Think Like a Decorator: How to Use Surfaces and Materials

Paint, fabric, wallpaper, stone, and tile -- they're all common design and decorating materials. But what's the secret to using them like a pro? Read on and find out.

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  • 1 of 21

    Paint

    Mix it your way.

    Love a color that's too strong for walls? Ask the paint store to mix in just half or less of the pigment. Or add a little white paint to soften a too-bright hue, black paint to gray the hue, or a complementary color to dial back the brightness.

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    Paint

    Shine on.

    Experiment with sheen as a design tool. Consider dark gloss paint for drama, matte sheen against semigloss to differentiate trim from walls, and metallic glazes or paints to add a little glimmer.

  • 3 of 21

    Paint

    Reuse and recycle.

    Designers have a collection of never-fail paint colors they return to time and again. You can, too, if you jot down favorite paint hues in a decorating notebook.

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    Paint

    Master illusion.

    Use paint to expand the perceived size of almost anything. Paint a small dresser a bright hue and it will “grow” in size. Paint a ceiling a light blue and it will appear to be higher.

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    Wallpaper

    Lend natural texture.

    Grass cloth, made from woven grass fibers, offers touchable, neutral texture that's earthy and sophisticated. Pair grass cloth with glossy painted furnishings for dramatic contrast.

  • striped walls 6 of 21

    Wallpaper

    Change ceiling heights.

    Visually raise a low ceiling by putting a vertically striped pattern on the walls. Lower a high ceiling to make it feel more intimate with rich, dark paper with a tight pattern, such as a damask or paisley.

  • 7 of 21

    Wallpaper

    Go for temporary touches.

    Try peel-and-stick, repositionable wall appliques in geometric shapes, motifs, and murals if you want a dose of pattern and color (perfect for a kid's play area) without the commitment or effort.

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    Wallpaper

    Get glamorous.

    Today's fashion-forward papers include metallic inks and embedded glass beads for sparkle. Try them in small spaces such as a powder room, dressing room, or bedroom.

  • 9 of 21

    Fabric

    Make a mood.

    A boxy room looks luxurious with silk drapes and a velvet ottoman, or playful with patterned cotton curtains and colorful pillows.

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    Fabric

    Soften the outlook.

    Relax rooms with curtains and tablecloths, upholstery, and pillows. Fabrics also absorb sound, so they're perfect for noisy spaces.

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    Fabric

    Ease the care.

    Opt for soil- and stain-resistant fabrics to withstand the onslaught of children and pets. Indoor-outdoor fabrics guarantee durability and deliver good looks and a soft finish.

  • 12 of 21

    Fabric

    Suit the season.

    Wool traps heat and feels warm in winter. Light linens and cotton reflect sunlight, promote evaporation, and feel cool in summer.

  • 13 of 21

    Wood

    Expand space.

    In a small home, run the same wood flooring or wood wainscoting from room to room as a unifier.

  • 14 of 21

    Wood

    Let it star or just shine.

    One wood paneled wall can be the star of a room. Cover every wall with wood, however, and the star fades into a fabulous background.

  • 15 of 21

    Wood

    Set the mood.

    Solo or in combination, wood changes the mood of a space. Weathered beams mixed with car siding offer a casual look. Beaded-board paneling creates an instant cottage look. Exotic wood bookcases deliver a modern vibe.

  • 16 of 21

    Wood

    Add instant character.

    Crown molding highlights the ceiling, while deep baseboards change the proportions of a room. Balusters and a newel turn a staircase into a focal point. Carved pieces, such as brackets, medallions, and moldings, add decorative details on cabinetry and doors.

  • 17 of 21

    Stone and Tile

    Start with a grand plan.

    Stone and tile can be expensive, so use them where they justify the expense. Consider a countertop-to-ceiling wall behind a cooktop, an entry floor, or a fireplace wall.

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    Stone and Tile

    Go custom.

    Tile comes in pieces that can combine in endless options. So get creative when planning a custom tile installation. Map out several combinations using graph paper.

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    Stone and Tile

    Use more rather than less for drama.

    On walls, use more tile than drywall to make a statement. When the tile reaches higher, it feels richer and looks more finished. Consider laying tile all the way to the ceiling in a shower.

  • 20 of 21

    Stone and Tile

    Work with the sheen.

    Use glossy stone and tile on vertical surfaces where daily use won't dull them; embrace the reflections that lighten a room. Opt for matte finishes for floors and counters. A matte finish makes stone and tile colors look deeper, and it's less affected by daily wear and tear.

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    Stylish Solutions for Awkward Spaces

    In case you haven't heard, awkward is the new cool. Embrace that small corner, uneven nook, or shallow mantel with these stylish tricks that will make you wish you thought of them sooner.
    Begin Slideshow »
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