These comfortable leather chairs and the warm colors of the kitchen entice the family around the island to spend time and dine.
These comfortable leather chairs and the warm colors of the kitchen entice the family around the island to spend time and dine.

Close your eyes and you can see the room you want. Dressed with color and artfully arranged, it's just right. Now all you need to do is to make the dream a reality. Where to start? With the basics: walls, floors, ceilings, windows, and furnishings. Kitchens and baths will warrant extra attention when it comes to fixtures, surfaces, and appliances. And storage is never to be forgotten anywhere. Give your attention to each of these, and before you know it, you'll put together an extraordinary room -- the very image of the one you envision ­­-- from top to bottom.

WallcoveringWallcoverings aren't just limited to paint! Murals, wallpaper, stenciling, and fabrics all offer stylistic, eye-catching design concepts. Find out if mounting your favorite collection on the wall is right for you.

FlooringDid you know that angling tiles on a floor make a room seem bigger? Flooring is an important part of any room. Learn how to choose the right type of flooring that fits the style of your room and is durable.

Window Treatments and DoorsAlthough functional, window treatments and designs on doors can enhance an overall design concept and brighten any room. Learn more about window treatments and door designs.

Placing Furniture

Until the furniture is moved into a room, your decorating idea will be incomplete. Learn how to select and place within a room pieces of furniture that you love and that fit your lifestyle.

Countertops and Backsplashes

Countertops and backsplashes in kitchens and bathrooms aren't just utilitarian work spaces. Check out the almost infinite numbers of attractive options available to help decorate your rooms.

Kitchen and Bath Cabinets

Cabinets occupy a lot of space in a kitchen or bathroom, so it's essential that they match your design concept. Learn how cabinets that keep us organized can make or break a decorating idea in a room.

Placing Large Appliances

Appliances make our lives easier, but they also come in a variety of sizes, styles, and colors to fit any home. Read these tips to help you set up a work space that facilitates how you cook in the kitchen.

Storage and Shelving

Although storage and shelving helps keep us neat and organized, it also lends itself to wonderful decorating ideas. Check out the different types of storage and shelving that might fit your design concept and how to display your favorite objects.

Faucets, Fixtures, and Hardware

These kitchen and bath accessories are an easy and vibrant way to change the look of a room. Get ideas on how to select faucets, fixtures, and hardware that you'll love.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Wallcovering

The decorative fireplace acts as a wall design and makes a bold statement.

There they are: bare walls waiting for you to transform them. Luckily, you've got an arsenal of wallcovering possibilities. First, you'll want to consider how the room is used and how important a part you want your walls to play.

Do you want them to fade away in the background or shout "look-at-me"? Do you prefer a stark, gallerylike air or a warm, let's-gather-around-the-piano kind of mood? How do you feel about paint, wallcoverings, and architectural elements?

There are options in each category to support your decor. And, if your project entails more decoration than remodeling, you'll be amazed at the difference new wall treatments make.

The faux finishing is right in step with the old world feel of the floor and lighting.

Paint

Paint is the fastest, least expensive way to bring new life to dull walls. In just a few hours, it's possible to reinvent a room.

Most experts recommend durable "eggshell" paint (with a slight sheen) for walls and semigloss paint for trim in homes without kids and pets. In more active households where fingerprints are a way of life, semigloss walls and high-gloss trim will endure the wear and tear and clean up better.

The kind of paint you use, either oil or latex, really comes down to personal preference. New improvements in latex paints (water-based paints) have made them as durable and long-wearing as the oil-based variety. The main advantage of water-based over oil-based paints is that the former dry faster, emit less odor upon application, and clean up with water.

Remember: Light colors dry lighter and dark colors darker than how they appear wet. Paint-chip cards typically feature a half dozen light and dark variations of one color, making it easy to find complementary colors.

You could choose a medium shade for your walls and the card's lightest shade for the trim. If the wall color appears too dominant, switch to a lighter value. Keep in mind: Dark colors will reduce the size of a room, making it cozier; pale colors will provide a sense of more space and light.

Fallen in love with a bold flower pattern? Then you're going to want an equally strong background color to evoke the proper mood. Use the fabric's palette, and select either a dominant or secondary hue.

For instance: For a warm atmosphere, paint walls the color of blossoms -- orange, pink, yellow; for a cooler ambience, tone it down with walls the shade of subdued green leaves. To successfully forge a contrasting scheme, decorators generally advise sticking to three colors: a dominant color, a secondary color, and an accent color.

Dark trim cuts a room up visually, while liberal use of white trim brightens an intense color like red or cobalt blue. Contemporary-style rooms often exhibit walls and trim of the same color; traditional-style rooms usually feature white or contrast-color trim.

Don't forget the ceiling! Dark colors will bring a ceiling down; light colors will create an illusion of height. If you're having trouble deciding on a ceiling color, revisit your paint card.

Consider a color that is two shades lighter than your wall color. This maneuver blurs the delineation between walls and ceiling and will help make the room seem bigger. If you're working with a custom color, tinting the ceiling paint (if you're doing it yourself, look for "dripless" paint) one quarter of the color of your walls will produce the same effect.

The blue walls and sailboat mural make this a perfect seaside bedroom for a child.

If the Mediterranean is where you want to be, make it happen with walls that have been sponged and glazed the color of sun-warmed terra-cotta. Decorative paint treatments can establish a style, set a mood, provide texture, and hide flaws -- all at the same time. Techniques range from simple color washes and glazes to add translucency to more complex processes like lacquering.

