Light-colored furniture and plants create a homey feeling                              around this cozy dining room table.
Light-colored furniture and plants create a homey feeling around this cozy dining room table.

Every house should be a warm haven, a place where we throw off the cares of the world and relax with family and friends. From the kitchen where we launch our busy days to the bedrooms where we close our eyes at night and dream, we want each space to reflect our personal tastes and sensibilities. But we desire that our rooms be comfortable and practical. Pulling all the components together is a tall order, and yet it's also wonderfully rewarding. Use the home decorating tips we've provided here as inspiration, and create the kinds of rooms your loved ones will want to hurry home to enjoy.

Formulate a Decorating Plan

Before you get to work tearing down walls or throwing the paint up on the walls, there are a few steps to take first. Take the time to formulate a decorating plan; it'll save you time and money.

Decorating Tips for New Homes

If your home is being newly constructed, now is the time to get involved in decorating before the home is completed! Use these decorating tips for new homes, and learn how to make an imprint on your home before the contractors finish their job.

Integrating New Decorating Ideas

Decorating a room in a new style can clash with the old style in adjoining rooms. Learn how to integrate new decorating ideas throughout your home so that the style feels unified, not disjointed.

Form and Function in Decorating

Everyone wants their home to be pretty, but to make it inviting as well, it must live up to its function. Is there ample seating in the TV room for big families? Is there enough space in the entertainment room around the pool table to shoot? Learn how to combine form and function to create an ideal living space.

Tips for Starting a Decorating Project

Before your start decorating a room, it's best to assess what you have to work with. Is the dry wall caving in? Is the plumbing leaking? Fix these things first, and then you're ready to start your decorating project.

Tips for Decorating on a Budget

Most people can't afford to undertake a huge endeavor, like decorating a room, without looking at the final price tag. If you're decorating on a budget, these tips will help you achieve the look you want without the exorbitant cost.

Organizing a Decorating Project

These tips on organizing a decorating project will not only help you track your current undertaking but future ones as well. Plus, good organization can help you save money in the long run.

DIY Decorating vs. Using a Professional

Although do-it-yourself projects can be fun and rewarding, they aren't always feasible. Unless you're an expert at removing asbestos or wiring electricity, it's best left to the professionals. Use these tips to determine what you can handle and what you should hire out to contractors.

Achieving Balance with Decorating

Love that oversized chair but feel like it swallows up all the space in the room? Want to display your tiny trinkets but afraid they're too delicate for a large space? Learn how to achieve balance with decorating and make any space -- no matter its size -- visually pleasing.

Decorating with Color

Adding a splash of color to any room livens up a space. But before you select a color, consider the function of the room and how the color makes you feel. If you're a morning person, painting your bedroom a bright magenta may help you start the day with energy, but if you can't face the morning without a strong cup of coffee, a soothing shade of blue may be best. Learn more about choosing a color scheme.

Tips for Decorating with Texture and Patterns

Color isn't the only way to infuse a room with personality; texture and patterns are a great way to add a unique touch. From velvet fabric on a sofa to mosaic tile-covered end tables, texture and patterns draw the eye to interesting details. Use these tips to decorate with texture and patterns.

Lighting Design Tips

Do you have a gorgeous painting hidden in the shadows? Do the overhead lights in your cozy bedroom make it feel more like a hospital room? Learn how to design a lighting scheme that bathes each room in your home in the perfect glow.

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

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Formulate a Decorating Plan

To prevent styles from clashing and lending some continuity to the design plan, the living room and dining room feature the same wall color.

Before you begin making changes to the interior of your house, you'll need to formulate a decorating plan. Perhaps you want to decorate a brand-new family room, or maybe you're redecorating a vacant bedroom now that a child is grown? Whatever the undertaking, the more attention spent on details, the better the results.

These days, you can choose from scores of materials, finishes, fabrics, and fixtures. Magazines, videos, books, and Internet articles (such as these) are unending sources for ideas. Neighbors and relatives, especially those who've been down this road before, might have helpful suggestions. And, should you want more guidance, you can turn to a design professional.

A first word of advice: Forging stylish rooms that resonate with character and comfort doesn't happen overnight. Ideally, we would all like to be somewhere else while work is under way, but that's not always possible.

Having a sensible plan for how to make do until the workers depart or the paint dries is the next best option. Try not to be tempted to take on the whole house and be done with it.

Tackling a single space at a time will better allow you to control the chaos, especially when young children are present. It's easier to empty one room of furniture -- and find berths in other rooms for misplaced beds and tables -- than three. Overhauling in small increments is also less time and money-consuming and more immediately gratifying.

On the practical side, when hiring professionals such as carpenters, electricians, and painters, it may be more economical to have them complete all the work within a specific time frame. One lengthy visit will entail more preparation and patience on your part, but savings could be substantial. Be sure to hire a reliable professional who will lay out your options and help you choose the smartest route.

Before the saws buzz and the dust flies, specify one room as your headquarters. A quiet nook where the family can muster for dinner or watch a movie lends stability. If the kitchen is involved, arrange a temporary galley with a fridge near the bathroom.

Use the bath sink for water, and be sure to include items you use everyday such as the microwave or coffeemaker. And generate some fun: Colorful paper plates and cups interject a festive picnic air and cut down on cleanup. To safeguard the kids, implement the out-of-sight, out-of-mind concept and devise a separate entrance that segregates the work zone from the rest of the house.

Be sure youngsters understand that this area and all its dangerous tools are off-limits.

On the following pages, you'll find much of the information you'll need to think through every phase of your decorating project from conception to happy completion. To start, read more about decorating tips for new homes on the next page.

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

Decorating Tips for New Homes

Crown molding and built in book shelves are just some of the features you may be able to choose in a newly built home.

If you have decided to buy a new house, be sure to work closely with your architect or builder not only in devising blueprints but also as the structure takes shape. If adjustments or substitutions are in the plans, make sure you have final approval.

Small changes, such as an extra counter where the kids can hunker down for a snack or no shelf in the bath, will impact how each room functions. Use these decorating tips for new homes as you begin to make your plans.

When buying a newly constructed home in a subdivision or development, sign on the dotted line as soon as possible. Purchasing a new home before standard flooring, cabinets, fixtures, and appliances are installed expands your decorating options and eliminates the expense of replacing those materials -- the ones you would never have chosen -- later.

