9 DESIGN DETAILS YOU MIGHT HAVE OVERLOOKED

Ever finished decorating a room, stood back and thought, “Why doesn’t this look right?” Sometimes the things that create a satisfyingly complete look can be subtle, especially when you don’t know what to look for. To help you add these finishing touches, here are nine of the most common details I think homeowners often miss.


1. Full-height cabinets. Luxurious custom cabinets won’t look luxe if they end at an arbitrary height with dead space above, which is then often cluttered up with unnecessary decor in an attempt to fill the void. Stacking a small cabinet on top, or closing in the space with a solid filler piece (or molding), creates a much more polished look.

When taking cabinets to the ceiling isn’t realistic — for example, if the ceiling is tall or angled — create a finished look by tiling the room to its full height. Using a simple porcelain subway tile achieves this beautifully on a reasonable budget.

Use the open area to display one large piece of art; otherwise let it remain free of extraneous baskets and bins.

2. Large area rugs. Even when you have beautiful floors, an area rug makes a perfect anchor to a seating area for that layered, photo-shoot-ready look — but only if the rug is large enough. If it merely floats between the seating pieces instead of tucking fully under, it’s usually better to go without one. Try a custom-cut plain Berber carpet to get a perfectly sized rug without spending thousands of dollars.

3. Layered lighting. It cannot be stressed enough: Lighting should come from more than one source in any room. Those well-spaced recessed lights won’t be enough to eliminate the shadowing that inevitably harshens a room. Try to include task lights or spotlights, hanging lights, and table or floor lamps to get light from different directions. An extra advantage is that you can go full bright (as in this photo), then turn off a few lights for a more dim and moody atmosphere in the evening.

4. Texture. A rich variety of physical and visual textures takes a room from OK to truly engaging. Here, texture makes a simple color palette look beautiful. An easy way to add texture is to introduce a piece that includes wood, another that includes metal and another that includes glass. For a truly designer look, find places to include as many of these materials as you can: leather, paper (books or art), plush fabrics, mirrored surfaces, tufting, lacquer, basketweave, sheers, ceramics, concrete and textural patterns (like the nebulous rug shown here). 5. Full draperies. Draperies are not essential to every room. In fact, there’s a certain modernist charm to leaving windows completely unadorned. But when used, draperies should be in sufficient fullness and height to look like a celebration rather than a functional afterthought. Three-foot-wide curtain panels may cover a window, but for designer fullness the material should be 2½ to three times wider than the window, and start at either the ceiling or a good 12 to 18 inches above the window line. I designed the room shown here. The window behind the draperies is actually rather small and off-center. With the wall-to-wall drapery, you’d never know it.

5. Full draperies. Draperies are not essential to every room. In fact, there’s a certain modernist charm to leaving windows completely unadorned. But when used, draperies should be in sufficient fullness and height to look like a celebration rather than a functional afterthought. Three-foot-wide curtain panels may cover a window, but for designer fullness the material should be 2½ to three times wider than the window, and start at either the ceiling or a good 12 to 18 inches above the window line. I designed the room shown here. The window behind the draperies is actually rather small and off-center. With the wall-to-wall drapery, you’d never know it.

6. Clean lines. Whether you prefer modernist minimalism or traditional elegance, you should keep some lines clean and tight for a polished look, especially in the kitchen. Notice here how the open-shelf portion of the cabinet sits flush with the bulkhead above and the backspalsh and countertop below to form one continuous line. Getting the cabinetry and backsplash to line up is usually quite possible, but installers may not bother to cut tile to achieve this if not instructed to do so. So you need to insist on it. It will prevent jagged edges that can make the design subconsciously read messy. 7. Floating furnishings. In a very large space, pulling furniture away from the walls will typically create a more intimate feel (as opposed to having a “dance hall” vibe). However, even in smaller spaces, bringing some pieces away from the wall will make the room feel less boxy. An angled chair, free-floating table, floor lamp or large potted plant can make the room feel less typical and more dynamic. And don’t forget the area rug.

7. Floating furnishings. In a very large space, pulling furniture away from the walls will typically create a more intimate feel (as opposed to having a “dance hall” vibe). However, even in smaller spaces, bringing some pieces away from the wall will make the room feel less boxy. An angled chair, free-floating table, floor lamp or large potted plant can make the room feel less typical and more dynamic. And don’t forget the area rug.

8. A sense of life. Try to add a sense of life to every room. A bouquet or living plant is a must-have for that styled look every day, but also try to find pieces with some personality or flaws. The piano here doesn’t exactly match anything else, but the warm wood and sense of artistry bring the room alive whether the piano is played much or not. Toss in a quirky pillow, family heirloom or fun photo so everything doesn’t look straight out of a catalog.

9. Bonus: Tall baseboards. This may not be essential to good design, but it can elevate a space dramatically in a subtle way. When possible, I now use 9-inch or taller baseboards during renovations to give a room that stately look 24/7, even when the furnishings are simple. Consider this for your next renovation, or add to your existing baseboards with a strip of molding a few inches above. Simply painting in the space between will create the look of a very tall baseboard through a little visual trickery.

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