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“How Do I Decorate My Home?”

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

By Melissa Santana

As an interior designer, I am often asked my expert opinion about the best ways to decorate a home. Usually the questions tend to be the same concerns over and over, so I’ve decided to dedicate this issue to answering them. So if you, too, have always wanted to know the answers, hopefully my advice will help.

I want to have some color in my house, but how do I incorporate it?

I believe the hesitation with color is that many people do not understand it. Here is a quick color rundown. Having a color scheme is very important, and using the philosophies of color theory will help you mix and match your colors. The two types of schemes most commonly used are analogous and complementary. Analogous colors are those that are next to each other on the color wheel: yellow, green and blue (cool) or red, orange and yellow (warm). Complementary colors are across from one another on the color wheel: red/green, blue/orange, yellow/violet.

Now, this is when I see my clients’ eyes glaze over because they hear the words blue and orange together and think I want to design their space in the OKC Thunder theme. While some of you may be okay with that, most aren’t. But by using different tints (colors with white added) and shades (colors with black added) you can get the color scheme that you want. Another important aspect is to understand value – the relative lightness or darkness of a color. If I use a variety of colors, I try to stay with the same value within all the colors. This way my colors aren’t too “heavy” (dark) or too light within the room.

The real question is how much color to use. I like to follow the 60-30-10 rule. Sixty percent is the dominant color, 30 percent is the secondary color, and 10 percent is the accent color. When you look at the percentage of product and architectural features in a room, about 60 percent consists of the walls, while 30 percent is your upholstery and 10 percent is the accessories. If you are new to color, I suggest reserving the more bold colors for the accessories and the more neutral tones for the walls. However, I always suggest to my clients to push their boundaries and comfort zones. If you go too safe, you may not be satisfied with the results.

The last little tip I’d like to offer is to add a black accent somewhere in the room. This can be in a picture frame, a clock, or a vase. A little bit of black can help make the other colors pop.

How much should I allocate for accessories?

For me, accessories are like the icing on the cake. A room is unfinished if you don’t have accessories, which add the pop and pizazz to a space. I often see people running low on their budget before they make it to accessorizing the room, mostly because they never budgeted for accessories. My suggestion to clients is to take the total budget they are willing to spend on the space and figure out what 20 percent would be. If you plan on spending $20,000 on your living room, $16,000 would be allotted for furniture, flooring and finishes, and $4,000 for curtains, pillows, wall art and decorative items. This percentage breakdown can also be very helpful when you are beginning to formulate your budget.

Where do I start?

This is probably the most common question I get. The whole process can be overwhelming and costly, so it is understandable that blunders should be avoided as much as possible. The nice thing about the design industry is that many products are created to coordinate with other items on the market, making it easier to harmonize a room; but it’s still best to follow a systematic process. A common mistake I see is that clients want to start with paint and accessories. And why not – accessories are so cute, and paint makes the biggest impact.

However, you need to start with products that have a more limited selection, like furniture, upholstery and flooring. When you are ready to decorate, make a plan and select these three items together. Once you have accomplished that, picking out coordinating paint colors, wallpaper and accessories becomes a bit easier.

Wallpaper is so outdated and permanent, shouldn’t I just use paint?

Paint is a great, inexpensive method for adding color to a room, but wallpaper should not be ruled out. In the last couple of years, amazing wallpapers have hit the market that are easier to install … and easier to remove. No matter what, all items become outdated in one way or another. Shades of paint become outdated, and so do beveled edges, cabinet styles, and different types of metals. It is unrealistic to think that you won’t have to update, so stop living your life in fear. I can understand the hesitation because in the past it was common to wallpaper every surface in your home. Today, wallpapers are done in great graphic patterns that work well for an accent wall or the back surface of a bookshelf. When it is time for a change, the removal of a small portion of wallpaper becomes much easier.

I don’t want to use anything trendy. Won’t I just have to replace it in a year?

Sometime this question frustrates me. If there is an item that is trendy and you like it, then BUY it! If every day you walk into that space and smile, then it is worth it. Of course, I don’t suggest going to the extreme and spending $100K on a trendy remodel, but buying some fashionable accessories or accent chairs will make the space feel fresh and current. Plus, there are plenty of resale shops or websites like Craigslist that allow you to sell the item when you are ready for something different.

I need help, but I’m afraid to hire an interior designer because I don’t want to spend a fortune, go over budget, or lose control of the design.

Unfortunately, I think TV has ruined the reputation of interior designers. They are portrayed as sassy individuals that come into your space, deem everything as hideous, and give you a $50,000 fee quote. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most interior designers just want to help clients achieve their vision, within budget, because it’s such a gratifying experience. It is not in their best interest to get a bad reputation by not meeting their client’s needs and going over budget. In the long run, interior designers can actually save you money. Hiring someone to help keep you focused and set a realistic plan will allow you to avoid costly mistakes. In addition, not only are they experienced in the real estate market to help you make decisions that will give you the biggest return on investments; they are also well connected to reputable contractors and architects. Although the fee structures for each designer can be different and depend on the job, more often than not, when you shop with a designer, you get access to “trade only” resources, and usually the savings are passed on to you. If you feel ready to hire a designer, I suggest you talk to friends and colleagues to get a recommendation. You can also use ASID.org to find designers in your area. When you have selected a few, interview them and make sure you have rapport together. Letting someone into your life and home can be an intimate experience, so you want to make sure you find the perfect designer for your needs.


I know once you’re in the redecorating “zone,” you want to get it done. But decorating is not a weekend warrior project … it takes time! Here are some final tips:

Bring home samples and live with them for a few days.

Go through images to decide what you like.

Have a plan – too many people just buy what’s on sale or what they like at the moment. Just

Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it works for the room.

Lastly, don’t be in a rush – buying what’s available at the moment isn’t always best for the room either.

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