Keep in mind that tract-type builders translate few­er decisions, while semicustom builders generally offer a variety of packages featuring different upgrades along with floor plan options.

If you intend to enlist an interior designer for your new home, involve him or her as soon as possible to help determine color schemes and select appropriate finishes.

Your designer should have a copy of the blueprints or just the room, window, and doorway dimensions to choreograph furnishings. Dimensions are also invaluable when it comes to older homes. Ask the seller if they'll allow you to take measurements.

You may not be able to fit your queen-size bed through a narrow passageway in a rambling old farmhouse or a cottage. You don't want to learn that on moving day!

Although it's not always feasible, staggering closing times will allow you to work on your new home before you have to vacate the other home. Jobs like painting and repairing are easier when rooms are devoid of furniture and boxes. Even a few days will give you the opportunity to paint the bath and scrub the carpets.

Integrating new decorating ideas from room to room can sometimes present a challenge. On the next page, find out how to prevent your new interior decorating from clashing with older interior decorating.

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

Integrating New Decorating Ideas

The sky mural on the ceiling makes this room unique.

Decorating one room often affects adjoining rooms, so it's important to integrate new decorating ideas. If you're content with the space next door, draw on its colors, furnishings, and overall flavor for ideas. Maintaining a similar palette will foster cohesion.

If the adjacent room is scheduled for a fix-up at a later date, consider it in your initial plans when picking paint or fabric. If you're hoping to eventually add rooms or remodel other areas of the house, be careful not to put structural elements or plumbing in places that will obstruct future endeavors.

­Consider these easy-to-do, unifying tips:

  • Blur boundaries by painting rooms the same color, or employ different shades of a similar color with slight tonal variations. You could use pale yellow, golden yellow, and cream in one room. Combine deeply saturated colors (green) with lighter versions (sage).
  • Install similar flooring such as sisal, wood, or tile. Floors can also be married by color; for instance, wed light brown tile with a deeper brown carpet. If you're unable to replace the flooring, merge rooms with like-colored area rugs.
  • Repeat texture throughout the space. Think velvet drapes in the dining room, velvet-upholstered chairs in the study.
  • Employ similar patterns: Dining room chairs with black-and-white-checked fabric could mirror the kitchen's checkerboard floor. Call in different patterns in the same color range, or combine similar patterns in reverse: a raspberry-toned fabric with jolts of white and blue here, blue-toned fabric splashed with raspberry and white there.
  • Tie spaces together with architectural elements: wainscoting in the bath and bedroom, chair rails and crown moldings in the living and dining rooms.

Not only should rooms be visually pleasing, they should also be adapted to the way you live your life. On the next page, learn how to integrate form and function in your decorating.

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

Form and Function in Decorating

This living room and dining room combo is ideal for hosting parties. But the elegant white furniture and shiny wood floors are best suited to adults.
This living room and dining room combo is ideal for hosting parties. But the elegant white furniture and shiny wood floors are best suited to adults.

Form and function in decorating are equally important. Every room should reflect your personality and passions, while it also accommodates the way you and your family live, work, and relax. A room that looks heavenly but doesn't live up to your requirements ultimately comes across as disjointed or, worse, unfriendly.

For each room, ask yourself the same questions: How do I want this space to appear (cheerful, formal, dramatic)? Who will be using it (adults, children, both)? How should it function (a busy work hub, a niche for relaxation, a place to entertain)?

Do you think you want to use brocade and silk? Don't, if your household consists of children and pets. Washable, long-wearing fabrics are far more sensible. Life is too short to worry over every spill and stain. Put the all-white-living-room theme on hold until the children are grown, and opt for fuss-free upholstery and slipcovers that won't show dog hair.

If you crave a more formal tone, achieve it by incorporating deep colors, textures, and patterns. Plan draperies that skim the floor rather than puddle (too tempting for kids and pets). Also, art -- paintings, framed prints, or watercolors -- will ratchet up the tenor of any room and can be hung high enough so finger and nose smudges won't be issues. Include built-in cabinets or shelves to show off collectibles, but be sure to keep them out of harm's way.

Entertainment units and armoires can serve both adults and kids. Declare the top portion for parents, and designate one or two lower shelves for kids to store their games and storybooks.

Who will be watching television? If more than two people will be, a sofa and a chair facing the set won't fly. Four or more family members -- with visitors coming and going -- require a bevy of comfy seats. In addition to a sofa and some chairs, move in oversize floor pillows for lounging. A scaled-down rocker is a welcoming spot for a youngster.

And plenty of side tables (make these folding if footage is scarce) fashion a home for snacks and drinks. Because feet seem to like to rest on the coffee table, hunt for one that is solid, and vanquish less-rugged furnishings to another part of the house. Tables with laminate or varnished surfaces will withstand rings left behind by wet glasses.

What about the kitchen, the heart of your home? Do you or any other occupants cook? Do you want to prepare dinner and monitor the kids' homework at the same time? Separate work stations, dual sinks, and properly mapped aisles will foster efficiency, while an island will protect the chef and, at the same time, provide a roost for friends and family.

Equal thought should be carried over to every room. If your bath is frequented by the whole family, it's more important than ever to plan carefully. Along with choosing the proper materials, you'll want plentiful storage for towels and supplies.

A pair of sinks, a tub, a separate shower, and a toilet sequestered in its own private compartment will make the space usable for two on busy mornings.

Bedrooms should be sanctuaries. A master suite with a bathroom is the epitome of luxury. But any bedroom rises to new levels of comfort given the proper amenities. Come-rest-awhile furnishings, bedside lighting for reading, a window with a view of treetops and sky? What will please you most?

Of course, sometimes we must plan multipurpose rooms. No dining room? A drop-leaf table set on one side of the living room provides an instant dining area. When company is due, shift the table away from the wall and slide in a bench. Arrange chairs on the opposite side. Think about fashioning a home office with a sofa that opens into a bed to accommodate guests.

In order to utilize a small space, select a combination corner table and desk along with hanging shelves. Panache? Have your office chair custom-covered to match the sofa.

This nursery, with its baby furniture and animal wall border, marries form and function seamlessly.

