WASHINGTON • After years of working with numerous clients, interior designers Michael Smith and Mary Cook have seen the same design mistakes over and over.
The Los Angeles-based Smith, who was appointed by the Obamas to redecorate the residential quarters of the White House, is the author of five decorating books, including his latest, The Curated House.
Cook is president of Chicago- based Mary Cook Associates and author of The Art Of Space: The Seven Fundamentals That Guarantee Great Interior Design.
They share insider tips for creating a harmonious room design.
1 OBSERVE SCALE AND PROPORTION
Cook: Scale and proportion are the holy grail of design. Scale is the size of things and proportion is the relationship of those sizes to one another and the room as a whole.
For open-floor plans and volume ceilings, for instance, you have to integrate good scale and proportion into the layers of your design, starting with the background and ending with the last accessory. Without good proportion, spaces will lack harmony and impact.
Smith: To have a 2.7m sofa in a small room can be treacherous. It is all about scale, proportion, measuring, being conscious of the overall plan.
2 CONSIDER A ROOM'S FUNCTION
Smith: People get trapped in the way things should feel and less focused on the way things should function. You could make the living room a study or put a TV in it so you could use it. Think of how much furniture you need. How can you have it be functional in a great way?
Cook: Know how you want the room to function. Are you going to entertain or dine there? As you assemble the furniture, think about getting pieces that will enhance the way you will live in the room. Rooms with layouts that can be moved around to accommodate last-minute gatherings or different chapters of life will allow you to live better in your home.
3 DO NOT OVERDO A THEME ROOM
Smith: Look at your world, your life and what is personal to you. If you are living in an apartment, stick with a narrative that is personal to you.
4 BUY GOOD QUALITY FURNITURE
Smith: Avoid spending too much on one thing. Be judicious with your budget and buy things that will last. People buy very badly made furniture and fabric. Instead, buy a beautiful dining table, well-made upholstery. It is almost like dressing for success.
5 USE ADEQUATE LIGHTING
Cook: Lighting is a key ingredient. You have to think about the colour of light, the quantity of light and where to place it. Also, think about light at various times of the day. The best way to design your lighting is in layers, with as many of those layers as possible to be switched separately and on dimmers, so you can adjust the lighting for the mood you want.
In staircases, we often use clusters or groupings of fixtures together to add impact at the right scale.
In the dining room, we have integrated chandeliers to light the space and add decorative interest.
6 TEST PAINT COLOURS
Smith: Avoid too much intense colour. Always mix colours and try them out. It is good to do a swatch.
Cook: Add formality with a glossy white, sophistication with rich jewel tones. Start a trend with something bold and different. But remember that colour is one of many layers. It may come off very strong at first, but once it is all together, it is perfect.
7 USE ACCESSORIES SPARINGLY
Cook: Be very careful not to clutter. Do scale-and-proportion checks constantly as you compose your art and accessories. They are the final layer that will often be what brings your composition into perfect harmony.