If you need to refurnish but economize at the same time, fabric can let you resort to second-hand furniture. Once it's reupholstered or slipcovered with an attractive fabric, who cares where it came from? Just

make sure the frames are sound, the cushions are in good condition, and the shapes and profiles are pleasing.

Once the sofa and chairs have been taken care of, you can finish furnishing on a catch-as-catch-can basis, selecting a coffee table, side tables and other accessory furnishings one at a time. Because the windows and major seating pieces are now coordinated, almost anything will go with them. But aim for variety in terms of both style and material. Deliberately mismatched occasional tables, different wood stains, an antique rocker or a piece of painted furniture thrown in to the mix will keep your resuscitated room from looking overly coordinated.

Using only a limited number of fabrics is a good strategy that works just as well in dining rooms and bedrooms. In a dining room, you could use the same fabric on the windows and the seats of your dining chairs, perhaps even as a tablecloth. In a bedroom, the draperies, upholstered headboard, comforter, bed skirt, pillow shams and a seat cushion for the rocking chair can all be made of the same one or two patterns.

After decorating and furnishing a room, concentrate on detailing and finishing it. Don't leave out the very things that make it distinctively yours: framed family photographs, diplomas, marriage certificates, trophies, souvenirs, heirloom furniture, collections and artwork. Even more than gallons of paint and bolts of fabric, such prized possessions have the power to personalize your decorating efforts.

- Universal Press Syndicate

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