Once you've ascertained how a room should function, focus on how you want it to feel and what sort of mood you wish to create. Small gestures such as extra pillows, a soft throw, or a scented candle bring instant ambience. The most effective interiors develop personalities based on lighting, fabrics, furnishings, and color.

If you're the perky morning type, zestier colors are for you. Introverts might prefer snugger spaces with less-vibrant hues. Generally (nothing is written in stone), kitchens, family rooms, children's bedrooms, and baths tend to be bright in color. Formal living rooms, dining rooms, and studies lean toward subdued colors and tranquil patterns in limited numbers.

Searching for a special persona, a unique element, or a specific color? Investigate paint and fabric brochures, decorating magazines and books, furniture catalogs, and Web sites of product manufacturers.

Look to designer show houses, builder show homes, and your garden. Decorators have long known that the trigger to a whole room can often be something as simple as a summer flower.

Now that you have a general design plan in mind, it's time to examine the space you intend to decorate. On the next page, find out how best to evaluate the bare bones of the room and the structure with which you have to work.

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

Tips for Starting a Decorating Project

The angled, patterned tiles of this bathroom widen the space, while the faux finished walls and mosaic backsplash add interesting touches at eye level.

When starting a decorating project, you should first evaluate the room. And the best way to evaluate a room is to empty it. With furnishings, window treatments, and artwork banished, the room's pluses -- and minuses -- are ex­posed. Far better to deal with defects at this point than to waste money and effort trying to disguise them later. Check walls, ceilings, windows, and woodwork. Is there glass that needs replacing? Are there plaster cracks?

The basic elements -- walls, ceiling, and floor -- are central to the overall appearance of your room. Most often, kitchens and baths will show the greatest wear and tear. Sometimes, if you're changing houses, a thorough cleaning of the rooms in the new space instills life.

However, these well-used rooms usually require more. Tiles in floors and walls can be regrouted or recaulked. Tubs can be reglazed. Maybe this is an opportunity to upgrade the plumbing. Substituting a standard-size whirlpool tub for a bathtub is a luxurious leap forward.

And small alterations zoom a lackluster bath or kitchen into the limelight, too. Replace the doors on sound but ho-hum cabinets, and bring in new hardware.

Now's the time to find a corner where a closet will fit, add a window, or reconfigure walls and doorways. If you don't want the expense of relocating the toilet, why not compartmentalize it with a half-wall?

The wall's top can serve as a shelf for pretty toiletries or plants to increase the sense of privacy. Architectural moldings can transform bare walls, dull windows, ho-hum cabinets, or an uninteresting fireplace. For that matter, a brand-new fireplace (gas or wood-burning) would give the great room a focal point and the whole house an in­creased aura of welcome.

Electrical systems often need to be updated, especially in older homes. In addition to more outlets, consider recessed lighting, wall sconces, and ceiling fans. Faced with a blank canvas, you'll begin to see all the possibilities.

Many people do not have the luxury of decorating a home without looking at the price tag on fabrics and materials. On the next page, learn how to decorate your home on a budget.

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

Tips for Decorating on a Budget

Many of the simple accessories in this cozy den, such as the canoe, could be obtained at flea markets or antique fair.

Decorating on a budget? Skilled labor and materials add up fast. You don't want your project to become a financial burden. Each step should meet your re­quirements and reflect your tastes. Rule of thumb? It's best to get structural needs figured out and accounted for first.

If you are calling in a contractor, three bids are­ recommended, and request references. And, if feasible, visit a project the contractor has recently completed.

Trips to home centers, show­rooms, and furniture stores will help you establish a realistic figure. If the amount involved isn't large and you'll be able to pay it off in a month or two, the simplest way to handle it may be to put it on a credit card.

Remember, though, credit cards often have the highest interest rates. Talk to the employees at your bank, and use the Internet to explore every avenue from home-equity loans to refinancing. Check with the assessor's office, too, to determine the selling prices of homes in your neighborhood.

Kitchen and bath upgrades can return as much as 70 to 90 percent of their cost at resale. However, experts caution that it's not wise to invest so much that you significantly raise the value of your home above others in the area. Later, should you decide to sell, it could prove difficult to recoup the money.

If you're handy, lessen expenses by performing a portion of the labor yourself. Discuss this with the contractor, and make sure it's noted in your contract. Ripping up an old floor and hauling away debris are possible money-saving tasks. But use common sense, please: Dangerous materials, such as those involving asbestos or paint containing lead, should be left to the experts.

With all of today's options, high-end materials are not the only answer. Keep an open mind, and when the price is too steep, find a substitute within budget. Can't afford handmade Italian tiles? Ceramic tiles that mimic their warmth and color are an affordable alternative.

Different contractors, a variety of fabrics, multiple furniture stores...It can be difficult to keep track of all the items involved in decorating a home. On the next page, learn how to organize your decorating project.

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

Organizing a Decorating Project

This meticulous living room is well decorated and well organized -- everything has its place.

Decorators know design is never-ending. You no sooner resolve one room than another challenge arises. As families grow and lifestyles change, rooms evolve. When organizing a decorating project, begin a folder or file containing information pertinent to each room you're currently working on. Store everything from paint chips to fabric samples in your folder.

A whopping portion of every project's success is due to careful consideration of all the elements. Include a rough floor plan (with points of access and traffic routes noted), and write down the room's measurements and architectural details.

Designate one section for resources like telephone numbers, fax numbers, and Web sites. Set aside a "budget page" so you can tally the money -- who's been paid, who hasn't -- as the project moves along.

Some decorators prefer a standard accordion file with pockets since it allows a pocket for each room; others tout the benefits of a loose-leaf notebook equipped with a durable cover that zips.

Keep in mind that pictures, paint chips, and receipts will have to be stapled to the pages of a notebook. However, notebooks are often a bit more advantageous than accordion files, especially when the notebooks have separate pockets to hold scissors and tape measures.

Take inventory of the room's existing furnishings including cabinets, appliances, and accessories. Then, divide that list into three categories: keeps, maybes, and discards. Include dimensions of each piece (height, depth, and width); this will help when you're shopping for a new item or trying to find a home for a discard in another room of your house.

