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9 Quick and Inexpensive Home Design Shortcuts

These foolproof ideas can solve many of your design dilemmas in an afternoon.


Every interior designer has go-to tricks. Today I’d like to share my top cheats that I use time and again for quick results:

1. The corner plant. Some design teachers will tell you putting a plant in an empty corner is a huge no-no, suggesting that an empty corner means the room wasn’t correctly arranged or planned out in the first place. But I often find that plants get forgotten when it comes to designing rooms. So I say, if you ever have a free space for a lively green plant, don’t be afraid to jump on the opportunity to include one.

The trick to ensuring that your corner plant looks like an intentional design feature and not simply a cheat is to go for something large and leafy enough to hold its own against your other furnishings.

For best results, choose a simple but chunky container (like a block clay pot or textural woven basket) and an easy-maintenance plant that’s at least 3 to 4 feet tall, such as a fiddle-leaf fig, so that the plant visually fills the floor space and wall space.

2. Stacks of books. Besides being great brain candy, having attractive books on hand gives you the tools to correct endless little decor dilemmas.

Is a vase or sculpture looking too small and wimpy? Sit it on a book or two, and suddenly it’s a precious object on a pedestal. One bedside lamp shorter than the other? Use a few books to add height where needed and achieve a perfect symmetry.

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Wherever you have an empty shelf, or a ho-hum display that could use a little accessorizing, simply pull out a great oversize book or two, and you’ve got endless options for decorating like a true stylista.

Tip: For a more neutral display, take the jackets off books with overly busy covers and display just the plain covers.

3. Clear furnishings for contemporary style. Is a space with beautifully classic trappings feeling a little too traditional? One solution is to bring in a few clear elements, either in modern materials like Lucite or in chunky shapes. The clean silhouettes add a sense of “now,” but the transparency lets them blend into their surroundings so the space doesn’t end up feeling wildly eclectic.

Try clear plastic seats, Lucite art shelves, oversize pendant shades or lamp bases, or simple glass vases holding a single type of flower (or nothing at all).

Tip: Mix glass and clear plastics to bridge the low-tech and high-tech materials. And it never hurts to add a little wood for a perfect complement.

4. Signature color. Why do interior designers like me have a personal signature paint color? The logic is simple: Colors always look a little different between the paint chip and on the wall, so when you’ve found a great one that you love in real life, there’s no reason not to use it again and again.

I used one of my go-to off-whites (Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray) in the space in this photo and the next, and the results are totally different moods, but both beautiful.

Besides guaranteeing a great result every time, using a signature color also connects different spaces for a sense of consistency throughout your home. Contrary to what TV may teach you, every room in the home doesn’t need to have its own theme. If you’ve seen a color you like in your own space (or someone else’s), go ahead and repeat it, adding your own spin each time through the other furnishings.

Tip: Repeat the same flooring where possible so you know that the walls and floor will always coordinate the same way. This will make it easy to move furnishings between rooms to make your look flexible and fail-safe.

5. Off-center art. Is that favorite framed keepsake a little too small for the wall? Not when it’s off-center on purpose. Anyone can hang a perfectly sized piece centered over a sofa or bed, but if you have a must-display piece that doesn’t happen to be the right dimensions, try hanging it off to one side and a little low for a quirky asymmetrical look that feels artistic.

The same strategy works on a shelf or mantel, or over a table. Just remember: “low and off to one side,” and let that otherwise wimpy piece become a stroke of decorating genius.

Tip: Make sure that every piece you display is meaningful and effective, rather than taking up space with filler pieces you don’t love just to create a trendy gallery.

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6. Hidden technology. Designers love to hide televisions and computers in cabinets and credenzas, especially in more traditional settings, which can seem silly to the person who just bought a slick new flat-screen and wants to show it off.

Keep this mind: In the modern era, technology changes so quickly that today’s shiny new must-have is tomorrow’s dated model. What doesn’t change is the beauty of the other classic pieces in a room.

For a modern approach, turn your media wall (whether it’s just a TV or oodles of gadgets) into a display area, tucking away tech boxes in cabinets or on open shelves among artworks, candles and heirlooms. This lets the area serve as an attractive focal point whether or not the TV is on.

Tip: Use a wireless TV transmitter to send signals from your cable boxes (tucked away in a cabinet near the cable outlet) to your TV to avoid a mess of cables.

7. Throw blankets. A gorgeous throw blanket is the decor equivalent of the garnish on an exquisite meal, giving a room a sense of life, casual elegance and a dash of color or texture. I’m an avowed fan of classic white linens, but a throw blanket spread quickly over the foot of the bed in the morning lends an inviting air that you’ll appreciate when you come back at night.

Don’t get too fussy with a throw blanket. After all, it’s called a “throw” for a reason. When everything else in the space carries clean lines, a casually tossed throw provides some needed softness.

Tip: Invest in a high-quality, natural-fiber blanket with rich color and an enticing hand-feel, and you’ll be able to use it in different rooms for years of style.

8. Black-and-white patterns. Whether you have a busy space filled with drama or a muted palette that needs more life, black-and-white prints and patterns are a virtually foolproof addition. They always feel fashionable, they hold their own without screaming for attention, and they’re so neutral that they won’t fight with even the wildest color palettes.

Any sofa or bedspread can be elevated with a few black-and-white pillows. Add in some monochrome artwork, and you get a sophisticated look every time.

Tip: A simple 1- to 2-inch black-and-white stripe is the most classic of all, perfect for mixing with other patterns and solids in your choice of accent hues.

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9. Collecting over time. The last designer cheat for the day is to not rush the design of your space, but rather allow the finishing touches to be collected over time. Often clients want an entire space to be designed and completed ASAP, but if designers take a little extra time with a decision, it’s not just because we’re taking a long lunch. To really know how pieces will work together, you sometimes just have to see them in the space and even live with them for a while.

Taking your time also avoids creating a look that’s too “matchy.” Collecting as you live your life lets you introduce pieces that aren’t so perfect but have just the right character and personality.

Tip: Know when to edit your collection as well. If you keep some storage dedicated to tucking away accents and accessories, you’ll be able to develop your collection without having to show every favored piece all at once (or part with any of them forever).

If you haven’t used something in a year, let it go. It’s the No. 1 secret to having a happy, beautiful home.

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This article is from Houzz, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.