Decorating 101: Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?

Once you’ve figured out what you want your home to look like, the big question is: Should you decorate it yourself or hire a professional? Or both?

Interior decorators and designers as we know them today barely existed before the 20th century. Before that it was taken for granted that you decorated your home yourself, unless you were Marie Antoinette or somebody with a similar pedigree.

Old habits die hard. Some people still think you need to live in a palace to hire a decorator, or are fearful of the cost (whether real or perceived). For others it’s not so much a question of money, but of ceding control and having the concern that the results might not reflect their tastes. Some dive into the collaborative process without hesitation, while others have confidence in their tastes and skill and prefer to decorate their homes themselves.

Which camp do you fall into? Here are some things to think about to help you decide.

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Decorating 101: How to Shop for Furniture

Once you’ve decided what you want your home to look like, picked your colors, and figured out how much you can afford to spend, it’s time to turn your attention to furniture. Whether you’re fresh out of college or entering your golden years, chances are, you’ve already accumulated some pieces. But should you keep them or start from scratch? Where should you go to buy the rest of the stuff you need? And how do you avoid making a mistake?

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Could Your Living Room Be Better Without a Sofa?

Do you have a living room where it seems impossible to place a sofa? Lately it seems that even in large homes the formal living room is getting smaller. Many of them are designed so that all four sides of the room have either an entrance, a window, a fireplace or a television making all options poor placement for a sofa. Open floor plans complicate things even more so that a sofa almost always has its back turned on something important.

And have you noticed that when guests come over, most people seem to prefer sitting in a single chair? I know I hate being the one in the middle of the sofa being jostled from both sides. Give me my own cozy chair with plenty of elbow room!

The good news is that there is no interior design law that requires your living room to contain a sofa. The photos in this ideabook all show great living rooms where the designers created beautiful, inviting and functional furniture arrangements without a sofa.


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Why You Should Forget About the Usual Coffee Table

Being bound to the singular coffee table is a rule worth breaking. Instead of fussing over a table that takes up all your floor space, or trying to decide which side tables will work with your coffee table, think in multiples. Incorporating two, three, four or more smaller coffee tables instead of one large one celebrates both function and form — and will give you a contemporary look that’s as practical as you can get.

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Living Rooms That Don’t Revolve Around the TV

Somewhere around the mid-aughts, it became common to buy an extremely large flat-screen TV and hang it on the wall, and then organize your living room around it. Until that point, buying a huge TV was more of a commitment since the bigger the screen, the bigger the back end.

The flat-screen changed all that. Suddenly, even huge TVs were only about 4 inches deep, and so they started appearing on walls above fireplaces, even built into their own nooks, and there was nothing around them. And when this happened, the focus of our living areas changed.

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Things You Need to Know About Buying a Sofa

A sofa is one of the biggest furniture investments you’ll make — and one of the most permanent. Even if you’re just buying one for a temporary fix, it’ll eventually get demoted from the living room to the family room to the basement and, finally, the dorm. Before you know it, a decade or more has passed, and that impulse purchase has become part of your life. So give some thought to it before you buy. Then buy the best-quality sofa that you can afford. Your purchase will be amortized over many years.

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How to Plan a Just-Right Living Room Layout

Whether you’re building a new home, remodeling an existing living room or simply rearranging furniture you already have, laying out your living room is best done with a plan in mind. It might seem like a simple matter of rolling a chair over here and squishing the couch over there, but even the most straightforward parts of space planning can get complicated quickly. Before you start doing any heavy lifting, consider these professional living room layout tips.

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6 Ways to Decorate With Radiant Orchid, Pantone’s Color of the Year, In Your Home

Radiant Orchid in Interior Design

In case you hadn’t heard, Radiant Orchid is the official color of 2014 from Pantone,

Fashionistas have been coming up with ways to work color into all the new clothing trends for next year, but what about working this lush color into your interior decorating?

We talked with Jenny Zhu, President of Lush Décor, for tips on integrating Radiant Orchid into the home.

1. Add a pop of it

Zhu says the easiest way to integrate this color into a common area, like a living room, is by adding some purple decorative toss pillows and possibly a throw on a sofa or chairs as accent pieces. “Most living room fabrics today are neutral or solid tones as it is, so the vibrant purple will add a great pop of color to your room.”