Tip: Think about moving questionable furnishings to another part of your home. For example, just because the dresser no longer works in your daughter's room doesn't mean it wouldn't be an appealing addition to the bath. Put the dollars you save by not building a storage cabinet for towels toward a stunning rug for the new space!

The second list you make is your wish list. Include everything you'd like to see in your new room. Try to think of the small activities that take place every day. Would a built-in niche for car keys help keep the room more orderly?

How about a special spot for the pet's bed? For now, forget costs. If you've always coveted a decoratively painted ceiling swirling with clouds, make a note. Maybe the budget won't stretch to allow for an artist, but hiring a student from a local art school is a possibility. Confronted with a written list, it's easier to determine what you can and can't live without and to find creative solutions.

The more information you assemble, the easier it will be to make known your intentions to a contractor or designer. A picture, it's true, is worth a thousand words. Keep all those magazine photographs handy, and stay organized.

When the need arises, you'll be able to open your folder and whip out a picture that illustrates exactly what it is that you want, a measurement, or a carpet sample. It's less stressful on you and the people assisting you if you have samples and swatches to reference, too.

Tote your file along when you go shopping or antiquing. When you come across a new light fixture or a lovely old iron bed, you'll be better able to judge whether the find will work or not.

Sometimes doing it yourself instead of hiring a professional can save you time and money. And it might even be enjoyable! On the next page, learn more about which design projects probably require a professional and which ones you could handle yourself.

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

DIY Decorating vs. Using a Professional

This kitchen, with its center island, provides the perfect location around which the family can gather.

DIY decorating versus using a professional is a consideration not to be taken lightly. Kitchen and bath upgrades generally require experts and installers who are familiar with building codes, plumbing, and wiring.­

Structural work demands a licensed architect or designer/builder as well as licensed contractors and skilled tradespeople. Smaller-scale jobs with no construction involved are the safest endeavors for do-it-yourselfers.

By doing your own work, you save money, you have control of the schedule, and when it's done you get the credit. However, decorating entails time and energy. Be honest with yourself. If you like to sew and hate to paint, make the drapes and hire a painter.

An interior designer specializes in aesthetics but can also draw floor plans and construction documents. Although not as well trained in dealing with projects that affect the exterior and structure of a house, interior designers who list ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) after their names have received a degree from an accredited school of design, have had full-time work experience, and have passed an exam given by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification.

Designers charge for their services any number of ways: Some request a flat fee covering their design and supervision; others charge a retainer for their services and an hourly rate; some add a fixed percentage to designer-discounted prices to yield a profit; and still others use a combination of all these methods.

To ascertain which designer is for you, collect references and conduct interviews. Find names by visiting the local chapter of the ASID or trying the Web. Equally as important as the designer's portfolio and credentials is how well you bond. You want a designer you feel comfortable with, who understands your goals, and who will do his or her best to see that those goals are met.

Laying the groundwork -- determining how the room should function and feel and deciding the best way to finance the job and whether to seek assistance -- is a large accomplishment.

Now, set aside time to study what good design entails. Once grasped, these basic principles will help you look at every space with a better understanding of what's required to create the perfect setting every time. For example, choosing furniture and decorations that don't overwhelm a space or that appear to best advantage can be tricky. On the next page, learn how to achieve balance with decorating.

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

Achieving Balance with Decorating

This room evenly balances the island and the couch and carries the wood finish throughout the kitchen and living space.

Reduced to its simplest terms, achieving balance with decorating emphasizes a visually pleasing arrangement of furnishings, all of which are a comfortable fit or scale for the room. Heights and sizes may and should vary for greater vitality, but the juxtaposition is carried out with purpose.

For example, to maintain the same visual weight, an armoire should be offset with a generous-size table or two portly chairs, an area rug, and a smaller table. An oversize porcelain bowl displayed on the mantelpiece has two framed watercolors as its neighbors. And keep in mind that no lamp should be bigger than the table upon which it sits.

Lacking the proper mix of scale and balance, a room feels disjointed or even lopsided. Think of a living room where all the furniture is pushed to one side. How much better it would have been to have tugged the sofa away from the wall and anchored it with a table behind and two smaller tables at either end. The end tables don't have to match, but neither one should overpower the other.

If you plan to buy new furniture, study the entire room first. Consider what you already own and what you need. Then visualize how the pieces will work with each other. Do as the professionals do: Include some matching elements to add symmetry and to enhance the sense of harmony. Think twin lamps, dual mirrors, two trays, or matching chairs on either side of a hearth for formality.

Start Drawing

A dozen little furnishings afloat in a big -- or even a little -- room end up looking like clutter as the eye darts from one object to the next. In fact, a few larger-scale pieces can actually make a tiny room appear grander. So they don't get lost, group small furnishings together in a large room.

To avoid having to lug and push, use room-planning aids like computer programs to experiment with a variety of furniture arrangements or draw the room to scale on graph paper. Mark the location of doors and windows, traffic zones, architectural features, electrical outlets, and heating sources. Make one square foot of room space equal to one square.

Cut out blocks -- to scale again -- to represent each piece of large furniture. In a shoe-box-size room, only one option may exist for a tall hutch or an overstuffed love seat. If that's the case, concentrate on finding the most complementary sites for your other furnishings. Consider adding a mirror to enhance the sense of space, and at the same time, begin thinking about creating a focal point.

Grab Their Attention

A focal point is the highlight of the composition; it is the element that draws and holds the most attention. If you're fortunate enough to have a beautiful view from a picture window in your living room, designate the window as your centerpiece, and compose your furnishings to take advantage of it. Fireplaces and French doors are classic focal points.

Today a media center tucked discreetly behind louvered doors with matching storage units on either side or a handsome armoire might be an option as well. However, TVs by themselves are not good candidates. With the set turned off, TVs are dreary, dark holes.

The delicate furniture balanced with the light color of the walls imbues this room with a Zen feeling.

Sometimes less-obvious focal points gain interest when they are off-center or not placed in the main part of the room. An antique cupboard filled with a collection of your grandmother's majolica, a lovely hand-painted Chinese screen, an oversize painting, or a mass of healthy green plants (lit at night) would each fit this role. You want visitors to stand up and take notice.

However, you also need to be aware of practicality. Would two small conversation areas better allow traffic to flow than one? Awkwardly placed tables and chairs that interfere with your family's movements should be left out.

