Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to Get Started Decorating Your Home

When faced with four blank walls, a tiny budget and one million questions, the prospect of decorating your home can seem overwhelming. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been what you might call a “dabbler” for the past couple of years. After years of renting, I’m hoping that my husband Mr. J and I will soon be able to pull the trigger on a place of our own. You already know I’ve been stockpiling design inspiration. I simply need an outlet for all my wonderful ideas!

That being said, I know how hard it is to take a gander through the Pottery Barn catalog and feel utterly lost:

Image via Pottery Barn


Image via Pottery Barn
And near despondent:

Image via Pottery Barn
Hmm. Moving on!

There’s something about the prospect of getting started on your own humble abode that can leave you paralyzed with fear. You think: “What if I make a mistake??” And I’m here to tell you this: YOU WILL. (Um…hello, I once purchased a matching set of blonde wood mid-century modern inspired accent chairs from West Elm—barf. Sooo not my thing). But here’s the best part: MISTAKES ARE OK! There’s always Craigslist, and you can always repaint. Nothing is forever!

As I start to think about how we’re going to move forward with decorating our home, I’m forced to recall some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past, as well as some of the best advice I’ve read and heard. I’ve distilled it here for you (and me) so we can have a handy record of all my décor resolutions, promises and pledges. And since I do love a good dos and don'ts list, without further ado:

My Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Decorating Your Humble Abode:

1. Don’t buy it just because you can afford it. You can talk yourself into a lot of things just because they’re in your price range, but trust me, just because it’s only $129 (with free shipping!!) doesn’t mean it should come home with you. You gotta love what you bring into your home. And yes, you should also be able to afford it, but do make sure it’s exactly what you want. A perfect price tag is a bonus.
2. Don’t buy it just because it matches. The couch matches the chair, the matching end tables match the coffee table, there are a pair of lamps, and there are a matching set of framed prints above the couch. Yawn. I’m not saying matching is always wrong, but some of the most interesting rooms I’ve been in have that unique quality of seeming like they were collected over time (Oh this? I picked it up on my vacation to Bali!), not in one fell swoop at the furniture store.
3. Don’t be impatient. Good design evolves, and you’re never really done. Even if you've done it perfectly the first time, your taste will change and your life will change (Puppy? Baby?). Rare is the individual who can pick a page out of the PB catalog, point, click and be done decorating. Elegant, personal spaces are well thought out and layered over time. Check out this super reassuring post on Apartment Therapy if you don’t believe me.
4. Don’t be a victim of trends. Just like the advice your dear old ma gave you: Be yourself. You can buy a capiz shell lantern and a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster if that’s really what floats your boat (and accessories ARE the easiest part of a room to update and change), but for goodness sake, don’t spend a mint on a trendy little thing…you may really regret it later on.

5. Don’t be afraid of the thrift store (and Craigslist). Seriously people. Have you seen what the folks over at Young House Love are capable of uncovering at the thrift store and Craigslist? One caveat: I would be afraid of certain things from the thrift store. Like mattresses, and linens, and, well, pretty much anything with upholstery on it (that you don’t plan to rip off). Stick to hard, wipe-able things. Things that you can clean. With lots of soap. And maybe even use a power sander on. At any rate, they're great resources, so just give it a shot!

6. Do try to make your space comfortable and livable. Think comfy furnishings that you can really settle into, and soft, cozy fabrics, throws and pillows. Personalize it all with photos of your friends, family and loved ones. Put art and photos on the walls that remind you of a wonderful trip you took (or would like to take!). How do you envision your family and friends spending time together in your home? Do you see long dinners and lots of wine in the dining room? You better have comfy chairs. What about lazy Sundays on the couch watching movies? You better be able to sink into your sofa. Have those goals in mind, and design your room around them.

7. Do invest in high quality. The big pieces in your home are quite likely the ones you’ll have forever. And they’re a big commitment. Think long and hard about what you really want before you commit, and be prepared to make an investment. Feel free to spend less on accessories and smaller accent furniture (Yay Target! Yay Ikea!!). That stuff is relatively easy to change (and later dispose of on Craigslist). But trust me, if you spend $300 on a cheap sofa, you will very likely regret spending that money if it turns out to be uncomfortable and doesn’t hold up to everyday use.

8. Do look for neutrals. You don’t have to dress your house entirely in beige, but be forewarned: it’s much easier to go bold with color if it’s not the biggest and most expensive thing in the room. Wouldn’t you rather have the freedom to change your décor if you want to, rather than be burned by an expensive purple couch you’ve grown tired of? For investment pieces especially, you may want to stick to a neutral color palette that you can spice up lots of different ways.

9. Do keep your options open. We all change our minds from time to time, and we get bored of the same old same old. Thank goodness for slip covers for couches, dining chairs and ottomans! The same goes for pillows. Look for high quality pillow inserts and scout out less expensive pillow covers (on SALE or even make your own!). You could also buy a beautiful centerpiece bowl that you fill with different objects as the seasons change. Switching side chairs, lamps, accessories and artwork from room to room is another great way to freshen up your space. Keep an open mind and look for pieces that give you versatility.

10. Do have a plan. Take a good look at your room and make a list of what you think you need. Find photos of furniture arrangements and color schemes that inspire you. Sketch out your floor plan and "test out" different furniture arrangements. If you start your shopping trip thinking, "I’m looking for two smaller scale armchairs to place by the fireplace," you’re less likely to get distracted and overwhelmed by all the other goodies in the shop. If you have a budget in mind, write that down and see how what you want reconciles with what you have to spend, then pioritize (big things first, accessories are the fun part!). Your plan can always change, but sketching out the steps you need to take will really help you get to your goal.

The moral of the story is this: buy what you love, take your time, think about what you need and how you use your space, and don’t be afraid. Decorating is fun!

What about you all? What are your biggest decorating hang ups? What mistakes have you made—and more importantly—what have you learned from them?

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