Vitals: Julie Cusimano, stay-at-home mom of Tyler, 5, and Hunter, 8, in Riverside, Connecticut.
The “before” story: Except for a coat of paint, the dining room had been pretty much ignored by Julie and her husband, Steve. In exchange, the room did very little for its owners. A year into living in the house, the family had used it only once.
Why she stalled: The house, built in 1899, required lots of work. It was completely uninsulated, and all the windows had to be replaced. “We did everything we needed to do,” says Julie, “and by the time the fun part of decorating came around, the budget had been blown.”
What she hoped for: “We wanted the room to be elegant but unpredictable, a bit casual—something with a pop and a wow.”
Designer Ryan Korban’s Plan
A chic, restrained palette. New York City–based Korban (ryankorban.com) made color his first focus. “The existing palette didn’t reflect Julie’s personality—she’s fun and upbeat,“ he says. “But it had to be consistent with the rest of the house, which is very traditional." Korban chose a twist on a classic Victorian color scheme—blue, gray, and white—with tonal varieties.
Accenting the architecture. To draw attention to the room’s original plaster moldings, Korban kept all the detailing white and brought the gray of the upper walls to the lower panels as well, creating a graphic, modern feel.
Shimmer and shine. Adding reflective elements—glittering wall sconces, chrome side chairs, glass decanters and candlesticks—was a big part of Korban’s effort to “de-granny” the room. Along with the mirror and the crystal chandelier, these objects bounce around sunlight, making the space less static.
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Julie’s Dining Room, After
Grand, lustrous drapes in rich taffeta dress up the windows like a ball gown and balance the large table. Hung on two short rods, these purely decorative curtains maximize daylight. To buy: Metallic Grey taffeta in Seagully Grey, $49 a yard, wolfhome-ny.com.
A slimmed-down chandelier, freed of more than 100 crystals that were masking its shape (Korban clipped them off with a wire cutter), feels fresh and hip.
Antique Chinese urns (reproductions, of course) are a regal remedy for the empty-table problem. Their classical pattern and shape tie them into the house’s genteel sensibility. To buy: Chinese porcelain vases, $485 each, flairhomecollection.com.
Blue velvet upholstery, replacing staid beige and yellow stripes, revives the dining chairs. They relate nicely to the drapes, without overmatching, and add a layer of luxury. To buy: Antique Velvet in navy, $45 a yard, zarinfabrics.com.
Cowhide rugs (two that overlap) are glamorous, edgy, and a far cry from the Oriental rug that you would expect. The soft texture and hue lighten up dark floors and furniture. To buy: Albino cowhide rugs, $568 each, shadesoflight.com.
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Katherine’s Bedroom, Before
Vitals: Katherine Movalson, mom of two (soon three!) and Web-communications consultant, in San Carlos, California.
The “before” story: Katherine and her husband, Brian, did serious structural work on the master bedroom, converting a bare open-beam ceiling to a properly insulated one and installing recessed lighting and dormer windows. After that, Katherine says, “I bought a new comforter and called it quits.”
Why she stalled: Overwhelmed by possibilities and by the room’s size (320 square feet, with 10-foot ceilings), Katherine froze. “It’s easy to think about a kitchen or a bathroom, where so much of the decor is defined by function. But the bedroom…it was just like, Shoot me, please! I didn’t know where to start.”
What she hoped for: A transformation that would turn the room from an echoing cavern into a welcoming nest—someplace where 3-year-old Meredith and 2-year-old Will would be happy to hang out while Mom is in the shower.
Designer Kimberly Ayres’s Plan
Color infusion. Like Katherine, San Francisco–based Ayres (kimberlyayres.com) felt that the room needed major cheering up: “Katherine was game for something dramatic, and I thought coral walls [Pale Cornelian 7-13, prices vary, prattandlambert.com for stores] would be fun.”
Cozying up a tall space. High ceilings can make low furniture look dwarfish. Ayres brought in a taller bed with a substantial headboard and hung a mirror above it to draw the eye up.
Creating zones. In smaller rooms, a combo of a bed and nightstands is plenty. But this space called for pockets of additional furniture for fill and balance. An armchair and ottoman are just right for story time, and a desk stashes Katherine’s makeup.
