Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Design rules made for breaking

From page C3 | October 05, 2012 | Leave Comment

I’m not a fan of rules. Give me a rule, and my inner rebel asks why and looks for an exception. While I get that rules have their place in society — kids should stay in school; drivers going the same direction should drive on the same side of the road; everyone should turn off his cell phone  in the theater — some rules are needlessly tyrannous.

The customer isn’t always right, for instance. Prepositions are perfectly fine words to end sentences with. And paying dozens of taxes — sales, state, federal, property, gas, sin and so on — instead of one whopping mega tax is moronically inefficient. Wouldn’t you rather get fleeced once a year than get slowly pecked to death by ducks?

Similarly, while some decorating rules are useful — a few large accessories beat a bunch of small ones for sure — many, and I mean many, are just as unnecessary as hats and gloves on Sunday.

Don’t buy a patterned sofa. Only paint with soft neutrals. Always keep interior trim white. Never put an area rug on carpet. Dining tables and chairs should be matched sets. Blah, blah, blah.

The stream of so-called experts doling decorating do’s and don’ts is as endless as their poor advice, which is often conflicting: Real estate agents say keep your home neutral and impersonal. Designers say give your interiors punch and make your home about you.

No wonder so many DIY home decorators stand stuck and stiff as stalagmites on their threshold. They’re afraid to make a decorating move. If they do conjure the courage, they make design choices so wimpy even their pets yawn.

I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about this until last week when, buried among the high traffic flow of home improvement pitches that hit my inbox, came one refreshing missive from the folks at Lou Hammond & Associates, a leading maker of window-coverings. A welcome departure from the heavy-handed rule list, this pitch featured design rules best ignored.

I read in full, liberated agreement.

Here are some rules the Lou Hammond folks say you can avoid, along with a few more I say to outright break:

  • Never mix florals and plaids. Nonsense. Mixed patterns are fun to look at. They create a playground for your eyes. The trick to pulling off a good mix is to vary pattern scale, and mix straight with curved lines. For instance, combine a small floral with a large plaid, or a large floral with a small stripe, said designer Katie Leede, of Santa Monica, Calif. Mix chevrons with botanicals. The secret to success here is to have one pattern contain all the colors in the room.
  • Don’t hang drapes around a picture window. You’ll detract from the view. Au contraire. Lovely drapes can enhance a picture windows the way a frame sets off a painting, said New York designer James Rixner.
  • Don’t paint a small room a bold color. Rubbish. Bold colors define spaces like an embrace. They feel cozy and sexy, said designer Amie Corley of St. Louis. Strong colors also make artwork seem more dramatic than when art hangs on a wall of wimpy off-white. While homes should have a palette of unifying colors, you can still have flow and use bold colors in defined spaces.
  • Keep your ceilings white. This homeowner trap is misguided, uninspired and lazy. In some rooms, a white ceiling makes the fifth wall seem lower. Especially if the room is painted in a rich tone, white ceilings can ruin the look. If you don’t want to paint the ceiling the same shade as the walls, soften the contrast by painting it a lighter shade by mixing a little wall color into white.
  • Furniture should go against the wall to maximize floor space. No, no, no, no, no!! Gentle readers, the point of a room is not to maximize floor space, it is to maximize INTERACTION, as in conversation, as in fostering relationships. You can’t do that when the furniture is blasted against the wall as if a giant sea mammal breached the room and emptied its blow hole. Sofas, chairs, console tables, even beds, can float. Pull it together people.
  • Art should always be hung at eye level. So many people are slave to this rule that we may need to reinstate Abraham Lincoln to put an end to this. Repeat after me: Art should be hung in relation to that which it is hanging near. Sure, in a museum, where people are walking by, art should be hung at eye level, which, of course, varies. Otherwise, hang art where it looks good. In a sitting area, it’s nice to have the art at eye level when you’re sitting. Over a table or headboard, hang art so the bottom of the frame is about 8 inches above.
  • Baseboards should always be white. Highlighting your baseboards by painting them white is a good idea if you have awesome baseboards. But if  your baseboards are underwhelming, say under 4 inches, don’t call them out, paint them to blend. If the room has low ceilings, the racing stripe effect will make the room appear shorter.

But do, please, stay on the right side of the road. And kids, stay in school.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through


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