Have questions about how to design your new home? We have answers


Building a new home or moving into a new-to-you home can be so exciting. But it also can be challenging, especially if you’re dealing with dramatically different room sizes, home features and changes in available natural light that you’ve never dealt with before.

Many people hire interior designers to guide them through the process of furnishing a new home from scratch, but others want to take at least some — if not all — of their furniture from one home to another, figuring it out with help from helpful friends and images they find in magazines or on the internet.

Even then, it still feels good to have a real human being saying, “yes, you’re headed in the right direction” or “hmm, you might want to consider another option.”

Last weekend I spent two afternoons fielding design questions from visitors to the ninth annual Sugar Land Home and Garden Show at the Stafford Centre. (I’ll do it again 1-3 p.m. Feb. 16-17 at the 12th annual Cy-Fair Home & Garden Show at the Berry Center in Cypress.)

Nearly every visitor who stopped to chat was trying to deal with adjusting to a new and different home — though not necessarily a bigger home. Since their questions seemed so universal, and many of the solutions so simple, I thought I’d share their lessons with you.

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Q: My new home has an open floor plan and a vaulted ceiling, and when we have friends over, the acoustics are so are terrible we can barely have a conversation. What can I do to reduce the noise level?

A: The simple solution is to add rugs and draperies. Homes have hard and soft surfaces. Hard surfaces are your floors, counters and walls and any leather or wood furniture, and they all bounce sound. You can mitigate them with soft surfaces, such as upholstered furniture, rugs and draperies. If you don’t already have rugs or draperies, give them a try. If you have leather furniture, add fabric throw pillows. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Q: I loved the idea of a vaulted ceiling, but now my living room feels cavernous. What can I do to make it feel cozier?

A: You’re lucky — ceiling treatments are trending right now in homes of all sizes. Exposed trusses and ceiling beams are popular and easier than ever. You don’t have to invest in 200-year-old wood salvaged from an old Amish barn. You can find affordable faux treatments to add to your ceiling, and they’re not hard for a contractor to install. With rustic/farmhouse/industrial decor also trending, having that “exposed” ceiling treatment makes you right on trend. Another option is to add a paneled wood treatment to your ceiling; it will make the space feel warmer and more intimate.

Q: I want to put art above nightstands on each side of my bed. But then what should I put over the bed?

A: The good news here is that you have a lot of options, you just need to make sure the wall is balanced and not overdone. If you want art above the headboard and above nightstands, consider using smaller and simpler pieces of art on a small easel or simply set on the nightstand, propped against the wall. Then use a larger piece or collection of smaller pieces above the headboard. If your headboard is tall or ornate, you may not want to use art above it — don’t detract from the beauty of the furniture. In that case, use larger art over each nightstand, hung on the wall. You can also just use one large piece or a collection of pieces over the headboard, and none over the nightstands –since you likely have a lamp on each and they could obscure the view of art. Balance and proportion are important elements to consider, but there are no hard and fast rules.

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Q: I have a new house and I don’t want to have to buy all new furniture. How can I make some of my old things work in my living room?

A: There are as many answers to this as there are living rooms, so I’ll give you the details of this specific example. A couple moved into a smaller home in a 55+ community and tried to take their favorite pieces to the new home. The living room had two new gray sofas with two red, contemporary style chairs. She had wood accent tables and a wood coffee table, plus a wooden console that held a TV and a tall wood cabinet on each side of it. On another wall was a wood bookcase. One simple answer is that sometimes you just have to let some old things go, or be willing to adapt it — paint wood furniture or reupholster furniture.

In this case, the red chairs were nice, and she wanted to keep them, and they went well with the new gray sofas. The wood furniture, though, had a variety of different stains — some dark, some an orange-y color — and all together, there was just too much going on in this one room. The homeowner agreed that neither she nor her husband liked the console and cabinets, and they were thinking about installing more contemporary style floating shelves on that wall. (She had a photo of their idea; it looked great.) I also suggested that a rug with a simple pattern would add some visual interest to the otherwise two-tone room. And the very traditional wooden coffee table and end tables took up a lot of visual space, so I urged her to consider something in a more contemporary style either in acrylic or with a glass top so they wouldn’t eat up so much room in the space.

Q: My new house has a big open floor plan, what can I do to make the different areas work together?

A: This is a common issue with open floor plans. You don’t want the giant room to look like a mish-mash of things, yet you want each space — kitchen, dining area and living area — to have a distinct character. If you have a hard surface floor — stone, tile or wood — use large rugs to better define each space.

You likely have some recessed lighting in the room, but you can add more lighting to further distinguish the spaces: table or floor lamps in the living room, a chandelier over the dining table and pendants over an island in the kitchen. Also, establish a color palette that is consistent through the entire room.

The couple who posed this question also had windows fairly uniformly spaced throughout their great room. I encouraged them to use curtains — the same color and style throughout — to frame the windows since they didn’t want to cover up the view. Not only would it add some uniformity, it would help soften the space.

Focus on art: Art collectors pay special attention to lighting in their homes.

Q: My home has art niches with shallow shelves high up on the wall on each side of a fireplace. I don’t own that much art; what else can I do with them?

A: Those sky-high art niches are popular with some builders, and it’s not uncommon to see them in homes built in the 1990s and early 2000s. You have two choices: use them or get rid of them. I’ve seen designers urge homeowners to remove the art niches by simply sheetrocking them in. It isn’t terribly expensive to do, and it reduces the visual clutter on the wall.

Your other option is to buy some art to put in them. What you buy depends on your taste in art, just make sure it works with whatever’s in the center.

Q: My new home has a lot more empty wall space than my old house. What should I do with all of that space?

A: In this case, the couple’s home not only had more open walls, but it had tall ledges and art niches that they’d never had to fill before. It’s an opportunity to buy some new art, but it’s also an opportunity to find some pretty mirrors. Mirrors are a terrific part of every interior designer’s tool kit.

Some use them to reflect light and help brighten a room; in other cases, they’re merely decorative. Either way, they serve a function.

NOTE: If you have a home design question, write to diane.cowen@chron.com. Feel free to send photos of your design problem. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll find a professional interior designer who can.



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