Figure approximately 30 inches for walkways, and position sofas and chairs no more than eight feet apart or people will have to strain to hear one another. In the dining room, three feet of pullout space is required for chairs around a table.

Furniture can also alter the proportions of a room. A sofa set on the diagonal, for in­stance, widens a space visually. A taller piece such as an ar­moire makes the ceiling seem higher while also providing a focal point. To foster flexibility in a small room, include one or two movable pieces.

The natural wood of the basket floor tie together the natural stone and brick of the fireplace.

When you are seeking extra elbow room for a meeting of the school com­mittee, a streamlined maple coffee table on casters is easy to roll away. If someone in the family uses a wheelchair, make certain there is plenty of room for their maneuverability, and arrange seating so they can conveniently pull up and join in.

In a kitchen where function comes first, layout is paramount. Implement the classic work triangle -- the imaginary line that runs from sink to cooking center to refrigerator and back to sink -- to save steps and increase efficiency. In the kitchen, the cooking area is often designed as the focal point.

A magnificent stone range hood teamed with a backsplash of oversize stone tiles elevates an ordinary drop-in cooktop to dramatic heights. A sculptural stainless-steel hood over a no-nonsense industrial-style range is equally as arresting. Tile gives you leeway to create all sorts of colorful mu­rals and mosaic designs to serve as eye-catchers in both kitchens and baths.

Unleash your imagination! If you own a vintage tub on legs, embellish it with gold and suspend an elaborate chandelier above it. If you're in the process of remodeling and privacy is not an issue, install a large window next to the tub. A generous amount of glass will not only focus attention on the bathing area but will also make the room feel more spalike.

An ottoman serves as the focal point, gold and red yones balance out the room.

Small Touches Tip the Scales

Objects of similar materials -- silver bowls at either end of the sofa, silver candlesticks on the mantle -- unobtrusively bring harmony to a space. Another option is to use color to unite objects that have no common thread.

An inlaid box, a stack of leather-bound books, and a picture frame -- each a lustrous shade of burnt umber -- will look very content together, not busy, on a glass-topped side table. Don't allow collections to be scattered helter-skelter. Too many things everywhere make a room look cluttered. Muster your treasures on one table or shelf, and the room will appear twice as serene.

Repeat colors within the room, too. Echo the citrus color of a painting in sofa pillows or the luminous green of an Asian lamp in the carpet. Color is one of your best tools.

Color isn't just about choosing a favorite; certain colors can open up a space while others can make a space seem smaller. On the next page, find out how to use color in your decorating.

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

Decorating with Color

The green walls and red chairs energize this room and work well together because they are complimentary colors.

Decorating with color reveals quite a bit about a person. Right now, you're probably wearing your favorite hue -- taupe, lavender, pink? Studies have shown that color, in every aspect of our lives, affects us emotionally and physically.

Orange, for instance, stimulates the appetite. Don't be surprised if you find yourself feeling hungrier in a kitchen or a restaurant that's painted the color of your morning juice. People tend to be more "up" in red rooms, more subdued in those that are blue. Hospital rooms are often painted a pale, serene green, a shade of well-being.

With color you can manipulate the proportions and mood of a room, making it seem smaller or larger, loftier or more intimate. On the whole, rooms washed with an abundance of natural light are best painted either white or a pale color; darker rooms are more attractive in a rich, warm color. No light in the kitchen? Buttery yellow walls can bring in the sun. Have an upstairs hall that's too long and too narrow? An end wall painted a warm marigold color will dispel that gloomy corridor feeling forever. Tones of sand and blue-gray together are like a day at the shore. Dazzling jewel tones add brilliance. Historical colors such as ochers, reds, and blues (Williamsburg blue being at the top of the charts) conjure up period backdrops.

All that said, color can often seem the most confusing aspect of decorating. Overwhelmed by hundreds of choices, you have probably forgotten that, unlike lots of other elements you may not be too thrilled with like the tiles on the floor or the shingles on the roof, the wrong color paint is easily remedied. If you don't like it, pick up the brush and try again. Rather than be intimidated by color, use it to forge rooms that make you happy every single day.

Whirling the Color Wheel

You'll feel more confident if you understand how colors interact with each other. The physicist Isaac Newton developed the first color wheel way back in the 17th century when he was studying the effects of a beam of light shining through a prism.

The color wheel, consisting of 12 colors, is the prismatic spectrum of rainbow colors set forth as a circle. The three primary colors -- red, yellow, and blue -- are spaced equally around the wheel. The secondary colors -- orange, green, and violet -- which are created by mixing two primaries in equal amounts, are set between them. Tertiary colors -- colors such as yellow-green, blue-violet, and red-orange -- are an equal blend of a primary and a secondary color and make up the remaining half-dozen colors.

All the other colors outside of the wheel are variations of those 12 colors mixed with white or black or each other. When white is added to color, it creates lighter values called "tints." Adding black or gray to a color forms darker tones called "shades." Celery is a very pale tint of green, while avocado is one of its shades. The term "tone" refers to the value, or intensity, of a color.

The soothing blues and greens open the space and make it appear larger.

Artistry

Some of the most successful decorating themes occur when colors of equal intensity or strength are combined; for example, pastels such as pinks and peaches that have a similar lightness or vibrant hues of red, yellow, and blue that share the same depth. If it's zing you want, combine two complementary colors; they're "complementary" because they lie directly opposite each other on the wheel.

Red and green, for example, are popular partners often found in high-style country rooms. For heightened drama in a stark modern setting of glass and chrome, a less-familiar union would be a purple sofa littered with plump yellow pillows. A color will clash with the colors to the right or left of its complement on the wheel, for instance apricot with purple-blue. Still, not all clashes are bad news. Modernists often pair colors like bright yellow and royal blue successfully.

Cool colors -- like green, blue, and violet -- will make your living room appear larger because they seem to push the walls away. Warm colors -- oranges, reds, yellows -- do the reverse. Paint your bedroom a charming Tuscan apricot, and the space will feel marvelously cocoonlike. A dark color will add mystery and romance (on a practical note, dark rooms also remain cleaner-looking longer). A color plan that includes any three consecutive colors or any of their adjacent tints and shades will zap the room with life. Gardeners often follow an analogous scheme in their flower borders with waves of fiery red melting into drifts of orange and yellow or, the opposite, red blooms flowing into crimsons and violets.

