Decorating your first home from scratch can be overwhelming—which leads many a first-time decorator to play it safe, with subdued color schemes and matching furniture sets in the same neutral tone and texture. But in the quest to avoid making a room feel loud or incoherent, unfortunate side effects can result. Namely: You end up with an interior that's bland, boring, and anonymous.
But if you're not ready to take a big risk with bold color or pattern-mixing, you can still steer clear of the neutral blahs by following a few guidelines when putting your space together.
1. SOURCE FROM DIFFERENT PLACES.
Even if you love the look of a certain home decor store, you don't want to make it your only stop when decorating your home.
"Buying everything from the same place will make your house look like a furniture catalog, not a home," says Sarah Beach, of California firm Fischer Interior Design. Instead, browse multiple places for items that speak to you, and let your personal sense of style—not the manufacturer's tag—be the common denominator that ties your space together.
And when it comes to the small stuff, says Beach, the best accessories are souvenirs: "Buy art and accessories you love when you travel. Personal collections always have more personality and interest than impersonal decorations."
2. DIVERSITY YOUR WOODS.
"Mixing wood tones is a good thing, the days of all white oak or all walnut furniture are over," says Beach. Instead of matching your furniture exactly, choose a base range of tones—say, warm browns or beachy light-to-whites—and mix and match from there. If you're feeling really bold, mix in a bit of metal; a copper finish pairs beautifully with warm woods, while silver or aluminum echos the finish of darker pieces.
3. WANT TO INJECT SOME CHARACTER? PUT A PILLOW ON IT.
Pillows are a great and inexpensive way to start playing with personal style—and to really see the benefits of complementary, rather than coordinated, accents. Choose different patterns in a similar color family, or match pillows by tone (a cool neutral with a green or blue; a warm beige with a coral).
"You don't need to have matched sets of accent pillows," Beach explains. "Mixing complementary colors can work even better than two of the same pattern per sofa or loveseat."
4. NEW TO COLOR? START SMALL.
According to our expert, "If you have good anchor pieces, such as a neutral sofa, rug, or paint color, it allows you to play with the other elements a bit more."
Pick a couple of hues you like, the brighter the better, and add them in small pops—a pillow here, a vase there. Art, whether a painting or an object, also gives you a chance to play with livening up your palette. Once you've seen how your accents play in your space, says Beach, you'll be better equipped to go big with color, whether it's by upholstering a sofa in a saucy print, or painting the whole room a bolder shade.
5. PRACTICE FOOLPROOF PATTERN MIXING.
Mixing patterns is one of the best ways to make a room look stylish, but it can be intimidating to first-time decorators. Beach's advice: "Start with two to three elements: a solid colored texture, a geometric pattern such as a stripe, and a large scale print."
In practice, that might mean coordinating a velvet couch, an ikat throw pillow, and a splashy floral or oriental rug, which can be as colorful as you like as long as each pattern shares either a common or complementary hue. And if you're not sure what a well-mixed pattern assortment looks like, a guide like this one can help you train your eye to recognize the difference between a complement and a clash.
6. TAKE YOUR TIME.
A beautiful room that reflects your personality doesn't happen all at once.
"Most people don't buy all of their furniture at one time," Beach reminds us. "The best rooms are a collection of styles/eras: your grandma's deco china cabinet, a Danish modern dining table, sleek tuxedo sofa, a classic rattan cocktail table. Mixing time periods will always be chic and interesting if there are common colors and motifs to unify them."
In other words, there's no hurry. And when you resist the urge to fill every inch of empty space at once—by, say, buying the matchy living room set on the display floor at IKEA—then character and style will happen organically, as your home fills up little by little with a diverse variety of pieces that really speak to you.