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Decorating a Room

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.
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.