Nothing brings me greater satisfaction than when I’ve managed to transform a room simply by reworking what’s already in it, without spending lots of money or accumulating more possessions. My husband has learned to let me be whenever he recognizes the ‘away with the fairies’ look that comes over my face every couple of weeks while I’m leaning against a wall in our living room, trying to feel out which pieces of furniture or decorata need to be reconsidered.
The most straightforward way to transform a space is often just to clean it properly and get more organized, but depending on the state of your home these can be massive undertakings, and my ideas for implementing them are beyond the scope of this post.
Even if you need major help with getting your home organization on track, you can still try this redecorating exercise with a quick prep step I call ‘the clean sweep’. Start by picking a room. I suggest the living room since it’s usually the center of action in the house and the positive effects of transforming it can be a strong catalyst to keep going in other rooms.
Find a nice big box or a bag, depending on how much stuff you need to clear away. The blue Ikea shopping bags usually work well.
Sort your items as follows: If you don’t want it at all, don’t want it in your living room, or don’t want it on display in your living room but haven’t yet found a proper storage place for it, toss it in the bag or box.
Anything else that’s decorative or functional and you’re not sure whether to keep should be analyzed using the ideas below.
Now comes the fun part. Review these ideas and play around with the ones that feel right to you.
1. Do you want to tone the room down for a calming effect or warm it up to add energy? These changes are usually pretty easy to achieve by playing around with color in little decorative pieces such as textiles, ornaments, or framed artwork. Reds, oranges and bright pinks add warmth. A little goes a long way, about 10% of the overall color in a room is usually all that’s needed. Blues, greens and purples can impart a calming effect, but depending on what else you have going on, these usually require a little more coverage, or about 20-30% of the color in a room.
2. Do you want to pull everything together so the room feels less disjointed?
Try grouping lots of miscellaneous items in one area for a gestalt effect that gives the appearance of a cohesive unit. Another way you can approach this is to find one neutral color such as black, beige, grey or white, that can be repeated throughout the room in both big and little items. Black works especially well and can also add a classic or dramatic touch.
3. Do you want to make the room more eclectic or a better reflection of your personality?
A living room that’s too matchy-matchy can be very boring. Sometimes just seeing how seemingly unrelated styles and objects come together can inspire creativity. What that looks like in my living room right now is an African tapestry, juxtaposed with some neoclassical European flea market finds, and a huge abstract modern-art piece.
4. Do you want the room to feel more upscale?
Maybe you went overboard with rag rugs and rattan in a fit of bohemian rhapsody, or collected too many charming chairs with a distressed finish. Try to assess the proportions between these pieces and the ones that look more sophisticated. If there’s too much shabby for chic’s sake, take out some of the worn items and see if they can be repurposed in other rooms. You can also consider simple upgrades, like brass drawer pulls, velvet or linen for reupholstering, or a fresh coat of paint.
5. Does the room feel overly adorned?
Cramming too many decorative items in a room is like wearing all your jewelry at once. Just because all the pieces might be pretty, doesn’t mean they’re all pretty together. Try this exercise: set aside all your decorative items (anything that’s not furniture). Now start adding them back in, one by one, to see which ones throw the room off balance. Assessing your stuff in this order often makes it easier to quickly recognize the pieces that don’t belong.
6. Do you want to make the room more inviting?
You may already be familiar with hygge, the Danish take on cozy, but this tip comes from eastern concepts found in feng shui. Sometimes the chi doesn’t flow well in a room, not because of what’s in it, but because of how it’s arranged. For example, if you’ve set all your furniture against the walls this can create a vacuum of space that feels cold and empty. I like to create inviting little nooks by using furniture to divide up the space in the middle of a room, or using at least one corner to set something diagonally. With a little bit of creativity, this is possible even in the smallest of spaces.
7. Do you want the room to feel bigger and more open?
Let your furniture breathe. People often set furnishings very closely together for the sake of saving space, but this can make a room feel cramped. The area around furniture is often ‘dead space’ we don’t use anyway so don’t worry about giving it a few extra inches. And don’t forget to hang mirrors, especially on walls that are directly across window. They create the illusion of more space and bring in light.
8. Do you just want to refresh things a little?
Go botanical! Bring in seasonality and some natural air-cleaning with plants, take a moment to carefully arrange a bowl of fruit, or even use shrubbery trimmings and tree droppings you find in your neighborhood to shake things up.
Now about that blue Ikea bag… check out this next post, Get your sh*! together: Home organization tips that’ll bust your clutter.