Soothing monochromatic themes utilize one color like blue or gray in a variety of tones or gradations. Smoke-colored walls, silvery velvet drapes, and a dark gray sisal carpet on the floor of a New York apartment affords the owner the feeling of living on a cloud. Want to know all your choices for, say, a green scheme? Paint manufacturers have made it foolproof with chips and charts that follow every color's logical progression. To ease our bewilderment, handy aids such as large L-shaped chips exist to judge trim colors and flip charts of suggested color combinations. Some stores even rent pints of a paint for a minimum fee to ease the process along.

The monochromatic orange in this living room infuse it with warmth and coziness.

Think of your background color as a plate on which you are presenting all the other elements: furnishings, accessories, art. An accent color should be the garnish (the green parsley or the bright red cherry) you place on top. If you appoint a color like cobalt blue or plum as your accent color and adhere to a neutral palette, it will be much easier to shift moods or to alter the look of a room according to season with throws, rugs, cushions, pillows, and slipcovers. A pearly colored living room? Come winter, swap lime-green sofa pillows for chocolate-brown. A bright-white-tiled bath? Hang up navy-colored towels as a nautical nod to summer in lieu of red (too winter holidayish). Colors, like fashions, tend to follow the fads. A neutral palette, however, will never look like yesterday's news (think of 1950s pink), an important consideration if you are someday going to place the house on the market.

Kids love color and the more colors the merrier. Kids' artwork is proof. And today there are any number of freewheeling colors based on crayons along with awesome special-effect finishes like glow-in-the-dark paint and glitter. Forego the ubiquitous pale blue and pink for something newer like luscious peach or pale lav­ender, the color of morning mist. Still, if you're look­ing to keep the same recipe for a number of years, neutrals such as creamy ivory or pas­tels will adapt best for them as time goes by and they mature.

Let playful furniture in primary colors be the high jinks for a young child. In an older child's space, one color used on all the furniture (white, cornflower blue, or buttercup-yellow) will give the room a tidier, more uniform feel. Rather than installing walls, you could use different colors to designate different areas: Paint the study zone bright green; put restful moss wallpaper behind the bunk beds.

Children appreciate being included in making the decisions regarding their rooms. Rather than confront them with a zillion choices, though, narrow it down to three or four colors you think are appropriate and then let them choose.

The splashes of color against the white sofa fabric pick up the colors in the mural.

Unbeatable White

White or off-white is a timeless background upon which any style can be superimposed. In the 1920s, Syrie Maugham created an all-white drawing room in her London home that became a landmark in the world of interior design. White can be elegant as in an ultramodern loft or homey as in an all-white beach cottage. White unifies a small space. Paint the floor white as well as the walls and windows, and a tiny room will feel more open. Add snowy window treatments -- a roll-up shade of white denim, white shutters, or celestiallike white shears -- and expand the setting still farther.

Contrary to what you might think, white is not boring. Sun-bleached seashells heaped in a bowl offer a host of variations. Follow their cue, and combine several different tones of white: Paint the ceiling a bright, wake-up white; color the walls a more forgiving creamy-white; and dress the chairs and couch in slipcovers of natural cotton. When you need a punch of color, add a bouquet of flowers.

White walls and white linens on dark furniture keep the room calm, cool, and clean looking.

The Final Decision

Tote home a handful of paint chips or strips in the same color range, and tack them on the wall. Ob­serve how they are affected by continuously changing natural and artificial light. White daylight is made up of all the colors of the spectrum. The color of your walls will depend on how much white light is reflected and how much is absorbed. Switch on a lightbulb that does not have the same balance as the spectrum, and you might notice a more blue or yellow tint.

When you have finally selected your colors or whit­tled it down to one or two, paint them on a wall and live with them for a couple of days. It will help if you paint a large area rather than just applying a puny dab. If the color seems too dominant, switch to a lighter value on the paint strip. If you're still undecided, trust your instincts. Color is, above all else, very personal. Family and friends aren't going to judge your rooms in technical terms anyway. All they will know is that you're content and that your bedroom looks beautiful. In the end, that's what counts.

Color isn't the only thing to make a room pop, however. Texture and pattern offers contrast and spices up an otherwise uniform room. On the next page, learn how to incorporate texture and pattern into your home.

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

Tips for Decorating with Texture and Patterns

The black and white checkered floor run throughout the house, and the white tiles on the wall compliment the patterned floor.

Decorating with texture and patterns makes a room interesting and alive. Contrasts of smooth and rough, thick and thin, shiny and dull pump up the interest quotient and prevent a room from appearing too staid. That's why the pros mix stripes with checks, pile rugs on tiled floors, and marry leather with wicker.

A room full of the same thing is boring. Instead, you could combine surfaces, finishes, and even periods. A 19th-century sideboard, for instance, might hold a pair of stylish lamps from the '30s; in the living room of an urban town house, a raffia armchair could be in­cluded to deformalize taffeta drapes. Magic happens when elements with diverse qualities are brought together. Happily, many times, this allows us to use what we have -- baskets, books, quilts -- in a fresh manner.

Layers -- a pillow atop a pillow, chair pads on rush seats, matchstick blinds with cotton drapes -- cook up warmth. Especially in cold climates, textures relieve rooms of any sterile or chilly overtones. Of course, how you introduce texture will depend a great deal on the style of your decor and the room's application. An elegant dining room will call for a more subtle hand than a mountain ski retreat. In the dining room, flame-stitch fabric on the dining chairs and a large, heavily textured oil painting is all that's needed. Inside the lodge, Navajo blankets, chenille sofas, and leather armchairs will turn up the heat and form a pleasing interior.

Kitchens and baths exhibit an interesting array of textures. Shimmering surfaces like granite, tile, stainless steel, glass, and mirror are the norm. Even plug-in appliances with their shiny profiles contribute to the picture. But so many hard-edged materials call out for a bit of relief found in a brick hearth, a wood ceiling, or a colorful kilim rug. If you favor a pared-down contemporary style, consider including a warm-hued oak floor or cherry cabinets to mix it up. A butcher-block top on an island, a window seat with a cushion, or a single shelf displaying three or four pieces of rustic pottery in earthlike colors will help balance the overall modernity of the setting.