2. Do up your bathroom

Zhu says Radiant Orchid represents health and royalty, the optimal themes for a bathroom! “Bringing in a solid or textured shower curtain within this color palette will transform your bathroom decor instantly. If solid purple is too much for your taste, a shower curtain with purple accents is another way to introduce this color,” she says.

3. Don’t go overboard

Zhu says Although color is personal, almost all colors can play together depending on your mood, personality and the season. “I would suggest not using too much purple in one room to avoid going overboard – that can be said for any color!” she says.

4. Pair it with neutrals

Because purple can be so strong, Zhu says you will want to pair it with neutrals like white, off-white, gray or black. “White or beige with purple lends itself to create a relaxing mood. Black with purple creates a dramatic feel. In my opinion, silver or gray goes best with a vibrant purple. These two colors together create a perfect balance between elegance and sophistication,” says Zhu.

5. Layer colors

Zhu says layering colors works especially way for the bedroom. For example, a purple comforter works so well with a white, beige or gray blanket, or a neutral color comforter looks lovely with purple quilt.

6. Add some decorative pillows

Zhu says using decorative pillows, which have surface treatments in various shades of this vibrant purple, add a lot of depth and interest to a room.

Design & Trend


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How To Choose Bedroom Furniture

Redecorating can be a great deal of fun, but there are a lot of important decisions to be made, especially when putting together a bedroom. A bedroom is one of the most important rooms to decorate, since it is such a personal room and homeowners spend a lot of time there. An uncomfortable bedroom means unrestful sleep and even a general feeling of disharmony. Some people prefer a bedroom with a traditional look, but others desire a more modern feel. One way to instantly set a modern tone in a bedroom is by purchasing a modern bedroom set because it includes all the major furniture pieces required in a bedroom. These large pieces catch the eye quickly and communicate the modern style the homeowner desires. In order to purchase a modern bedroom set, buyers must understand what is typically included in a bedroom set and how to select one that is “modern.”

What Is a Modern Bedroom Set?

Bedroom furniture is often sold as a set, or the pieces can be acquired separately. An overview of what pieces make up a bedroom set and what modern style actually means should provide a good foundation for choosing the appropriate bedroom set when it comes time to buy.

What Is Modern Decor?

Although “modern” style actually goes back to the 1930s, its clean, polished lines still look fresh. Modern decor features a neutral color palette ranging from whites through creams, beiges, greys, and rich browns and black. Designs are simple, unadorned, and bold. Chrome, stainless steel, and dark, lacquered woods add important accents to furniture. Some pieces feature accent lighting. Rooms are united visually by an economy of form and balanced by contrasting colors. The names of styles vary somewhat, so furniture that is labeled modern can vary considerably from one manufacturer to another, with some manufacturers using more or fewer types and subtypes to describe their wares.

Elements of a Bedroom Set

Bedroom sets traditionally include a bed frame, a nightstand, a dresser with a mirror, and a chest of drawers. Some sets include fewer pieces, and some beds are designed with nightstands or several drawers included. Mattresses and box springs are usually sold separately from bed frames but are obviously required for sleeping. The sizes of mattresses, box springs, beds, and headboards are all standardized so that a queen-size mattress fits a queen-size bed frame, although there may be some variation in which sizes different manufacturers offer. Other decorative pieces, such as rugs, window treatments, and light fixtures are also sold separately but must be coordinated with the bedroom set for a unified look.

How to Choose Bedroom Furniture

Although bedroom furniture is often sold as a set, it makes sense to think about the different pieces separately as well. Choosing a set means not only choosing a certain color and style, but also choosing the relative size of each of the pieces and how the different pieces relate to each other. Once the buyer has some idea of what kinds of individual pieces are needed, he or she can go on to pick a set that has all the right pieces.

Buying a Bed

Choosing a bed is the first step in choosing a bedroom set, because the bed is the one piece of furniture that a buyer is least able to compromise on. The bed must be comfortable, and it must be big enough to accommodate all of the sleepers who share it; a couple who sleep with three golden retrievers and an occasional child with a nightmare cannot choose a small bed even if their bedroom is small. If the buyer already has a mattress in mind, the size and style of the bed must accommodate the mattress.

