5 Tips to Creating Flexible Interiors

First, let me start again by apologiving for the crappy pics, but it was at night, and I was bone tired.  And, a long time ago, I read an article on blogging where the author made a compelling argument that flawed content was better than no content--in other words, if it's a choice between crappy, grainy photos and perfectly lit and styled photos I'll never get around to going back and taking, you're stuck with the former.

One thing is certain in these uncertain times:  adaptability is the key to survival.  That's true in careers, relationships, and decor.  We continue to be a mobile society, up sizing (not so much anymore), downsizing, moving for work, moving back in with parents, moving in with siblings, moving in with our adult children, joining forces with friends to cut costs.  But even if I'm adapting to change, I'd prefer to do it in attractive surroundings.  And it can be done with minimal effort and costs, if you've
invested in  adaptable design resources. 

In any case, the pics are good enough to illustrate my point:  with the right foundation, you can have incredibly flexible interiors.  The guest room shown above is in a client's new home and is furnished entirely (except for the orchid) in cast offs from former residences, including pieces salvaged from their flooded home, as well as pieces purchsed to furnish a coupld of different apartments lived in during the 5 years from flooding to rebuilding.  None of the items, from furnitures to linens to draperies originally lived in the same room.  But it all managed to look pulled together and reasonably polished.  How?  By following some basic ideas:

1.  Classics, basics, standards, (whatever you want to call them) will never let you down.  When you start building your decor, you need a good furniture foundation.  And that foundation is classic pieces in traditional finishes and standard sizes. They are like a good quality pair of black leather pumps--maybe not the most exciting shoes you own, but ones that are the real workhorses of your wardrobe.   Above, they include a clean-lined Empire styled dayded, two small square tables, a french-styled pull-up chair in a neutral fabric, and a single dresser (it's extreme height is not standard, but it's footprint is).  And the reason these kinds of pieces are key is because of their versatility:

    A clean lined daybed can double as a sofa, especially in an office, library, or as seating and a bed for visiting grandchildren in a large master bedroom.  If it's a classic daybed with no back and equal sized foot and head boards, it can even float in the middle of a room.  It can start out in the living room of a first apartment and quietly (maybe with a little paint) move into a nursery or child's room.  It's something I think every home should have.

A small pull-up chair can always be useful--here in a bedroom as a place for clothes or to put on shoes, as a desk chair, as additional seating in a dining area.  They can also be great side tables, stacked with a couple of large books to make a flat surface or used as an easel for art (ala Vincente Wolfe).

2. Avoid too many room or theme specific items.  There are some chairs and chaises that scream "bedroom."  If you have to make a change from one home to another, however, there may not be room in a bedroom for a sitting area.  I prefer to have more room neutral chairs that can work in bedrooms, but also living rooms.  What makes an item too "bedroom"?  Scale--bedroom seating tends to be a little smaller than usual.  Also bedroom furniture tends to be more femine.  And I hope you don't have any prints that actually have bathroom fixtures or food sayings on them.  If you do, you know that you can really only hang them in those rooms.  Flower and friut prints, are much more versatile.

3.  Develop Design Signatures.  The easiest projects to work on, whether or not it's a new build, a renovation, or simply a "fluff" of existing decor are the ones where clients have settled early on a palette, style, or type of item they love and they've stuck with it.  Above, Fran loves earth tones:  spicy reds, coppers, bronzes, ochres, deep golds, browns, yellowy greens--the autumnal shades.  Now the exact same tones weren't in every room of her former homes, but they did flow from room to room with similiar shades.  So now, that means draperies from a master bedroom, pillows from a den, a rug intended for a home office, and curtains from another bedroom that were turned into the bedcovering all work well enough together that they can live in the same room.  Another element she loves is Chinoiserie--so she had several Asian wall panels, painted chests, and faux bamboo.  Again, the overriding similarity-they all originate from the same asthetic- mean different pieces can work together.

What is difficult, however, is working with clients where one room was done during the height of the Tuscan craze, one was done during the reign of Shabby Chic, while the dining room is filled with Chippendale reproductions in dark mahogany.  This happens a lot more than you think.  It's the equivalent of closets filled with clothes and accessories,  but where they don't go together to make actual outfits.  In a case like this, it's almost impossible to take the items from one home and reinvent cohesvie interiors in another without major work and major new purchases.       

4.  Don't develop arbitrary labels on furnishings.  Keep in mind that just because you've always used a certain item in one room, it may be great in a different use entirely.  Dressers and chests can be great storage units in dens and living rooms to hold throws, board games, and extra pillows.  A large armoire can provide all the storage and drama of a china cabinet in a dining room without having to worry about keeping the display intact ( that's always the problem--if you diplay your best china, the cabinet will look naked if you use it, so you end up diplaying or using something you don't like as much).  Small desks make excellent beside tables, especially in guest rooms where they can provide a place for the use of laptops or to apply make up.  Stainless steel shelving works great in baths, kitchens, and some teen rooms, as well as utility rooms and garages.  Dining height (28-30 inches) console table with open legs can make excellent narrow desks.

5.  Edit, edit, edit.  Self-esplanatory..  Periodically get rid of your crap.  Especially once trendy items that don't work now.  I'm not saying throw away everything you ever owned that you're not using, but before hanging on to it, ask "Is this something I still love, just don't have the perfect space for it right now?" or "Am I keeping this because it's too (good or expensive or a present, etc.) to give away?"


Marlo said...

Very informative! Your posts always seem to have some substance and I really like that.

You've got me thinking differently about what I will buy in the future and what I will do with the two burgundy chairs I have in the bedroom if I move; hopefully I can make them work.

I would never has guessed that the guest room was furnished in cast offs; it looks like each piece was purchased for the room. Nicely done! I love the tall, cream chest in the corner; it looks like a lingerie chest. I see how it could be used in a living room. Do you think it could be used in a foyer for hats, scarves & mits or are the shorter chests more suitable for a foyer?

Jen @ Bloggers Abode said...

O.k., I'm sorry but I have to say something. Stop taking pics at night with horrible lighting! Your rooms are TO PRETTY! I can't see all the lovely details with the washed out 70's patina your camera is doing. Please stop?

barbara said...

wonderful advice!