Design with emotion

Home: To give new life to a room, keep an open mind -- and look for a little inspiration.

August 22, 1999|By Bo Niles | Bo Niles,Universal Press Syndicate

Every room design starts somewhere. Many designers believe that the major elements in design -- a color, a swatch of fabric, a piece of furniture or an architectural detail -- are their inspiration, or starting point. Yes, agrees Judith Wilson, seasoned design journalist, photo stylist and author of "Inspiration, Decoration: Starting Points for Stylish Rooms" (Simon & Schuster Editions, $35) -- and no.

"Decorating," she writes, "is an emotional issue."

Inspiration, therefore, must trigger an emotion. Otherwise a room will not delight. It will be dead.

To kindle inspiration, Wilson invites the reader to "abandon preconceptions about what can and cannot be used in a room." Inspiration, to her, is a catalyst for rethinking and reconsidering what you already have, and an opportunity to travel on a journey of discovery and delight. Take time and look around you, and you will, she says, find hidden joys in what you own and uncover ideas elsewhere that embolden you to look at your home anew.

Baltimore-area interior decorator Janet Plitt cites the case of a little red wagon.

"It was something my clients had always loved, but never knew what to do with," Plitt, the owner of Morgan Truesdell Interiors, explains. "They'd just stashed it away."

Plitt pulled out the wagon and made it the base of a glass-topped coffee table. "That coffee table ended up inspiring us to design the whole room around it," she says. She covered sofas in denim with red piping, and gave the space an all-American feel.

Inspiration can strike at any time, and it need not mandate a radical overhaul of a room. More often than not, inspiration is an invitation to revamp and renew.

When a room begins to feel tired, you should "consider alternative uses for your existing furniture," Wilson advises. Moving things around can enliven rooms to remarkable effect. For example, a lovely antique side chair that may have beenn off-limits for years would enjoy a new life -- and look more appealing -- standing in for a bedside table. That bedside table, in turn, could assume a new identity as a telephone table in a hallway or as a plant stand at a sunny window.

Customizing is another way to rejuvenate furniture and inspire a decorating scheme. Many furnishings, especially old pieces that have been in a family for years or flea-market finds, "have elements that can be eased out and highlighted," Wilson writes, with new paint, gilt or hardware.

For one of her clients, decorator Plitt gave new life to the family's old armoire. She took the doors off, painted the inside and out with light colors and flowers, and turned the piece into an entertainment center.

"It went from being dark and heavy to something light and airy, housing the TV and stereo," Plitt says. "The clients loved it!"

Inspiration can strike in a flash, but Wilson believes the creative process should be slow and deliberate. Through the visual examples of 12 room makeovers, she encourages readers to think through every decorating decision at least twice. No scheme is fail-safe. Taste is personal. So in each makeover she not only illustrates successful strategies for enhancing the particular space she had photographed, but she points out pitfalls as well. As she analyzes each situation, Wilson offers dozens of tips that can be translated to any setting.

Considering fabric, for example, she suggests that readers explore alternative resources such as theatrical suppliers, who carry bolts in extra-wide widths. Because today's window dressings are simple compared with the opulent, multilayered confections of the 1980s and early '90s, many designers advocate floating plain, gauzy sheers along curtain rods or poles. Super-wide theatrical gauzes -- and apparel-weight sheers -- fill the bill at a fraction of the cost of designer goods.

Other fabrics associated with apparel, such as men's suit wools and shirt cottons, have crossed over into decorating, too. Transformed into upholstery, slipcovers and curtains, they offer a crisp, tailored look in subtle patterns such as oxford-cloth and pin stripes.

Budget constraints, Wilson writes, may "generate a more inspired result." Imaginative decorating schemes are often based on juxtapositions of the expensive and the cheap. Such schemes are cost-effective and full of personality.

A clipping here, a swatch there

* As you progress on your journey of discovery from inspiration to decoration, gather as many clippings, swatches and samples as you can. Make "story boards" for every room. Whittle choices. Trial and error are critical to the creative process. Mistakes can be fun and fruitful, and are necessary before committing to a final scheme.

* Consider alternate uses for commonplace decorative items. A tablecloth, for example, can be transformed into a lightweight bedcover; a pair can be sewn up into a reversible duvet cover.

* If a particular fabric you love is too costly to use for upholstery or draperies, it might still be worked into the scheme as a border treatment to complement a fine, plain, less-expensive fabric. It can also be used to cover a pillow or two or to line another less vibrant fabric at the window.

Sloane Brown contributed to this article.

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