Decorating for comfort Design: Martha Stewart's new guidebook focuses on creation of stylish spaces for easy living and entertaining.

March 09, 1997|By Dylan Landis | Dylan Landis,UNIVERAL PRESS SYNDICATE

A devotion to Martha Stewart, whether you've taken it public or not, may send you into periodic shock. This is, after all, a woman who feels that no gingerbread house is architecturally complete without a gold-leaf roof.

But Stewart's new book, "How to Decorate: A Guide to Creating Comfortable, Stylish Living Spaces," written by Celia Barbour (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $20), is almost a sonnet to simplicity. Light, color and breathing space are its key ingredients, ease without embellishment its theme.

Good decorating, writes Stewart in her introduction, "consists of the ability to turn a space, however small, into a home that is inviting, warm and useful. And while it can mean putting everything one deems beautiful into a space, it can also be a process of editing out everything unnecessary."

And she's right. "Useful" is a worthy goal, and the most-used room will sometimes be a peaceful, half-empty place.

Consider the rooms where friends and family draw together in your home. Don't let your decorating be governed by the formal names for such spots, advises Stewart, for one household may find its true living room to be the kitchen, while another family gravitates to the parlor, the dining room or the den.

"If your rooms are designed for the approval of some imaginary visitor," the book cautions, "you wind up with 'dead space' the rooms people pass by on their way to someplace more comfortable."

Instead, what counts where people congregate is good lighting, a balance of open space and intimacy and an overriding sense of comfort.

These attributes are at the heart of an open-minded chapter called "Gathering," a portfolio of inviting spaces that range from a cottage owner's telephone room -- host to private conversations and small convocations of friends -- to a sleek, 1940s-style living room, its walls polka-dotted from ceiling to floor with round vintage mirrors.

"Color," the book's first chapter, makes a critical point about white: Outside of kitchens and bathrooms, it's not as neutral as ++ most people assume.

"It actually makes any other color jump out at you," notes Stephen Earle, style director of Martha Stewart Living, in a section on paint. "If you want to neutralize a room, find a color that blends things together."

Indeed, designers have been saying this for years, often to their clients' disbelief: White walls can create such strong contrasts in a small room that the space may look even more cramped.

The most obvious point in this chapter is essentially an advertisement, for nearly every wall is clad in Martha Stewart's own paint.

But the larger lesson is that even strong colors can suffuse a room with serenity. Sage, buff, olive, pink: All of these shades are defined by a softness of hue. These qualities may be found in other lines of paint, but as Stewart correctly points out, the more pigment a paint contains, the more it reveals hidden hues as daylight changes, and the more it will harmonize with anything you collect. (Also, the more it will cost.)

The confession is right on the cover: All of these photos were lifted from Stewart's magazine. But the book, an oversized paperback of quiet beauty, is accessibly priced. Most important, somewhere in the act of recycling, this lady of perpetual motion has put her finger -- and ours -- on the pulse of American style.


Hide the roller mechanism of a window shade by installing a handsome length of crown molding directly in front, along the top of the window opening.

Build a collection around a strong, common theme, and you may be able to do it on a shoestring. Stewart lives with a congregation of green, and only green, McCoy vases -- a type of American art pottery that's still often affordable at flea markets.

To unify a variety of furniture styles in her bedroom -- a Victorian oak bed and two cafe tables used as night stands -- Stewart painted everything a high-gloss white. It may feel slightly criminal to paint over natural wood, but the purity and simplicity of white can bring out the lines of a well-proportioned piece. (Tip: Save the paint for flea-market antiques, not those with real pedigree.)

Mirrors may have more to offer if unconventionally situated. A narrow mirror hung at dining-table level can frame a reflection of candlelight; a mantel mirror leaned against the wall rather than hung can bounce sunlight toward the ceiling, brightening the room.

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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