No money left in the budget for marble? How about the faux variety? Many techniques like combing, ragging, stippling, and graining (which results in a woodlike effect) are easy to master. Some of the more complicated methods such as marbling and tortoise-shelling will require a talented hand.

Stenciling (buy patterns or make your own) often brings to mind Colonial homes and nurseries. But don't underestimate stenciling's potential for grown-up drama. In a Victorian bedroom, think about echoing a fabric or a wall­covering motif.

Instead of a quiet border along the top of the living room wall, why not create a stenciled geometric design to lend an art nouveau flavor? Sometimes, combining a variety of techniques is interesting. For instance, an elaborate powder room could have color-washed walls stenciled to resemble wallpaper.

Although the tiles of the walls, tub, and floor are different, their similar colors create harmony.

Wallcoverings

Want to wake up in a rose garden or read your daily paper in a book-filled library? Wallcoverings can make it happen. From novelty prints featuring recognizable objects like porcelains or urns (long a favorite with decorators for traditional rooms) to nostalgic patterns for contemporary spaces, there are literally hundreds of choices.

Some wallcoverings replicate historical patterns and colors; others mimic faux-finishing techniques such as stippling and sponging. Currently very popular because they complement a variety of global decors are textile fibers, jute, and grasses.

If you don't want to take on the whole room, consider applying a border as a chair rail. Or use a colorful border to accentuate an interesting architectural feature such as a doorway or a fireplace.

Borders that imitate crown moldings and other architectural details perk up lackluster rooms. And a scenic paper can give you that inspired mural you've always wanted -- minus the cost of hiring an artist!

Gone are those fragile papers of the past. Many modern wallcoverings are washable and scrubbable, and that makes them suitable for kitchens and baths.

And easing our burden, most manufacturers have set up their sample books with suggestions for colors, patterns, and textures that can be easily combined to create a custom look. For the best selection, visit home-improvement outlets, paint retailers, and design centers, and search the Web. Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Small prints add visual interest and background color to open up a small space.
  • Large prints or textural papers applied to a ceiling render a large room more intimate.
  • Stripes and vertical prints appear to raise a ceiling; horizontal lines widen a room.

Built-In Appeal

If you've got a boxy, plain-Jane room, it's time to spruce it up. Take stock of what's there and what's not. Even though molding is commonly placed where the ceiling meets the wall, it can also be ap­plied around windows and doors. Lumberyards generally stock a myriad of different moldings, many expressly designed for trimming windows.

Chang­ing the slender molding to wide, flat boards in a nondescript postwar house will help evoke a bungalowlike scene. Add ornately detailed moldings complete with carved corner blocks, and it'll shout "Victorian."

Crown molding brings an immediate infusion of character. But if your home is more laid-back, try marrying two strips of molding with wallpaper or stenciling in between. To shorten a wall, install a picture rail about 18 inches from the ceiling and then paint the wall above it the same color as the ceiling.

The stone in the walls carries into the fireplace and unites the room.

Baseboards come in various sizes and profiles and, in addition to adding stature, protect the bottom of the wall from scuffs. Walls lined with bookshelves are universally appealing. Wood paneling yields a snug, clubbish air when finished in a dark, rich hue or a beach-cottage ambience when whitewashed.

Like many other wallcoverings, paneling (available in sheets and premilled kits) also hides wall imperfections. Ready-made details usually of plaster, wood, or polymers, replicating elements found in historic homes as well as many updated versions, are also available.

The plastic adornments are more lightweight and well suited for a bath or kitchen because they're easy to clean and mildew-resistant. Look for ones that are prefinished in a variety of simulated wood grains and colors to match your particular style.

Although many home decorators are most concerned with walls, floors need attention, too. They aren't just something you walk on! On the next page, find out how an interesting floor design or color can add a punch to any room.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child's room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Flooring

This vintage bathroom incorporates a 3D geometric tile floor.

Floors are on the front line of every good design. You'll want to choose your flooring with aesthetics and practicality in mind.

Based on the style of your room, do you require a long-lasting hard surface that is made from a material such as wood or stone? Or would a resilient modern flooring material that marries good looks with easy care do the job?

In general, lighter-colored flooring -- no matter what it is -- will make a room seem larger, and so will laying tiles on a diagonal rather than parallel to the walls. Hardwood floors last a lifetime and fit every decor.

Favorite types include oak for country rooms; maple and cherry for traditional rooms; and beech, birch, and ash for contemporary spaces. Soft woods like pine exude down-home charm but don't hold up as well.

Purists recommend natural oil treatments to protect wood floors from moisture and staining. But an impervious finish like polyurethane makes wood safe even for a busy bathroom.

Along with natural wood-tone stains, wood floors can be color-washed with stains that let the grain show, painted a solid color, or decoratively painted; faux-stone combined with checkerboard squares are classic.

Stenciling is another popular route, and spatter-painted wood floors (a solid-color ground flecked with dots of many different colors) were trendy in Colonial days and look surprisingly modern today. For the best results, floors should be repaired and sanded first.

Decorators praise wall-to-wall carpeting's ability to flow through a house and pull it all together. A home with an assortment of small rooms will look more expansive, even when window treatments and furnishings change from room to room, if the same carpet is used throughout. Carpet also provides insulation against noise and cold.

But what will it be? All sorts of textures, colors, and costs are available (including many stain-resistant new blends). Natural matting made of materials like sisal and coir can be elegant or casual depending on the setting, furnishings, and accessories.

However, natural coverings like these are tough on the feet and easily stained. To ensure years of service, look for carpets that are closely tufted or woven. A solid-colored carpet with a subtle pattern will have a more relaxed air. A patterned carpet -- florals, checks, or stripes -- is an energy boost for a bedroom or study.

