Learn to dress your rooms the way you dress yourself. Work on that lived-in look. Discover our secrets of style for getting your house looking good. You’ll never use a fabric swatch pattern book again.
Most people don’t know how to live well. Money has very little to do with great style or great decorating. Sure a little helps, but often the best interiors are done on a shoestring.
You can make a shoebox look good with paint, proper lighting, sisal matting, a few decent pieces of furniture, elbow grease and imagination.
All that’s needed are inhabitants who are willing to keep thinning things out. After all – houses are works in progress. Here, then, is our guide to creating your own style – without having to take a course or attend the latest design trade shows.
Rule #1: Dress your rooms the way you dress yourself
The well-dressed woman bases everything on wardrobe staples. When it comes to interiors, the equivalents are a great sofa, a couple of decent chairs, pretty tables, a good mirror, elegant lamps, and cushions. These are the things you can take through life, from house to house. They’ve got to be good quality classics.
Invest in a no-nonsense sofa the way you’d buy a tailored, timeless suit.
The more simple it is, the more you can get away with redressing it with lots of pearls, pumps and pearls. Furniture is the same: you can use it in different ways, in different rooms with different colours. In the long run, the economy comes through versatility. Read more, ‘To Define Your Taste in Interiors, Look In Your Wardrobe.’
Rule #2: The price of your pieces doesn’t matter
The most important thing is to find the right combination.
Rule # 3: Use it or lose it
Unless you use something once a week, get it out of your life. To make your house look good, don’t buy more, chuck the bad stuff away. A lot of people know how to accumulate, but they don’t know how to live. Don’t be sentimental, even with heirlooms. We chuck out masses of things, and never think about them again. Read more, ‘The Ultimate Decluttering Guide.’
Rule #4. Work on that lived-in look
There is nothing worse than a house that has been decorated overnight. Consider doing what the British do: let the labradors in for the weekend to get that lived in look so you don’t end up looking like an arriviste. Read more, ‘Improve Your Mood With These 50 Top Decorating Tips.’
Rule #5: Mix up your style
Have an interplay of fabrics and colours. Mix cheap cottons with wonderful silks, linens and velvets and down-filled cushions. Don’t choose wallpapers, borders and fabrics out of the same pattern book. We don’t decorate by numbers. Don’t buy matching sofas and armchairs – or baths, sinks, and loos from the same manufacturer. The idea now is to collect: have something French, something Chinese, something African, and something bad taste. Read more, ‘How To Do Eclectic Style.’
A piece of kitsch often helps a room, as does a slash of red.
Rule #6: Think of others when you arrange furniture
It’s all about practicality and commonsense. Some people have a dining table for 12 but can only seat eight in the sitting room. Anti-social! Don’t make your rooms a shrine to the hifi or the TV or the view – even if you’ve got the best views in town. The idea is to arrange furniture to promote conversation. Don’t put your chairs and sofas around the edge of the room – it will look like a doctor’s waiting room or worse, a railway station. Read more, ‘Melissa’s Ultimate Guide to Decorating.’
Chairs need to talk to each other, with a variety of seating because people come in all shapes and sizes.
Rule #7: Cosy things up
Even if you live in a tiny bedsit, make it beautiful. Put parsley in a vase or a cauliflower in an urn. Nothing sends us into a slump more than a $25 bunch of lilies in a cylindrical vase. Try a bunch of spinach for $1 instead. It is all about comfort, quality and a dash of individuality.
Rule #8: Think big
Play around with different sizes. You must give a room guts – scale things up, not down. Do triple-width hallways, double-height doorways. Style up your front door with a whopping doorknob instead of some conventional little knob. Instead of your normal doormat, get the biggest one you can find, with a big black border, to make your entry grand. Things that speak style and generosity and personality. Small rooms look great with big bookcases, big sofas. It gives the room the dimensions it doesn’t actually have. Don’t do things by halves. Make your cushions measure at least 60cm x 60cm. Nothing smaller. It’s too mean and a dead giveaway that you have no idea. Read more, ‘The 10 Decorating Mistakes Everyone Makes.’
Rule #9: Learn to recognise quality in any price range
Most people who don’t know how to live aren’t poor, they just have poor taste. The keywords are elegant, classic, well-made, generous, understated, good proportions, integrity, and character.
Rule #10: It’s the little things
Style is imagination, balance and knowing how to finish things. Don’t confine yourself to what you see in showrooms or magazines. Raid auction houses, reuse or repurpose things you already own – a dramatic mirror painted black or a Georgian table converted into a washbasin stand will tell the world you have great taste.
Your pieces don’t need to cost a lot – but they need scale and proportion.
Rule #11: Ignore fads
Only buy pieces that will last and serve you like a loyal dog. Quality distinguishes style from fashion. Avoid bleak minimalisim, acres of marble floor – no matter how much money you have to throw around. Read more, ‘What Interior Designers Hate to See on Instagram.’
Rule #12: Don’t forget the windows
Hang your curtains from the ceiling architrave to give a room height. Most people hang curtains about 2cm above the windows, which dwarfs the room. You don’t have to spend a fortune on fabric: just used masses in abundant folds. Read more, ‘No More Dull Curtains: An A-Z Guide To Window Treatments.’
Rule #13: Display your collections with style
Whether its glassware on a shelf in the kitchen of stacks and stack of books in the sitting room, anything looks good if it’s en masse. If you collect something, show it off. That’s what’s going to give your house its heartbeat, its soul. Read more, ‘How To Display Your Collections In Style.’
Rule #14: Ask, is this suitable
There is nothing worse than an English country look on the 50th floor of a city high rise or a French chateau in a suburban townhouse. Make sure your interior suits your environment and your setting.
Rule #15: Confidence in yourself and your style is key
Once you’ve made the big choices, the rest is about how you put it together. It takes a lifetime of collecting to finish a room. Pair the unexpected. Quality’s ultimate value is the serenity that comes with style.
The most successful interiors come together organically, over time, without urgency.
It’s about building interiors around furniture collections, not around fabric swatches and look du jours. The best houses never look spanking new, but rather comfortable, at ease, gently broken in. Decide what you like. Buy only what you love, and you’ll be surprised how well it falls together over the years. Read more, ‘Decorating on a Budget: Insider Secrets.’