The patterned pillows integrate the patterned floor against the plain sofa.

Be it a flowery needlepoint rug or a stencil used on walls, patterns like textures pick up the tempo of a room and support its theme. Guiding rules? Less pattern in a room that's meant for quiet like a bedroom, and exercise restraint when it comes to big, wild patterns. As beguiling as those patterns may seem now, they are the ones you're most apt to tire of quickly. Leopard prints and bold plaid, in the right setting, look fantastic together.

However, less-flamboyant rooms will do as well with similar patterns in the same color or with patterns that are not alike but share the same color range. Small-scale repeats in soft furnishings like cushions and upholstery of a larger-scale pattern found at the windows is a well-tested technique. Over the years, certain patterns have become linked with very distinct styles. A faded chintz translates English; a blue-and-white toile is all about France. Study your building blocks -- walls, ceiling, and floor -- to see how texture and pattern could benefit them.

Texture unifies the chair, pillow, and bookshelf.

Ceilings, depending on your decor, can be wallpapered, painted with textured paint, or covered with a material such as tin. Certain heavy papers with embossed patterns can be applied to a ceiling and also painted. Tin ceilings that are most often associated with the 19th century are replicated today in easily installed tiles of steel, brass, or chrome. Tongue-and-groove ceilings, painted or unpainted, are traditional in New England's seaside houses and also on porches.

If you're building a new house, keeping the beams exposed in, say, the family room will add country-house charm as well as texture. Suspend baskets, bunches of dried herbs or wildflowers, or strings of heady garlic from the beams, and gain yet another tactile bit of interest. A ceiling draped with fabric or tented is romantic or fun. Bold red-and-white stripes, for instance, imbue a child's room with a jolly circus ambience.

Fabric is an age-old wall treatment, too -- from vibrant wall hangings to voluminous curtains suspended from rods affixed just below the ceiling. Quality fabrics such as ticking, wool, burlap, or imitation suede can also be glued to walls like paper. Rather than dress the whole room, consider covering one wall behind a four-poster bed or a writing desk. Upholstered walls also add texture and, with batting underneath, are a high-end remedy for battling obtrusive noise.

Decorative paint treatments such as dragging or sponging are relatively easy and will also hide wall imperfections. And realistic, nature-inspired wallpapers interject texture, pattern, and style. Consider ones like grass cloth or cork for an Asian- or Caribbean-inspired room, or choose papers that simulate bamboo, stone, or wood. Some papers also copycat faux finishes, murals, and architectural details such as plaster ornamentation and wood moldings. To help you achieve a custom look, many of the sample wallpaper books are set up to display complementary colors, patterns, and textures all together. Transport several sample books home, see how the papers are affected by light, and observe which ones will best suit your furnishings before you order.

The checkered backsplash compliments the color and texture of the countertop.

Even at ground level, texture and pattern matter. Luckily, scores of choices exist for all kinds of spaces and styles. Choose your material according to how the room is used as well as how you want it to look. In a kitchen, the options could be anything from resilient rubber flooring like you might find in busy restaurants to rustic terra-cotta tiles like you might find in Mediterranean homes. Cement with wood inlays is a good-looking partner for commercial-style appliances in a contemporary or a country kitchen.

This bedroom is pulled together by the pattern and texture on the bedspread, night stands, pillows, and framed picture.

Play a little! If the room is carpeted, layer on some area rugs to bring it up to date. For a quick breath of summer, toss a sisal rug down on a hardwood floor, and lay a colorful floor cloth out in the sunporch. Even in a tiny powder room, a small easy-to-launder throw rug (anchor it on a no-skid mat for safety) reverberates with style.

Color, texture, and patterns lend personality to a room, but lighting is crucial. You can single-handedly destroy the soothing comfort of a bedroom with harsh overhead lights or diminish the excitement of a play room with soft, fuzzy lighting. On the next page, learn how to properly light your home.

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

Lighting Design Tips

This elegant chandelier and matching wall sconces provide different lighting options while dining.

Nothing kills a romantic dinner faster than glaring lights. The soft flicker of a candle or a lantern plays to our moods, giving the scene just the right amount of intriguing glow. At the reverse end of the scale, a home office requires a good deal of light for reading documents and writing.

With these lighting design tips in mind, consider the mood and the function of the room you are creating. A bedroom may need only assorted table lamps to feel and function properly, while a kitchen demands a full menu from task lighting for performing specific chores safely to overall ambient light to render the room friendly.

Of course, natural light is the most welcoming light of all. Rooms with a surplus of windows or a bank of French doors tend to be more cheerful. A large skylight positioned over the breakfast table or in the bedroom allows the sun to pour in, and with it, up go our spirits. A glass-block window in a shower or beside a bathtub floods the bathing area with sunshine but protects our privacy so we gain the best of both worlds. Look around. Perhaps you can squeeze a window in on the stair landing, in the bathroom, or in the laundry room, transforming what was a dingy throwaway area into a bright space.

Employing the benefits of both natural and artificial light is a good way to reach a happy medium. Lighting specialists plan light in very technical terms using site-specific mathematical equations to achieve their results. If you're remodeling, don't miss the opportunity to make some fundamental improvements.

A pro's expertise can transform the interior and exterior of your home. Cognizant that the correct amount of light enhances the way we live, specialists remember even the small details such as low-voltage lights in closets and spotlights to show off your paintings. Whatever your plan -- remodeling or upgrading the lighting you already have -- it will help to get an overall sense of what kinds of lighting are available and how each performs before you shop. Lighting stores have designers on hand to answer questions and to help you make the best choices. Although no rules govern how much light a specific room warrants, a number of guidelines exist.

Turn It On

Figure every room needs an average of 200 watts for every 50 square feet. Bulbs with higher lumens (an international unit that refers to the amount of light a bulb produces) are more efficient given the same wattage (the amount of electrical current consumed by the bulb). Packages list both lumens and wattage so it's easy to check. Elderly family members may require more wattage to be comfortable. Your eyes' pupils, as you age, have less flexibility and demand greater brightness. Studies show an average 50-year-old gets as much light from a 100-watt bulb as a 20-year-old gets from a 50-watt bulb!

