Everyone falls into a decorating rut now and then. For inspiration, check out these living rooms, each created by an interior designer for a recent charity event in New York City. Try applying the principles they used in your own home.
A vibrant palette can add drama―or cheerfulness―to any space.
Designer: Kelley Carter, Real Simple’s home market editor
Start With a Bold Item
For Carter, that was a canary yellow credenza. “Yellow makes any room a happier place,” she says. “I chose this piece first, then used teal as an accent color to tone down the brightness.”
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Be Clever With Paint and Paper
Want cheap art? Do what Carter did: Paint a square on the wall. And instead of covering all four walls with a statement-making wallpaper, she used it only below the chair rail.
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Punch Up an Existing Piece
Wrap fabric around foam board and attach it under the glass top of a coffee table.
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The Approach: Perk Up a Neutral Palette
Even adding just small bursts of color―on lamps, pillows―to a more restrained decorating scheme will give it a whole new life.
Designer: Steven Sclaroff, owner of Steven Sclaroff, a home-furnishings shop in Manhattan
Use a Range of Earthy Colors
For an eclectic look that still feels composed, intermingle brown, beige, black, cream, and white. Sclaroff chose a sandy paint color, a fluffy white sheepskin rug, a beige upholstered sofa with a mahogany frame, black hexagonal end tables, blanc de Chine table lamps, and black-and-white checkered vases. He also hung some black-and-white photographs and created a grid of 12 framed note cards on the left-hand wall.
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Introduce One Colorful Piece in the Center of the Room
To make the space look more dramatic, Sclaroff anchored the living room with an eye-catching collage featuring wallpaper fragments and acrylic paint.
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Dot the Space With a Few Vibrant Objects
Sclaroff echoed the primary colors in the collage with bright yellow linen pillows, soft yellow ceramic lamps, and a red-framed coffee table made of ebonized rosewood.
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Keep Symmetry in Mind―but Don’t Overdo It
Although the side tables, the armchairs, and both sets of table lamps are perfectly balanced on either side of the room, Sclaroff hung a polished-nickel pendant light off to the left, because, he says, “symmetry is great, but it’s important to break it once in a while. Now the space looks organized without feeling compulsive.”
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The Approach: Embrace Black and White
The classic combination of black and white can be incredibly sophisticated, if you know how to play off the duo with hints of other colors.
Designers: Wayne Nathan and Carol Egan, Owners of NathanEgan Interiors, in Manhattan
Opt for Graphic Designs
“To successfully decorate in black and white, you need to mix up the scale and the patterns to create a sense of depth,” says Nathan. Here, panels of triangle-motif wallpaper frame the fireplace and, since they extend to the ceiling, make the room feel taller. Oversized throw pillows tossed on the floor feature designs that are slightly more toned down.
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Include a Non–Black-and-White Showstopper
It’s important to have one different color element to set off the black and white and keep it from getting boring. In this space, the focal point is the fireplace, which was plain―so Nathan and Carol adorned it with shimmery gold mosaic tiles. The designers “chose two small coffee tables rather than a big one to keep the attention on the fireplace,” says Nathan.
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Add Warm Touches to Make It Modern
Black and white alone can sometimes be off-putting, so focus on making the space welcoming. The designers did this by “layering the room with textures,” says Nathan. “The sleek gold tiles contrast with the natural oak flooring, while the sharp lines of the mirrored-glass coffee tables are softened by the luxurious sheepskin rug.” Bringing in natural elements also helps foster an inviting atmosphere.
The designers introduced white blooms, flowering branches, a palm frond, and wheatgrass. Both chairs are covered in lush sheepskin throws that make you want to curl up and read a book; the floor pillows invite guests to sit down and stay a while. “We purposely hung the dark plum pendant lamp low between the two chairs to create a more intimate seating arrangement,” says Nathan.
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The Approach: Aim for Playfulness, Not Perfection
Forget about being matchy-matchy. Try a more relaxed, freewheeling strategy with your decor to give a space a sense of fun.
Designers: Tobin Heminway of Design Firm Nest, in Manhattan; Elena Colombo of Colombo Construction, in Brooklyn
Stick With Similar-Enough Shades
Introduce different tones of one color for a more lighthearted, less structured look. “I tell my clients to resist the safety of a perfectly matched room,” says Heminway. “When everything is the same, it deadens a space.” Try this: While in a hardware store, find a color on a paint chip, then choose a similar tone on a surrounding card. Here, the designers called out the blue accents in the rug with a lighter blue paint on the walls and spray-painted the mismatched thrift-shop side tables cobalt.
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Adorn the Walls in Unexpected Ways
Heminway and Colombo set out to do something inventive with fabric panels. “We wanted to break up the back wall a bit because it was so large and bare,” says Colombo. They glued vintage Brunschwig & Fils ikat fabric to quarter-inch foam core, then framed the panels with a simple molding and topped them with four prints that are “graphic but also humorous and beautifully executed,” says Heminway. To keep the space from looking too polished, she casually leaned a large piece of art against one wall. “It didn’t have a wire anyway!” she says.
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Shake Up a Can of Spraypaint
You can update anything from a seen-better-days picture frame to a chair with a bit of paint. The designers found quirky cast-plaster lamps at an antiques store in Rhode Island that “were a sad, neutral beige color,” says Heminway. They primed them and spraypainted them silver, then did the same with the found logs, which now act as stools. “It adds a little sparkle,” she says.