Stone floors, such as marble, granite, slate, or limestone, are timeless when they are mixed with antiques or modern furnishings. What you give up in softness underfoot is more than made up for in beauty.

Still, most require sealing to prevent staining and cost is a factor. To lower the price tag, choose granite (less slippery than marble) for the master bath, and carpet the bedroom. Or lay slate tiles in the entry and economical sisal down the hall.

Terra-cotta tiles made of fired clay are like chameleons in that they will take on whatever mood you wish. Have them installed in a traditional kitchen or a Southwestern family room. The tiles can be left as they are, sealed for more durability, or glazed to heighten their lustrous sunset color.

Solid-colored or hand-painted, ceramic tiles are also long-lasting and versatile. With hundreds of colors, patterns, sizes, sheens, and grout colors to choose from, don't relegate charismatic ceramic tiles to just the bath and kitchen. Transform the floor in a sunroom, dining room, or high-traffic family room.

Layered flooring -- an area rug over pergo over ceramic tiles -- creates a "step-down" effect

Sheet vinyl or vinyl tile is affordable and, like ceramic tile, available in hundreds of colors and patterns. Everybody's favorite, black-and-white squares exude pizzazz in a retro kitchen or formal hall.

Solid-color vinyl -- vivid blue, say, like a tropical sea -- is less popular but very effective in a bath or child's room. Realistic faux vinyls mimicking brick, granite, and terra-cotta tiles are also stylish.

Popular in commercial situations and comfortable to walk on, rubber flooring will lend a slick look to kitchens, laundry rooms, or mudrooms.­

Rubber flooring is also slip-resistant, which makes it great in a kids' bath. And inexpensive, hard-wearing linoleum is definitely back in a very big way. Made from all-natural products, this flooring appeals to young designers who are discovering innovative ways to combine colors and patterns.

Laminate flooring is a newer synthetic option that can look like marble, stone, or even distressed wood for a country room since the pattern is really a photograph of the real material. More durable than countertop laminates, this new flooring provides the look without the cost.

Don't forget that rugs of all sizes layered on top of any kind of floor can add comfort and interest, define sitting areas, or help plan a mood. For example, a floor cloth befits a Shaker kitchen, and a shag rug is perfect for a retro '50s den.

Floors aren't the only thing that can plan a mood. Window treatments and doors aren't simply functional elements of your home. On the next page, learn how you can make a design imprint on your windows and doors.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Window Treatments and Doors

A barn door hung on a track slides open and closed to separate rooms.

Portals to the outside world, windows and doors get plenty of attention so you'll need to dress them in a fashion appropriate to your style. Frame a view or go for privacy, either way the options for window treatments and doors are many, which means there's something for every room.

Window treatments impact the overall appearance of a space, but they also serve a practical purpose. While looking pretty or tailored, chic or country, these dressings help keep us warm in winter, cool in summer. Lightweight honeycomb shades, for example, do both.

On a frigid winter night, wool or tapestry drapes pulled across French doors can also chase away the chills and imbue a family room with a pleasing cocoonlike mood. When the sun shines too brightly for napping or watching television, roll-up shades -- on those same doors -- stop the glare.

Combining elements is an easy way to get the look -- and efficiency -- you want. Simple, natural-colored matchstick blinds teamed with fabric panels is a flattering remedy, say, in a south-facing casual room.

And when you don't relish giving up the light but crave privacy? Sheers teamed with blinds or ready-made pleated shades and simple curtains, gathered at either side of the window, are a good call.

No longer white only, gossamer sheers are available in luscious hues like pale green and blue -- with or without embroidery. In an elegant bedroom, pleated synthetic shades with the seductive look of silk and shantung will allow you to capture the sun and guard your privacy, especially if you choose shades that pull up from the bottom.

Wood blinds (with or without wood cornices), roller shades, and natural Roman shades in rattan or bamboo are easy companions for any room, whether modern, eclectic, or traditional, and they are a good choice when you're faced with a combination of windows and French doors. For privacy, natural Roman shades can be fitted with a liner on back.

Many manufacturers offer fabric options for edge binding so you can coordinate the shade's binding with your upholstery for a custom look. These days, traditional wood blinds have updated optional twill tape patterns and 21st-century tape colors like persimmon, blueberry, and sable.

The large, horizontal slats of these blinds compliment the clean lines of a modern room.

Café curtains are classic in kitchen or bath. Have them in crisp white cotton, or enliven them with colors or patterns. Fabric manufacturers are reinventing old favorites like stripes and checks in Caribbean hues such as watermelon, coral, and canary to give a kitchen bay a bright morning attitude.

Swag window treatments are the selection of choice in a traditional-style room.

Balloon shades, flowing draperies, swags, and jabots are ideal for a formal aura. Opulence, though, doesn't dictate expensive fabric and an elaborate presentation.

A modest valance or panels of bur­lap (trimmed with a simple satin band to be more fashionable) hung on exposed black iron rods is in keeping with today's lean, but also sumptuous, decorating. Fashioned three times the width of the window, curtains made of simple, inexpensive material spell luxury!

Many newer homes feature large ex­panses of glass, magnifying issues of privacy and light control. For windows and patio doors like these, vertical blinds on a sliding track are a viable solution. Fashioned of materials such as linen, textured knits, or vinyl, these streamlined treatments are -- with the tug of a cord -- easily closed and opened. Some are also energy-efficient.

In current colors like wheat, flannel, heather, and willow, the blinds complement a range of styles. A traditional drapery treatment will also work on a French door or slider as long as the rod extends well beyond the frame. Lace panels mounted on each door are charming in a French-style cottage manner.

