Top 10 Ultimate Decorating Tips From a Magazine Stylist
As a professional photo stylist and designer, Elizabeth Demos is a creative mastermind behind many of the stunning house tours you see inside HGTV Magazine. She works her magic adding a throw here, a bowl of lemons there, and of course, making sure every bookshelf is designed to perfection. Liz helps the editors and photographers ensure every room and every shot look both lived in and expertly styled, and now she's sharing her top 10 decorating tips that work for everyone.
1. Rug size is everything
"A small rug is like a too-tight dress," says Demos. "It's just a bad idea no matter what." A rug forms the foundation of a room and creates connectivity with your furniture, so a tiny rug that just fits under a coffee table will only emphasize the table and fails to connect the rest of the room. Her general rule: If your furniture floats, it should be touching if not holding all of your furniture. If your furniture is wall-bound, you can get away with only the front legs on the rug.
2. Every common room needs a plant
Besides improving air quality, plants are good for your mental health and boost your mood and energy. Plus, "a little green is aesthetically pleasing," says Demos. In the living room, she suggests a fiddle leaf fig tree or bird of paradise palm. Don't have that much space? Try a plant stand featuring several smaller varieties, or if you want something more useful, try herbs!
3. Editing is a master skill everyone should learn
"Think of your home accessories like jewelry for your room," says Demos. "Know when too much of a good thing is really a bad thing." If you can't part with your treasures, consider rotating items like a museum. "You will discover and appreciate your possessions much more," she says.
4. Think tall
Demos says every room should have at least one tall piece of furniture. Why? To break up the monotony. "It gives a room visual rhythm and acts as a big anchor," she says.
5. Mix and match high/low finds
Want to make a flea market lamp look like a million bucks? Demos says to add a high-end shade. The high item instantly makes the low-end piece look more sophisticated. "Spend the money," she urges. "You won't regret it."
6. Great composition is key to good balance…
…in a room, on a mantel, on top of a dresser—just about anywhere in your home. "Think about scale, shape and how objects harmonize," says Demos. She regularly applies what she calls the "Sesame Street Theory." Ask yourself 'which of these things in not like the others?' Then eliminate the item that feels out of place. "Same items, whether it's in shape, color, material or style, are a good way to make things feel cohesive," she says.
7. Pillows are more important than you think
Pillows make a room feel cozy, so resist the urge to skimp when shopping. Also, remember that a pair of matching pillows does not have to live on the same piece of furniture. There's no design rule that says so.
8. Don’t be afraid of sparkle
"Whether it's something metallic or glass, every room needs a little sparkle," says Demos. Think shiny, not necessarily glittery, to keep things grown-up and sophisticated.
9. Layer your bedding
"Monotone beds are boring!" says Demos. Use different colors and styles of texture when you layer sheets, blankets and pillows. "It keeps your bedding from feeling like you bought it all in one big bag at a department store," she says.
10. Shop your own house
Breathe new life into an old possession by simply moving it. "You'd be surprised how special an item looks when you place it in a different room or on a different piece of furniture," says Demos.
A Stand-Out Home
As you wind your way along the gently curving walkway that leads to Emily and Patrick McCarthy’s 1980s ranch house in Savannah, GA, it’s hard not to notice the front door. Painted a fiesta-ready orange red (Piñata by Benjamin Moore), it’s an unsubtle hint that what’s inside this home near the saltwater marshes isn’t going to be typical. While Patrick’s born-and-bred-in-Savannah style is pretty much in sync with what’s popular locally — “He’s more straightlaced than I am,” says Emily—she gravitates toward bold decor and was determined to bring some va-va-voom to the 2,700-square-foot house.
Best of Both Worlds
To ensure her fun-loving exuberance and Patrick’s buttoned-up traditionalism wouldn’t turn into clashing chaos, she teamed with designer Kathryn Myrick to create a cohesive look out of family heirlooms, eclectic accessories, and break-the-rules pattern mixing. But Emily admits it wasn’t always easy going. “I had to tone down the animal prints,” she says. “It’s a compromise, but that’s what marriage is all about.”
An oak console table from Patrick’s family got Emily’s approval with the addition of a custom linen skirt. “It wasn’t our style,” she says, “but he wanted to hang on to it.” The flax-color linen skirt trimmed with crisp white twill tape keeps it classic. She paired it with a gold pineapple lamp from HomeGoods, a vintage tureen turned planter, and a sunburst mirror from local shop Clutter. The black-and-white rug is from One Kings Lane. Quirky: A ceiling light with a patterned drum shade
In what Emily dubs the preppy safari room, a pair of 1960s brass giraffes mingle with a microsuede sofa and a hand-me-down chair with a shamrock green linen slipcover. The one-of-a-kind coffee table was fashioned from a metal base Emily unearthed at a vintage shop and a poplar and sapele mahogany top crafted by Patrick and his dad. The black-and-white pillows are from Marimekko, and the palm leaf–patterned ones are from Society Social. Quirky: Art in assorted sizes and frames arranged in a random configuration. Classic: Identical Asian end tables flanking the sofa
With its hand-painted gold walls and touches of bright persimmon, the dining room “shocked Patrick, but I have to push him out of his comfort zone,” says Emily. To loosen up the formal 1980s dining set inherited from his family and the Parsons chairs from her grandmother, Emily added slipcovers: two sewn from a graphic Kelly Wearstler fabric and four in monogrammed white denim. Quirky: Patterned cardboard sleeves on a super-white chandelier
Two pieces originally belonging to Emily’s piano-teacher grandmother—the 75-year-old baby grand and the skirted sofa—take center stage. Ceramic garden stools from One Kings Lane pull double duty as drink perches and extra seating when there’s a party. Hanging above the Worlds Away sideboard are wedding photos of Emily and Patrick’s extended family that go back five generations. Quirky: A large hexagonal print on the drapes. Classic: A neutral cowhide rug
Almost everything in the kitchen—from the Corian countertops to the raised-panel cabinets—is the way the couple found it. Their only changes: painting the backsplash tiles and cabinets white (Ultra Pure White by Behr) and the walls a muted gray (Metropolitan by Benjamin Moore). The orange-and-white window shades were made with cotton fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics. "There’s a rustic-cottage charm to the cabinets that I love," says Emily.
The 500-square-foot screened porch has built-in bench seating around the perimeter and views of the backyard’s pond. "I wanted a tropical, Palm Beach-y feeling on the screened porch," says Emily. The “lounge” features an ottoman with a white denim slipcover, and secondhand armchairs and a faux-bamboo sofa that were lacquered black. The dining spot has a teak table from Patrick’s parents, more vintage dining chairs, and a snappy black-and-white-striped tablecloth made with Sunbrella fabric. Quirky: Pillows featuring leaping zebras. Classic: Vintage rattan chairs with shield-shaped backs
Since a 3-year-old’s likes and dislikes can change weekly, Rhett’s fad-free bedroom includes olive green walls (Creekside Green by Benjamin Moore) and a cowhide rug from Gilt. The blue travel trunk belonged to Emily’s globe-trotting grandparents; the pine rocking horse was Patrick’s boyhood toy, handcrafted by his father. Classic: Taupe-and-tan duvet covers. Quirky: Mega headboards that stretch almost 6 feet high
The quirky large-scale leopard spots Emily painted on the wall freehand set the tone in Rhett’s rollicking playroom. The striped rug from HomeGoods layers on more pattern—and hides stains. The sturdy train table was built by Patrick’s grandfather 15 years ago. Simple green window panels feature the same Lacefield Designs linen as in the living room.