The recessed lighting over the cabinets brightens the room without harsh glare.

­When you want to increase lighting in, say, the family room, either double the amount of light sources or, if the fixtures can take it (be sure wattage never exceeds a manufacturer's recommendation), double the wattage of the bulbs. Keep in mind that where the light source is located, what the colors of the walls and furnishings are, and what kind of a shade the light wears will make a difference.

Lightbulbs vary, too. The most common -- incandescent bulbs -- have a tungsten filament and produce a yellowish white light. Fluorescent bulbs use just a fraction of the electricity that incandescent bulbs do and last up to 20 times longer; this is the reason they are so often used in commercial settings. We usually think of fluorescent bulbs as slim tubes, but they can also be purchased as screw-in types to be used in place of incandescent bulbs in a standard light socket. Look for them in a rainbow of quirky, fun colors or, to impart a more natural cast, warm white.

Halogen bulbs emit an extremely bright, white light, which makes them useful as spots and downlights. These also have a longer life and provide more lumens per watt than regular incandescent bulbs. On the downside, halogen lights, which closely mimic daylight, generate intense heat and can pose a greater fire hazard. A halogen light should never be put near a curtain or come in contact with plastic materials.

A proper lighting plan will include the right combination of ambient (overall) lighting to illuminate the space, task lighting to provide illumination for specific activities such as reading or playing games, mood lighting to create an agreeable atmo­sphere, and accent lighting to focus attention on specific objects like that new sculpture in the living room. Install dimmers on your lighting fixtures in order to fine-tune -- increasing or decreasing -- the illumination as you choose.

These pendant lamps provide sufficient light and compliment the vertical lines of the kitchen.

Lighting Fixtures

There's no set rule that dictates you must have a traditional fixture in a traditional room just as there is no real reason that lamps -- safely installed -- need to be quarantined to the usual spots. Try one on top of the vanity or on the kitchen counter. An unexpected element like an ornate chandelier over a country table or a hanging pendant lamp with a pale silk shade by a chintz-covered chaise just increases the dynamics. Matching the style of the room to the style of the fixture, though, will help focus and narrow your search. An electrician's labor is fairly expensive so it's backward economy to buy anything less than the best quality and most wanted fixtures you can afford.

Generally, contemporary fixtures in materials such as polished chrome and stainless steel are at home in ultramodern settings; traditional fixtures like candlesticks, porcelain ginger-jar lamps with cloth shades, sconces, wrought-iron standing lamps, and banker's lamps -- just to name a few -- are most content in traditional settings. Track lights, with halogen or incandescent bulbs, are perfect for any situation -- kitchen, family room, or office -- because you can aim the light exactly where you want it.

And, more costly since they involve construction, recessed spotlights or floodlights will provide any room with ambient or task lighting. A favorite of decorators, unobtrusive recessed lights fit every room style. Make a lighting list, and carry it with you when you start out. Remember a great-looking fixture derives as much attention as an art object. If you find one you know is perfect for your decoration, don't pass it by!

Room by Room

For the bedroom, versatile and popular swing-arm lamps, available in any number of finishes and looks, render nighttime reading enjoyable and leave bedside tables free for books and other paraphernalia. Include a three-way switch for a choice of light level, and position the lamp no more than 12 inches away from the bed. Swing-arm lamps will work anywhere space is constricted such as near a desk or phone. Overhead fixtures should be selected to echo the room's style.

Forego a mundane institutionallike fixture for a reproduction-period light, a modern hanging lamp in glass and steel, or a zany ceiling spotlight with a trio of adjustable halogen lights. Standing floor lamps used to be quite routine but no longer. How about a torchère with a lacquered steel base and a plastic, sherbet-colored shade to jazz up your teenage daughter's room?

According to style, a living room can easily be enhanced with recessed lighting or the appropriate sort of overhead fixture such as a low-voltage chandelier or a pendant lamp used primarily for decorative purposes. At a minimum, a small living room should also include four table lamps or a combination of floor and table lamps to form plenty of welcoming pools of helpful illumination. Tiny low-voltage halogen uplights (inexpensive can lights that sit on the floor) throw light up to be reflected from walls and ceilings. Also inexpensive and portable, popular uplights are a fine way to provide indirect light when recessed lighting is out of the question.

Family rooms and dens -- home to all sorts of activities -- demand general background illumination just as living rooms do. Table lamps and downlights will provide ample light whether family members are reading or playing a game of chess. As a rule, the bottom edge of the lamp shade should be at eye level of the person seated near it. If you want a standing lamp to function for reading, stand it behind the chair. For safety, run exposed cords along the baseboard or behind furniture -- never under a rug. You don't want the light from a fire to be a source of illumination.

A chandelier suspended over a dining room table (about 30 inches above is the norm) acts as a focal point while shedding light on delicious meals, welcome guests, and other objects that tend to gather there. To foster a stay-and-linger sort of mood, though, it's wise to include a dimmer. When you need the table for another job like laying out a sewing pattern or going over bills, it will be easy to pump up the brightness. For a low level of general illumination in the dining room, sconces and low-voltage recessed lights are often included along with a chandelier.

The romantic lighting compliments this luxurious bathroom.

Kitchens require light in every square foot. A good-quality ceiling fixture or recessed or track lighting will prove invaluable. Note that the wattage will need to vary according to the color of your walls and surface treatments as well as their reflecting values. A forest-green counter, for example, will absorb light and may make food preparation dangerous.

Be aware that adequate lighting sources should be installed directly above the range and the sink, the situations where you least want shadows for preparing and cooking. Strip lights mounted beneath the cabinets will illuminate work spaces below -- so you'll at least see your finger before you accidentally cut it.

Bathrooms -- where we primp and groom -- need high-voltage lighting especially near the mirror. If you want, hunt for fixtures that duplicate the era of an older room or create some ro­mance there instead: Sparkly crystal sconces near an etched mirror over a delicately skirted sink would be especially pretty. Bracketed fixtures or sconces could be situated on either side of a mirror or medicine cabinet, or a light could be positioned right above the mirror. A waterproof fixture in the shower is always helpful and necessary. The specific level of light necessary will depend on the room and your personal preferences. For instance, you might want to include a dimmer so you can soften the mood while you enjoy a long, leisurely herbal soak.

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