To highlight the shape of a window, a bank of windows, or a door, add just a top treatment such as a sculpted cornice or valance.

Use your window treatments to change the architecture. For example, extend treatments beyond a small window's frame to make the window look taller and wider. Drapes patterned with vertical stripes will appear to push the windows up and make the wall higher.

Windows with challenging shapes -- round or triangular -- look best, though, with a simple dressing such as shirred fabric or a custom-fitted shade. If you have a Palladian-inspired semicircular window above a window, one solution is to fix the rod at the bottom of the semicircle.

Curtain the window below, and leave the arch above bare. Casement windows that open in rather than out are another problem. So as not to interfere with the window's operation, install blinds, shades, or inset curtains on each window.

Decorative iron holdbacks further enhance a room's design plan.

Shop for hardware that will complement your window dressing. Fabric stores, home design centers, and catalogs are chock-full of decorative rods, finials, and holdbacks. Choices include modern nickel-plated cable rods for stylish urban settings and traditional polished brass rods with pineapple finials inspired by Williamsburg. A small detail, like a pair of beaded tassel holdbacks, will elevate inexpensive drapes to star status. Imagine what they would do teamed with soft velvet panels in your newly decorated living room!

Once you have all the design elements of a room decided upon, it's time to place your furniture. On the next page, learn how to structure a room with furniture so that it's comfortable and you achieve the design goal you want.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Placing Furniture

The placement of the bed in the center of the room immediately draws the eye to its clean, modern design and sets the tone for the entire bedroom.

The paint and wallcoverings are perfect. The window treatments are fabulous. But not until the furniture is moved in will the room be anything less than a pretty picture. Placing furniture is critical to decorating. You want sofas and chairs that beckon you home, dining chairs that persuade people to linger, and a bed that you'll hate to vacate.

There's an outstanding supply of stylish, functional furnishings available in every price range, and they're all just waiting for you.

Soft Essentials

Professionals warn: Never buy a major piece without knowing where it will go. Think about the role your room plays, and strive for furnishings to support it. For example, a child's room calls out for a comfortable and safe bed, a play table, and a chair.

An active family room needs comfortable seating, a generous coffee table (if there's room, a 36-inch-square one is ideal) to hold magazines, and an assortment of side tables. In addition, an armoire or a wall unit will provide storage and a home for the television. But the antique rocker you envision can wait.

Use your floor plan to help compile a list of the furnishings (along with their measurements) that you need right away to make your space livable. As time goes by, phase in the other elements. Better to buy a few quality pieces around which you can build your dream room rather than a truckload of this and that.

You'll be able to afford high-­quality pieces, too, if you fill in for the time being with budget-buys and proceed slowly. A well-constructed desk or chair, in the end, is a permanent plus. If you change houses or moods, the desk can move from the living room to a bedroom.

If you're purchasing a sofa for a teenager's room, however, and don't anticipate wanting to keep it when he or she goes off to college, a less-expensive model will give you the look and save you money.

Formulating an arrangement on paper beforehand will afford a sense of how traffic patterns will work and where best to arrange a focal point. Begin with the largest piece. In a small sitting room, a love seat -- combined with two upholstered chairs -- is more flexible than an average-size sofa. Club chairs generally take up more footage than easy chairs, and dainty side chairs are easily shuffled wherever you need them.

Every piece of furniture should be in proportion to the layout and to the other pieces. In front of a rustic fireplace, that could mean a three-cushion sofa across from a set of equally hefty armchairs. In a condominium, balance a plump sofa with a chair at either end; these chairs don't have to mirror one another, but to balance the design they should be visually compatible in heft and height.

The table and chairs indicate that the kitchen is not just a place to cook but also a place to gather.

Sofas and chairs with kiln-dried, hardwood frames and eight-way hand-tied springs are at the very top of the wanted-for-comfort-and-durability list. Prefabricated springs in­serted into the frame are a moderately priced option.

Side-by-side zigzag wires are the least comfortable but the most inexpensive. Cushion options range from down to popular, and less-pricey, polyurethane foam.

Whatever your style, the more basic the lines and neutral the covering, the easier it will be to blend the piece with other furnishings. When you do finally tire of them, you will be able to reupholster or slipcover.

Thrift stores and flea markets sometimes yield unexpected upholstered treasures -- everything from settees to contemporary wing chairs. However, if you're shopping for reproductions, do your homework first.

Having some knowledge of period details helps. Reproductions are exact copies of antiques usually made with the same materials. Adaptations are looser in their interpretation of the original pieces in details and materials.

You could also check tag sales and consignment shops for furniture finds. Remember, though, before you purchase a piece of furniture that you plan to reupholster, examine its frame; if it also needs to be fixed, you could end up spending more money than you would on a new original. Still, if there is an emotional attachment (the chair is exactly like one your grandmother owned) or if it has wonderful details such as claw feet, the design may equal the expense.

The easiest and least costly makeover for salvaged pieces -- and a great way to bridge a mishmash of furniture styles -- are slipcovers. Make sure the chair is sound and the existing upholstery is in fairly good condition. A slipcover can turn the piece's look around, but it can't make it comfortable. Look for pieces with clean lines and strong shapes for best results.

Slipcovers cover the whole gamut of styles, including country, traditional, and modern. Choose luxurious or textured fabrics such as brocade, velveteens, or chintz for a formal living room. In a country casual space order medium-weight cottons, linens, and cotton and linen blends.

Natural fibers fit today's pace because they're easy: Throw them in the washer after your daughter's birthday party, and pop them back on while they're still slightly damp for the best fit.