Choose the bed first, and then plan the rest of the bedroom around it. Use the mattress or put lines of tape on the floor to mark how big the bed is and then figure out the size and placement of the other pieces given the size and shape of the bedroom. When planning the room, remember the height of the bed as well as its width and length. Bed frames vary in their height, and mattresses and box springs vary in their thickness. Not all beds are designed to have box springs. Predicting the height of a bed is difficult but important, since a bed must be at a height that is comfortable to get in and out of, and the heights of some of the other furniture pieces in the room, particularly the nightstands, are dependent on the height of the bed. Most bed frames have wooden slats underneath to hold up the mattress and box spring. If these slats are more than about 3 inches apart, it is a sign that the bed frame is of low quality.

Types of Beds

The table below shows several common types of beds together with their descriptions. Some manufacturers may use alternate names to describe these beds, but these names are fairly standard.

Type of Bed

Description and Notes

Platform beds A flat, raised surface supports a mattress without a box spring. Often these beds feature draws underneath. Usually there are no head or footboards, though a separate headboard can be mounted on the wall behind.
Sleigh beds Sleigh beds have high, curved headboards and footboards and resemble a sleigh.
Poster beds Poster beds originally used tall posts to support heavy curtains for warmth at night. Now, the posts are simply decorative and can be either tall, reaching to the ceiling, or short.
Slat beds and panel beds Slat and panel beds both feature flat head and footboards, often built of distinct wooden panels or open filigrees of metal or wicker.
Day beds Day beds are designed to function as couches but are large enough to sleep a person comfortably as well. These work well for guest rooms or children’s rooms.
Trundle beds Trundle beds pull out from under other beds as needed. Some raise up to full height, sometimes doubling the width of the original bed, while others remain low. Trundle beds are also useful for guest bedrooms or the rooms of children who have sleepovers. Neither bed in a trundle set has a box spring.
Bunk beds These are the familiar stacked beds often used in dormitories and children’s rooms. A good bunk bed is sturdy enough to handle school-aged children.

Of these types of beds, platform beds and slat beds are those that most often come in the modern style. Poster beds and sleigh beds are more elaborate and have a Victorian feel.

Buying a Nightstand

A separate nightstand is not always necessary, since some bed frames include a nightstand or shelf space within the headboard, but most of the time nightstands are separate furniture pieces. Sleepers need a convenient place to put items used in bed, such as reading glasses or a glass of water. An alarm clock, a lamp, or a personal decorative item can also fit conveniently next to the bed. Some nightstands include drawers and double as miniature dressers. When choosing a separate nightstand, the important consideration is height, since someone in bed must be able to reach the stand surface comfortably. Find out how tall the bed will be, and then choose a nightstand that is just a few inches taller.

Buying a Dresser or Chest of Drawers

Dressers and chests of drawers serve the same function and overlap somewhat in design. Usually, dressers are fairly wide with a double row of drawers and stand about waist high. Chests of drawers are taller and have only a single row of drawers. Armoires serve a similar function but are much larger, often combining a row of drawers with vertical space for hanging clothing. Depending on the size of the room and the number of people who use it, a bedroom could have any combination of dressers, chests, and armoires, or only one such piece. The key to buying any of these pieces is again space and size. Mark out the size of the bed in the room and work out where the dressers and chests of various sizes might fit without making the room feel cramped. Remember to consider how far drawers will extend when open. Use this planning exercise both to visualize how different kinds of pieces will look given different possible layouts and also to calculate maximum sizes. If it is not possible to get enough storage space within the size limitations, then compensate by getting a bed that features drawers within the bed frame.


Buying bedroom furniture can be a little stressful because the bedroom is such an important room. Bedrooms should be restful and personal, and the furniture in them must be practical as well. Bedroom sets include all the furniture needed for decorating a bedroom and offer the advantage that all the pieces match. Modern bedroom sets include furniture that conforms to sleek and minimalist modern design. Since many items come in a set, picking an entire set at once can be a little daunting. A good approach is to consider each piece individually, deciding what kind of bed, what size dresser, and so on, are needed, and then look for a bedroom set that includes the required pieces. However the pieces are chosen, good bedroom furniture should seem comfortable, practical, and beautiful to the occupant. After all, it is the occupant’s opinion that really matters.

