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Home Decorating 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.