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Home Decorating 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.