If you spring-cleaned your home and the whole place is spotless (or, you know, close to it) now’s the perfect time to turn your attention to the aesthetics. No matter your personal style, these classic tips for better furnishing, arranging, and decorating will help you design your home like a pro.
1. Hang Your Artwork Artfully
What you choose to hang on your walls is one of the most personal aspects of your home design. You might not be able to change the floorplan (or, if you’re renting, the wall color) but hanging photos, pictures, and other wall art is an easy way to express yourself.
People have a tendency to hang their artwork too high; not only does this mean you and your guests have to crane your necks to look at your art, it also makes the room look more disjointed. Lower art “interacts” more with the other elements in the room, giving the décor a greater sense of unity. In general, you should hang your artwork so that its center is 57 inches off the ground. To do so, follow this formula: Divide the height of your artwork by two, subtract the distance between the top of the frame and where the hanging wire stretches to, and add that amount to 57, this is how high off the ground the nail should go.
2. Make the Most of Your Clutter
Even in the most meticulously organized home, some clutter is inevitable—and that’s not a bad thing! Things like books, magazines, and assorted knick-knacks make a home feel warm and welcoming. The trick to making your clutter look decorative rather than messy is to make your various flat spaces—mantles, bookshelves, hallway tables—look like intentional vignettes. Organize the space with baskets or trays that group like items, use a matching pair of items like vases to act as visual bookends, and leave some open space— negative space is a design element as well.
3. Pick Your Furnishings Before Your Paint
Especially if you’re redecorating, falling in love with a brand new wall color might require you to scrap the rest of the décor in favor of something that matches. But even if you’re starting from scratch in a room, remember that there are practically infinite wall colors, but you might not love every couch or curtain. Once you’ve picked out a few key design elements in a room, let them direct where you head in the paint store; you’ll probably appreciate having the array of options whittled down anyway.
4. Don’t Compare Paint Swatches to Your White Walls
If your current walls are white, it’s best not to hold the paint swatches up against them during your color deliberation. The stark background will make the colors appear darker, so you’re more likely to wind up with something too light in the end. Walk around the room (this will help you see the swatch in different lighting situations as well) and hold your sample up to actual items that will stand in front of the walls.
5. Light Right
Lighting is a key part of your room’s form and function. Ideally, each room should have three kinds of lighting: ambient, task-specific, and accent. Ambient light is the main light you switch on when you enter a room, task-specific lights are those in the oven hood or reading nook, and accent lights are those decorative lamps that function as art. Even after you have all three, you’ll need to make sure the whole room is bright enough. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you have at least three watts (42 lumens) per square foot. And if you want to give the appearance of higher ceilings, try an uplight.
6. Use Your Curtains Strategically
Another way to use design to make a room feel taller is by hanging your curtains higher than the windows themselves. You’ll have to make sure you have enough length on the material, but moving the rod up to 5 to 7 inches above the window can give your room a grander appearance.
7. Practice Some Bedroom Feng Shui
Not all feng shui is practical or even personally appealing (it frowns upon cacti indoors and storing clothes under your bed, for example). But there are certain tips for creating a peaceful bedroom that might make for a better night’s sleep: Keep open space on both sides of your bed, position it so you can see the doorway but aren’t directly across from it, avoid chandeliers directly above where you sleep, and always remember to close the bathroom door at night if you have an en suite.
8. Make the Most of Metallic
You probably know that a well-placed mirror can make a cramped room feel more spacious, but if you’re tired of looking at yourself—or just need even more reflective reinforcements—metallic finishes on things like frames and lamp shades will have a similar effect, reflecting the natural light and making the whole space seem brighter.
9. Wallpaper the Inside of Your Shades
Curtains are charming, but for practical reasons, you might have shades instead. Don’t resign yourself to drab windows, however. Add a touch of whimsy or bright color to the small space by applying a bold wallpaper to the inside of the shade. And if you rent, don’t worry—there are plenty of peel-and-stick wallpapers that’ll come right off at the end of your lease.
10. Create a Gallery Wall
A gallery wall is useful for a number of reasons: It allows you to fill a large blank space over time without splurging for a single big piece, it puts to use all the smaller family photos you have lying around, and, of course, it looks great. Almost anything can look cohesive if you use similar frames and clean, black or white matting. If the pieces are all different sizes, plan to anchor the wall with one centrally located larger piece, while keeping all the rest of the pieces varied but balanced. Experiment with different layouts on the floor, and when you’re ready to hang them, make sure each frame is around 3” apart.
11. Don’t Be Afraid to “Float” Furniture
People tend to instinctively place furniture up against the wall, but even in a small space, this limits function and makes rooms seem boxy. “Floating” furniture allows you to create rooms-within-a-room, whether that’s because your open layout requires it or because it just adds more interest. The back of a couch can serve as a room divider, and freeing yourself from wall-bound furniture opens up endless possibilities for arranging and rearranging.