Combining fabrics -- denim on the chair's back, for example, and a more expensive paisley on the front and sides -- is a tricky way to save money and use the fabric you love. This mix-and-match technique suits most sofas and chairs and works for both slipcovers and upholstery.

These unique wood-slat chairs and table offer attractive seating for two.

Wondrous Wood

A room full of only upholstered pieces would be as dull as dishwater. Nonupholstered furniture, such as a 19th-century wood writing desk, help to make a well-dressed room.

New or old wood furniture is constructed of either a hardwood like maple or oak or a soft wood like pine. Veneer is a thin layer of wood bonded to a heavier surface of a lesser-quality wood to make it look like cherry, for instance, or walnut. Many new pieces are made of veneer construction. Check the hangtag for a list of which woods or veneers were used.

And be sure the piece is sound and the finish smooth. Good dining chairs and tables, for instance, will have corner blocks at the joints for greater stability. Sideboards should have doors that swing freely; dressers should have drawers that glide without sticking.

It's perfectly acceptable and actually advisable to mix wood with rattan or iron or to blend different kinds of wood together in one room. For example, birch veneer cabinets and a sideboard painted dark green would suit a handsome Arts and Crafts kitchen.

Refinishing, like upholstery, adds up unless you take the task on yourself. Paint is faster and less pricey. Paint a stodgy turn-of-the-century dining set white and add some bright, checked, tie-on cushions and a wiry plant stand full of colorful potted geraniums to transform your dining room into a garden.

In a small bedroom, painting a big bed white against light-colored walls will help minimize the bed's size. Pile on the toile pillows, and it's a Parisian lair!

Now that you've got your living space arranged, you can focus on the kitchen -- the heart of the home -- and the bathroom. A beautiful countertop and bright backsplash are crucial to designing the kitchen of your dreams. On the next page, learn how to select countertops and backsplashes that are functional and beautiful.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Countertops and Backsplashes

The granite countertop and bright backsplash lighten up and balance out the dark cabinets.

Heavy pots that boil over, greasy pans, sticky cosmetics! Countertops and backsplashes are the work-horses of the kitchen, and in addition to their utilitarian functions, these highly visible surfaces are expected to be good-looking. Their color, pattern, and texture will help determine your room's look. Find the right materials to suit your needs and style, and the payback will be years of dedicated service and beauty.

Count-on-Me Countertops

The counter where you prepare meals, where the kids set their homework, and where friends prop their elbows during those long heart-to-heart talks can help influence the way your kitchen feels and looks.

Glass, granite, and other reflective ma­terials intensify natural light. Shiny surfaces such as those made from polished granite will bright­en a small, dark room. To cozy up a large kitchen, on the other hand, order a rougher material with a low-luster honed finish.

Another idea, especially helpful if you're watching costs, is to mix materials: Choose a less-expensive alternative for the count­ertops, and insert a slab of marble for rolling pie dough. In any case, before you make a decision, consider the following:

  • Natural stone, such as marble, granite, and slate, is the most expensive and luxurious. Its age-old appeal suits traditional rooms or high-end contemporary settings. A rose-colored marble top, for instance, would lend a note of sophistication to a traditional cherry bar. Sultry, gray granite would complement impeccably designed maple cabinetry in a modern kitchen. Contrasting colors -- dark wood with light stone -- bring attention to each.
  • Wood is a handsome staple in country and traditional kitchens. But because the material is susceptible to warping and cracking if exposed to water, countertops are typically made of butcher block, which consists of many small wood pieces glued together. Since wood is porous, it should be regularly cleaned with an antibacterial cleaner. A polyurethane finish will increase the wood's sheen and life.
  • Ceramic tile has long been a favorite due to its versatility and affordability. Liable to chip or crack if someone drops a weighty dish, however, tile is more likely to be used as a secondary work surface. For example, tile would be a good choice for a breakfast counter. Tiles in many colors and patterns afford endless opportunities for being creative and staying on budget.
  • Solid surfacing is extremely long-wearing, nonporous (won't trap germs), and easy to repair. Best of all, solid surfacing allows for an integral sink that blends seamlessly with the countertop, a great boon for a busy family where daily upkeep is a chore. Colors vary from snowy white to rich caramel and copper-colored faux-stone to give a contemporary or eclectic room a jolt of elegance -- minus the cost.
  • Laminate, the most popular choice for kitchen and bath countertops, is available in hundreds of easy-to-clean waterproof colors and patterns. The one drawback is that, since the color doesn't go all the way through, nicks and cuts will eventually show.
  • Concrete allows you to stain or texturize your countertop to coordinate with cabinets and flooring. A good buddy for stainless steel, cement holds its own in a contemporary setting.
  • Other options include shiny, hygienic stainless steel -- ideal for dedicated cooks who covet a restaurant ambience -- and glass. A quarter-inch-thick glass counter is dramatic and easy-care.
This modern kitchen incorporates a stainless steel backsplash to compliment the granite countertop.

Beneficial BacksplashesBe an artist. A few hand-painted ceramic tiles (your favorite herbs, fish, flowers?) scattered on a sea of manufactured tiles set a theme for an entire room. Diamond-shaped tiles are fun as accents. And tiles that resemble quarried stone and terra-cotta are dynamite in a rustic kitchen or a Craftsman-style kitchen.

Use ceramic tile to create a focal point: tile behind the range as well as along the rim of the range hood. Combine matte and glossy tiles for added personality. Want something graphic? Dark grout will give pale tiles an interesting gridlike appearance.

The mosaic backsplash adds texture and interest to the bar.

