There’s a lot to consider when designing a home that functions for the way you live and also suits your personality. For this reason, we called in the pros—all of whom landed on our list of Best Designers for 2017. Here, they dole out 59 pieces of valuable advice, from the proper way to light up a room to taking appropriate measurements (seems like a no-brainer until your vintage Chesterfield sofa becomes lodged in the stairwell). And here’s another suggestion: Hire a professional—you’ll sleep better at night.
Good design starts with a good cup of coffee and ends with a fine glass of wine.
Always go high. Mounting drapery rods as high as possible above the windows adds drama, and makes your windows actually seem grander.
–SUSAN BEDNAR LONG
Comfort should be a key component of any design. Focus on the experiential quality of the design, not just the visual.
Stay away from trends and superfluous decor.
Important art pieces deserve a perfect setting where they don’t have to compete with busy wallcoverings, wall texture, or dominate color. Because I use so much original art for projects, all walls are level 5 pearl smooth no texture, as is used in the finest galleries and museums. The exception is when a wallcovering is used. Even then the wallcovering is carefully considered in regard to what art will be used in that area.
–MARY ANNE SMILEY
Changing hardware on a piece of furniture gives it new life—new or vintage.
Don’t overdesign a space. If a space is overdesigned, we can’t appreciate and see the whole area—we get too distracted by everything going on.
–LIZ LANK WILLIAMSON
If a room isn’t coming together, try this approach: something old, something new, something shiny, and something black.
Just because you love it, does not mean it works for the design of the room. Staying focused on the end game and editing are always the underpinnings of a well-designed space.
Quality wood, occasional furniture, and fine fabrics stand the test of time and wear. Low-end fads do not.
Interior design is not brain surgery; no one has ever died from a sofa that didn’t fit.
Keep the trendy decor to a minimum. Have fun with trends on less costly items such as pillows or accent pieces. Large and expensive pieces should stay classic. It is easier and less expensive to change out pillows than a whole drapery treatment.
Take the legs off of a vintage piece and hang it so that it is floating on the wall.
Mirrors above bedside chests double the light in the room and add depth to the space.
I love sunlight filtering through woven window shades, and the textures are so very pleasing.
Begin the designing process for a room’s scheme around a driver. It could be a fabric, rug, or piece of art.
Accessories: Keep it minimal and practical. A decorative bowl can serve as a centerpiece for a dining table— empty or functional— when filled with fruit or flowers.
When selecting fabrics for an entire room, remember that not every fabric has to be your favorite; some fabrics provide a backdrop to the leading role.
Always take the time to plan ahead; you’ll save dollars and time.
Select fabrics based on the city you are in—no mohairs or silks on the beach.
A great secret weapon is a well-placed, killer lamp and the warm light it provides.
Cheap rugs are just that—cheap! Don’t bring down a room with one.
A harmonious balance of patterns is always ideal: a geometric, an animal print, a solid, and an organic pattern.
Installing a stair runner is always the first thing I do when moving in a new house. I think it completes the home and softens the noise (especially with little ones).
–MARY BETH WAGNER
The television is usually front and center in my clients’ homes. Although most people think having the television as a focal point in the room isn’t attractive, it is just part of the way we live now. My favorite way to hide the television is a custom wall-mounted cabinet made to fit the TV. Another option are mirrored doors that open and fold back on each side, or you can splurge on a cabinet that is hidden by a movable piece of art.
Love everything you put in your space. One should be able to enter Your home and know it’s Yours.
Don’t be afraid to mix metals. Not only does it add a sophisticated, layered feel to a space, but it ensures that your design stays relevant as metal trends come and go.
–BETH DOTOLO AND CAROLINA GENTRY
Even close quarters can benefit from thinking big. Furniture pieces of epic proportions can keep a room from feeling cluttered, while filling an intimate room with a lot of small-scale furnishings will make the space look even smaller.
–BETTY LOU PHILLIPS
If you see a beautiful paint color on a wall at your friend’s house, don’t buy the paint before trying it in your home. Light affects color, and the same color will look very different wherever it is applied.
