Letting your decor breathe

January 25, 2004|By Claire Whitcomb | Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

The usual cure for the decorating blahs is shopping. But hold your credit card. Mariette Himes Gomez, one of New York's leading decorators, says that if there's something wrong with your scheme, don't go on a collecting binge. Just take away a pillow or two. The extra breathing space might just be what your room needs.

Gomez, a master of the sort of understatement that creates soothing, comfortable rooms, offers decorating Rx aplenty in her new book, Rooms: Creating Luxurious, Livable Spaces (Regan Books, $39.95). "I strongly believe in editing," Gomez declares. And one of the first things she moves out is the collection of family pictures. If you clear off the tops of pianos and mantels, you can create a gallery in the hallway. In the process, you'll simplify your living -- always one of Gomez's goals -- and give your family pictures added stature.

If the frames are of various materials, Gomez advocates changing them to all silver or all wood.

"Don't be eclectic and mix brass, Lucite and other materials within the same grouping," she says, "because the ensemble becomes a collection of frames rather than pictures."

And don't forget about color.

"Get rid of any color that screams for attention and takes your eye away from everything else," Gomez says. That means avoiding brass for such things as doorknobs and hinges. Brassiness "stops the eye," she says. Her metal of choice is antique nickel, a hardware option that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

In her own decorating, Gomez is careful to eliminate high-color contrasts and keep the background of her rooms within a disciplined range of pale hues. "In a less colorful space, you can get away with fewer pieces of furniture," she says. "Neutral rooms let you use large-scale objects more easily."

Freeing up space is the heart of Gomez's art. She's something of a radical in that she believes in clustering sofas and chairs in the middle of the room, away from the walls.

"I surround each piece with enough space to let it breathe," Gomez says.

This formula is most easily applied in large houses where multiple conversation areas can be floated in a living room, each anchored by an area rug. But Gomez has been known to move sofas away from the walls in small apartments. She's adamant that furniture be beautiful enough to be seen from all sides "like sculpture."

As for type of furniture, Gomez doesn't mind whether it's modern or antique, as long as it has fabulous lines. That way, she explains, "the architecture becomes a backdrop to the furniture rather than having to carry the whole room."

Of course, if you're floating sculptural furniture in the middle of the room, it helps to have pared-down surroundings. Which brings us back to Gomez's list of cures for lusterless rooms.

If you've experimented with removing pillows and things still feel a little off, she recommends liberating the coffee table from that pile of books.

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