Creating a zone of privacy is an essential part of modern decor. Some privacy measures, such as window coverings, have an important safety role as well. Visual privacy is vital in city homes, so choose window treatments that do the job in style.
Bottom-up pleated shades let you see a bit of sky without letting outsiders see you, and their soft, tailored look has a hint of Asian subtlety. Wood or bamboo blinds lend texture and warmth, while Roman shades are elegant without being fussy.
All of these window treatments work well with modern, eclectic, and transitional rooms. Floor-length draperies make rooms seem taller, but if you have radiators or air-conditioning units set beneath windows, be sure your draperies are pulled back or are the appropriate length.
If you're a confirmed modernist and your space is a loft, you may want to skip window treatments altogether in favor of glass block that lets in light while obscuring shape. This wonderful material evokes 1950s modern style and is right at home in buildings with an industrial past. You can also use glass block as a room divider that lets precious natural light into interior spaces.
Audio privacy is also important for sane survival in a stressful urban environment. Noise pollution can cause real health problems, especially when it interrupts sleep patterns, so take it seriously, whether you're the one who loves loud late-night parties or the one who's trying to avoid them.
If you're the midnight music lover, use thick carpeting on floors, acoustical ceiling tiles, and cork panels or other proven baffle material on walls adjoining neighboring units for sound insulation. If you're the quiet type, these same solutions will work from your side. In fact, any place you can use soft surfaces over hard, do so.
Most important, pick a building that meets your needs. If you're shopping for a new place, check with any prospective condo board or landlord and the local police station to make sure rules and local laws enforce quiet, especially at night. Ambient noise such as car traffic may be unavoidable, but there should be a remedy if your neighbor insists on singing opera or playing the stereo at top volume next to your toddler's bedroom.
Try to avoid situations where the landlord or condo board won't enforce quiet rules but the noise doesn't affect those outside your building, where police can act. Ask a few "what if" questions before you sign on the dotted line!
Storage problems may not rank up there with safety and privacy, but where to put all your stuff can be a challenge. The best solution to inadequate storage space is simple: Bring less stuff to store!
If you're just starting out, start lean. Take only furniture pieces that meet your basic needs, not whatever hand-me-downs are available. Add quality furnishings you'll enjoy or ones that can be folded to save space. For example, "campaign" furniture includes folding chairs and tables that come in styles from Swedish modern to French Empire. Storage ottomans, under-bed storage boxes, and other dual-purpose pieces provide more places to stash things in style.
If you're downsizing, give away or sell any big furnishings that don't fit your new space or lifestyle. Keep only what meets basic functional needs, what you really love, or what you know has heirloom value. Fill in any gaps with functional pieces that give you a thrill.
When you're satisfied you've got just the furniture you need and no more, look at how to stash all your linens, books, electronics, toys, and other items. European armoires have been popular in the United States for decades, with good reason. Explore armoires outfitted to hold clothing, home entertainment equipment, or even a home office. Make up for skimpy closets with classic wardrobes -- tall wood cabinets in a variety of sizes. They're good solutions if you rent or when built-ins aren't feasible.
If built-ins are possible, put them everywhere you can. For example, a tiny dining room with bookcases built on several walls gives an impressive look and lots of storage. You only need 8 to 12 inches in depth to create ample storage; put shelves at 12- to 18-inch intervals or hang hooks at eye level. Turn shelves into cubbyholes -- those practical school favorites -- by adding vertical supports at 12- or 18-inch intervals.
If your space is huge, you can do whatever you want with color. But if every inch counts, use color to your advantage, especially on large areas such as walls.
Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow advance -- they seem closer to you and visually shorten a room. If you like warm hues, choose tints of these colors, such as pink, peach, or beige. Cut the colors with lots of white paint for a more spacious feeling. Cool colors like blue, green, and violet recede -- they seem farther away and visually lengthen a room.
Bright versions of cool colors, however, make a room feel smaller, especially if they have a lot of red or yellow in them. Again, cut the color with white paint to make a tint, and you can enjoy the hue without closing yourself in.
If pastel tints seem too sweet, ground them with black or brown accents. Black and ice pink or periwinkle; chocolate and aqua; or tan, peach, and olive are contemporary favorites, but you can create your own color combinations. Dark shades in a glossy finish reflect light for a lively, rich feeling.