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How to Choose the Right Dining Table

There are so many shapes and sizes of dining tables. Which one is right for you? The look of your table is important, of course, but making sure it fits your space and gives enough seating is even more critical.

Your table needs to allow for the number of diners you want to seat comfortably and still leave enough room for to walk around it. The width of your table should be at least 36 inches wide so there is ample space for place settings as well as food. Typically, as the table length increases, so does the width of the table top. Read on for sizes and shapes to consider when shopping for a dining room table.

traditional dining room by Summerour Architects
Measure table-to-wall clearance. Measure the space around the room. To allow diners to sit down and get up easily from their seats, try to leave 42-48″ between your table and the walls.
contemporary dining room by CWB Architects
Measure table-to-furniture clearance. If there is furniture in the dining space, begin your 42-48″ measurement from the edge of the furniture instead of the wall.
contemporary dining room by Synthesis Design Inc.
My crazy way of measuring. To test out a table size in a room I grab a bed sheet or two, place it where the table will go, and fold it into the shape of the table. This allows me to visualize the space it will take up. Then I can measure the wall/furniture-to-table clearance. If your table has leaves, include them in your calculations.
eclectic dining room by Lindy Donnelly
Don’t overcrowd your table.The table manufacturer should recommend the number of people that can comfortably be seated without touching elbows while eating.

Each person needs about 2 feet of eating space. Of course, if your table allows for it, you might be able to squeeze in another seat or for those occasional larger gatherings.

eclectic dining room by Megan Blake Design
Round tables are great for small spaces. They fit in tight spaces and have no sharp corners to bump into. You can usually fit more people around it because it has no corners. Pedestal tables are even better, as they offer more legroom.Add transparent acrylic chairs to show of a beautiful table and make a small room feel more spacious.

traditional dining room by Paula Grace Designs, Inc.
Seating size for a round table.I usually stick to this calculation to begin looking for round tables. Manufacturers may offer different recommendations, and you might be able to add more seating for a tighter fit. Also keep in mind that using a pedastal base allows more seating because it eliminates the legs that can get in the way of a chair.

  • 3′ with a pedestal base seats 4
  • 4′ with legs seats 4
  • 5′ with a pedestal base seats 6
  • 5′ with legs seats 4
  • 6′ with pedestal base or legs seats 8
  • 7′ with pedestal base or legs seats 9

Note: Large round tables can make it difficult to reach for food. Rectangular shapes seem to work better for seating very large crowds.

modern dining room by Feldman Architecture, Inc.
A rectangular table works well in a long, narrow room. It leaves more room for traffic flow. For most tables, as the table length increases the width increases as well.
contemporary dining room by Artistic Designs for Living, Tineke Triggs
Seating size for a rectangular table. These are the sizes I stick to when looking for rectangular tables. Again, manufacturers may offer different recommendations, and you might be able to add more seating for a tighter fit.

  • 4′ long seats 4
  • 5-6′ long seats 6
  • 7′ long seats 8
  • 8-9′ long seats 10
  • 10-11′ seats 12
contemporary dining room by Mahoney Architects & Interiors
Lazy susan feature. If you choose a round table 60-72″ in diameter, add the convenience of a center lazy susan. Although the round table can be a space saver, the larger it gets the harder it becomes to reach the mashed potatoes.
farmhouse dining room by Rebekah Zaveloff | KitchenLab
Go big on the table and small on the seating. When looking to take up less room in a space, try a bench instead of chairs on all or one side of your table. Make sure you can push the bench under the table so you can stash it away when not in use.
contemporary dining room by Cravotta Interiors
Go square.If your room is square, a square table, like a round one, makes for a more intimate dining experience because everyone is an equal distance apart. Also it will look great mimicking the room shape around it.Like the round table, the bigger a square table is, the harder it will be to reach for food. If you are looking to seat more than eight people comfortably, try out your table in person. You might be better off with a square table that comes with leaves that you can turn into a rectangular shape for a dinner party.
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