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When renovating a building that already has plenty of character, like this 1920s Spanish Colonial home in Los Angeles, it’s all about striking the balance between what you add and what you leave. “We wanted to make it feel more holistic while still honoring its heritage,” designer Steven Johanknecht says of the decision to keep the original hand-carved ceiling beams and wrought-iron chandeliers while removing mismatched materials from previous renovations.
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Whether you’re decorating your first home or your fifth, great design is in the details. We’ve consulted top designers and scoured our archives to find the best ideas for every room in the house.
Allowing unique items to dictate some design decisions can lead to unexpectedly beautiful results. On the hallways leading into this Art Deco Chicago apartment, dramatic doors and paneling were inspired by a special stack of uncommon lumber. “There was a guy out in Oregon who had a barn full of exotic wood and everything was marked ‘NFS,’ as in Not For Sale,” architect Phillip Liederbach recalls with a laugh. “It gave us a responsibility to elevate it. We obsessed over it.”
To soften the modern edge of stainless steel, decorator Alisa Bloom put a traditional spin on the kitchen cabinetry of her 1920s Chicago penthouse with brass inlays. With the help of a local hardware maker, she even designed her own hinges and drawer pulls. “I would never go into a store and just buy something,” she says. “It’s all about the process and the hunt.”
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Sure, your eyes may want the most modern, chic couch in the showroom. But your back may not. “In my experience, it’s really better to test out seating and take the time to look at the dimensions,” says Sharon Blaustein. If you’re tall, for instance, you might want to opt for a depth of between 40 to 42 inches for a sofa (rather than the standard depth of 36 inches).
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You don’t need to go bright in order to create visual impact in a room. “[My wife] wanted to dial it back into her aesthetic, away from the color,” says David Kaihoi of the 400-square foot New York studio he renovated for his family. “I agreed, but suggested we do that with texture and pattern.”
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Looking beyond the traditional with wallcoverings can create a truly standout design presence. “I do think I might have scared [architect Ken Linsteadt] a little bit when I announced I was planning to install two levels of green floral fabric on the walls of the grand salon,” says Ken Fulk of his Sonoma Valley lakeside retreat, yet the fabric gives the high walls a richness that wallpaper alone might not have achieved.
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Instead of meshing a color scheme with a sense of place, designer Irakli Zaria used rich gold and turquoise as an antidote to gloomy London days in this chic pied-a-terre. “In a place where there are such cloudy skies, it makes no sense to have a gray interior,” he said.
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“Bringing a touch of the Old World into the mix creates a home that will never feel dated,” designer Alex Papachristidis explains of the art-studded Manhattan apartment he designed for a family friend. For example, the silver leaf–and–rock crystal chandelier from Liz O’Brien that he hung in the otherwise modern dining room.
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It’s exactly what Jenny Cipoletti, founder of fashion, beauty and travel blog Margo & Me, did in her decidedly Parisian office (which is actually in West Hollywood). “Just like when you walk into a cafe in Paris, and you see all the details and the golds, silvers and light blush tones, all of these elements in this space really sing to me,” says Cipoletti. This lets you travel to your favorite destination without stepping outside.
Rather than art, a high-impact wallpaper can give a subdued room some wow-factor. The 19th century wallcovering from this luxe Milan apartment was purchased at auction in France and adapted to the room. “We created the missing parts, the plinth and the ceiling frame, to depict an Italian capriccio, a fantastical and bucolic landscape with architectural features,” Laura Sartori Rimini of Studio Peregalli says.
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For decades, this Los Angeles–based designer has created all things beautiful, from fabrics to the homes they dress.
“You mix things up with old and new,” suggests textiles and interior designer Kathryn M. Ireland, as she did in the living room of her Santa Monica home; a room where the furnishings include 17th-century French chairs, an 18th-century Mexican console, and a cocktail table from her furniture line.
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Just because your designer of choice lives in another city doesn’t mean you can’t work together. Services like Homepolish and Decorist, among others, make it easy to find decorators across the country, while Allison Harlow of Curio Design Studio uses Skype to work with clients virtually.
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Faux fur has quickly become a luxurious way to add a bit of depth and variety to a space. “When we use faux fur, we’re looking for some really luscious texture in the room,” says Erin Gates. “If you look at a space and everything is neat, tidy and clean, you want something that’s sumptuous and cozy. It’ll really elevate the space.”
Art director Vivia Horn’s zen upstate New York home makes use of an unexpected gift to give her traditional kitchen a dose of fun. This breakfast table made of a refurbished hibachi—a present from the late wrestler and Benihana restaurateur Rocky Aoki.
