Rethink your interiors with our refreshingly simple design tips
Jeff McNamara

How to Update a Room

Resolved to an update but not sure where to begin? We'll take you from inspiration to installation in five easy steps, with expert insights and sage advice on color palettes, artwork, and furniture plans.

Seek inspiration
Jeff McNamara

Seek Inspiration

No matter what room you'd like to update, you must first find the muse. Figure out what you like, and keep examples for reference. "A room should look as though it has evolved over time. Beautiful colors and a multitude of textures are a must," says Charleston-based designer Amelia Handegan.

Take a crash course on color
Michel Arnaud

Color Crash Course

Colors can speak volumes to you and about you. There are complex ways to explain what makes one person seek out blue over green or yellow over gold. But living with color does not mean simply painting your walls one shade or another.

"It's hard for people to understand how colors are going to work just by looking at samples. There are so many examples of color gone awry, and that's why people get scared," says D.C. designer Victoria Neale. Choose timeless colors, and bear in mind the influence of lighting. Dark colors and flat paint absorb light, while pale colors and gloss paint reflect it.

Learn from the experts
William Waldron

Learn From the Experts

For many professional designers, the creative process is intuitive. They know when to follow, bend, or break the rules of decorating. Take note of their habits and heed their advice. Virginia designer James Beebe Hawes encourages careful editing.

"Take everything out of a room and put each piece back, one by one, making sure it's a piece you love," he says. "Think about how you want to use your rooms. In my living room, I wanted one side to feel sleeker for evening entertainment, so I kept the floor bare. On the other side, a rug warms up the space for after-dinner coffee."

Plan your arrangements
Pieter Estersohn

Plan Your Space

Personal style is reflected not only in the choice of furnishings, fabrics, and accessories, but in how the elements blend to create a feeling of warmth and ease. "Start by placing your furniture in the middle of the room and work toward the walls. You'll get a more exciting result," says Dallas designer Charlie Birdsong.

Scale is equally important. "Be realistic as to what will fit. Don't ask your room or furniture to do more than is possible," says Birdsong. "This will eliminate unpleasant surprises and give the room better traffic flow."

Finish with a flourish
Pieter Estersohn

Finish With a Flourish

You've probably felt the frustration before. Blank walls stand before you, undecorated. Where do you start? When it's time to arrange books, art, and accessories, follow the same process you used in decorating the room. Consider scale, contrasts in pattern and texture, and a balance of horizontal and vertical lines.

It's a good idea to think in terms of groups or blocks. Be creative. Mix prints, paintings, and drawings with plates or brackets or photographs. "We line up the centers of all the pictures in a room. Then we work out arrangements on the floor, starting from the center of the grouping and working outward," says Dallas designer Josie McCarthy.

Decorating resources
E. B. Lewis

Decorating Resources

• Amelia Handegan, (843) 722-9373

• Victoria Neale, (202) 244-8410, Victoria Neale Interiors

• James Beebe Hawes, (703) 790-1183, Caldwell-Beebe

• Charlie Birdsong, (214) 521-4764

• Josie McCarthy, (214) 954-0888



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