As fortune would have it, I happen to have access to one of the most creative interior designers and space planners in the country. Chosen NW Designer of the Year 2007, Paula Devon Raso (http://www.pauladevonraso.com), has a way of looking at spaces that defies even the most creative features of my own brain. She can look at an empty aircraft hanger, and instead of seeing a vast industrial space with airplane size oil leaks on the cement, Paula envisions a six-plex with an atrium, garden and water features at the center. In her artist’s mind, the vacant air is populated with walls, inset lighting, sleek plumbing fixtures, comfy chairs and storage units, plus water colors collected from foreign travel. Try as I might, I can see little but what is in front of my eyes.
Paula gets questions from non-clients all the time. “How can I spruce up my house?” or “I just moved into a smaller place and it looks overwhelmed. What can I do?” Or, “Okay, I just lost my job so I am home a lot, and the longer I’m here the more depressed I become? How can I turn my house into a place that feels comfortable?” She loves offering suggestions, even if they don’t bring in a commission, so I decided to ask her about creating a haven even in the midst of an economic downturn.
- What is the single best thing people can do to improve the look of their home? Start purging, to get rid of things that don’t have any meaning, junk, to try to start with a clean slate. Most people have too much stuff that really doesn’t matter to them. You need a fresh start. Then you can really see the bones of the space, the lines of the space and give yourself the opportunity to move things around and create new space within the spaces.
- By getting rid of stuff, do you mean throwing it away, storing it, or putting it another part of the house? I mean it all. It is a time for hard choices, but the less confusing your environment is, the less confused your mind will be. Clearing away clutter in fact clears your mind and allows you to enjoy your space far more. This is the part of design that people find the most difficult. They feel, somehow, that their identity is wrapped up in the object. The question should be, does the object enhance your feeling of comfort and peace or weigh down the space?
- What are some of the myths that people have about residential spaces? For example, lots of times people think everything has to be done in a traditional way; that the dining table has to be in the designated dining area where the ceiling light has been placed. Especially in a small space, maybe turning that dining space into a small office area is a better, more functional choice. While natural light is always important in any area, you can have a partial screen to show a little separation. Then, take the dining and move it over by a window, even if it is in the living room. Make the dining table a multi-use table so you could use it for many different purposes. One end could be a game table for playing cards or doing puzzles. The other end could be the library or reading area and have stacks of books you fully intend to read, plus a basket or tray of magazines. This prevents coffee and end tables from becoming cluttered with magazines and other reading material. Lots of people carry around large scale furniture because they perceive it to be more comfortable than something smaller. Not true. Instead of having the big L shaped sofa, love seat and recliner combo in the living room, which completely chokes the space, consider putting the love seat in the second bedroom to create a real living space for any long term visitor. If you have a full set of dining room chairs, use the two armed chairs as auxiliaries in the living room. Extra dining chairs can also be placed in the bedroom, for sitting or storage. Consider passing on any furniture you don’t need to one of the charities that will happily collect it from your home. Or check with friends. That parson’s table, hassock, and extra lamp? Somebody has a child going off to college who needs furniture for the shared apartment.
- What can you do to glam up the house when you can’t buy anything new? One good first step is to go through some of the stuff you never use, like wedding gifts, and to start using them. Use a silver bowl as a fruit bowl. Use a short crystal vase to hold your make-up brushes or pencils. Many people put a whole collection of things out and no one really sees them because there are simply too many objects. The eye can’t focus. Instead, put a few treasures next to a bowl of flowers or a pretty indoor plant. This is called a vignette, a small grouping of things that complement each other and draw the eye. Take a tray, for example, wood, metal, or bamboo, and, if you have a room on your bathroom counter, organize several things on the tray to be both attractive and serviceable. Another thing is, instead of doing a lot of little candles around, buy a large one and put it in a glass bowl or container. Then place the candles around the room to draw the eye. You can group things together by color. If you have a small piece of art with a touch of one of your favorite colors, put the art on a table and combine it with accents pieces: a candle, a vase, a piece of fabric, something that also carries that favorite color. Most important, only display objects that you love to look at. Pick up each piece, every single item, and measure how attractive it is to you personally, because you don’t want anything in your home that your eye wants to avoid.
- When I can buy, what should I buy? Look around, not for more things, but for items with which you can display your favorite pieces. Gardens stores often have many interesting containers in graduated sizes. These can be used for anything from rolled up hand towels for the bathroom, or your perfume and other loose bottles in the bathroom, or collectibles such as matchbooks. You could fill smaller ones with sand and use them for pillar candles. Places like the Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have great display designers. They show you how to use pieces throughout the house.
- Another good tip, have someone give you a copy of Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. It is a step by step primer on how to transform your home by yourself and it works for apartment, condo, single family residence, or the loft over the garage.