As a professional interior designer I often get asked why the average home does not look like the homes shown in the shelter magazines.  Well I can tell you a few areas where the average home is missing some basic principles of design that can make all the difference and it's not all in the amount of money spent.  Use these following tips to improve the style of your home:


Most homes are not built with enough lighting.  It can be an expensive addition but does not have to be.  Try adding lighting in discreet areas, not just lamps.  Although lamps should be included in your lighting plan.  Rope lighting is great for placing inside crown molding to make ceilings look higher or on top of taller furniture like bookcases.  Another great options is spot lights behind plants or other decorative objects to add drama.  Lighting can be used to create a focal point or to help guide the eye around the room to the areas with the most interest.  If you have a smaller room that you want to look bigger, try washing the walls with light.  You can do this by either installing small can lights in the ceiling around the perimeter of the room or wall sconces. 


Another great element of design is repetition.  This is a rather simple idea but much harder to actually execute.  Start with an inspiration piece to pull your color scheme from, artwork or fabric is always a great place to begin.  Preferably something with at least two or three distinct colors in it not including neutrals like black, brown and white.  Then you take either that piece or a good quality picture of that piece with you to select the other elements.  Be careful not to go too crazy with the color or become too concerned about the colors being exact matches to the inspiration piece, especially if they are going to be across the room from each other.  A good rule of thumb is to repeat the colors at least two or three times in the room in different areas.  This means not only in a different space in the room but also at a different height and within a different element, such as the floral on the coffee table and the lamp shade on the floor lamp in the corner could both be red.  This gives the eye something to keep it moving around the room and throughout the space.  If you are a novice at design you may want to keep your larger, more expensive items like sofas, table sets, etc., more neutral and bring in your colors with the easier to replace and less expensive accents like pillows, artwork, accessories, etc. 

If you have a hard time with color you can always do a monochromatic color scheme with neutrals.  A monochromatic color scheme is when you use only one color and just very the shades, tones and textures of that color to create interest.  So for example, you can use a neutral like a latte brown and your other colors could be cream and chocolate-brown.  In a scheme with only one color your variation to create visual interest has to be texture and pattern.  So instead of repeating each color at least twice in the room you do this with the textures. They do not have to be exactly the same just similar.  For example, a leather sofa and a lacquer accent table, they are both smooth shiny surfaces.


The size of the furniture in a room should be proportionate to the size of the room for the most part.  Once you have some experience playing with this concept you can start to bend the rules a bit but only in moderation.  People often do not use their furniture as an element to accentuate the best features of their space.  If you have a two-story fireplace, try flanking it with two high back chairs to draw the eye up.  Also be careful not to over-crowd the room or use oversized furniture if the room is not large enough to handle it.  As a rule of thumb, the pieces in the room should only take up between 50-70% of the total floor space.  Which means if you pushed all of your furniture together like tetris pieces it should only take up between half and three-quarters of the room. 

Another area where scale plays a big part is in accessorizing.  People are often scared of larger scale accessories even when they have large rooms so they use many little ones instead.  This can be a huge mistake.  It is far better to invest in a few larger pieces than to have too many little ones.  Too many small accessories can make a space feel cluttered and the homes in the magazines are never cluttered.  Most designers will tell you that they will often only use two or three accessories on coffee or end tables including the lamps.  If you have a collection of something you would like to display, designate it a special area like a display cabinet or on one larger table instead of putting a few randomly throughout the room.  If you put them in groupings near each other it will showcase them.  This also works with family or travel photos. 


Example of good lighting
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