Design 101

An Introduction to Home & Interior Design

Long Island Paneling, Ceilings & Floors' in-house interior decorator, Gail, is a retired Allied Member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). Her specialty is creating beautiful, functional spaces on a budget, in stages, and using as much as possible of what you already own. Her goal with writing this blog is to help get your living space updated while preserving your own individual taste and style.

Class 3: Color

“Mere color can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”

–Oscar Wilde

In design classes (way, way) back in my college years, the Intro to Color course was two semesters long. When I signed up I wondered what could they possibly teach about color that would take up two semesters. It turned out there was much to learn and one of the most valuable courses I studied. What was particularly interesting was how color affects us in our living, working, or social environments and the specific ways to use color correctly and effectively. That is what we are going to discuss in this “class”.

The impact of color in our environment one might think is inconsequential but subconsciously it absolutely does influence us. Ever wonder why drain cleaners are in plastic jugs that are usually red or orange? Those colors we associate with power and strength. Would they sell if they were in powder blue or pink containers? No – but fabric softeners would since those colors are associated with softness or gentleness. Would fabric softener sell in an orange or red container? Not likely. People that manufacture and market products pay a great deal of attention to the color of their packaging and logos. The influence of color impacts the sale of their products and how they are perceived. In decorating, color also affects our mood and sense of comfort.

“Eat and Get the Hell Out”

One of the most interesting stories my professor told us about was the color choices of the interiors of fast-food restaurants when they first came into popularity. The whole idea of this type of restaurant was getting your food fast and eating it quickly, creating a speedy turnover of available tables (drive thrus were not a “thing” yet). The designers back then realized that people didn’t usually linger around when an interior had an orange décor. Just what they wanted – no one sitting around chatting and occupying a table for long periods of time. So many of the early fast-food restaurants were decorated with a lot of orange or other “uncomfortable” color combinations. However, after some time, they realized that people don’t even want to eat quickly in places decorated in irritating colors -so that formula was scrapped and other methods were instituted to prevent people from lingering. We can assume that is the reason the chairs and benches in fast food restaurants have little or no cushioning. And the lighting is often bright white, relatively harsh and not conducive for creating a relaxing mood. The “Eat and Get the Hell Out” formula is still in play but at least the fast-food restaurant’s colors nowadays don’t make anyone nauseous. Starbucks, however, somehow manages to stay in business creating an atmosphere that is cozy, comforting and inviting where people can sit encamped for hours over one cup of coffee. Granted the coffee is overpriced, but still that does not make up for a “prime real estate” table occupied long-term on the profit of a coffee. But I digress….

Color in your home

When choosing colors for the interior of a home there are many things that must be taken into consideration. In an open floor plan the different room areas should be decorated as if it is one big room. So the floors should be the same (except possibly the kitchen area) but the wall coloring should also be the same if you want the space to look as large as possible and not “choppy”. Whenever there is a stark color change your brain registers that as a “border” and closes off the expanse. In much the same a way a petite woman is told to elongate her look keeping her blouse, skirt, and shoes the same color, keeping the same color going in room interiors also creates that illusion. In rooms with doors, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, the continuity does not become as much of an issue but current decorating trends seem to be keeping the color scheme pretty consistent everywhere. In homes without an “open floor plan” -but those that have passageways where you can clearly see into the next room- keeping color continuity room-to-room still helps create the feeling of spaciousness.

So with so much of your home ending up in the same color palette how does one decide what colors to choose? I will tell you one thing to definitely not to do – do not pick colors that are trending currently unless you love them. Right now, gray is a hot color for interiors. In our store, I speak to customers that will be looking for a gray floor but confess they are not really fans of gray. Trying to keep up with current trends is an exercise in futility. In the next year or so, gray will not be the “in” color and you will be stuck with a floor you may not be crazy about. There is actually a professional group in the home furnishing industries that devise what the “hot colors” will be that season. So if you wonder why different stores all seem to be showing uncommon colors like apricot towels, curtains and bedding one year and turquoise the next, that is the reason. Planned obsolescence. So, how does a homeowner avoid getting caught up in trends and not with colors they truly can live with for the long-term?

My favorite tip is to tell customers to find a fabric or artwork that has a color combination that they love. That becomes their “palette” to pick decorating colors from. Colors you consistently love, no matter what the current trends are. One caveat, though. The more permanent (or expensive to replace) the item/component is for your home, the more neutral the color should be.  Items like bathtubs should be white or an off-white shade. Years ago, people picked colors for their sinks, toilets and tubs. Big mistake. If re-painting walls and replacing wall-to-wall carpeting are an unreasonable expense for you, those colors should be more neutral too. Add color in towels, area rugs, toss pillow, curtains, artwork and accessories that can be easily replaced.  Always have an eye to the possible future sale of your home. Not everyone is going to love a green marble bathroom.  Let’s face it, sometimes the things you love now even you could get sick of.