Bathing BeautiesOrganic materials are ideal for a soothing, at-home spa. Honed sandstone, travertine, and limestone provide texture and depth in neutral tones for countertops and floors. More glamorous granite and marble can deliver a Roman bath persona particularly if the tub and floor wear the same material.

A furniture-style vanity could become a European washbasin with a dove-colored marble top and backsplash. To transform your walk-in shower into a romantic grotto, consider dark-colored ceramic tiles or, to foster a sense of luxury and to keep you within budget, ceramic tiles resembling tumbled marble and quarried stone. Glass blocks -- as a window or shower wall -- usher in light but maintain privacy.Along with countertops and backsplashes, cabinets are a key design feature in a kitchen or bathroom -- hiding your dishes or cosmetics or displaying your crystal or towels. On the next page, learn how to select cabinets that match your overall design scheme.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Kitchen and Bath Cabinets

Limited cabinetry adds to the minimalist look of modernism.

Cabinets are one of the most prominent elements in a kitchen or bath. To a great extent, the look of your room will be determined by their style, material, and finish.

Unfortunately, according to experts, cabinets will also gobble up a significant chunk of your budget. Rather than buy new cabinets, an easy solution is to refinish, reface with laminates or wood, or reinvent existing cabinets with architectural trim, new hardware, or a decorative paint treatment. If none of these will do, the market holds lots of choices.

Custom cabinets are designed and built for your kitchen; semicustom cabinets are made primarily of stock components but have various options like decorative moldings and etched-glass door inserts; and, the least costly, stock cabinets are mass-produced to standard size specifications.

There are numerous varieties of styles and materials, but just two basic construction types. Modernists will connect with frameless, or Euro-style, cabinets. These units have doors that are flush with the outer edge of the cabinet box, which gives them a slick contemporary appeal.

This construction is ideal for laminates or ve­neer. Face-framed cabinets have rectangular frames that strengthen the cabinet boxes and provide a place to mount doors. With more detailing on the doors, face-framed cabinets are traditional. Raised pan­els, say, are classic fares.

Construction materials vary, but the majority of cabinets are constructed from plywood or composite-board boxes covered with wood veneers. Some companies offer metal doors, and some vinyl doors replicate traditional panel styles.

Popular options for finishes include any number of wood tones and light, pastel glazes. White or light cabinetry expands space -- a great help in mini-kitchens -- and can be formal or casual.

A simple wood veneer like cherry or maple will heat up a stark setting. Mixed finishes -- some painted cabinets, for instance, along with some chicory-glazed birch cabinets -- cook up a kitchen that is unique and inviting.

Pine cabinets allow for an abundance of storage in this bright kitchen.

Many manufacturers also offer furniture-style pieces such as hutches and pie safes as part of their lines. Consider including one of these in a different color or a distressed finish for a country appeal.

A combination of glass- and solid-door cabinetry is a refreshing change for the eye and helps keep any room looking more open. Glass fronts also allow you to find what you need in a hurry.

Storage Booster

There's no such thing as too much storage. Especially in a modern setting, clutter is a no-no. To help forge a niche for everything in the two busiest rooms in the house, adopt one or more of these strategies:

  • Instead of wasting valuable space with a soffit, zoom extra-tall above-counter cabinets to the ceiling. Use this space for storing seldom-used serving dishes in a kitchen and surplus supplies in the bath. Put deep, narrow spaces to work holding pan lids, cookie sheets, or a foldable drying rack.
  • Incorporate a series of shallow drawers for spices and silverware. Pullout drawers beneath the cooktop can corral pots and pans. Pullout pantries and lazy Susans deliver what you need without making you rummage. Generous drawers work for stashing unsightly garbage and recycling bins.
  • Use appliance garages with sliding, hinged, or tambour doors to hide the microwave, coffee­maker, and toaster. In the bath, designate a pullout drawer for the hair dryer.

Bring in the OldOld furniture -- be it an antique of 100 years or a character-filled piece from the '30s -- provides a special flourish for a bath­room or kitchen. Trendy now in our country, this marrying of new and old is common in Europe. In lieu of an island, how about a marble-topped table or, in a small country kitchen, a countertop of old butcher block? Food preparation, buffet service? A vintage piece does it all.

Numerous cabinets with decorative doors marry form and function.

Find a handsomely patinated table, and have it fitted with a shelf. Store baskets of linens or cookbooks there. Or leave it shelfless, so you can pull up chairs and stage an informal, spur-of-the-moment dinner with friends.

Like new cars, modern vanities dazzle us. But for something no one else will have, look to the past. An auction-bought oak dresser, given a hand-painted sink and a polyurethane sealer, will be reborn as the belle of the bath.

Although cabinets are the most prominent piece in a kitchen, large appliances take up a huge amount of space. On the next page, learn how to place appliances in strategic locations that allow for the most space and then most functionality.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Placing Large Appliances

This stainless steel oven range and hood is practical and easy to clean.

When it comes to appliances, you really can have it all. Today's products are stylish, hardworking, and environmentally in tune. There are models for every pocketbook and style. Don't settle for anything less than exactly what you want. Heed the experts' advice, and research the newest developments before you sign on the dotted line.

Everyday Workhorses

Soup's on -- but on what? The traditional range or stove combining a cooktop above with an oven below is an affordable, space-saving solution for many households.

However, serious chefs are drawn to commercial-style (or sometimes actual restaurant-grade) stoves. With six or eight burners, basting and grilling functions, and built-in warming ovens, these gems are an incentive to cook. Not only that, in addition to stainless steel, the stoves come in savory colors such as eggplant, lemonade, and mint julep.