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Katherine’s Bedroom, After
Velvet X-benches look glamorous but are surprisingly kid-friendly. Sturdy, low, and tip-resistant, they make excellent TV-watching perches.
A cheery ikat print on a cotton-and-linen bed skirt and pillow brings the wall color into the center of the room without overtaking the bed. To buy: China Seas No. 2435-35, quadrillefabrics.com.
Neutral-toned furniture in classic silhouettes adds some sophistication and keeps the room from veering into fun-house territory. The white bedding works the same way. To buy: Marlin quilt by Lulu DK Matouk, $495, Matouk, 508-997-3444.
A celery green rug layered on top of a cushy sisal provides a splash of contrast to the coral elements, increasing the energy of the space. To buy: Celery Carlene carpet by Madeline Weinrib, $1,450, ABC Carpet, 212-473-3000; Madagascar rug, $2,150, meridameridian.com for stores.
Family photos in a grid function as personalized but polished art. Ayres and Katherine selected favorite images, zoomed in on details, and blew them up. To buy: Gallery frames, $20 each, potterybarn.com.
Ambient lighting (wall sconces, plus a desk lamp and a floor lamp, neither pictured) makes the room more intimate and moody at night, when sunlight isn’t flowing in through the dormer windows. To buy: Architect’s swing-arm lamps, $210 each, circalighting.com.
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Stacy’s Living Room, Before
Vitals: Stacy Moskowitz, owner and director of a public-relations firm in New York City.
The “before” story: Stacy had outfitted her compact 240-square-foot living room with two investment pieces: a modern Italian sectional sofa and a midcentury Arco floor lamp. She had added a built-in bookshelf between the windows, but the rest of the room remained untouched for years.
Why she stalled: “My business started to grow, and I couldn’t find the time. Though my bedroom was decorated and cozy, the living room just never felt like home.”
What she hoped for: “I always wanted it to be a sanctuary—a really soothing, peaceful space where I could relax after work, on my own or with friends.”
Designer Tom Delavan’s Plan
A sophisticated palette. “Stacy didn’t want a lot of color,” says New York City–based Delavan (tomdelavan.com), “so we decided on a neutral backdrop accented with eggplant and indigo.”
Soft materials and organic touches. To temper the edgy sectional and lamp, Delavan brought in fabric window shades and a luxurious rug. Scattered reminders of the natural world (a wool throw, a handwoven basket, unfinished wood) prevent the boxy lines of the furniture from feeling cold.
Tricks for making a small space feel larger. Delavan kept furnishings to a minimum—“a few large pieces look less cluttered than lots of little ones.” The rug is small enough to show off a refreshing expanse of shiny wood floor. An open-arm chair helps the room feel airier. Window treatments do their job without adding bulk.
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Stacy’s Living Room, After
Giant art above the sofa (a photograph mounted on aluminum) has mood-dictating impact. A piece with a “view,” like this one, opens up the room like an extra window. To buy:Sea No. 3 photograph, by Wolfgang Uhlig, $3,679, lumas.com.
A low glass coffee table doesn’t take up the visual real estate that a solid-top table would and provides enough room for casual dining or cocktails. To buy: Raw-wood coffee table, $499; and Butler tray in Officer Blue (on coffee table), $59: westelm.com.
A silky rug feels incredible on bare feet, adds unshowy sparkle, and pulls together the seating area. Keeping sofa and chair legs off the rug helps the small room feel more spacious. To buy: Luminescent Rib rug, $699, calvinklein.com.
Dark, jewel-toned pillows make the angular sofa more inviting, adding energy to its restrained tone. The messy fringe of the throw says this room is accessible, not precious. To buy: Pisa linen in Eggplant by C & C Milano, hollandandsherry.com. Pillows custom-made, $60 each, bettertex.com for information. Light-weave merino-wool pillows in Sea, $240 each, Nicole Farhi, 646-638-0115. Egyptian blanket by Canvas, $340, Ochre, 212-414-4332.
Relaxed roman shades in gray flannel bring refinement to plain windows and add softening arcs to the crisp scene. To buy: Relaxed Roman shades, $430 each, theshadestore.com.