I remember when we were selling Formica for custom kitchen cabinets and countertops, one year “Peach” was “the color.”  A woman came into the store to pick out colors for her kitchen and was adamant that she wanted peach cabinets with a white countertop. I pleaded with her to do the reverse. If she was determined on having a peach kitchen, use that for the countertops and neutral white for the cabinets, because countertops are much easier to replace than custom cabinets. She finally relented, though she swore to me she absolutely loves peach and would never tire of it. She came in a year later to buy a different countertop. She was already sick of the peach color and relieved that she didn’t have to replace all her cabinets. Every so often, people are glad they’ve listened to me!

Another consideration when selecting colors is the undertone – the hidden color within the color. Even in neutral colors, not all whites, tans, and grays are the same. The fact that Benjamin Moore has umpteen shades of white is mind-boggling. Frequently, the only way to see the undertone is by placing color samples side-by-side. You may be able, then, to discern that one white may have a yellowy undertone and another a bluish or pinkish. However, when holding a color sample alone in your hand, you would swear it’s just white. Gray is a particularly deceiving color – with a multitude of different undertones, including purple or green. Again, a side-by-side comparison of paint samples makes it much easier to spot the differences. Placing a paint chip on top of white paper may also be helpful in discerning the undertones. Unfortunately, the slight differences between colors even in the same color family become glaringly obvious once a whole wall is painted with it. It pays to buy a quart of the paint to see how the color actually looks on the wall next to your furnishings and under the lighting in the room.

Don’t forget to consider lighting!

Lighting- natural and artificial both – will affect a color and could potentially bring out some really undesirable undertones. North window lighting is very different than south-facing and artificial lighting can be warm or cool. All of these factors can alter the perceived color of wall paint, flooring and other furnishings. At Long Island Paneling, Ceilings and Floors, we encourage our customers to bring home flooring samples and view them in the room they will be used in at different times of the day, under both natural and artificial lighting. Even the size of the room can change the way a color could appear. In a large, brightly-lit showroom, a color or wood tone will appear lighter than in a smaller room, where it will appear darker. It’s worth it to take the extra step and bring home a sample to avoid a disappointing purchase. Be sure to view the flooring sample laid flat on the floor, since even the angle the light hits it at can affect the color. In addition, a low sheen or high sheen surface will also affect its overall appearance and must be taken into consideration.

Color choices should appeal to everyone living in your home

It’s important to note that taste in color is very personal and some color combinations may actually be revolting (for no apparent reason) among different individuals. When a master bedroom belongs to a couple, color/decorating personal preferences can especially cause conflict. One couple, who came in to the store to buy a white floor for their master bedroom, stands out in my mind. The woman gushed about their pink bedroom with its white French Provincial furniture. She absolutely loved her bedroom. Her husband was not a fan – to say the least. To add to this poor man’s misery, he pointed out his wife collected antique dolls and had them on display all over their master bedroom. I sold them a floor, but she didn’t really discuss any decorating options – which told me she knew I was going to side with her husband’s criticism of their bedroom. When it comes to sharing a master bedrooms, be sure both occupants feel comfortable in it – and generally speaking – men don’t like their bedrooms pink! One more point to make about master bedrooms – if there is a bathroom ensuite, keep the bathroom and bedroom in the same color scheme as much as possible. It creates a very polished look when these rooms are coordinated.

Childrens’ bedrooms

When a bedroom belongs to a child, you can give them some leeway in how it is decorated but if it’s a horrible idea (e.g. painting the walls and ceilings in black or neon colors and/or applying stickers/graffiti) this may be a good time to institute some parental controls. To remove or cover this “creativity” in the future may require multiple coats of paint or even spackle. There is a difference between “decorating” and “damaging” and teaching a children respect for their home and belongings can begin with the privilege of respectfully decorating his/her own room. I may be “old school” but I cringe when I hear about parents who let their kids draw on the floors or walls of their room. This is not a “wonderful” creative outlet for self-expression. Get the kid an easel, plenty of paper and a drop cloth. Okay – enough said.

Color bridging

Some may wonder how, with a situation of wanting to achieve color continuity in an open floor plan, someone could utilize the possessions that they currently own without needing to worry that they may not keep with a unified color scheme. Here is where a term some decorators call “color bridging” comes into play. Imagine that you have a new home with a white kitchen that shares one large room with the den. You already own family room furniture that comprises of a tan leather couch with a black wood wall unit and coffee table. How can you make these vastly different color schemes look more unified?