Modular cooktops that let you add features such as griddles, steamers, and rotisseries are also popular. These days, a modular approach to kitchen design allows people to better plan how they want to cook.

For example, one wall oven near the island, another on the other side of the room for items that require less monitoring; or a gas cooktop in the island and an electric oven under the counter.

Look for appliances that do several jobs such as wall units that offer the convenience of a microwave, a warming drawer, and a convection oven all in one but fit in the same space as a standard-size double oven.

Range hoods -- in commercial-chic stainless steel, copper, tile, or country-mode wood -- enhance a decorating scheme while funneling cooking odors and vaporized grease to a fan.

For maximum effectiveness, a hood should be the same width as the cooking surface. But aside from that, the sky's the limit. Pair a richly carved wood range hood with traditional cabinets that sport arched cathedral doors, or combine a super-modern copper range hood with blonde wood cabinetry and glass counters for a Euro-style look.

Refrigerators have felt the commercial styling trend, too. Stainless-steel exteriors are featured in a wide range of prices and sizes. Consumer-friendly options include tilt-out storage drawers, deep-in-the-door bins, and pullout shelves.

Auxiliary refrigerators are also helpful: stand-alone ice-maker units, wine refrigerators, and refrigerator drawers that look like cabinets but reveal a freezer or refrigeration unit.

Does your household include hungry kids? A convenient pullout refrigerator drawer for snacks, a microwave situated below the counter, and an area of lowered counter space will keep them out of your work zone and satisfied.

The sink, set into the center of the island, is readily accessible to more than one set of hands while cooking.

Dishwashers are practically silent these days, and federal guidelines ensure they're energy-efficient. Some models have sensors that tell them when dishes are clean so no energy is wasted heating ex­tra water. Available from domestic and foreign manufacturers, some models are streamlined like race cars.

If you don't relish the standard white, black, or stainless-steel finish for your appliances, manufacturers offer coordinated cabinet fronts for a very custom-designed look. When the work is done and the kitchen is quiet, it will be hard to decipher your tools from the cabinets!

Create a Work Triangle

In order for a kitchen and cook to function best, a good floor plan must be in order. The work triangle -- an important element in kitchen design for years -- describes the relationship of the three major work areas: refrigerator, cooking source, and sink.

If you draw an imaginary line from the sink to the cooktop to the fridge and back to the sink, it should form a triangle. With the diversity of appliances out there and with families cooking together, however, variations can also work. Two cooks, for example, could share the fridge with separate work stations adapted to their needs.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association has put forth guidelines for planning a work triangle:

  • Each leg of the triangle should measure between four and nine feet long.
  • The 3 legs' total length should equal between 12 and 26 feet.
  • Traffic patterns shouldn't interfere with the triangle.
  • Cabinetry shouldn't intersect any triangle leg by more than one foot.

Make Life EasyKitchen designers and manufacturers are doing their best to give us a helping hand. Have you thought of incorporating a pot spigot by the stove to fill unwieldy pots there instead of lugging them across the kitchen?

A piping-hot water dispenser would mean no more standing around waiting for the pot to boil for tea. Full-slide drawers that afford you an overall view -- even those distant corners -- facilitate organization. And when everybody's late again? Don't fret. A warming drawer heats up plates and keeps dinner warm and moist until you're ready.

On a higher level still, technology companies and appliance manufacturers are joining together to create a whole new generation of "smart appliances" to be controlled via the computer. From water faucet to oven, click on and tell them what to do!

Storage and shelving units aren't simply a method of hiding your belongings; they can be a point of interest and style as well. On the next page, check out the different designs that can help you keep your home neat and tidy.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Storage and Shelving

A built-in shelving unit provides a perfect place to display treasures.

A generous amount of storage keeps every home looking cleaner and neater. Take advantage of every nook and corner. If you're using boxes or baskets that hide what's inside, label them. And don't allot any items -- CDs, clothes, toys -- more room than is necessary. New homes today have about three times as many closets as houses built in the '50s, but it seems that's still not enough. Here are some ideas to help you find a place for everything:

  • Collect Cabinetry: When storage is an integral part of the architecture, the sense of orderliness is enhanced. Instead of simply placing some shelving on the family room wall, for instance, transform the entire wall into a storage area made of continuous materials. The latest trend is to use cabinetry as furniture in home offices, master suites, and bedrooms. In addition to making room for electronic gear, papers, and books, the cabinetry, complete with doors and niches, creates a consistent, pleasing picture. Be sure to research the hundreds of cabinetry choices, and choose a style that will help to provoke the look you want. Styles include a variety of woods that can be stained, glazed, or painted. In a period dining room, a wall of detailed cabinetry in a rich wood tone would set an old-world mood. Include a glass door or two, and let your prettiest china show. Use wood or laminate cabinetry in a home office. But leave the midsection open as a desk to hold the computer.
  • To fashion a berth for surplus china and to separate the dining area from the cooking zone, think about a room-divider cabinet. When company comes to dinner, use the top of the cabinet as a serving station. A cabinet like this is also a good way to divide a bedroom for kids. Paint the cabinet a different color on each side, and include an even number of shelves for each child.
  • Move in Modulars: Modular units are available in dozens of styles and materials from plastic to wood. Assemble a wallcovering configuration in the den, the home office, or a child's room. Flanking a window or arranged on either side of a bed, twin units become receptacles for books and family photographs. Look for "towers" and horizontal cabinets that can be stacked in order to take advantage of vertical space.
  • Find Functional Furniture: Furniture designers know consumers want furniture that functions on a practical and an aesthetic level. A chocolate-stain-and-lacquer-finished media cabinet would be a handsome addition to a traditional or contemporary room. But with a generous drawer for organizing videos and music, it's even more welcome. In addition to classic old-fashioned hardwood bookcases, there are freestanding sculptural shelf units manufactured in retro modern shapes and materials like polypropylene and aluminum. Stylish in themselves, these kinds of units make a convenient and chic display for artifacts or books. Also available are sculptural side tables constructed to corral magazines and newspapers. Parked alongside a pair of modern easy chairs, such artful tables will gather attention no matter if they're empty or filled.
  • Commission a Carpenter: Use those corners! In the bedroom, design a Craftsman-style angled cupboard (with doors) to hold the television. Add two comfy chairs, and you have a private just-for-two spot for watching the news. Hide a tiny bar fridge behind those doors, and you can have a drink or snack without having to traipse to the kitchen.
Delicately designed storage spaces are appropriate in a child's room, and they hide toys and clutter.