What if you really want walls in jewel tones, primary colors, or hot pastels? Make a statement by using the color full-strength on one focal wall and painting the other walls (and the ceiling) a pale tint or white. You'll have a dramatic look and some psychological breathing room, too.
Against a background of mostly pale walls and ceiling, ground the space with medium tones on big upholstered pieces and darker tones on the floor. These tones may be chic neutrals like black, brown, gray, tan, or beige, or subdued shades of colors you love. (When in doubt, consider green; it acts as a neutral with almost any color.)
Accent colors in draperies, pillows, and accessories can be as bright as you please. Your goal is to create an environment that delights today without feeling suffocating after a week or tiresome after a month. The smaller your space and budget, the more you'll appreciate it!
Patterns work with color to help improve the visual size or shape of rooms. Lay floor tiles in a diagonal pattern to make the floor look bigger; the eye naturally follows the longest line. Vertical stripes in draperies lend height and a sense of dignity to a room; horizontal lines, more often used in modern spaces, make the room look lower but longer and create a sense of ease.
In general, solid colors don't engage the eye, so they usually make a room appear larger and more peaceful, while busy patterns create excitement -- but also a sense of visual activity that can feel like clutter. Tone-on-tone patterns can create interest without overwhelming the space; solid colors in heavy textures do the same. Remember, the patterns you plan into your design will be amplified by the clutter of everyday life.
While a purely traditional style may suit classic city homes, your own taste may dictate a bit more flexibility. Here are a few options that work:
Mix modern and traditional pieces for a sophisticated eclectic look. To avoid a jarring mishmash, choose pieces from various eras that share a look that's delicate or massive, formal or casual.
Want a hearty look? Mix the earliest modern look, rustic Arts & Crafts/Mission (circa 1900), with other straight, hearty styles, such as contemporary pieces in oak. Wall units and trestle tables are especially popular in these styles. Finish with the strong lines and earthy colors of Arts & Crafts, American folk art, or African art and textiles.
Want a lighter look? Sleek, shapely Art Deco pieces from the 1920s to 1940s look great with today's soft modern and postmodern curves, especially in cocktail tables and upholstered seating. French 18th-century pieces are more ornate than modern styles, but their curves are in harmony with Art Deco styles. Mid-century modern pieces in sleek leather and chrome are a sharp alternative. Finish with vintage Art Deco accents in glass and silver.
Use transitional pieces throughout, or use them as a bridge between modern and traditional elements. Transitional style describes designs that are simpler and sleeker than traditional designs but are also less stark and angular than modern designs. Major furniture manufacturers have produced transitional furniture pieces and groups since the 1960s, so finding king-size beds, home electronics wall units, computer desks, and other pieces should be easy.
For accent furniture, don't overlook the transitional qualities of 18th-century Shaker or late 19th-century Art Nouveau. For accessories, choose colorful Depression glass, geometric folk art, or other treasures that bridge yesterday and today.
Use a purely modern design. This is an approach that's not only easy but admired by many architects. You can buy top-of-the-line French and Italian modern pieces through an interior designer, affordable Swedish modern pieces at home stores, and many levels in between.
Chrome and leather are one way to go modern, but so are naturally pale wood and nubby linen. For accent pieces, look to Africa and Asia for simple, sophisticated art and artifacts.
Whatever take on contemporary you like, keep things simple:
- Banish clutter with handsome baskets and boxes or behind cabinet doors.
- Skip the cute collections; in fact, don't strew any kind of collection all over the room. Instead, group pieces, whether you have three or thirty, in one display area for maximum impact (and easier care).
- Help clean your indoor air and give yourself the calming benefit of nature with a houseplant or two -- but only if they're big and healthy specimens. Consult with a florist or greenhouse about plants that will thrive in your home. Is your space large and sunny, or do you have low light? If you travel, you'll need something that can survive with minimal water. When plants pass their prime, toss them or give them away unless you really enjoy tending them.
- Use mirrors to capture pretty views and visually expand, even double, the size of your space.
Color can make a huge difference in the effect of your home's decor. On the next page, learn about adding inviting color to your home through modern decor.