A Clean Slate for your Furniture - Interior Design Advice

Last month, this column was about how some older homes gain character, while others gain a choppy,
intermittent look from years of spotty repairs and decorating. The remedy I suggested was ‘de-
decorating’ or cleaning the slate before you begin updating your home. (You can read past articles on

The essence of that article was that no matter what style you hope to achieve, you should have some
continuous threads throughout your home to keep it from getting disjointed from room to room. Well, I'm
stickin’ to that story, but this article gives advice about what to do with your clean slate.

So, if you have wood floors and white walls, count yourself lucky and read on. If you have green, shag
carpet, brown trim and wallpaper on everything including your doors, stay away from the casino for a
while and go back to last month’s article.

In my opinion, design and craftsmanship walk around hand-in-hand. Good traditional, contemporary, or
modern style, are all the same at the core. Clean edges, sharp corners, fixtures without paint splooges (a
technical term I have adopted) will go a long way in making all your furniture and ideas look better.

If you want proof, just go to your favorite furniture store and look at what they do. Room and Board,
Pottery Barn, Marshall Fields and Restoration Hardware to name a few popular ones set their furniture
into very clean room settings. This is true no matter how many doodads (another technical term I have
adopted instead of syllable laden ‘ornamentation’) the furniture they are peddling has. In fact, even if the
display rooms have varying fancy colors, they usually also have white-ish trim and the same floor from
space to space.

This cohesiveness of room architecture is important for your home. But, it is true for your furnishings as
well. A former boss used to say ‘good design means that everything goes together but nothing matches’.
Salt grains at the ready, I agree that his statement is basically true even though his taste might be
considered suspect. Boss-Man’s furniture ran from black to glitzy gold, and usually had swirly things or
lightning bolts welded on. He also didn’t wear socks with his loafers and painted his bald spot but his
furnishings all looked like they belonged in the same house.

The really cool thing about boss-man’s concept is that you don’t have to match and the common thread
can be anything. For instance, you can put antiques next to new furniture and plastic next to wood as
long as something links them. Connections can be made by line, shape, color, material, style, depth,
function etc. And not everything has to go perfect with everything else. You will always have some things
that go better with other things but if you place the right things together, you’re golden.

A commonality between your furnishings in your whole house is good so you can move things from room
to room as your needs change. Usually most people have everything they need already but just need to
place things better. A nightstand from the bedroom might make a perfect end table in the living room and
the blanket chest from the spare room might be a perfect coffee table in the family room. If you are sick
of your furniture move it around from room to room and you could give it new life.

I know that design information seems easier to follow on TV but since you are reading now, the sum of
my advice is this. To achieve the look you want, sometimes you will have to do the hard stuff first and
bring yours spaces down to a clean, blank canvas. Once you have done that, you can paint fun colors as
long as you leave threads from space to space. Next, before you go out and buy furniture, rearrange and
organize what you have. You may already have connected furniture that will save you a fortune in the

Paul Livdahl is founder of Design QandA
For questions or clarifications, e-mail plivdahl@designqanda.com