Here are the ways a designer thinks. Try these 12 steps and you’ll always have that classic look in your home.

Decorating your home is like finding the perfect outfit…

Before you go out and buy new things…you should check to see what you have and what you can mix up to make something work…BUT then the question is…what to look for among your stuff…and how do you know if it makes a decorating style?

HERE are some of the TOP decorating essentials…consider them the BONES of any home style that you can build upon and always know you are creating a classic…warm, comfy and beautiful home!

Think long term with these essentials for every home.


Listen to Top dozen decorating essentials

1-black-white-open-shelving
The table draws you into the beautiful chaos of paper, color, and book matter. Open shelving creates library-like exposure and honors a collection of favorite classics. Photography by Pieter Estersohn.

1. Well-considered open and concealed shelving

Shelving is interior architecture: Whether you choose custom, built-in, millwork cabinets, or a more modular approach, it’s key to provide enough space to accommodate your life. Even if you’re not an avid reader, you will most definitely find things to fill the space over the years. Consider whether you want shelves for display, or if it’s a more pressing priority for you to create concealed storage to hide your belongings. Are you an antiquist (or junkist) who celebrates the object, or a minimalist who celebrates clean space? When left to my own devices, I prefer a bit of both: Art books are meant to be admired, but I keep my paperbacks, cookbooks, and Breastfeeding for Dummies in cabinets.
It’s different for every decorator, but these are the items I firmly believe are worth getting right for the long term. Consider them the bones that will grow old with you.

2.black-white-salvaged-windows
Diamond-paned leaded windows let in a flood of light across neatly stacked art books. Photography by William Abranowicz/Art + Commerce.

2. Something salvaged

I love to search through architectural salvage shops for old doors, shutters, flooring, and double-paned windows (make sure you add a UV film to protect your furnishings from the sun). Salvaged goods can add great patina, and are often much more interesting—and sometimes even lower priced—than new items on the market. If your doors and moldings are standard-issue, try painting them a glossy black to add gravitas, or hunt for a magnificent old door-knocker and an oversize knob.Reclaimed wood flooring is a great option in new spaces; not only are you recycling, but you’re getting something perfectly worn in, which will make the house feel unique.

3.black-white-molding
In this Gramercy town home dating from 1846, intricate original moldings merge with a black and white pineapple wallpaper. A flash of red high gloss paint on the ceiling and front door has the effect of bright red lipstick on a megawatt smile. Photography by Zach DeSart.

3. Distinctive molding

Often thought of as an ornate element, molding actually serves a utilitarian purpose—it’s traditionally used as a Band-Aid to cover the inevitable shifting between floors and walls, or poor workmanship.Wood flooring naturally expands and contracts seasonally, so it usually needs about half an inch variance from where it hits the walls, which molding covers. Ceilings are rarely level, so both houses and apartment buildings shift constantly. Applying horizontal molding can disguise this. Molding is worth the splurge. It’s an almost essential fixture if you want to use wallpaper, and it makes a house look infinitely more “finished.” And from a style point of view, unless your home is deliberately ultramodern, the absence of moldings produces the sad effect of a suit without a belt.

4.black-white-lighting
Photography by Zach DeSart

4. Layers of lighting

During renovations or new construction, carefully think through all components of lighting and outlet placement at the outset. Consider where you want overhead lighting or chandeliers, sconces, and lamps. Light should come from more than two heights in any room. Though you can run a cord from anywhere and conceal it with a rug, placing outlets in the floor is a lot more elegant and less intrusive. And remember to tape the cords to the back legs of your table or under a nearby sofa skirt if the base of the table is exposed.

5.black-white-personal-artwork
Black high gloss walls look lacquerlike behind Carson Fox’s fantastical resin-cast flower work, Scope Blue, and reference the Nero marble cabochons in a diamond-pattern pillowed Carrera floor. Photography by Willie Cole

5. Personal art

Creating an art collection is a very personal process, but you can start at any time, regardless of budget. I picked up some of my favorite works at flea markets for less than what I spent on snacks. If you’re at the higher end of the spectrum, talk with art consultants about your desires—they often have access to pieces, galleries, and ideas that will help you make the most informed decision possible. And when you fall in love with a piece, their expertise can enhance your confidence and commitment.

6.black-white-marble
Striking inky veining dashes across a marble bartop-breakfast nook overlooking the Hudson River. Harlem Toile wallpaper by Sheila Bridges takes a celebratory tone behind framed Emancipation Erablack-and-white etchings. Photography by Zach DeSart.

6. Striking marble

Either as a tabletop, coffee table, mantel, or windowsill, a single great slab of rock will last forever and lend a room material variety, subtle pattern, and a bit of grandeur. While shopping for coffee tables and side tables, I often focus on the bases more than the tops, knowing I can cover them with marble or mirror.

7.black-white-hardware
Since all the interior doors in my apartment were junky, I wallpapered them in gray burlap. They all wear 1940s “molecule style” knobs by Sherle Wagner. This is a prime example of lipstick-on-a-pig decorating, but it worked for me. Photography by Patrick Cline

7. Distinctive knobs and hardware

These are an instant upgrade on furniture pieces, cabinetry, or doors that would otherwise scream standard-issue. You can easily take them with you if you move.

8.black-white-antique-mirror
I found this glorious old creation – all chipped white paint, crackles, fogging, and wretched warmth – on Old Dixie Highway in Florida. Photography by Zach DeSart.

8. An antique mirror

Both soulful and poetic, an antique mirror is a must for every home. You can never have enough items that are already aged: They don’t wear or decay the way something new would. Your local glass shop can also produce a very good faux-antiqued mirror and add it to glass-fronted cabinets or install it in an antique frame.

9.black-white-greenery
The fiddle fig tree and the succulents on the coffee table are fake but hide their inauthenticity well by mimicking already plasticlike flora. Photography by Zach DeSart.

9. Something alive

Greenery in the home may eventually die, but it never goes out of style. If you can’t keep your trees alive, invest in a planter you love, and just live with the expectation of filling it a few times a year with a new victim until you learn better habits or meet something you can’t kill. Good fake trees and the odd fake plant are not unforgivable design faux pas, but really good ones are harder to find than cheap white truffles out of season. Choose plants that naturally look a bit waxy, such as succulents, orchids, olive trees, and fiddle fig trees to pull off the illusion most successfully. Avoid anything that might appear in your doctor’s office or nail salon.

10.black-white-decorative-trim
Tiny Greek-key tape trim highlights the valance shape on a cream-colored linen. Photography by Zach DeSart.

10. Distinctive details

Don’t underestimate the effect of decorative trim. It can anchor a skirt or highlight the unexpected lines of a valance.

11. A silver frame collection

I use these to hold black-and-white photos, for an easy, graceful, and timeless statement. They blend well together as you slowly collect them over time (search flea markets, eBay, etc.).

For more on Celerie Kemble, check out the interview with her here.

12-animal-print-rug

12. An animal print

Faux or real, as a throw rug, a throw blanket, piece of art it’s timeless and add so much to any room.It works with anything.

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