First of all, make sure the walls are the same color. Light tan for instance, with white trim-combining, in this case, the two neutral colors from both rooms’ furnishings. Then, take color elements of each room and place it in the other connecting (or bridging) the two. For instance, use a white bowl or accent piece on the dark coffee table and on the shelves of the wall unit. Perhaps use a white ceramic lamp or white pottery for a plant in the den. In the kitchen, use tan and black towels, canisters and other decorative accessories. You can also pick a special accent color you may have chosen for your color palette such as “spice” and add it to both areas in accessories, like toss pillows and curtains. A few well thought-out and well-placed accessories, as well as artwork with these blended colors, can help unify two or more very disparate room areas in an open floor plan. This also buys you time towards acquiring furnishings that will reflect your ultimate decorating goals. The same concept can be used for creating a complementary ensuite bathroom.

A final note about use of color in your home

I have seen the correct use of color transform ordinary homes into eye-catching showplaces. Color must be used judiciously, however. Remember that small beautiful paint chip of robin’s egg blue becomes a hell of a lot of blue in a very large room – and a different color altogether in a small, dark room. Don’t be heavily influenced by photos in decorating magazines and on Instagram that are using unusual or bold wall colors.  I have been to photo shoots of some of these rooms and after they use Photoshop (or other digital alteration methods, such as filters), the final picture often doesn’t even look like that room did when viewed in-person.

There is nothing wrong with deciding to “play it safe” with one of the many shades of beautiful, more neutral-type colors. In fact, that’s why model homes and homes that are staged for selling are painted or outfitted that way – because they have a wide and lasting appeal. It’s crucial to consider these things when going forward with expensive paint jobs, floor, counter and wall coverings.

Ultimately, when making choices about your home’s interior color scheme, it is often better to be safe than sorry.

Class 1: Conscious de-CLUTTERing

“Outer order contributes to inner calm.”

–Gretchen Rubin

It happens to everyone. The accumulation of possessions that clutter our homes. The somewhat tacky souvenirs you bought on vacation, the ornate knick-knacks inherited from Grandma’s city apartment, the homemade crafty gifts you feel you got to keep on display – you know what I mean. And the framed photos -all those framed photos!- taking up almost every inch of wall space and lining many horizontal surfaces. Nothing dates a house – and makes it a b*tch to clean – like an overabundance of “decorative” objects.

To begin a home decorating masterpiece you have to start with a clean canvas. You got to throw out, giveaway, and clear out!. And you got to be RUTHLESS. Here are a couple of tricks that I have found that help people part with needless belongings that they have become WAY too accustomed to having around.

1. Would you buy it now?

If you saw it in a store now (in its present condition) would you buy it? People hang on to things cause they remember how much they paid for them and feel it is like throwing away money to get rid of them. The solution? Donate it to a charity thrift store or sell it at a garage sale. If it is really worth some money have someone eBay it for you. Any of these solutions is less painful than just pitching it out.

2. Does it have sentimental value?

Take a photo of it. If its small enough put in a designated “Memory Trunk” (mine is a large Walmart Tupperware Trunk) that is stored in an attic or garage. If you think you will miss not seeing it displayed in your home, store it out of sight for awhile. You will be surprised how, after time, you find you won’t be missing it at all – and then you could take a picture of it and eventually either donate or sell it.

3. I can’t discard photos!!

Too many framed photos is redundant and frankly, most of your guests are not interested in seeing them especially after the first time. Even people living in your house don’t notice them after awhile. Take them out of frames and put them out in a nice album or display multiple photos in a digital picture frame, which allows you to cycle through a collection of photos at specified time intervals. They are easier to clean and won’t fade. For photos you would like to keep out at all times, leave out only the ones you truly love and have the most meaning. Be discriminating!

4. What about small figurines, knick-knacks and miniatures?

These are notorious place fillers that add little/no decorative value but do add a lot of added cleaning maintenance. Don’t leave them scattered about. If you really want to keep them put them together in a one unit – like a glass enclosed case or doll house.. You can find a lot of knick-knacks at garage sales – REAL CHEAP. Nobody seems to want them – and guaranteed your kids won’t unless they can sell them.

5. Is the object just worn or junky looking?

Throw it out. JUST DO IT. Dusty fake floral arrangements, beat up toss pillows, dollar store candles, small wall signs with cliché sayings, the crap that is known now as “chachkas”. It will take some time to get use to the more “empty” appearance of your home but filling every inch of horizontal and vertical space with “stuff” just to fill it up is one of the most common mistakes people make in home decorating. Even if the things you own are basically quality, nothing can be appreciated if there are too many objects crowded together. Clutter cheapens everything. Less is more. I remember a scene in the movie “Gypsy” where the famous stripper’s mother tore off all the tawdry embellishments on her daughter’s gown leaving her with a simple, elegant dress she then accessorized with just a fur stole and long white gloves. Classy – even for a stripper. In much the same way, there is a lesson to be learned in decorating.

