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An Inside Job: Pulling Off Perfect Design

How many mirrors are too many? What’s the correct size for an area rug? Can I wallpaper my ceiling? The pros weigh in on everything you need to create gorgeous spaces



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When it comes to decorating our homes, there’s a dizzying array of choices. Whether we’re mid-century modern fans or devotees of traditional design, we all want our homes to be warm, comfortable, inviting, beautiful. But how do you find furniture you’ll love? Create good flow? Get the details just right? Even in a place like Greenwich, where many people have style in spades and lovely historic homes as canvases, the process is—let’s admit it—a bit daunting. We all suffer from paint-chip paralysis and couch-commitment phobia from time to time. Yes, we get tripped up by room layouts and find ourselves puzzling over lighting fixtures. Don’t lose sleep over that chandelier…there’s help! Living in a town that’s synonymous with good taste, we’re also surrounded by design pros. (Hint: The best time to hire one is before you’ve splurged on 1stdibs and had the goods delivered, only to realize that the room just isn’t working or worse, the sofa doesn’t fit and you swear you measured.) To help remedy common decorating dilemmas, we talked to some of our area’s top designers and asked them to share tricks of the trade and shed light on basic design rules. It’s time to demystify decorating.

1. I love the idea of color, but I gravitate toward neutrals because they’re safe. How can I pick new hues?

“Color is a main concern of most clients and they often feel like they should paint every room a light color or white,” says Dinyar Wadia of Wadia Associates. “Actually, darker color in a room can make it seem large. It’s good to have a family of shades.” Wadia, whose firm handles architecture and interior design, and also collaborates with other top designers, has a staff with color expertise and often brings in the gold-standard color pro Donald Kaufman for on-site consultations.

How do you begin selecting colors? Designer Carey Karlan of Last Detail Interior Design suggests choosing shades that also look good on you. What are your most flattering colors? Which colors are you drawn to? A color that plays a supporting role in one room, say a chair upholstered in plum, can become a more dominant hue in the next, says Carey. This way, there’s a thread tying the rooms together. To unify spaces, try similar colors in different textures, such as painted walls in one room and grass cloth in the next.

If you prefer neutral walls, you can layer in tones of color with accent pieces. “Throw pillows, accessories, and books bring in color while giving the room longevity,” says Richard Cerrone, a designer at Lillian August Greenwich.

Designer Amy Aidinis Hirsch steers clients away from a matchy-matchy look. “You can mix different shades of blue, for instance, to make the story more interesting,” says Amy, who just finished a client’s Boca Raton house in crisp white and a sea of turquoise. She adds that some people indulge in more vibrant color in their second homes. “Your choices can be a little bolder or ‘out there’ because you don’t spend all your time there.”

2. Any rules for sizing up a carpet or area rug?

One standard size certainly doesn’t fit all: That eight-by-ten won’t work as well in a square-shaped room or one that has bay windows or other out-of-the-box architectural features. That’s why people can end up with random results or a bath-mat effect when they order stock sizes from a catalog or store. “Everybody has rugs that are too small,” says Amy. “I like when a carpet covers a majority of space. My rule of thumb is a consistent six-inch or twelve-inch wood margin all around.” The exception to this is when a rug is placed near a fireplace, where you can go even closer to the hearth, within an inch or two, she says. If you love a smaller area rug but find it’s looking out of proportion with the room, try layering it, she suggests, by putting a sisal underneath it. 

3. Where should I hang mirrors? Can I have more than one in a room?

With decorative mirrors, scale is key to where you place them. Multiples within a room are definitely OK, says designer Cindy Rinfret of Rinfret Ltd. She likes to bring in different shapes, such as a rectangular mirror in one spot and a starburst or a bull’s-eye in another, and she employs mirrors in creative ways. “Put antiqued mirrors in cabinets and French doors, and it gives you privacy and has that open, airy feeling,” she says. This works especially well in a spot like a sunroom-turned-playroom where you don’t want to see all the kids’ toys, but you still want to maintain that open feeling. Just mirror the panels of the French doors, and you’ll have plenty of light but will conceal the clutter.  

“People need more mirrors in their lives; they’re a tool of illusion,” says Kenleigh Larock of Larock Studios and owner of The Drawing Room. “They make a room feel four times larger.” She suggests assessing where the natural light is coming in and placing the mirror to reflect it. “A mirror across from a window creates another window,” she notes. When there’s a smaller room that opens into a larger space, hang the mirror so that it reflects the larger space.

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