I'm a grown man, and know nothing of decorating. Help me.
March 26, 2013 9:19 PM   Subscribe

I've never really cared for decorating: "spartan" was the best description of how I liked my house. I just don't have a sense of what is "right" for artwork, or decoration, or... anything really. I understand that blank walls should be filled, but anything I think of doing immediately feels like unnecessary clutter. To complicate things, my wife is similarly impaired. We've recently moved to a new house and want to make it a more warm and welcoming place for humans. Help? Where to begin?

So, yes, I get that we're all snowflakes, and everyone is wonderful and unique, but there's a limit. I could wander willy-nilly through your local nick-nack shop or Ikea, but I need rules within which to work.
posted by HannoverFist to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Get a huge map in a projection that isn't bullshit. Put a piece of art on every wall. Don't go buying everything at once, start on a room by room basis.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Frame everything. If it doesn't have a frame, it isn't deserving of a display.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:22 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My best piece of advice that most people don't tend to get intuitively is that this isn't really about "decorations", but about the objects in your house that you use.

If you own things you like looking at, and which look nice together, and which are enjoyable to use, you're 75% there.

Blank walls shouldn't necessarily be "filled". If you have art, display it by all means. And some walls are really crying out for something. But in my opinion the quickest way to a house full of tacky geegaws is to assume you have to go out shopping for Stuff To Hang On The Walls.

Likewise with throw pillows, or "tablescapes", or any of that.

Decor is a nice thing, but you shouldn't buy anything simply for decor's sake. If you see a piece of art you like, buy it. Same goes for pillows, or throws, or rugs, or knicknacks to stick on end tables, or whatever. I feel like most homes don't really need a ton of this stuff, anyway, so better to wait till you see something you really like.

After you have useful stuff that is nice to look at, and a few bits of Decor-with-a-capital-d that have actual significance to you, the rest is mostly color coordinating and filling in the blanks. If you even need anything else at all.

Also books. If in doubt, this is a great reason to own a lot of books. Records, too. Video games and DVDs less so.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 PM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Just buy stuff you LOVE. I can be pretty spartan too, but I collect things I love: Anni Albers prints, weird turn of the century machine parts, old framed Popeye stills, woodcut prints from the 30s, and issues of Avant Garde magazines.

It all works pretty well together, paired with my spartan, mid-century furnishings.

So that's my advice: furnishings can be totally spartan, but collect stuff you love. And rather than thinking of it in terms of "decorating," think of it as collecting.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:33 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

But, uh, don't go overboard. That's how clutter happens. One of my favorite quotes is from Coco Chanel: "If you put on four pieces of jewelry and look in the mirror, take off the first one you notice."

That's how you do understated, sophisticated taste.

(Apologies - on phone, on a plane, and a bit tipsy.)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:37 PM on March 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

You'll get a lot of bang-for-buck in terms of making a space feel homey from these three types of item:
-Area rugs (they pull a room together!)
-Curtains (or some window treatments other than just plastic blinds)

Second tier of things to try:
-Lamps, for lighting that is less harsh
-A big mirror can be nice and lighten a dark room if it's across from a window
-Trim on the walls - crown molding, wainscoting/chair rails, etc can make a house feel much more "finished", if your house doesn't already have them.
-Framed art of some kind - look through a site like art.com or allposters and try looking at a wide range of the categories they offer; pick a few things you like and you can use them as a springboard to more (they'll give you some key words/features to look for)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I also like things simple. I warm up the rooms in my house by choosing strong colors to paint the walls. Look in your dirty laundry hamper- if you and your wife's clothing colors don't clash, then your paint choice probably won't either. Start looking at colors that you like and experimenting. If it doesn't look right, just paint over it.

Rugs will also warm up a room without adding clutter. Think more about adding texture and color than stuff. Choose drapes that have pattern that you love. Buy simple, framed mirrors to capture the light and fill the walls.

Choose your furniture carefully. Large, comfy pieces are very pleasant, with plenty of solid color throw pillows and a lightweight blanket over one arm.

Look for mission style tables and chairs.

Simplicity is lovely.
posted by myselfasme at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2013

Agreed that you should work slowly and only buy things you genuinely like, but it's also amazing how much of a difference plants can make. A few plants on a coffee table will make a room feel more lived in and more decorated, but won't really contribute to clutter.

