Interior Decoration:
How to Make the Most of What You've Got

Maybe you don't have the time or money to hire an interior decorator to redo your whole home, or even one room. At the same time, you're not completely comfortable with the way your home looks. You need help making the most of what you've already got.

Graph It Out

The first step is to get some graph paper, measure your rooms and graph them. Remember to include doors, windows, electric outlets, phone jacks and cable outlets, fireplaces, radiators or heat vents and other permanent fixtures that affect where you place your furniture. All you need to do this is a ruler, pencil, eraser and calculator. The next step is to graph your furniture and cut it out. This is a big job, but it's a valuable exercise. It helps you to rearrange furniture now, without heavy lifting. It's immensely valuable if you move - you'll be able to tell the movers exactly where everything goes, and you'll know that everything fits. And it only has to be done once. Once you've done this, you can rearrange your furniture in your graphed rooms in any number of combinations. Be creative - move items from room to room and mix things up. Try combinations even if you don't think they'll work. You will be amazed at the creative ways you can improve your living space with this method alone. Pay attention to door swings and to walkway space. So often we put furniture in traditional arrangements, or we do it the way we've always done it. This step also helps you to figure out if you need new pieces, or conversely, if you have too many pieces of furniture. Once you've got a combination you like, move your furniture into the new locations.

What's Your Style?

Now your furniture is where you want it. Does it make you happy, or does it feel like it still needs work? This is a good time to figure out what decorating styles you like. Take the time to flip through some architectural and decorating magazines at the library. Get a sense of what appeals to you. Don't worry about what you can afford, since most styles can be replicated at different price levels. At any rate, you probably have items that already fit in with the styles you like.

I'd like to make a pitch here to consider a rustic decorating style. I'm not talking about "country kitchen" with lots of ducks and geese and gingham all over. Imagine instead a well-appointed cabin in the woods - warm light, bright colors, comfort. Think of pine plank floors and Navajo rugs thrown over the rafters (though you need neither to achieve the effect). Some of the advantages of a rustic decor are:

  • It can be quite inexpensive to have the real thing. You can buy real Americana less expensively than you can authentically decorate in almost any other style
  • Rustic is indestructible. That sturdy round oak kitchen table looks better if it's lovingly worn. Consequently, rustic is convenient if you have children.
  • Rustic is low maintenance - good if you happen to let the cleaning slide every so often. Rag rugs and natural, low gloss wood surfaces don't show every handprint.
  • To my mind, rustic is a very comfortable and comforting style. No one will be afraid to sit in your chairs. You won't have to cordon off entire rooms in your home "for guests only". Rustic pieces are sturdy and built to last.
  • Rustic is informal. Everything doesn't match, making it easier to incorporate your current furniture and any new random finds you make.
  • A rustic interior lends itself to simple living. Think of the Shakers.
  • Rustic works with all color preferences. You can make it as neutral or colorful, dark or bright as you like. Its not going out of style anytime soon. It's traditional without being stuffy, and you won't find yourself pitching that Mission chair in two years because it looks dated.

On the other hand, I can't make you love rustic interiors if you don't already have an affinity for them. I'm just making a suggestion.

Look With a Critical Eye

When you know what you like, I want you to go through your home and look at your furniture and decoration more critically. Is it really you? Do you like the item? Is it doing what it's there to do? If you don't like the item, can it be salvaged through reupholstering, refinishing or painting? Take an especially careful look at small items and fabrics. These are two things that can quickly and inexpensively change the way a room looks. Wastebaskets, pictures, lamps and other small items can be easily and inexpensively changed. Furniture can be reupholstered and you can significantly alter the mood of the room using the color and style in curtains, throw rugs, cushions, pillows, dish towels and other linens, bedspreads, shower curtains or afghans.

Try removing all of the small and decorative items in a room (including plants) and bring them back one by one. Sometimes the lack of clutter will give you a new perspective.


Lighting is often overlooked when you're considering how to improve the look of your home. You don't want your home to feel like an airport, but one sixty-watt bulb is not going to suffice unless it's in a closet. Make sure there is warm, bright light in the spaces you work and in spaces where people congregate naturally (or where you want them to gather). Halogen lighting can now be purchased very inexpensively, and can change the whole look of a room. And don't forget to direct some light toward the beautiful objects in your home!

A Few Final Tips
  • Whenever you buy a new piece of furniture, go for low-maintenance. This makes it easier to keep your home feeling well-organized and clean.
  • Remember to keep a few "halfway house" storage areas around your home. A basket here and there and a shelf on a bookshelf reserved for paper clutter really help keep things looking neat.
  • Don't put too many precious objects in one space - it diminishes the value of each of them. Simpler is better! Less is more! The exception to this rule is when you have a collection of small items, in which case they often look better grouped together in one place.

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