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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    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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    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.

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    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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    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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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    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.

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    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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    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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    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.

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    Suit the season.

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

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    Expand space.

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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