Reading design blogs can also help you figure out what you like. Design Sponge often has great things but doesn't focus on a single aesthetic, so might be worthwhile to browse.
posted by dizziest at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

choosing strong colors to paint the walls.

If you're going to do this, you may want to start by noting the colors of things you already own. It's cool if you're just wild about lime green, but if the couch is burgundy, that might look a little whack.

I like the idea of "color stories" -- keeping stuff in the same family, the same basic tones, using colors that talk to each other. For example, if you have a lot of cream and navy and forest green, you're probably going to do better choosing colors like crimson or goldenrod. If you have a lot of crisp white and charcoal, you might like bold orange or Tiffany blue.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: Blank walls are a blessing, because they are an opportunity for yourself in the future. I don't have any wall space left, and although I love most everything on my walls, I wish I had more, not because I need more things but because so many times now I've come across a time and place and artisan with an object I want to remember and admire and there's simply no place for it to live with me.

Get decor that really grabs you when you're in an interesting place. Shop for art when you're traveling, or visiting places that used to be home, so you get to have parts of yourself on display where you are now. Don't ever get anything just to fill a blank space. You'll maybe be surprised, but I'll bet you anything that you have a pretty defined aesthetic and you've just never really concentrated on only having things you really like, as opposed to serving basic purposes and low budgets. Once you have a cluster of pieces, like 3-5, you can draw conclusions as to what really grabs you and extrapolate that into textures and colors for accent furniture and all that.

I guess also on the "homey" front, I have a few tips.

Instead of boxes or plasticy storage tubs, try to get woven baskets and trunks for storage in your living areas for things like extra blankets and pillows or whatever else you need to occasionally store. (Baskets for the craft project of the moment is standard for me.)

Don't worry about stuff matching so much as things being well-made; browns and blacks and metallics and whites are all neutrals, unless you have a candy red fridge next to an ochre countertop and a pistachio toaster, it'll be fine as long as the things you use actually serve their function well. You can tie things together with stuff like rugs and throws and art, which again, you will probably surprise yourself with liking things that go well together as long as you collect as you live your life instead of saying "today I will buy an art."

Curtains are annoying but go far in being homey. Get ones that actually work as curtains, they should help you control the light in your home, not just look decorative. In rooms where you might need to keep things actually dark during the day, like a tv room or bedroom, get darker curtains with a liner. If you will really never use the curtains as curtains, put plants in the windows instead.

Don't skimp on the kitchen, because even if you think you don't cook, you'll spend plenty of time there anyway. Get a comfy mat for standing at the sink, and good towels to dry your hands, and dishes that make you happy. Mine are six different rainbow colored sets of fiestaware, so every color combination of dishes I grab is different! This makes me happy on a daily basis in little bursts every time. Get dishes that fit your hands and needs right, that fit into how you wash things and that look pleasing to your eye.
posted by Mizu at 11:18 PM on March 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

Personally, I find blank walls peaceful and calming, but I know what you mean about wanting things to feel more homey.

I prefer to stick to one thing on the wall per room, or one thing plus a mirror. Anything more and I feel it is 'visual clutter' and it puts me on edge. Plants do not have the same effect and we have one in every room.

I try to make sure that everything on the walls has a meaning to us. In the dining room we have a photo collage from a great holiday, in the living room we have a giant version of a photo my partner took on an adventure holiday he went on. In the bedroom we plan to hang my favourite Japanese prints. They're not just random things to put on the walls.
posted by kadia_a at 12:06 AM on March 27, 2013

If you hang something on the wall, make it big, or gather many small pictures/mirrors/reliefs within a well-defined square, so they work as one picture together.
Same with other elements: big is good, or groups of identical/similar stuff
Lighting is important - and think of candle-light for special occasions.
Textiles make a home cosy. Rugs and throws, cushions, curtains and tablecloths. To retain a minimalist style, use only neutral/natural colors.
posted by mumimor at 12:57 AM on March 27, 2013

Best answer: Try this BBC series Design Rules. Episode 1 covers Space, Episode 2 is Colour, 3 is Light, then Texture and so on. It will take a few hours to watch them all but you'll get a basic understanding of the issues.

