KEY FIVE: Accessories Accessories include a large range of items such as artwork, pillows, area rugs, lamps, photographs, collectibles, plants, fireplace accessories, tabletop items and books.
Many people have collections -- teddy bears, bottles, dolls, buttons, whatever. It seems almost everyone today has a favorite item to collect. To show off the collection in its best light keep items close together. A stuffed bear here or there doesn't indicate to guests that the clients are collectors. Group five, seven or nine bears together on a table. This grouping will make a statement and each item will enhance the individuality of the others. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
When grouping like or unlike items, use an odd number. The Greeks discovered this principle during their Golden Age many centuries ago. For some reason the human brain is more comfortable with odd numbered groupings. The exception, of course, is for matched sets such as two candlesticks or a set of four tea cups. These sets can stand alone as long as the individual items are placed close to each other.
Another thought is to vary the height of the objects on a tabletop grouping. Try not to have short and tall items without some mid-size pieces. This variation in height allows the eye to flow through the grouping rather than bouncing around in it.
Once the clients have defined a color scheme for the room, use the tabletop accessories to reinforce the plan and bring color to the room's middle level. Colored candles, porcelain objects such as vases or collectors' plates are just a few of the things that can enhance such detailing.
Don't forget to consider moving items from one room to another. Doing this can give each item a whole new look, and the clients just might like it better in its new location. In less than an hour you can update the clients' room and enhance the decor. Be creative and try new things. If the clients don't like it you can move everything around again and try them someplace else.
Last but not least, vary the textures in the groupings. Brass, glass and porcelain will give clients smooth, shiny textures. These surfaces add light and energy to a space. Books, baskets, plants, flowers or dried arrangements will give the clients a more textured feeling that lends a cozy, comfortable look to the room. Placing objects of both smooth and textured surfaces is ideal.
Plants are a wonderful accessory in any home. They immediately add warmth and character to any room. To really enhance the decor, here are some simple ideas.
If any of the plants are sickly, take them out of the clients' regular living spaces to doctor them back to health. Turn a laundry room, kitchen window or a spare bathroom into a temporary plant hospital. If the plants flourish, the clients can move them back into the main area of the house. If not, it probably is time to throw them out.
Select containers that not only help the plant grow (room for the roots, water and drainage), but add to the decor. Of course beautiful porcelain and brass pots are nice. Baskets are less expensive and can look lovely too. Many garden centers now carry attractive plastic or plaster containers in designer colors. These pots can work well and add colors from the room's color scheme to the room's middle and floor levels.
Sometimes the clients can use containers that really have other purposes. Ice buckets, teapots and cleaned paint cans are only a few of these items the clients can use. Make sure each container has something under it to prevent water from marring the floor or table upon which it sits.
Consider putting plants in groupings of three or five. Not only does it create humidity to aid the plants' growth, it helps each plant look fuller and healthier. Vary the heights of the plants, too. Once again, doing this will allow the eye to flow through the grouping.
Plant groupings are especially nice around the base of tall trees such as a ficus or parlor palm. If the clients decide to keep one of these trees standing alone, a can light on the floor shining up through the foliage adds a beautiful and dramatic lighting element to the decor. This lighting effect can fill up an awkward corner at little expense.
Tabletops are a nice place for a single small- to medium-size plant or a grouping of three small plants. Ferns, ivies and African violets can enhance any tabletop arrangement. They will add a texture that no other accessory can. If it is a flowering plant, such as an African violet, the clients can rotate it with another of a different color. Suggest that they put one on the table while it's flowering and stop fertilizing it. When the flowers die away, put it back in the window with the most appropriate light and start fertilizing it again. Rotate the one from the window to the tabletop. This system is an easy way always to have a flowering plant to enhance the decor.
Not all of us have green thumbs or the patience or interest to deal with live plants. If this is the situation, look into silk or dried plants. There are some wonderful look-alikes available. Many times the clients won't be able to tell they are not real until they get close to them. All of the suggestions made above will work for the faux foliage. Just remember to keep them dusted and vacuumed. They will look better and last longer with a little bit of tending.
One last thought: Some indoor plants are poisonous, dieffenbachia (dumb cane) and poinsettias are only two of those that not only can be dangerous but deadly. If the clients have small children or pets, make sure these plants are out of reach or given to a friend who will give them a good home.
Whether real or silk, big or small, leafy or flowering, plants will enhance the decor as well as the air the clients breathe.
Do the clients have bookcases in the house? Are they packed to the rafters? If the clients have a library or den with shelves designed for books, maybe the all-book look is what they need. However, if there are bookcases in areas used for entertaining or relaxing, a decorative approach may be more fun and attractive.
Think of the living room, family room or bedroom. These areas frequently have shelving such as étagères, entertainment centers and niches. These areas are perfect to display the best or most favorite books while integrating with collectibles to create interest. The key is balance.
