Live like a star
Wish your home looked more like the ones you see on TV?
From those cool backdrops on hot, prime-time dramas to the jaw-dropping “afters” on do-it-yourself design shows, wouldn’t it be great if you could give your own home that camera-ready treatment?
Whether you’re staging for a sale or just want to enjoy the space you have, you can raise your design game without spending big bucks.
Here are eight tips from those masters of home magic — decorators and set designers who style everything from Hollywood sets to design-show fixer-uppers — to get your home ready for its close-up.
Kill the clutter
“Obviously, one of the very first things to do is get rid of the clutter — the room dandruff,” says Christopher Lowell, designer and author of “Christopher Lowell’s Seven Layers of Organization.”
“Nothing should be in the room that isn’t intended to be there,” he says.
One of his tricks: Stand in the doorway and squint. “If you can’t make out what’s on the table, it’s clutter,” he says. “It’s too small.”
If you’re a collector, remember, “There’s power en masse,” he says. So either find a way to showcase your star pieces, or display the collection together (rather than scattered throughout the house), he says. Try mounting a few of the best pieces onto block-style shelves, so the collection becomes an art installation, he says. With that volume, the collection “takes on drama.”
Lighting is your (room’s) best accessory
With the right lighting, you can totally reshape a room, says Lowell. “Lighting allows you to see only what you want to see,” he says. For a well-layered look, he recommends mixing the types of lighting in a room.
Try these strategies to brighten up a space.
- Use recessed or “up” lights (available at home decor and home supply stores) to balance the light. Ideally, you want an equal amount coming from above and below, he says.
- Light up the corners. “You’re basically blowing out the corners — and it makes the room appear bigger,” he says. One cool effect is to put a can light under an umbrella palm (real or artificial) in a corner.
- Put all your lighting on dimmer switches. “It adds a very theatrical quality,” says Lowell.
- Pin spotlights can “make a room feel sexy,” like an intimate, upscale restaurant, he says. Use them to highlight some of your favorite objects in a room.
Weave a thread through a room
Want to tie a room together? Repeat a color, fabric or finish throughout, says Corey Kaplan, a Hollywood production designer for the hit TV series “Scandal.”
On the show, you may have spotted that technique in character Jake Ballard’s apartment — with silver objects placed throughout the room, she says.
“(Set decorator) Amy Wells purchased a lot of silver elements — ashtrays, balls, bowls,” says Kaplan. “It’s interesting, it’s all-around eye-level, and it ties an eclectic room together.”
It’s also something you’ll see in magazine layouts, Kaplan says. “You’ll see one element that threads a room together.”
Another luxurious touch is flowers.
“Everything looks great with flowers,” says Cortney Novogratz, co-host of “9 by Design” on Bravo and “Home by Novogratz” on HGTV.
So put those on your redecorating list first, she says. “If you’re able to have a plant or fresh flowers — some greenery or some life is nice.”
If you look for it, you’ll see that just about every television show — drama, sitcom or talk show — includes a set styled with flowers, Novogratz says.
The 1 splurge
When Kaplan was a production designer on “The X-Files,” she had to solve her own baffling mystery: how to make agent Dana Scully’s apartment visually compelling on a budget.
While the character was living on a government salary and wearing virtually the same outfit every day, viewers needed to glimpse Scully’s interesting, quirky side, says Kaplan.
The solution? Go with one attention-grabbing piece.
In Scully’s case, Kaplan selected a pricey, vintage refrigerator and stove set.
“It looked fantastic,” she recalls. “It was a very common space, but you see it and say, ‘This kitchen is amazing.’ The kitchen’s not amazing, but the refrigerator made the space. Everything else I got at Ikea.”
“Get that one thing that ties the space together,” Kaplan says.
It may take a little research and time, she says, “But it’s worth your while.”
Neutral rooms, bright accents
One trick set designers like to use is keeping a space neutral.
“We like things to be simple and elegant,” says Kaplan. “I think that’s the most important element for any of our environments. We leave our colors to the accents.”
So walls and big pieces might be off-whites or grays, she says. Smaller pieces, such as chairs, add a punch of color. “That way, it’s easy to get them out of the way when you’re done with them,” Kaplan says.
The set of “Scandal” uses this tactic, as seen with the two red chairs in Quinn Perkins’ office.
Novogratz agrees. In a neutral room with a bright throw pillow or colorful vase, “automatically,” your eyes go to that, she says. “It just kind of freshens everything. The brightness stands out.”
Another idea would be to reupholster an old couch in a bright color, says Paul DiMeo, host of “Second Act” on RLTV, and lead designer for Major League Baseball’s Fan Cave.
If you don’t have the skill to DIY or money for a pro, try decorating the couch with a bright blanket or throw, he says.
Small changes, big difference
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.
Recently on the “Today” show, Novogratz demonstrated how a simple, white cabinet could look completely different with just a quick switch of its hardware.
Switching from plain fixtures to something “big and bold changed the whole piece of furniture,” she recalls.
A new set of knobs — vintage glass, new chrome pulls, tribal designs or even a flea-market find — can make cabinets look totally different, says Novogratz.
So whether it’s that credenza in the living room or those kitchen cabinets, it’s a simple solution with big results, she says.
Another small job you can do to make a big difference is painting the trim of a room.
“I don’t think people realize you can paint (just) the trim on the walls and the door itself,” says Novogratz. “I think people just assume crown molding and trim and doors are white.”
She loves using a bold color for the baseboards. “You can do that in color and have a more neutral wall.”
Sure, you can see your own reflection in mirrors, but did you know they can also be used to amplify the light and make a room look bigger?
To make mirrors really brighten a space, place them on the wall opposite a window — you can almost double the light in the room, says Lowell.
Do it on the cheap by hanging a grouping of mismatched mirrors on one wall, says Novogratz. Using different frames and different sizes helps the installation become “funky and quirky,” she says.
Once you have the mirrors, you could use paint to create a flowing motif. Make the mirrors more uniform by repainting the frames in a matching color. Or try a built-in look by painting them to match the trim. You can even make the frames “disappear” by matching the paint to the walls.
Another quick and cheap tip for a high-dollar look is moving the furniture away from the walls.
“In great rooms, the furniture floats,” says Lowell. It’s not lined up against the wall.
Instead of putting furniture against the walls and using that to define an area, try using an area rug, he says. “Think of that really smart hotel lobby,” and cluster conversation areas in a living room or den, he says.
Save “the walls for art and storage units,” Lowell says.
Use original artwork
Original artwork can make a room, but it doesn’t have to be pricey, says DiMeo. If you frame it the right way, you can display family photos, kids’ art or even a colorful scarf for an original piece that shines.
“Artwork can be done for a few dollars,” says DiMeo. “I don’t have one single poster in my house. I have all our friends’ artwork in our house.”
If you have kids, blow up a couple of their art projects to 30 inches by 30 inches or 30 inches by 20 inches, he says. Not only are you designing a room with something unique and original, you’re also telling your child, “Look at that,” says DiMeo.
Or, for a DIY project, you can use stencils to try your hand at a mural, he says.
“Stencils are a way of doing something cheaply and having a room like no other,” says DiMeo. “It’s only paint, and you can always paint over it. Don’t be afraid to throw some color on the wall.”