Keep it simple and use just a few good pieces. Then STOP.

The “stopping” part is the part most of us have trouble with. With stores like Home Goods calling to us like a sea siren, we love to keep up with our “nesting” activities by adorning our homes. But just by “conscious de-cluttering” you make your living spaces seem fresh and updated – without spending a dime! And another big payoff – it will look cleaner and it actually IS easier to clean!

OK! So… it’s the end of Class 1 – you know what your homework is!

Class 2: Style

“Style is something each of us already has, all we need to do is find it.”

–Diane von Furstenberg


Now that your home is clear of clutter (and only left with things you want to keep or absolutely need to keep for now) you are ready to begin planning how you are going to redecorate your space. At this point you need to think about the style of décor you would like to create in your environment. Do you lean toward a country or a more traditional look? Do you gravitate towards a relaxed contemporary? (like Pottery Barn) or a bit exotic? (Pier 1).

Whatever your taste in furniture and decorative pieces, just be mindful of the scale and design of your house itself. A small/medium ranch looks more appropriate with a smaller scale pieces and clean lines – extra-large, over-stuff, ornate furniture often looks very out-of-place in that setting. A large house with vast rooms needs larger pieces to fill it – not a lot of small ones. Most typical Long Island homes look well-matched with a relaxed, rustic traditional or contemporary décor. Homes with some warmth, character, and without too much formality have the most popular appeal –and that is an excellent goal to work towards!

When planning your space, remember CONTINUITY – a hallmark of good design and smart planning (there will be a separate class on this later). Your home should feel cohesive – with the mood and style being harmonious throughout. Years ago I was asked to help a family plan a room addition for a hot tub (remember when those were popular? – I am dating myself!). When I visited the home, it was an unforgettable mishmash of clashing styles. The typical center hall colonial opened up on the left to a super formal dining room with throne-like chairs covered in brocade, with a huge gold gilded chandelier hanging above. Heavy drapes with gold tassels, pedestals with Roman urns and a huge dining room hutch competed for space. It looked like the Palace of Versailles. Meanwhile, off the dining room was the kitchen – which was done in country style. Gingham curtains, wooden signs with cutesy sayings and a collection of ceramic roosters and cows lined the rustic pine kitchen cabinets. The living room opposite and open to the dining room was done in black Oriental import furniture; covered in colorful raised carved figures, walls lined with Asian artwork and “Ming Dynasty” accessories scattered about. The family room was a sleek modern with lots of steel, glass and leather with bold primary-colored artwork. Each room seemed to be a unique world of its own – expensively done – and very disorienting! So while this house was the extreme, do remember to plan your rooms so they feel like they belong together under the same roof – even if you do like to mix styles up just a little!

And remember to furnish all your rooms so it is conducive to use all your rooms. If you are over 50, you probably remember joking that your parents and their friends needed a velvet rope to keep out visitors from entering the “ever-so-formal” dining room and living room. Just look, don’t touch and no way EVER sit down. Rooms for “show” are dated (and ridiculous). You should feel as though you can use your dining or living room as readily as your kitchen or family room. Furnish and decorate these rooms to be welcoming and comfortable.

Many times we inherit (or purchased years ago) quality wood furniture that is not really our current taste but too costly to replace. Just about any piece can be modified or accessorized to look more updated. Formal dining chairs can have the ornate seats recovered in a contemporary solid textured fabric. The floral centerpiece can be switched into a wicker basket and the silver candlesticks can be switched out to heavy wood ones for a more casual look. Replacing dated/discolored furniture handles and knobs can make a big difference. A friend of mine removed the brass diamond-shaped insert that was inside the glass of her hutch – giving it a clean, new appearance. And by removing the hutch part of a dining room set (creating a buffet), you can place lamps on it and framed art hanging over it for a fresh new look as well. Likewise, a dated master bedroom set can be updated by replacing a floral or printed bedspread with a solid colored or textured one. Lamps, updated cabinet hardware, and a few other new accessories that reflect your current style can transform the room as well.

Once you figure out what your “style” is, it helps to give it a “name”. A friend of mine likes “Pottery Barn-style.” If something looks like it came from the Pottery Barn catalogue, she knows it will fit with the style she is trying to create. Another person I know is trying to create a “Country Farmhouse” decor and she asks herself if any purchase she is considering fits that description. There are so many magazines and store catalogues dedicated to a certain “look”, that if you are unsure of yourself, you can look through them and note the details of rooms you would like to emulate. Just remember not to go overboard with anything too predictable or cliché – and don’t over accessorize!

So pick the style you would like to dress your house in – the next class is picking a color scheme!