Cheat Codes: 9 Designer Shortcuts that Work

Embrace these favorite pro tricks for quick style
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This article originally appeared on Houzz.com.

Every interior designer has go-to tricks. Today I’d like to share my top cheats that I use time and again for quick results. These foolproof ideas can solve many of your design dilemmas in an afternoon.

1. The corner plant. Some design teachers will tell you putting a plant in an empty corner is a huge no-no, suggesting that an empty corner means the room wasn’t correctly arranged or planned out in the first place. But I often find that plants get forgotten when it comes to designing rooms. So I say, if you ever have a free space for a lively green plant, don’t be afraid to jump on the opportunity to include one.

The trick to ensuring that your corner plant looks like an intentional design feature and not simply a cheat is to go for something large and leafy enough to hold its own against your other furnishings.

Hancock Park

For best results, choose a simple but chunky container (like a block clay pot or textural woven basket) and an easy-maintenance plant that’s at least 3 to 4 feet tall, such as a fiddle-leaf fig, so that the plant visually fills the floor space and wall space.

2. Stacks of books. Besides being great brain candy, having attractive books on hand gives you the tools to correct endless little decor dilemmas.

Is a vase or sculpture looking too small and wimpy? Sit it on a book or two, and suddenly it’s a precious object on a pedestal. One bedside lamp shorter than the other? Use a few books to add height where needed and achieve a perfect symmetry.

Wherever you have an empty shelf, or a ho-hum display that could use a little accessorizing, simply pull out a great oversize book or two, and you’ve got endless options for decorating like a true stylista.

Related: Find the Perfect Throw on Houzz

Tip: For a more neutral display, take the jackets off books with overly busy covers and display just the plain covers.

3. Clear furnishings for contemporary style. Is a space with beautifully classic trappings feeling a little too traditional? One solution is to bring in a few clear elements, either in modern materials like Lucite or in chunky shapes. The clean silhouettes add a sense of “now,” but the transparency lets them blend into their surroundings so the space doesn’t end up feeling wildly eclectic.

Study

Try clear plastic seats, Lucite art shelves, oversize pendant shades or lamp bases, or simple glass vases holding a single type of flower (or nothing at all).

Tip: Mix glass and clear plastics to bridge the low-tech and high-tech materials. And it never hurts to add a little wood for a perfect complement.

Related: Refresh your Bedroom with Nightstands

4. Signature color. Why do interior designers like me have a personal signature paint color? The logic is simple: Colors always look a little different between the paint chip and on the wall, so when you’ve found a great one that you love in real life, there’s no reason not to use it again and again.

I used one of my go-to off-whites (Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray) in the space in this photo and the next, and the results are totally different moods, but both beautiful.

Victorian Home

Besides guaranteeing a great result every time, using a signature color also connects different spaces for a sense of consistency throughout your home. Contrary to what TV may teach you, every room in the home doesn’t need to have its own theme. If you’ve seen a color you like in your own space (or someone else’s), go ahead and repeat it, adding your own spin each time through the other furnishings.

Tip: Repeat the same flooring where possible so you know that the walls and floor will always coordinate the same way. This will make it easy to move furnishings between rooms to make your look flexible and fail-safe.

5. Off-center art. Is that favorite framed keepsake a little too small for the wall? Not when it’s off-center on purpose. Anyone can hang a perfectly sized piece centered over a sofa or bed, but if you have a must-display piece that doesn’t happen to be the right dimensions, try hanging it off to one side and a little low for a quirky asymmetrical look that feels artistic.

Porch House

The same strategy works on a shelf or mantel, or over a table. Just remember: “low and off to one side,” and let that otherwise wimpy piece become a stroke of decorating genius.

 

Related: 9 Things for Every Home's Wishlist

Tip: Make sure that every piece you display is meaningful and effective, rather than taking up space with filler pieces you don’t love just to create a trendy gallery.

6. Hidden technology. Designers love to hide televisions and computers in cabinets and credenzas, especially in more traditional settings, which can seem silly to the person who just bought a slick new flat-screen and wants to show it off.

Black and White House


Keep this mind: In the modern era, technology changes so quickly that today’s shiny new must-have is tomorrow’s dated model. What doesn’t change is the beauty of the other classic pieces in a room.

For a modern approach, turn your media wall (whether it’s just a TV or oodles of gadgets) into a display area, tucking away tech boxes in cabinets or on open shelves among artworks, candles and heirlooms. This lets the area serve as an attractive focal point whether or not the TV is on.

