Rooms need to be understood uniquely. Where a room is situated, how the light patterns fall during the course of the day, how the light affects where you sit, the size of the room in relation to your size, the height of the ceiling in relation to room dimension and proportion —all of these are key. But equally important is to know how to mold, shape, manipulate, decorate, and color the rooms with your point of view. You have to look at the following ten room elements; focus on your present life, your needs, your actual space, and your aesthetic preferences:
Keep this list of essential elements handy. You’ll see immediately that many of these room elements are interconnected, that they relate one to the other. Each element performs a different function, but all are connected and must work together.
When you think about the ten basic room elements, you may discover that you will want to repeat many of the same solutions, room by room. One decision links up to the next. Once you decide on the flooring in one room, the problems of adjoining floors are solved. Just as you can’t wear too many different patterns without their clashing, the same applies to rooms. Too much of anything makes our eyes sore. If you choose to highlight your living room walls, you may decide to play down your floor treatment.
If you collect art, you automatically know that you have to keep your walls free from busy wallpaper. However, if you don’t own any art, you may decide to have a high armoire as the room’s visual point. One choice dictates other choices. By examining each element separately, you can see how to combine them, and decisions will then easily fall into place. If you choose light walls and ceiling, then perhaps you’ll want a richer tone on your floor contrast.
Study each element, evaluating its condition and charm. If you can’t live with cracked, rough plaster walls, then you have to spackle and smooth them out with sandpaper before you paint. If your floor is covered, peel back a corner to see what’s underneath. The floor may be of a beautiful hardwood that requires only patching, sanding, and a protective seal or perhaps a stain and some paste wax to bring it back to rich life. If the windows are too small, you know you can’t cover them with heavy curtains. They’ll look larger with white paint on all the trim. This decision alone solves the question of trim for the rest of the room.
Interconnect the Elements
When you try to interconnect the elements, you will see that solving one problem in a room automatically suggests a solution to another space. If you decide to bleach your own bedroom floor, for example, perhaps you could also bleach all the bedroom floors. If you select hardware for the front door, consider using the same door hardware throughout the house. If you like the paint you used in your living room for the woodwork —cornice molding, baseboard, chair rail, door trims, and window trims —think about using the exact same paint for all the woodwork in the house. If you do, you’ll be grateful when you need to touch up chips and cracks with one paint can. Repeating elements simplifies maintenance.
When you find the upholstered chair that is properly scaled for your body, get other ones like it. A sofa and loveseat can be of the same design, scaled up or down, depending on length. You may choose a fabric and cover all your upholstery with it. Coordinating fabrics can be selected for chair cushions, pillows, a draped table cover, or a bench. If you choose a patterned fabric for your upholstered furniture, you will want to put the same fabric on the windows (Roman shades or curtains). If, on the other hand, you choose solid, neutral textures, try a contrasting fabric at the windows in order to liven things up.
Where to Begin
People always ask me where to being in a room —that is, which of the ten elements is the most important to resolve first. Because each person sees his/her own rooms differently, I suggest that you begin with where you are and with what you have. If you have a favorite piece of furniture, find a place for it and work out the rest of the floor plan around it. If you have great wood floors settle on their color so you can have the walls and ceiling complement them.
As I have already suggested and talked about in past posts, eliminate everything from you decorating vocabulary that you don’t like. If you prefer solids to patterns, don’t weaken now and try to get used to some fabric design you’re not comfortable with. As you mature and experience more of life, your taste will change, but your rooms should never incorporate anything that you don’t respond to emotionally.