Style Matters: A few design tricks worth a lot of treats


Decorating is individual. It’s about expressing yourself, then living with what you love. Knowing how to pair these elements harmoniously and gracefully is the basis of good design. There are some basic rules of design. Over the years, when these rules have been implemented, they have proven to be tried and true.

In design, whether interior or fashion, being ahead of the season is always best. I recently did my fall holiday decorating. Using colors such as rusty red, orange, rich gold and sage green to usher in a change of season is exciting and gives your home a fresh new look. But don’t leave decorations up forever after a holiday. When it’s over, it’s over. Decorations start to look tired and it just doesn’t add much to the feel of a room.

Many people have family photos displayed throughout their homes. A mishmash of unrelated photo frames makes a room look cluttered. Tame the chaos. Unify and update frames for photographs, whether they be silver, simple wood or even themed frames. Frames that coordinate with each other can turn personal photographs into works of art. Consider grouping frames in similar materials and in interesting shapes and sizes to allow treasured photographs to stand out in your space.

“Refrigerator art” is a fine idea, but not on the refrigerator. There, it looks cluttered. Find somewhere else to display children’s artwork. When my children were young, displaying their artwork, posters, finger paintings and class projects on the walls in the garage was the alternative. Every time we’d pull in or out of our garage, it looked like a gallery. And there certainly is a lot more space for art in a garage than on a refrigerator door.

Add a little whimsy and humor to a space. In even the slightest way, give a room a little unexpected personality. Laundry rooms, mud rooms and kitchens are naturals for a fun display of a little antique utensil, a picture or a sign. Stenciling a phrase or even a single word on a wall, adds personality to a room. On a tall wall in the breakfast nook at my Rancho Santa Fe house, a stenciled quote from the Duchess of Windsor reads, “If you accept a dinner invitation, you have a moral obligation to be amusing.” It’s just a fun, whimsical touch that adds interest to the room.

Never underestimate the importance of light. Both natural and artificial lighting are important aspects of a room, yet so many don’t really know how to use lighting to its full potential. Lighting can play tricks in a room. Lighting changes everything. Some aspects are flattering and some not. Daylight and night time, season to season, having an awareness of what looks best in terms of light in a room can make you feel happier, relaxed and pleasantly comfortable.

Flowers have a magical effect in a room. They bring life to a room. It is important to display flowers well. Remove droopy and wilting flowers and leaves in their containers, as they will distract from the other beautiful elements in the room. Keep the water in glass bowls or vases clean and fresh.

A single touch of an Asian influenced piece in a room, completes a look. From traditional to contemporary design, that Zen attitude adds a far eastern flair to an interior. Chinoiserie inspired porcelain accents, such as a blue and white bowl or vase, adds surprise in a room. Oriental rugs bring pattern and color to many interior styles. Ralph Lauren is a champion. His signature style of deep, rich woods and traditional materials mixed with blue and white porcelain and oriental rugs bring an Asian touch with a classic elegance to his interiors.

It’s attention to detail that really gives a room a feeling of quality, comfort and style. The well-arranged furnishings and balanced lighting that adjusts to all times of day or night to the beautiful, fresh flowers and bounty of each season make all the difference.

Penelope’s Style Tips

  • Don’t tuck dining chairs up too tightly under a dining table - nothing is less inviting.
  • In an entrance to a room, don’t leave the backs of a sofa or chair facing you. Put a table or an accessory piece behind the sofa or chair to soften the backs of these pieces of furniture.
  • Clear the clutter. And remove all refrigerator art – please!
  • Toss out the dead plants and droopy flowers. Read “Minding The Store,” by Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus fame).

  • Don’t over light a room. Keep lights dim and add flattering sconces and candles to create ambiance.