Start on the shelf that's at eye level. Stand up seven or nine books right in the center of the shelf. At each end place an attractive bookend or a collectible that is heavy enough to keep the books upright. Go up one shelf. On the left side stand up another odd number of books. They should go about two-thirds of the way across the shelf. Then place a collectible to keep the books standing. An option to a bookend or collectible for keeping books upright is to stack three books on their sides. A small knick-knack can be placed on top of this stack to add interest if you desire.
Now, go down two shelves. Starting at the right side, stand up an odd number of books filling two-thirds of this shelf and ending with another stack of books, collectible or bookend. On the next shelf down stand up an odd number of books at each end. About one-third of the shelf in the center should be clear. This space can be filled with a collectible or a small picture or mirror on an easel.
Using these four patterns, fill the rest of the shelves. Stand back and see how they look. If they are too even, add or subtract books. Move the items from one shelf to another until they look perfect. Be creative with what is being used as bookends. Coral, marble, brass, plants and many other items have the weight to keep books upright.
Other things can be done with books. Oversized books can be stacked on the floor next to a pile of pillows inviting guests to plop down anytime, get comfy and read. Use a stack of books as a door stop (even if the clients don't need one). On a really deep shelf stand the books up along the back and put collectibles in front of them. Take a favorite book of verse, open it to a favorite passage and set it on an attractive easel on a tabletop. Every now and then the client can read the verse and change it to a new page. Once in a while the clients may want to change the book.
If some of the books are tattered, look for some wrapping paper or fabric to cover them. Remember those school days and how we covered text books? It still works. The paper could be a solid accent color taken from the room's color scheme. Or you might find an attractive print that will coordinate with the fabrics in the room. If the clients are doing a country look, buy some ribbon and tie a bow around three small books.
Whatever is done with books, it's hard to go wrong. They add warmth, charm and personality to even the most contemporary rooms. And, there always will be a good book around to read when the clients want one.
Creating an environment that is inviting for oneself and others probably is the main reason so many of us spend so much time and money on the interiors of our homes. An item that frequently is overlooked but can add a great deal to the decor is an area rug.
Because wall-to-wall carpeting is a relatively new invention, it is area rugs we see in period rooms throughout history. It probably is safe to say that the first rug was an animal skin thrown down on the ground to make sitting in caves a little warmer and more comfortable. Today area rugs can be used for other reasons.
Rugs can be used in every room of the home and can be used on hard surfaces such as wood, vinyl, tile, etc. or on top of an existing wall-to-wall carpet. If the clients have hard surface flooring, rugs are a wonderful way to add areas of warmth, color and definition. They bring the colors in the color scheme down to the lowest level of the room and give the space a completed look. Over carpeting, rugs can be used to define a conversation area, break up an overly large area of carpet color or to hide areas where too much traffic for too long has worn it out. In any event, the look usually gives a higher level of sophistication to the decorating plan.
Selecting the proper size of rug probably is the most difficult decision the clients will have to make. In a dining room the rug will need to be three feet larger in all directions than the table. If the table is three feet wide by five feet long, the rug should be nine feet wide by 11 feet long. This margin ensures that chair legs will not get caught on the rug when pushed back from the table and that individuals serving the meal will not trip on the edge of the rug. Of course room sizes are not ideal so some compromises in the rug size may needed.
In bedrooms there two options. One is to have a large rug that extends beyond the bed by at least three feet on either side and at the foot of the bed. The second is to invest in two smaller rugs, one for each side of the bed. At a minimum these rugs should be three feet by five feet. This size will look proportional to the bed as well as be stable enough to step onto without tripping or sliding.
Hallways, foyers and entries are wonderful places to create that invitation to enter through the use of rugs. In these spaces a six- to 12-inch border of floor around the rug usually is an attractive look. Make sure to check door swings to see that they clear the rug or the doors may need to be trimmed. Also, make sure to consider the pattern size and proportion in spaces that are enclosed. The right pattern and size can help a small entry look larger or a large one cozier.
In entertainment spaces such as living rooms, parlors and family rooms rugs can help define the conversation area and highlight the focal point of the room. In these locations size the rug in relation to the furniture it will be enhancing. Make sure each piece of furniture is either all the way on or all the way off the rug. Breaking this rule can give seating pieces an off-balanced look and feel. Also, review traffic patterns through the room. Make sure the clients won't be walking with one foot on and the other foot off the rug on a regular basis. Don't forget to select a rug that enhances the other design elements in the room through its shape, color or detailing.
The clients may not want a rug in every room of their home, but selecting one or two for the proper locations will add some energy to the interiors. Use a new rug for an inexpensive update of a room with its current furnishings. It will look like the clients redecorated!
Editor's note: This is the fourth of a multi-part series in which Dudics-Dean explains the most important concepts decorators need to know to make each interior project a success.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.