by Joni Spear | photograph by Karen Palmer
I remember my childhood bedroom: white canopy bed, matching dresser with a mirror, chest of drawers and a desk with a hutch — all sporting gold trim and brass hardware. I thought it was the most beautiful room ever.
Thankfully, we no longer adhere to the same decorating conventions. But I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve walked into that have a living room stuffed to the chair rails with huge, brown leather matching sofas, a wood coffee table and a pair of identical wood end tables.
Invariably, the client asks: “What’s wrong with my room? It looked so good in the showroom.” To begin with, most showrooms in furniture stores are massive and most homes are not. So here are some tips to help you avoid a matchy-matchy, oversized pitfall.
Often people want to select their paint color before purchasing furniture. But really your first step ahead of any shopping adventure is to measure not only the size of your room and window placement, but your doorways and stairways or elevator size to ensure that anything you bring into the house or apartment will fit.
Then, go buy a rug.
In my opinion, before any wall color is chosen or furniture selected, the floor covering should be your first purchase and everything else matched to it. The rug should be big enough to fit at least the front feet of your furniture — in most cases that’s 8-by-10 feet. You never want a 5-by-7 rug because it’ll only serve as a coaster for your coffee table instead of its intended purpose: providing comfort for your feet — or tooshie, if you enjoy sitting on the floor.
When you finally go hunting sofas and chairs, take measurements of those, too. Then return home and get crafty using newspaper, cardboard or anything else cut to those dimensions to lay out your mock furniture around the room. Be sure to take the depth of a piece into consideration as well. Some sofas and chairs are up to 45 inches deep and that can eat up a lot of real estate in a small room.
When it comes to color, the best bet on big-ticket items like a sofa is to always start out neutral. Pick a hue you won’t tire of in 5 minutes. If your room size allows, get a matching loveseat. And it’s always nice to have a least two comfortable chairs. That’s where you can get more creative. They can be fully upholstered or have wood accents. Pick a striped or checked pattern if you’re so inclined. And opt for something with a higher back than the sofa or vise-versa.
If you’re furnishing a family room, consider an ottoman instead of a coffee table. It will do overtime as additional seating when hosting a large party. Be sure it’s dark enough to hide dirt tracked in by foot. Velvet, mohair or leather are always good fabric choices. Top off the ottoman with a tray then add books, a candle or fresh flowers.
It’s always a good practice to have tables on which guests or family members can set drinks. The height of your end tables should be about the same height as the arms of your furniture. That will minimize people spilling their drinks when bending over in search of a resting spot. And the tables do not need to match; you can have one glass and one metal or wood. The idea is to create different textures and shapes.
Lastly, when putting together a room, you’ll need to add ambient, or mood lighting. There is nothing more irritating to me than one bright overhead light in a space. Invest in some lamps. Table lamps and/or floor lamps will allow you to control the amount of lighting in your space.
And there you have it — you’re designing like a pro without hiring a pro. Now you can splurge on that large piece of art.
Joni Spear, a professional interior designer with more than 20 years of experience, specializes in high-end residential projects. She recently relocated to Smithfield. See some of her work at www.jonispear.com.