Tip: Use a wireless TV transmitter to send signals from your cable boxes (tucked away in a cabinet near the cable outlet) to your TV to avoid a mess of cables.

7. Throw blankets. A gorgeous throw blanket is the decor equivalent of the garnish on an exquisite meal, giving a room a sense of life, casual elegance and a dash of color or texture. I’m an avowed fan of classic white linens, but a throw blanket spread quickly over the foot of the bed in the morning lends an inviting air that you’ll appreciate when you come back at night.

Don’t get too fussy with a throw blanket. After all, it’s called a “throw” for a reason. When everything else in the space carries clean lines, a casually tossed throw provides some needed softness.

Tip: Invest in a high-quality, natural-fiber blanket with rich color and an enticing hand-feel, and you’ll be able to use it in different rooms for years of style.

8. Black-and-white patterns. Whether you have a busy space filled with drama or a muted palette that needs more life, black-and-white prints and patterns are a virtually foolproof addition. They always feel fashionable, they hold their own without screaming for attention, and they’re so neutral that they won’t fight with even the wildest color palettes.

Fort Worth, TX: Misty Spencer

Any sofa or bedspread can be elevated with a few black-and-white pillows. Add in some monochrome artwork, and you get a sophisticated look every time.

Tip: A simple 1- to 2-inch black-and-white stripe is the most classic of all, perfect for mixing with other patterns and solids in your choice of accent hues.

9. Collecting over time. The last designer cheat for the day is to not rush the design of your space, but rather allow the finishing touches to be collected over time. Often clients want an entire space to be designed and completed ASAP, but if designers take a little extra time with a decision, it’s not just because we’re taking a long lunch. To really know how pieces will work together, you sometimes just have to see them in the space and even live with them for a while.

Taking your time also avoids creating a look that’s too “matchy.” Collecting as you live your life lets you introduce pieces that aren’t so perfect but have just the right character and personality.

Tip: Know when to edit your collection as well. If you keep some storage dedicated to tucking away accents and accessories, you’ll be able to develop your collection without having to show every favored piece all at once (or part with any of them forever).

If you haven’t used something in a year, let it go. It’s the No. 1 secret to having a happy, beautiful home.

Nine Design Tips for Entertaining in a Small Space

Nine Design Tips for Entertaining in a Small Space

Supersize your next soiree with these clever tricks for lighting, seating and crowd control
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This article orinigally appeared on Houzz.com.

The fact that you have a small space shouldn’t mean you can’t have big get-togethers. To help you make your space function well for entertaining—while still working for your day-to-day life—here are some of my favorite tips for furniture, styling and even secret crowd control. You can have the night of your life no matter what your home’s square footage.

1. Color choices. As with any small space, a compact entertaining area can be made to feel bigger by using lots of light color—especially bright white—on the walls. However, an entertaining space sometimes is better off feeling cozy and lively, rather than airy and minimalist.

Related: How to Tastefully Incoporate Coral in Your Home's Color Scheme 

Seaholm Condo, Austin Texas

Don’t be scared to embrace dark or dramatic hues on the walls, either as the primary color or as an accent, to help set a more intimate mood. You can also contrast dark or vivid hues with light, pale hues. These often will recede to create an interplay of depths that can make a room feel bigger and more energetic.

Look to the color scheme of your favorite restaurant for ideas, and keep in mind that any hue will look different in evening light than it does in stark daylight. Lay out paint chips and observe how the color reads at different times of the day.

Saint-Laurent Cottage

2. Lighting. Speaking of lighting, it’s especially important in an entertaining space to have a good lighting scheme that can be controlled to set the right mood. Even in a small space, a single light fixture in the middle of the ceiling can’t be expected to do all the work.

Multilight sconces, such as the smart plug-in fixtures shown here, can help add lighting at a face-flattering angle to make your space and your guests look their best. Use dimmable fixtures, or simply include several smaller lamps so you can build up brightness or a soft glow as desired.

Seaholm Condo, Austin Texas

3. Accents. Besides lighting, mirrors and lighter-hued accents can help a small space feel pleasing rather than claustrophobic. Items like white picture frames or artwork give the eye some visual breaks, while mirrors extend the sight line.

Mirrors also give people an opportunity to surreptitiously catch a glimpse of another party guest—or simply check for spinach in their teeth.

