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Decorating a Room


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


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.
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.