5 female design bosses share home decorating secrets
Wild wallpaper, soft curves, and more!
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Every March, across the U.S. we highlight the vital role women play in American history through Women's History Month. As National Women’s History Alliance’s 2020’s theme "Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced” continues into 2021 for a second year, those who have raised their voices for change are touted for their strength and courage.
Since the country’s first interior design firm was founded by a woman—Dorothy Draper created the Architectural Clearing House in 1925, check out this amazing article in Vogue at the time—what better way to continue the celebration than to reach out to a few modern day design power houses?
We’ve tapped five successful female interior design bosses and asked them to share their best home decorating secrets. Whether it’s breathing new life into an old room or tricking your eyes to thinking a tiny space is bigger, their advice ensures your décor will speak loud and clear.
Make a plan
“My number one secret for creating a beautiful space is basic, but critically important,” says Nikki Klugh, principal designer at her eponymous Chula Vista, California-based design group.
Her five go-to steps are: Collect inspirational photos, create a furniture plan that works for the activities and traffic pattern of your room, list all items on your plan, create a budget by noting the prices of the various pieces in your favorite furniture store (don't forget window treatments, art, and accessories), and determine your color palette.
She says, “With a furniture plan, budget, and color palette, you’re equipped to bring your room to life with the confidence it will all work well together.”
Design to your senses
Another of Klugh’s mantras is to “design to the senses,” which means creating an atmosphere that stimulates more than your sense of sight, but also plays to smell, hearing, and touch.
“Layer texture, pattern, color, smells, sounds into your space,” she explains. “You may notice this happens in luxury hotels and spas, and we can do that in our own homes to create a 360-degree experience to help us relax, rebalance, and rejuvenate.”
Fabric choices can change a room
“One of the easiest ways to change up a room is with textiles,” says Kendra Amin-Dufton, co-owner of interior design firm Color Theory Boston. “Look for one ‘narrator’ piece that includes multiple colors and feels like the biggest statement, for example a rug, or bedding, and let that act as your color story.”
She suggests piggybacking other elements such as curtain panels, pillows, and throws from that one piece by looking for items that incorporate up to three colors as the supporting characters.
Embrace the curves
Sofas, rugs, cabinetry—anchor pieces of furniture are typically full of right angles.
Amin-Dufton suggests that adding a few rounded pieces into the mix will change the energy and flow of a space. A round or oval coffee table or end tables can soften the angle of a sectional sofa, and a curved armchair or dining chair (even on a swivel) can bring a sleek and styling update with an art deco flair.
Never underestimate a fresh coat of paint
It may sound simple, but according to Lauren Kannry, principal at Searl Design Group in Bethesda, Maryland, paint is magical.
“Paint can completely transform the look of a room with relatively little cost,” she says.
Breathe new life into a room or an old piece of furniture with a fresh coat of paint and don’t be afraid to go dark or bold. “I love a painted ceiling or statement piece of furniture as a fun way to incorporate paint into a space.”
Mix high with low
“This is one of my all-time favorite design tips,” Kannry says. “It’s absolutely okay to mix a family heirloom or designer piece with something fun and inexpensive found at HomeGoods, CB2, and the like.”
But choose your price tags accordingly. “You have to know where it counts to go high-quality and where it’s totally OK to save,” she warns. “I recommend investing in furniture that is comfortable and well-made—these are items that you want to stand the test of time. Home décor is a great place to keep things budget-friendly.”
Think affordable vessels, baskets, books, and vintage objects.
Utilize funky wallpaper
If the popularity of iconic The House of Scalamandré’s iconic Zebra wallpaper is any indication, people aren’t always tame when it comes to home décor.
Up-and-coming Oakland, California-based designer Dominique Fluker of DBF Interiors supports this wild side.
“Creating an accent wall can be even more fun with a beautifully designed wallpaper,” she says of bringing visual interest and add character.
When selecting your pattern, think as holistically as possible. “Scan your living room, bedroom, or desired space to identify your furniture's standout colors to select your patterned wallpaper,” she explains.
Also consider the style of the room you’re decorating.
“Pair muted, warm neutrals with a floral pattern, or if you have a contemporary or mid-century modern styled space, consider bold spaces and metallic gold accents,” she adds.
If you’re just doing an accent wall, a bold, dramatic, large pattern is sure to create visual interest.
Trick your eye into a bigger space
To make your space appear bigger, Fluker says to scale down your furniture and incorporate a Feng Shui approach. Opt to decorate with a few large, impactful pieces of furniture or accessories in place of several smaller pieces, which will help make your space look less cluttered.
In addition to larger furniture, be mindful of your color palettes. To enlarge a room, go for cooler tones and hues, making the space appear more calm and comfortable.
Go for coffee (table books)
If you don't own some good coffee table books, Meg Piercy, co-founder of Chicago-based MegMade, believes you should invest in some.
“Adding coffee table books to your décor arsenal is the best way to fill space and help create scale in your décor,” she says. But don't go with just one.
“I recommend starting out with two or three and stacking them.” If you don't own any, hit up a yard or library sale. “They do wonders to warm up a room and are one of the cheapest accessories you can find.”
Find strength in numbers
“I tend to put my décor together in groups,” Piercy says. “Adding a number of objects will make a greater impact and help the eye process the décor rather than having single items scattered all around the room.”
Create groups of décor items based on color, texture, and height to really round out your space.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.