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Instead of hanging a painting on a bare wall, accent it with a rich, velvet curtain background. “Curtains just create a great, calming energy in which you feel very shrouded and comforted, making for a luxurious and restful environment,” says Framel. “And being able to put a really great pop of artwork in front of that textural colored backdrop has a lot of impact.”
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“A lot of people love the idea of really simple, modern living—it’s appealing, it’s nice and it seems serene,” says Erika Yeaman, a Homepolish designer and owner of YES Associates. “But the reality of maintaining that is a little tricker. Mixing Scandinavian design with bohemian style warms it up and makes it feel more homey and attainable.”
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Instead of fighting against rusticity, embracing the natural character of a home can create a natural richness in the space.”My father found artisans to decorate the bathroom in red limestone, a typical Rajasthani material,” Siddharth Kasliwal, heir to India’s famed Munnu the Gem Palace, explained of the former-cowshed-turned-home he inherited from his father. “All the other elements—the brass sink and hardware, the mirror— are vintage or antique.”
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Looking at your home from a holistic perspective—seeing how each room works in balance against the others—can help craft a welcome variety in your spaces, like this emerald and charcoal dining room that adds a touch of formality to an otherwise contemporary Los Angeles home.
The best way to balance out sleek lines and contemporary furniture is by adding a few unique natural elements, from drift wood to greenery. “I don’t like to look around a house and not see touches from the outdoors,” interior designer Tamara Magel says.
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These rustic and modern ideas will inspire you to think outside the box.
To avoid being locked into a single style, lighting designer Lindsey Adelman switches up the fixtures in her Park Slope home on a regular basis. “It’s part of my creative process,” she explains, “I love to see things in context, in real life—to live with them.”
Want to make a variety of bright colors cohesive? Think about how you would arrange a flower bouquet, as Sasha Bikoff did in this SoHo apartment. “The same can apply to a space, but you need to find a connection,” she says. “Here, that connection is the fabric on the dining room chairs, which showcases colors also found throughout the room.”
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The one-bedroom home is a ladies-only oasis for Leota founder Sarah Carson, except for Bartholomew, the life-sized peacock statue.
Kate Reynolds, co-owner of Studio Four NYC, believes in pairing big-ticket items with budget finds. “I think a room balances out better when you have different levels of price and craftsmanship,” she says. “It helps you notice the statement piece more.”
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Make what’s old new again by invigorating antique pieces with colorful fabric from the 21st century. Take, for example, the two 18th-century French bergère chairs here, upholstered in a hot pink Maharam fabric. “Maharam is a very modern, contemporary fabric company, with velvets that are really bright in color,” says Bikoff. “That color was such a pop of freshness and youthfulness on these old chairs.”
Allow your space to continuously change—as your life does. “Remember that your home should always be evolving, just as you are,” says Kelly Framel, creative director, stylist and founder of online magazine The Glamourai. “I am constantly picking up new treasures on my travels. Your nest should always be a place of comfort and inspiration, and it’s a constant work in progress.”
If Chip and Joanna Gaines have convinced you that your abode needs shiplap, you’re usually best off installing the boards horizontally rather than vertically. “It can really expand a space, making it feel larger than vertical boards can,” says Jason Arnold. “Horizontal boards also feel more contemporary.” Vertical boards, however, can be ideal for rooms with high ceilings.
In Josh Groban’s “The Great Comet” dressing room, interior designer Mike Harrison selected this constellation artwork as a clear focal point for the room. “I loved this piece for its dimensions and colors, but also as a tip of the hat to the ‘Comet’ influences that I know were of importance to Josh,” says Harrison. “I was searching for artwork that would tie together all of Josh’s design sensibilities.”
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It’s easy to gravitate toward the usual suspects like wood and leather when trying to craft a textured living space, but branch outside of your comfort zone. Emilie Munroe of Studio Munroe recommends drawing from your own personal style, especially the articles of clothing and patterns you’re attracted to.
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This is not the time for e-shopping, people. “It’s just so hard to tell on a computer screen what the color really looks like,” Arnold says. “You might think it looks red, but in reality, it’s watermelon pink.” Not to mention the texture of the rug may be totally different than what you were expecting.
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She bought the majority of her mid-century furniture from—well, you know where.
“I love to see the layers of time and renovations,” says California-based interior designer Patrick Printy. “To me, it deepens the effect.” Achieving a sense of harmony that feels organic is key.
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