Think Like a Decorator
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Think Like a Decorator

We asked seven top designers to solve your issues with paint colors, flatscreen TVs, ugly paneling, and more.
Advice from the Pros

The Pros

Nate Berkus, host of the syndicated The Nate Berkus Show

David Bromstad, host of HGTV's Color Splash

Genevieve Gorder, host of HGTV's Dear Genevieve

Kathryn M. Ireland, cast member of Bravo's Million Dollar Decorators

Michael Moloney, designer on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Robert Novogratz, host of HGTV's Home by Novogratz

Sarah Richardson, host of HGTV's Sarah's Summer House

Q. I can't figure out how to arrange my furniture right. Are there any rules that can help?

You generally need more furniture than you think, so experiment at home to see what works. Go borrow the sideboard from the dining room to tell if a large piece will comfortably fit in your living room. I also look at how other people lay out their rooms, whether it's at a friend's house or in design magazines.
-- Nate Berkus

Start with the big pieces first, making sure to leave a natural walkway through the room. If you don't want to move furniture around endlessly, use the 3-D planner at You can try out various arrangements without throwing out your back.
-- Michael Moloney

Q. What's the best way to choose the color for my carpet?

Wall-to-wall carpeting has to be neutral. You'll never say, "I'm so glad I picked yellow." Assess your space and go with the best-made option in a neutral color: Think cream or beige -- even dove gray. But area rugs can bring in bold color and pattern because they're easy (and inexpensive) to change out. You'll often find great flat-weave carpets for less than $500.
-- Nate Berkus

Q. Window treatments are so expensive. How can I do them on a budget?

Many great premade panels are both affordable and chic, especially those at Ikea. If you can't find the right length, add a band of contrasting fabric at the bottom to extend a too-short panel.
-- Sarah Richardson

Go for inexpensive off-white cotton duck, then apply a little trim or ribbon down the edge of the panel. Doing it yourself means you can get exactly what you want. If you don't know how to sew, ask at a fabric store for a seamstress they recommend.
-- Kathryn M. Ireland

Q. Is there an attractive way to organize (and hide) paperwork and mail?

I think most organizing tools like boxes still don't look good. I keep paperwork somewhere hidden, whether in an armoire or a file cabinet. We have a paper drawer that acts as a catchall for that type of stuff, and when it starts to get full, we just go through it and toss anything we don't need.
-- David Bromstad

I designate a plain wire-frame canvas basket with numbers on it for each person who gets mail, and another for junk mail and catalogs.
-- Genevieve Gorder

Q. How can I make a big room seem cozier and more intimate?

To keep one large space from feeling overwhelming, create multiple seating areas. Define each area with a rug so it feels as if it's its own little island, but use the same color palette and design sensibility in each so that there's a natural flow.
-- Michael Moloney

If you have the space, don't be afraid to go big with larger art and furniture. Then add color, pattern, and texture with rugs, curtains, and other textiles. Wood tones will also warm up a room.
-- Robert Novogratz

Q. There's '60s-style wood paneling lining my walls. What can I do to downplay the Brady Bunch look?

If you can't tear it down and install new wallboard, gently sand the paneling, prime it, and paint it. Add some baseboards and crown molding and you can make it look almost like wainscoting.
-- Genevieve Gorder

The easiest thing to do is paint, but prime it first. You can paint tone-on-tone vertical stripes, alternating colors on each panel. Heavy grass-cloth wallpaper will also disguise the paneling.
-- David Bromstad

Q. I don't want my new flatscreen to end up being the centerpiece of the room. How can I hide it?

I agree with you -- a TV isn't art. So put it in a cabinet or just set it on a console. The key is scale: Don't supersize your TV unless the room is huge.
-- Sarah Richardson

Hide it in plain sight by framing it on the wall. I've done this in our own designs. Just get wood molding and cut it to fit around your television.
-- Robert Novogratz

Q. I want to paint my walls a bold color. Any tips for pulling it off?

Design is all about balance. If you go loud on your walls, temper it with neutrals on the furniture and the floor. So if you do a bright fuchsia on the walls, go with a white couch, textured neutral pillows, and a gray rug. But keep in mind that paint is a forgiving element. It's relatively easy to change if you hate it.
-- Genevieve Gorder

If you paint a room a bold hue, don't leave your walls blank. Hanging art, mirrors, and sconces will help break up the block of color, making it more of a backdrop than a focal point.
-- David Bromstad

Advice from the Pros, cont'd.

Q. How can I make my home feel bigger and airier?

Avoid visual clutter by using the least number of big pieces needed to furnish each room, cutting back on the knickknacks and choosing a low-contrast color scheme (such as blue and green rather than black and white).
-- Sarah Richardson

Focus on the verticality in your space. Draw the eye up the wall with shelves or built-ins that go from floor to ceiling, and apply crown molding. Also, using mirrors at the narrowest part of a room or at the back of a bookcase will create the illusion that your room is larger.
-- Genevieve Gorder

Q. I'm a big fan of florals but my husband isn't. Is there a way to make traditionally feminine patterns slightly more manly?

Stripes and paisleys are a great middle ground for couples. Also, look for more-abstract florals that don't feel so frilly, or check out hand-blocked fabrics with chunkier patterns and prints inspired by Indian textiles.
-- Nate Berkus

It's all about layering prints, especially in bedding, so mix up a floral sheet with a striped duvet and a plaid pillow. Or try feminine prints in a masculine hue, like flowers in blue, or vice versa.
-- Kathryn M. Ireland

Q. My home decor doesn't fit into one particular style -- it's more mix and match. Is that okay?

Yes! As long as you love your home you can't go wrong. I believe in designing for yourself and doing what makes you and your family happy. Forget about what other people think. You're the one there 99 percent of the time. Just edit, get rid of anything you don't adore, and allow yourself to have fun with it.
-- Michael Moloney

Don't Do This!

Our designers shared their biggest decorating pet peeves.

-- Don't hang your art too low or too high -- it looks odd. Place most pieces at eye level for the best results.

-- Don't do themes, like nautical. It's so easy to overdo it. Hint at it with a few choice accessories instead.

-- Don't buy furniture sets. If the couch, love seat, and chair are all the same, it's just too matchy-matchy.

-- Don't use dried or faux flowers. They simply collect dust.

-- Don't forget books. Your collection invites people to understand more about who you are and what you like.

Need More Advice?

Genevieve Gorder will answer your questions live on Facebook on July 28. Become our fan at

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2011.