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Decorating Styles

Eclectic Decorating

Touches of Asian influence create a world flair against the backdrop of the traditional fireplace.

An eclectic room is more telling of its creator than other kinds of decor. Compiling diverse furnishings, fabrics, finishes, and objects from any number of periods and countries, it's possible to arrange a totally unique scene. Not bound by any rules, you're free to include whatever you like.

Of course, in order to be successful, you'll want to keep all the principles concerning form, scale, composition, and proportion in mind. But, the more original, the better. The only requisite is comfort. You and your family and friends will never appreciate a space if it doesn't provide basics like agreeable seating and good lighting.


Not surprisingly, bedrooms tend to be naturally eclectic. Along with one or two favorite pieces -- the bed, say, and a chest you've had since childhood -- odds and ends accumulate, such as a rocker that won't do in the living room or an old portrait.

The result can be charming, but it's not guaranteed. Beware, decorators warn, of a messy overload. In a living room or a great room, eliminating wallpaper and decorative finishes for a neutral palette is the safest route. Various styles mix congenially when the background and furniture forms are simple.

If whites and creams leave you cold, choose a more contemporary color like pale rust, straw, or smoke. Import accent colors that complement the rug, the dishes you're hanging on the wall, or a favorite fabric. Judicious amounts of color or pattern -- at the window, on a chair, or as a mat surrounding a print -- will help unite all the elements. Carpeting -- sisal being the most pleasing and inexpensive host of all -- also pulls things together.

A more daring and dramatic approach would be to paint the walls a dark, rich color such as chocolate-brown and the trim a clean, crisp white. Against the dark walls, white-painted pieces with interesting shapes, black-and-white photographs in black frames, and furnishings upholstered in white shine. Elbow in a rattan chair, a wicker footstool, or a wooden trunk from India for texture. For windows, stick to natural cottons or natural fibers blended with synthetics for greater durability. Simple Roman or rattan shades are timeless and tasteful.

It's perfectly acceptable to mix Eastern influences with country style as long as there is a unifying component to the room.

Once a comfortable sofa and chairs are in place, choose the supporting furnishings according to character. A 19th-century Spanish table and a set of American Empire chairs may not be a team anyone would normally think of, but try pairing them together. There's an old adage that holds if you buy only what you love, somehow it will all work -- and it's true! Suspend an antique brass lantern over a glass-topped modern desk, and you've created your own moon over a water-like tableau.

An eclectic-style room can incorporate the disparate possessions you've inherited as well as those vintage pieces you've collected. Assigning furnishings new roles is a tricky way to include pieces you like in a small space. A chest of drawers, for instance, might double as a sideboard in a teeny dining room; a blanket chest or a pair of leather suitcases -- one on top of the other -- could fill in as a coffee table; a bedside table makes a nifty desk when you pull up a chair.

The Eastern influence adds a jolt of interest to the traditional living room.

This balancing, yin and yang approach takes well to a kitchen where you want the warm, welcoming aura of home with professional-style appliances. It also works well in the bath where you hope not only to groom but relax. Fine hardwood cabinetry and high-style modern lighting? You bet.

A glass-block shower and a fruitwood French armoire (to hide a tiny television as well as towels)? Absolutely. Forget the this-has-to-match cute notions of the past, and experiment. Jackie Kennedy's fashion advice to women was always to remove one thing from an outfit before going out. If you fear you've stirred the pot too much, do the same with your room; you might be amazed at the difference.

Get the Look

  • Keeping proportion in mind, team a farmhouse table with new metal chairs.
  • Stand a Lucite lamp on an antique desk.
  • Mix sizes and framing styles for photographs and artwork.

Do you long for the style in which you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s? Do you love all things vintage? If so, retro-style decorating may suit your tastes. On the next page, find out how to create a retro look without the kitsch.

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 a Room: Find out how to decorate a room from floor-to-ceiling.
  • 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.