Open shelves are another excellent way to maximize wasted corner space. Line a corner with glass shelves in the bath, and display your daintiest toiletries. Open shelves will also work in the space beneath a stairway.

Add a window seat with lift-up top (underneath a decorative cushion) in the family room or kitchen breakfast area. Stash linens or extra blankets (who will know?) inside.

Finally, faucets, fixtures, and hardware can easily and quickly update any room without being a cost burden. On the next page, learn how to select faucets, fixtures, and hardware that fit into your design scheme.

Modular cubes and drawers provide plenty of storage and display space.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.

Faucets, Fixtures, and Hardware

The simple faucet head doesn't compete for attention with the eye-catching mural and funky glass sink bowl.

If you're remodeling a bath, real luxury translates room for two: twin vanities, a separate enclosure for the shower and the tub, and a toilet isolated in its own compartment. Simply replacing a worn-out fixture or an out-of-date faucet, though, is enough to give a bath or kitchen a shot in the arm.

Not anticipating taking on the entire room or relocating plumbing means more money to buy products that speak to you. Top-of-the-line hardware, a handheld shower, or a steam bath? The market is flooded with creature comforts.

Fixtures and Faucets

Who doesn't need a stress reliever by the day's end? Enhance a whirlpool tub (re­modeled units fit right into a standard tub recess) with accessories like a handheld sprayer or a cascading faucet. Design a custom walk-in shower finished with easy-to-clean ceramic tile or glass block.

A massaging showerhead will chase away workout and stress-related aches and pains. Pamper yourself. Pile on the fluffy towels and the perfumed soaps! Decorate for all the senses as well as the eye.

Pedestal and wall-hung sinks are traditional fare. But a modern pedestal sink can also be lean and sculptural -- a worthy partner for slick surfaces. A sink with Queen Anne-style legs would infuse a spacious bath with European elegance. So would a wall-mounted towel warmer and a heat lamp.

Counter sinks, generally of vitreous china, can be dropped in or mounted onto virtually any kind of counter. Self-rimming sinks rest on top. Simple, graceful bowls of, say, art glass or metal appear to float.

A glass bowl atop a stone counter creates a harmonious play of light and texture. Integral sinks, manufactured from solid surfacing, fuse seamlessly with the countertop and are very popular in high-traffic situations.

What to consider in choosing style and color? Dramatic dark colors may be less likely to show dirt. But, they're easily marked with soap scum and hard-water mineral deposits.

Neutral shades adapt to all color towels and accessories and, if this isn't your dream house, will most likely please new buyers.

In general, simple is better in everything from fixtures to faucets. Fancy scrollwork and doodads can make the latter appear quickly dated. Instead, use shapes and forms to help get your look across. Brass is the standard faucet base material, but manufacturers offer an array of finishes including nickel, copper, and chrome for all kinds of styles including those high-arched faucets with built-in sprayers designed to take on any kind of challenge.

Kitchen sinks have revved up their personalities, too. A heavy-gauge copper farmhouse sink recalls the days when every butler's pantry had a copper sink for washing delicate glassware. A roomy apron-front soapstone sink is understated and timeless. Don't skimp on accessories here either. Cutting boards, wire rinse baskets, and colanders can ease chores as well as provide stylish details.

Hardware

Hardware -- cabinet knobs and handles, drawer pulls, and window cranks -- doesn't have to match. But for uniformity, limit the number of different finishes and colors to a minimum of two or three, particularly if hardware is visible in the front entrance or an adjoining family or great room.

Classic types of hardware like wood and brass knobs never lose their appeal. But new hand-forged metal knobs and porcelain shapes -- leaves, arrows, fish -- are intriguing and eclectic. Maybe you could find something from a local artisan who specializes in handcrafted hardware.

If you're rejuvenating rather than remodeling a kitchen or a bath (or a piece of furniture), replacing the hardware -- or adding hardware where none has previously existed -- is one of the quickest and easiest fix-ups you can do.

Vintage faucets are wonderful design accents in this retro-style kitchen.

As a general rule, antiqued brass, nickel-finish steel, and wrought iron are considered traditional; shiny steel and chrome are modern. But shape also counts in how the hardware comes across.

And clever substitutions are appreciated: for instance, rope pulls in a log cabin, Mexican concha buckles in a Southwestern dining room, seashells for the vanity in an island hideaway. In the same way a certain piece of jewelry can turn an outfit around, hardware matters.

Ideas for small details like hardware or for whole decorating schemes surround you all the time. Everywhere you look, everything you read, the trips you take -- it's all inspiration. Keep adding to your files. To help, we've assembled some ideas of our own in the chapter ahead.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.