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The most important aspect of a house is not its size or whether it's a ranch or a cape or a colonial. What's truly essential is whether your living space is a place of comfort and warmth, somewhere in which your family wants to stay and cocoon. There's no better time than now to see to it that your home has these comfy qualities. Here, a few tips to get you started.1. Decorate with Keepsakes
People often feel that items on display need to be collectibles or of a certain value, but often the most interesting display includes sentimental family keepsakes. Photos, of course, top the list. They don't have to be of professional quality -- a group of favorite snapshots enlarged and framed can make a wonderful wall display. Other treasures, such as heirlooms and souvenirs, are also great to show off. A bowl of beach stones from your family's summer vacation in Maine will not only look beautiful on the coffee table but will also bring a smile to loved ones' faces because of the memories they evoke.2. Gather Them 'Round
Create plenty of seating areas where family can hang out together. Forgo formality: Choose furniture that's casual and comfortable enough to curl up in. Group the major pieces, like a sofa and some armchairs, in a formation that encourages face-to-face interactions (as opposed to the common practice of aiming all seats toward the TV). Also, designate a spot -- it could be a table -- as a permanent game area where people can gather to play board games or work on in-progress puzzles.3. Dim the Lights
Changing the lighting is one of the most inexpensive yet dramatic ways to warm up a space. Overhead lighting is often too harsh, so rely on wall sconces and table and floor lamps that will create softer pools of light. Also, avoid high-wattage bulbs. Several sources of low-level lighting (40 or 60 watts) will lend a much cozier feel. Or create versatile lighting options using dimmers; inexpensive dimming attachments (available at hardware stores) will work with any plug-in light source.4. Top-Down Mood Makers
After choosing wall colors, window treatments, and floor coverings, many home decorators forget all about what's overhead. But the hue and design of a ceiling can make a big difference in a room's ambience: painting it a deeper color than the one on the walls will make it seem lower and the room more intimate, as will adding beams, molding, or other architectural elements.
While creating gathering spots is important, it is equally vital to set aside quiet zones where family members can find solitude. A comfortable armchair in the corner of a bedroom is all you need or, if you're more ambitious, you can put in a window seat or turn a nook into a sitting area -- just make sure it's a spot far from everyday foot traffic.6. Coordinate with Color
Using warm color is one of the most effective ways to make a home feel welcoming, though a mishmash of overly brash tones can have just the opposite effect. To ensure a peaceful color scheme, limit the palette to just two or three soothing colors that work well together. Painting the walls is the most obvious way to add splashes of color, but if that's not an option, infuse hues with upholstery, window treatments, artwork, and rugs.7. Sweat the Small Stuff
When it comes to cozying up your space, do focus on the details. Don't ignore small or out-of-the-way surfaces, such as side tables or consoles -- use every spot as an opportunity to enhance your home's personality by adorning it with framed photos, favorite treasures, and knickknacks.8. Go for Touchable Textures
Diminish any hard edges in your home with layers of plush fabrics. Look for knit throws and pillows in sumptuous materials such as chenille, velvet, and cashmere blends. Area rugs are soft underfoot and instantly warm up a space, and curtains or fabric Roman shades will camouflage a room's harder architectural edges.9. Soothe the Senses
Of course you want your room to look beautiful, but don't forget to please all the senses, including hearing and smell. Having several music sources throughout the house, such as MP3-player speakers or portable CD players, will ensure soothing sounds wherever you go. Use aromatic reed diffusers and room sprays, as well as fresh flowers and plants, to give your home a welcoming signature scent.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2007.