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Designing for Timelessness

Design trends come and go, it's a fact. We'd all like to be sporting the latest style superstars, but there aren't a lot of people who can afford to redecorate every five years. So how do you stay on trend without breaking the bank? Let's take a look at some strategies.

Furnishings: When it comes to furniture, it can be a big investment. Even a middle of the road couch these days will set you back three grand, so how can you pick one that will stand the test of time? My best advice is to pick something neutral. It doesn't have to be white, per se, but something that can make friends with lots of different colors. For example, navy blue, gray, black, cream, beige, and even a camel color can all be good options. And of course, any neutral color of leather will age well. Each of these colors makes a great background for any number of other color schemes. Choosing solids or tweed patterns in these colors will make it easier to layer other, bolder choices as you develop your final design. What's great about neutrals is they make a great base from which to build and experiment with more trendy design looks.

Style is another important factor when choosing upholstered pieces.. What is your personal style? Do you prefer things that are sleek and contemporary or more casual and soft? Being able to identify your own design style will help you pick a piece you will be happy to live with for a long time. Either is fine, just pick one and go with it and be consistent in your choices. If you've chosen a sleek Scandinavian couch, you probably don't want a frumpy, oversized slipcovered chair and a half to put with it. They are not friends, they will fight.

This brings us to the topic of scale. Pay attention to the pieces you already have that you want to keep and how bulky or not these are. Look at your space, is it small and compact or open and cavernous? Choosing an appropriately scaled piece of furniture for each situation will keep you from feeling like Alice in Wonderland because something is much too big or too small. Before you buy a piece, mark it out on the floor in your home with some painters tape, or get some cardboard boxes and mock-up a 3D placeholder to get a sense of how the piece you are considering will feel in the space. These exercises are especially good for people who have a hard time visualizing things, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. Also - it is important to remember if you are shopping in a furniture store, their ceilings are probably at a minimum 20' high. Unless you live in a cathedral, your ceilings are likely much lower. This can make pieces in the store look much smaller than they will actually look in your home, so it is important to measure before committing. The picture below is a great example of this concept. The couch in this room is massive, but because of the scale of the room and the other furnishings, it fits perfectly.

Layering: Now that you have your timeless anchor pieces - the expensive ones that are harder to change, you start layering on smaller, less expensive accessories. This could be a side chair with dramatic upholstery, or a throw or even a small foot rest. These are great ways to bring some trendy energy into a space that can easily and inexpensively changed later. This is fun to do with dining chairs with upholstered seats. Changing your seat fabric is a really easy DIY project and you can experiment with bold colors and patterns. Repetition of smaller elements like this in a space can give a small item a bigger impact. Other layering choices are throw pillows, window treatments, and rugs. These are all easy to change and generally not exorbitantly priced. Artwork is a great way to layer too, you can switch up your artwork or use it to add pops of color here and there. The benefit of layering coordinated pieces is that it acts like a dot-to-dot of sorts with your eye. Place bits of excitement throughout the room to carry your eye from one place to another - and don't forget to place things at different heights. A colorful basket on the floor, a pillow on the chair, a high barstool, and wall art are all at different eye levels and help your eye travel through the room. The room above is, again, another good example of what to do right. The color scheme is really quite simple, pink and green, but because there is so much repetition and variations within this scheme, it really sings.

Décor: Choose objects that speak to you and hold some kind of significance. Don't sprinkle things everywhere. Be deliberate about where you choose to place objects and how you group them so they don't just look like clutter. Visually consolidate and contain your decorative items which will trick your eye into recognizing them as one single thing, rather than a scattershot disorganized mess. One way to do this is to put similar small things on a tray - it gives you a footprint and keeps things looking tidy because there is a boundary; the same is true of a bookshelf. If you have so much stuff that putting it all on display makes it look cluttered, consider seasonal displays and put some away for a time until it is their turn in the spotlight. This is also a good way to thin things out. If you put them away and then open the box six months later only to realize you have completely forgotten owning something, that's a pretty clear indicator that it's time to go.

Paint: I will paint a room with reckless abandon. It is not an insurmountable task to repaint a room and using a bold trendy color can lend a lot of impact. If you are concerned about getting tired of a color but still want some drama, consider a darker neutral shade in some areas. This will give you a more designer look, but if you change your mind on the trendy colors, a dark neutral will probably translate well to a new color scheme. If you have a lighter neutral shade throughout and then a darker accent neutral, it will grab you attention visually without dictating the color scheme.

Material Choices: This is probably the part that is most fraught with the danger of backing yourself into a corner. There will always be trendy materials that look cool and exciting and will make a big impact when they are included in a design. These will also most likely be the ones that fade out of fashion the quickest. That doesn't rule out the possibility of having dramatic materials, you just have to choose them with the long-run in mind. Don't choose a material because it is trendy, choose it because it is inherently beautiful on its own. Case in point: Encaustic cement patterned tiles are all the rage right now. They are bold and geometric and beautiful and eye-catching. Those babies are going to be a blip on the screen that will totally date your space in a few years if you over-do it. We just finished building our house and I really wanted to use these tiles, but I knew in a few short years they were going to date themselves. What I ended up doing was going with some non-traditional or less well-known variations on these. For my bathroom, I chose a large hex tile with a very striking but not too period specific pattern. For my mudroom, I chose a patchwork style of this tile that looked timely but also eclectic. When it came to my kid's bathroom, I chose a very classic porcelain stone-look tile, but had it installed in a herringbone pattern to give it a more elevated look. So in each of these cases, not only is the material attractive by itself, but the design can transcend the stylistic constraints of the trend. Additionally, all of our really pricy materials - countertops, hardwoods are a classic neutral tone that will literally go with anything. So they can be happy chameleons in a space as I change the accents.


If you choose neutral foundation pieces, you can go a little over-the-top with your accessories to stay on trend and in budget. You can enjoy all the excitement of cutting-edge design and none of the panic and buyer's remorse that comes with having paid a fortune on something that has a fast-approaching expiration date.

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