The host is annoyingly smug and punchable but he's generally correct so try to overlook that
posted by holloway at 2:18 AM on March 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

William Morris, pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century said that you should have nothing in your home that isn't either useful or beautiful.

Nothing wrong with spartan, esp if you are averse to clutter. Try picking up a few plants, a quality glass hanger for catching light in the window.

Personally find books aesthetically pleasing and have a gorgeous antique bookcase that is the centre piece of my living room. I also invested in an expensive reading lamp that is practical and nice to look at.

Some quality soft furnishing can go a long way. A sheepskin rug is very comfy and adds some instant cosy warmth to an otherwise bare set up.

It's your home, if you and your family are comfortable then don't sweat it.
posted by kudra23 at 3:56 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Open a Pinterest account and a Houzz account, and poke around there. Once you have some vague ideas of what you like, you can search for more specifics.
posted by lstanley at 6:15 AM on March 27, 2013

Why not hire an interior designer? Helping you figure out what you like and what's going to look great in your home is what they're all about.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Young House Love blog may not be to your taste but they do take you through their process of decorating, something that e.g. Design*Sponge or Apartment Therapy, don't necessarily do. For example, the latest posting from YHL talks about the two years they spent looking for a mirror for above a bed. There's also posts about picking paint colours, hanging art, more hanging art, and the decorating process in a room. This couple are super into decorating and very handy so don't think you can copy them exactly but you might get some hints (which is how I found them since I also decided to be more of a grown-up about decorating recently).

Also Sarah Richardson's and Candice Olson's shows may provides some hints/suggestions of how the process goes from blank room to 'filled' room.
posted by hydrobatidae at 6:37 AM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great detailed answers - I really do appreciate it!
posted by HannoverFist at 7:12 AM on March 27, 2013

I really like this quiz (recommended in this previous question) as a way of thinking through what appeals to me in decor and getting ideas for how a room can fit together.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

An easy wsy to work with color is find an artwork you really like and pull your color scheme from that. Next is realise that proportion is really important to making things look pulled together. Those two hints will go a long way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:18 AM on March 27, 2013

The easiest things you can do to make a house feel warm and homey, without having to be all 'decorator-y':
1) Paint the walls a warm colour. (Warm colours are in the brown/tan/red/orange/yellow family, cool colours are grey/blue/green).
2) Get large potted plants, and put them in nice pots (not the plastic ones they come in from the store
3) Buy curtains/drapes that extend all the way to the floor, intead of ending at the bottom of the window. Don't use roller blinds as your window covering.
4) Get two or more throw pillows, and put them on your couch.
posted by Kololo at 9:55 AM on March 27, 2013

I tend to spartan as well, and Apartment Therapy's book was helpful for me - they have specific advice for folks who don't have "enough" stuff.

Looking at pictures of inviting rooms in magazines or ads and comparing with my home also helped me to see what was "missing".
posted by momus_window at 9:58 AM on March 27, 2013

Take some time to assemble a Look Book by compiling images of art, color, pictures of rooms with the right "feel" for you. At that point, when you have a binder of what you like, you should have a clear path to follow or, if you can, turn your binder over to a decorator. I've learned that a decorator is educated just for folks like us...a good one "sees" your feelings of what can - for you -visually make your house a Home. Have fun at it too. And it's okay to interview decorators to find the right one for you and your wife. IANAD, IANYD
posted by Lornalulu at 5:42 PM on March 27, 2013

It helps to decide on some Rules. Then work within the Rules, say... 75% of the time, and your rooms will be pleasing to look at, and at the same time authentically you.

You could choose 3 colors for each room - two main ones that are not so bright, and one contrasting or brighter color for accents. Then just go with the palette.

You can do the same with theme per room.

Also, you can establish one pattern (striped, checkerboard, etc) but it might be better to keep to colors and theme.


Kitchen: Cherry red, white, with turquise blue accents. Retro/Vintage theme>>> Accquire appliances and decorative items that are from the 40s/50s but only or mostly in those colors.

Bathroom: White, with beige and grey. Nature theme>>>> use natural wood or stone materials, or artwork

When you look at magazines and interior design webpages, identify the colors and themes that draw your attention. Then you need to start making connections between what is appealing to you, and what is feasible, taking into account your rooms, and current possesions and of course, budget.
posted by Locochona at 1:25 PM on March 28, 2013

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