–CHERYL VAN DUYNE
Don’t forget about ceilings—the fifth wall. Paint, textures, and unique finishes draw the eye up and make the room look more complete and interesting.
Make sure a mirror hung on the wall is always reflecting something beautiful.
–EMILY JOHNSTON LARKIN
Perfect can be boring. Throw in one odd, interesting piece.
–JOHN PHIFER MARRS
Buy in pairs. It’s every designer’s secret weapon.
Study your architecture and allow that style to be your guide as much as possible.
Always use lever handles on faucets. Round handles are difficult to use with wet soapy hands.
An interesting and engaging room is all about the opposition of elements—wood, stone, glass; velvet, linen, leather; rectangles, circles, and squares.
Choose paint last. Get your essentials nailed down first, such as your amazing new rug and the fabrics that bring the room together. Paint is easy to tweak and should always be the last thing you do,
Always measure doorways. I have nightmares about furniture not fitting through the door on install day.
Nothing’s more boring than a conversation where everyone agrees. You’ve got to mix styles and periods in furnishings.
Good things come to those who wait. Wait for the perfect piece. If you cannot find or afford it, don’t just fill in.
Switch out all of your dingy almond-colored plugs and switch plates to crisp white. I prefer the flat, wide Lutron switch. And needless to say, put dimmers on all of those switches!
Interiors should be like your wardrobe. You should buy good “staple pieces” as your foundation. Continue to add and edit the accessories to keep it fresh. If you are lucky enough to have the storage, you can rotate things in and out. Make room for the trinket you found on your last trip rather than cramming it in with everything you’ve bought over the years.
Dark walls always make a statement. I love dark walls in at least one room in the house. There is nothing as compelling as a library lacquered in navy, green, or charcoal. It creates a nest effect. If done right, it’s very relaxing and calming.
A made bed should look functional, not decorative. In addition to the sleeping pillows, I add a pair of shams and one decorative pillow in the center for a tailored, no-fuss bed. I like the duvet folded back exposing a nice, tucked-in cashmere blanket with the pillows layered on top.
Be sure to use a mix of big and small things. Too many little things will appear cluttered.
Shake up your routine, whether it’s a road trip to Paris, Texas, or better still, a flight to Paris, France. Visit the museum you’ve always threatened to go to, but never have made time for. Find out what’s out there—you might want to bring it home.
–RUSS PETERS AND BILL CATES
Every room should have layers of lighting. This detail provides the ability to change the mood of a room with a few turns of the wrist. I like to keep overhead lighting to a minimum and use low-wattage lightbulbs. (Harsh overhead light creates ugly shadows on people’s faces and nobody likes that!) Floor lamps, table lamps, and lighted wall features warm up any room with a cozy, attractive glow.
Your house is the best way to tell your story. Design each room for the way your family will use it, not how it’s expected to be used. Trade your dining table for a pool table.
I see lots of rooms where every piece of furniture is up on legs. Some pieces should extend to the floor; they anchor furniture arrangements. Too many legs and the furniture looks Like it might all run away.
Don’t worry about matching your art to your furnishings.
Use gravel on your driveway. The sound of arriving is relaxing. You feel like you’ve arrived home.
Nothing adds more character to a space than books. When clients ask me what to put in their bookshelves, I always say, “Books!”
Spend money on the most comfortable and well-built sofa you can afford. No matter how phenomenal the fabric, you will never want to spend time in your beautiful space if it is uncomfortable.
Invest in pieces for your home that no one else will have.
Mix vastly different textures for exciting looks, such as a Mongolian lamb bench next to an antique cast stone planter, coupled with a hand-painted metallic silk fabric with an acrylic coffee table—very unexpected and unique.
One of my favorite lines is borrowed from Albert Hadley: “Faux marble shouldn’t look real; good marbleizing looks like a drunken Italian did it.”
Don’t forget small walls. I love a Lucite bracket with an interesting object highlighted.
Most people enter their homes through the garage. Make that entry area as wonderful as your formal entry, because the most important people—you and your family—will be seeing it each day.