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How to Perk Up a Dull Room

Take your space from frump to fabulous in no time.
living room

Some people are just born with it, "it" being the ability to look at a "blah" room and imagine it transformed – color, furniture and the perfect accessories. Others look at a "blah" room and get so overwhelmed that they have to go to their "blah" bedroom to lie down.

The bad news is, we can't all be Martha Stewart (and, really, is that all bad?). The good news is that anyone can transform a dull room with a little paint, a little daring and some tried and true tips from the pros. More good news: The latest trends are less matching sets and more eclectic – how much easier can it get?

Figuring Out Your Style

The first thing you need to start with in any home decorating project is an idea. What is your style? Linda Hallam, author of a series of decorating books for Better Homes and Gardens, including Decorating Basics, suggests perusing books and magazines to determine what "look" you want to achieve.

Another way to get ideas for décor is to visit model homes or to watch parade of homes presentations (these are often on local stations on Sunday mornings). When you see a look you like, contact the home's representative and ask for the name of the designer. Now you're ready to decorate.

How to Choose Your Colors

The experts agree: Start with color. But what color? According to "Décor Doc" Jane Parr, owner of Decorative Arts, the place to find that out is in your own closet.

"Color is the first choice you want to make in decorating, and to get people to choose colors that make them feel good, I tell them to go to their closet," says Parr. "If you do, you'll find that there are colors that you wear all the time and other colors that just hang there month after month. That's because certain colors just make you feel good. Start there and think about how you want to use those colors in your home."

Of course, if the color you wear the most is fuchsia, Parr says you may want to think about using it as an accent color, rather than painting the walls dark pink. However, the rest of the colors in the room can certainly be chosen with an eye toward highlighting some fabulous fuchsia pillows or window treatments.

Another way to choose color is by beginning with a favorite rug, the primary fabric on your couch or even on a pillow that you love, suggests Hallam. She also recommends making a "swatch board."

"Get a piece of poster board and tack up fabric and paint swatches and put them together and decide how you like the look," says Hallam. "You can get very small amounts of paint, and it doesn't cost very much. Match it with the fabrics you might be interested in for your furniture or curtains, and see how you like the overall effect."

Picking Paint

Again, Hallam says to get out that poster board. "If you're not sure about a color or if you're going with a color that's quite daring, such as dark red or green, buy the smallest can of paint possible; paint the poster board, and hang it up," says Hallam. "Then live with it for a few days. Move it around; look at it in different lights. It's a lot easier than painting an entire room and then hating it and having to redo it."

As for tips to make painting easier or less messy, Parr says there aren't any. She says the best advice is to move all the furniture into the middle of the room and cover everything with drop cloths. Then mask the moldings, doorways and ceilings very well; make sure the floor is completely covered, and paint away. She also highly recommends investing in a power paint roller that feeds paint directly from the can. It saves time and a lot of steps up and down the ladder.

Accessorize with Flair

Remember this one rule: There are no rules. Yes, say Parr and Hallam, stripes do go with plaids. They also go with florals and whatever else you're looking to decorate with. Just make sure that there is at least one color in common. Also, mix up the scale of the designs, so, for example, you have perhaps a large floral paired with a more delicate stripe.

Parr has an easy acronym for accessorizing any room of the home: BAGG, which stands for Black, Accessories, Greenery and Glass.

"Always try to add some black accents, however small. This could be fireplace tools and screen, a black vase or black frames around some small art pieces," says Parr.

Other accessories can be collections of any item you may fancy – family photos (Parr warns not to overdo it), or any interesting item you may find at a yard sale or discount store. Parr notes that collections are best displayed as a grouping. Prints are inexpensive and can be found to match any décor. In general, plan to hang pictures about 60 inches from the floor. But they can also be hung lower to accent a table, leaned up against a wall or hung higher if they're part of an arrangement.

As for greenery, Parr says that silk plants add a lush look to any room and are available in a variety of price ranges. Glass is nice because it reflects light and adds visual disruption to a room. Think mirrors, glass-topped tables, or glass bowls or vases.

Hallam points out that lamps are a key accessory. "If I were going to do only one thing, it would be to buy a couple of new lamps," she says. "The trend is lamps that look more modern. Glass bases, in particular, are very stylish."

Have Fun with Furniture

Both Hallam and Parr recommend not skimping on furniture purchase, because good quality furniture can quite literally last a lifetime.

Also, don't worry about buying everything at once; buy one good piece at a time and then add to that. "Matching sets of furniture aren't even in style anymore," says Hallam. "Furniture companies are now creating pieces that mix and match and can be paired with other pieces. A good place to start is with a neutral sofa; then add chairs and maybe a skirted table as a decorative touch."

Hallam suggests watching the ads for stores in your area that sell higher-end furniture and trying to find deals that way. Parr suggests trying used-furniture stores or flea markets for items that can be refurbished.

The nice thing about having a good quality piece is that even if you get tired of the color, it can be refreshed with slip covers or by simply having it re-covered.

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