Linda Woodrum's Design Basics

HGTV Dream Home designer Linda Woodrum shares her tips on how to fix decorating mistakes and find inspiration.

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Walking into the bright green sitting room is a little like entering a hobbit haven, complete with ferns, birds' nests and tables made from twigs.

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  1. Design 101

Nature's Inspiration

HGTV: How do you decorate when you're starting from scratch with an empty room?
Woodrum: You always need a starting point. With the 2006 HGTV Dream Home, we had that location and those views. Most of us in our real lives don't have that. So your starting point can be a color, a room, a piece of furniture, a memento, a place you've been and responded to emotionally and want to re-create.

In the HGTV Dream Home, the sitting room that connects the main part of the house to the guest quarters didn't have those dominant views, so I really was starting from scratch. Lake Lure in winter is a cold, mountainous area where the trees all lose their leaves and it?s very brown. It made me remember how much I miss spring now that I live in the South. Spring in the Northeast is so powerful — you have the gray gloominess of winter, and the first green of spring is a wonderful time of anticipation and expectation.

So I designed that entire room with the image of spring in mind. First I found the Tibetan rug, and the brown and cream weave made me think of the ground in late winter. Then I added the Sherwin Williams paint on the walls ("Sassy Green") and the upholstery in the same color. Then I just kept piling it on – I brought in pots, because spring is the time when you repot your plants, and ferns, and the twig table. Once you get your idea, you just build on it in any way, shape or form you can.

What Doesn't Belong?

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Sometimes the item that provides the inspiration for a room (in this case a pot of sunflowers) doesn't make it into the final mix.

Q: What if you make mistakes?
A: You have to learn to let go of things; that's called "editing." In the HGTV Dream Home master bedroom, for instance, I had a large urn filled with sunflowers that I thought would be perfect for that room. But when we got the room together and I put the urn in there it just looked dumb. It was too cute; too contrived. And that was probably one of the first purchases I made for that room! Sometimes, the thing you fall in love with, the thing that inspires the idea for the whole room, is the thing that ends up not working and you have to let it go. The master bedroom still has that sunflower idea – yellows and browns and blacks, but it's not overdone. There's one found art painting of a sunflower, but nothing that screams, "This is the sunflower room!"

Getting Color Right

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Trial and error led to the just-right tomato red of the bunkroom beds.

Q: What about bigger mistakes — painting a room the wrong color, or buying a piece of furniture that doesn't look right once you get it in place?
A: No matter how much you plan, no matter how much you think you've got it covered, about 10 to 20 percent of the design process involves big surprises. You have to accept that it takes some trial and error. In the bunkroom, we originally picked a very brownish red paint for the bunks. I was thinking about it at two in the morning and realized that it was going to look too brown next to the paneling, that we needed an intense red that would really pop. The architect was concerned the tomato red was so strong you wouldn't be able to see the lovely grain of the wood in the bunks. We watered down the paint and applied it as a kind of stain, and it looked pink! Finally we went with the tomato red paint, full strength. That's a very typical process, where you have the concept, but it took three steps to get it right.

Follow the Basics

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Another set of eyes can help create a living vignette in your home.

Q: Do you have to know the basic principles of design or other design tricks to decorate a room?
A: Everybody needs references, and you can keep the principles of design — value, color, form, shape, line, space, and texture — as a list in front of you. And the more you use them, the more that becomes another level of knowledge that's part of you. I worked with interior designer Wendy Lofton, from Platt Architecture, on many parts of the house. We were trying to fill the bookcases on either side of the fireplace in the living room, which really took a long time. We'd stand back and say, "It's not working. It looks like everything is round, or there's too much white." So we'd take out a round item and add a square object, and substitute something shiny for something white. Sometimes you're almost blinded by being too close to it, and that's where it helps to have a collaborator.

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