The Best Designer-Tested Decorating Tips

One expert showed HGTV Magazine the tried-and-true ideas that took her house from drab to fab.

By: Kathleen Renda and Jennifer Berno DeCleene
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Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Photo By: James Merrell (Styled by Christina Wressell)

Home Shopping Your Way

Back in 2012, when Laura Burleson was searching for a new home after her divorce, she didn’t trudge through endless open houses or agonize about finding the perfect property. Instead she just knocked on the front door of a 1950s ranch house in her Tallahassee, FL, neighborhood and offered to buy the place—without even seeing the inside. “I wasn’t worried. I liked the exterior, and I knew I was going to redo the rooms anyway,” says Laura, a self-taught designer with a just-go-for-it attitude. The house got a fresh face once the brick was painted James White and the front door Teresa’s Green, both by Farrow & Ball, and the shutters DKC-8 by Donald Kaufman Color.

From Drab to Fab

She soon discovered that the inside was a dowdy mid-century relic, complete with dated paneling and a cramped layout. Laura did a gut reno in 11 months, transforming the 2,100 square feet into a sophisticated open-plan home that’s real-life livable for son Thatcher, 9, and daughter Gray, 8. Now every room brims with creative tweaks, crackerjack upgrades, and cost-savvy solutions. “I combined so many bold design decisions here, my builder warned me I might never be able to resell the house,” Laura says. “And that’s fine by me!” 

Living Room

Laura had an auto body shop powder-coat this box chandelier minty green to match her home’s front door.  Filling a large wall with art can strain a budget. The molding offers visual oomph at a fraction of the price. Having a pro spray the Henredon sofa’s linen fabric with a spillproof coating made it kid- and dog-compatible, a must since this is the only room for family TV watching.  Traditional furniture in a symmetrical arrangement sometimes looks stuffy. A modern lacquer and metal coffee table from Design Within Reach helps dial down the formality.

Mudroom

Wallpaper from Schumacher delivers major personality. “It would have looked too bulky if all you saw was woodwork,” Laura says.  With coat hooks, baskets, and smart drawers for charging electronics, the custom built-in encourages tidiness.

Kitchen

Cypress tongue-and-groove wall paneling, salvaged during the reno, was installed on the ceiling to cozy up the room. The planks were left unpainted to show off the wood’s grain.  An Arteriors chandelier with wire-wrapped beads is the room’s “conversation starter,” says Laura.  She bought the 78-inch-long pine table secondhand and painted it a mix of two shades of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (Country Grey and Old White).  There are no upper cabinets, but the 10-foot-long black walnut cabinet under the windows maximizes storage. 

Gray's Bedroom

PBteen canopy beds give Gray’s room a little drama and make sleepovers more fun. The extra-long bed skirts are sewn from polka-dot fabric.  Peel-and-stick 3-D white butterflies and flowers from Target are scattered across the lilac wall.  The jumping-off point for the room’s palette: a chair upholstered in ikat Quadrille fabric.  

Gray's Bedroom

Laura scored the illuminated love sign on clearance at HomeGoods, then painted the frame coral.  A mirrored cabinet and a lacquered cane chair will remain stylish as Gray grows, so “I won’t have to keep redoing the room,” says Laura.

Thatcher’s Bedroom

“It’s fun to do really big in a small room,” Laura says of the Dalmatian watercolor in Thatcher’s 14-foot-by-13-foot room. Space is at a premium, so a cherry desktop was put on piano hinges to fold flat when not in use.

Thatcher’s Bedroom

Only one roll of striped Ralph Lauren wallpaper was needed to jazz up the space above the cabinets. The sconces, exterior lights from The Home Depot, were powder-coated blue at an auto body shop to match the walls.  Laura designed the built-in bed with recessed shelves and deep side cupboards for as much storage as possible. She made handles for the trundle bed out of old leather belts. 

Master Bedroom

To show off the bead-swagged chandelier and curvaceous bed, Laura painted the walls and trim quiet gray (Elephant’s Breath by Farrow & Ball).  Billowy pink drapes sewn from silk organza “remind me of a 1950s ball gown,” says Laura.  Grouped together, nonmatching creamware plates and saucers instantly resemble a cohesive collection. None of the flea market finds cost more than $20.  The Henredon nightstand is from Laura’s childhood bedroom. She painted it the same hushed gray as the walls and trim.

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