Bachelor Pad

4. Seating. When entertaining, you’ll want to be able to seat a large number of people. Another day, you might want a comfortable place to decompress alone (or even sneak a quick nap). Start your furniture plan with a large sofa, and you’ll be ready for both of these scenarios. When it comes time to pack in guests, you can sit good friends shoulder to shoulder on a long sectional, and the rest of the week you can lounge in comfort.

Houzz Tours Krea-Pernille

An armless sofa frees up precious inches to squeeze in an extra person or two at the ends if you want maximum seating. You can then add in toss pillows to act as an armrest or backrest as needed.

Alternately, a modern sofa with wide arms like this one will give people a place to casually perch while they chat, or an extra spot to set down a drink or snack. Just make sure to provide a serving tray with edges to catch spills. (A dark upholstery that hides stains doesn’t hurt either.)

Of course, a large sofa can fit only so many guests—and some people will probably prefer their own seat. To maximize seating, I like to balance a large sofa with 16- to- 20-inch midcentury modern side chairs. They add a little classic flair without taking up too much space.

You can keep a few in your main entertaining room, or pull some from another room, such as the dining room or even a patio, as needed.

Warm & Inviting Family Home

 

5. Versatile tables. Besides needing a place to sit, your guests will also need space in which to move around, stretch their legs or maybe even dance a little. Avoiding bulky tables and furnishings that block circulation will help make even a small space feel much more open.

Instead of a chunky coffee table, try a leggy option that won’t get in the way of an outstretched foot. Even better, use several small tables that can be moved out of the way or rearranged as desired.

Ferlinsgatan

In general, having an eclectic mix of seating allows you to tackle different entertaining scenarios, so feel free to break out of the typical matchy-matchy box of the “one sofa, two chairs” living room set. Throwing in a few small stools gives you extra seats or tables as needed, and a high side table can be used as compact dining surface or mini bar. Multifunctional pieces like these give you options, and they can be tucked off to the side when not needed.

Bellevue Towers

6. Dining areas. Although spaces vary, an oval or circular table is usually a good fit for small spaces that may need to accommodate a flexible number of guests. The rounded edges allow you to seat guests without having to bump anyone into a corner. Round tables also make it easier to host an odd number of guests without it looking “off.”

As in the living room, using one long bench or banquet mixed with standard dining chairs gives you room to slip in a few extra guests (especially small children) while giving others the option of a solo seat.

LoHi Private Residence

Wall sconces also are a great solution to add a little lighting over a small dining table or another key area. Choose one on a swing arm and you can push it up against the wall if you move the table to free up standing room.

Related: Install Wall Scones to Brighten a Small Room 

Park Slope Apartment

If you don’t have room for a dedicated dining table, a convertible coffee table is a handy solution. They typically fold out into a larger surface, with height-adjustable legs to convert from coffee table to dining table in just a few clicks.

Earls Court Apartment

 

7. Serving stations. Whether your party is 10 people or 100, you can always use a little crowd control. Creating natural reasons for people to circulate through a space, rather than bunching up in one area, makes for better traffic flow and more mingling.

One of the best ways to subtly get people moving is to place a drink station (or a food station, in a buffet scenario) away from obvious gathering spots, like the kitchen island or the main seating. Setting up a little bar like this one in a corner out of the way of traffic will keep guests circulating instead of stopping in hallways or doorways.

Sunset

8. Acoustics. Besides controlling light, you’ll also want to be able to control bad acoustics at a party. All that chatting can add up to an unpleasant din if you don’t take steps to cut down on noise. Adding fabrics will greatly cut down on echoes in a small space, so try to add drapery, rugs, upholstery or canvas art to break up the hard surfaces and keep the noise down to a dull roar.

Related: Choose From Thousands of Curtains to Control Acoustics 

Queenscorp Condo

9. Putting guests at ease. Ultimately, one of the most important decorating decisions in a room of any size is to consider the comfort of your guests as you choose which pieces to include. If guests feel as though they must move and act in an overly careful manner to avoid spoiling your pristine surfaces, they will never be able to relax. Choosing fabrics that are easy to care for, and arranging accents in a more casual way, will help put your guests at ease while creating a sophisticated statement and leaving lots of room for your personality shine through. So, if you plan on having guests over often, maybe it’s best to reconsider that white sofa, delicate rug or antique vase, and embrace a more casual style—or let the party take place at someone else’s home.

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