22 Decorating Secrets Only The Pros Know — Until Now

Throw everything you thought you knew out the window.

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Francesco Lagnese

Some people have a natural eye for design, but we're more in the camp of those who can't do anything without consulting board upon board before making any major changes. And even then, expectations don't always meet reality. We'd love to have an interior designer on speed dial before deciding just exactly where and how hang to hang that sweet new wall art we bought on a whim, but until we win the lottery, we'll have to settle for trusting our guts, and taking plenty of design tips where we can get them. We've complied some secrets straight from the pros to help you with all your decorating needs.

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Whether you're reviving planks with a fresh coat or adding a herringbone pattern.
Natipernavigare
Establish A Color Scheme

For a head-to-toe makeover, the first step is creating a palette. "I come up with a basic color scheme for the whole house, and then I take that from room to room," reveals Gary McBournie, a designer based in Boston. "It plays itself out in different ways in different rooms."

More: 20+ Fresh New Color Combinations to Try

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James Merrell
Fake Height

"Create strong verticals and avoid the horizontal," recommends designer Todd Romano. "I adore large mirrors because they add scale to a room. I also kept the furniture low-slung, so the rooms seem taller."

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"Show, don't tell, what you're serving with a well-appointed bar. Guests feel more at home when they can help themselves." —Bunny Williams
Melanie Acevedo
Stock Your Bar

Cleaning up clutter can be a good thing, but there's one thing hosts should never stow away. "Show, don't tell, what you're serving with a well-appointed bar," says Bunny Williams. "Guests feel more at home when they can help themselves."

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matthew quinn kips bay
Joshua McHugh
Extend Your Backsplash

Eye-catching tile can make a statement in the kitchen as well as in the bathroom. Cover as much of the wall as the budget allows, recommends designer Angie Hranowsky. Matthew Quinn, also a designer, agrees: "It feels more like a French bistro this way," he says of this blue-gray backdrop.

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Amy Neunsinger
Add Texture

Neutral decor can be interesting — just include a variety of materials. "I used a range — from fine-gauge and open-weave linen, to raw silk and taffeta, to cotton velvet and distressed velvet," says California-based designer Ohara Davies-Gaetano. "Not only that, there's also the contrast of matte sheens that absorb the light, and lustrous sheens that reflect it."

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Francesco Lagnese
Play With Textiles

You might think of straw as an outdoor textile, but it'll look just as good indoors. "Straw, jute, rush — natural materials and neutral tones are they always chic," says Braff. "They're the white T-shirt of interior design."

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"Use and enjoy your antiques and unique finds, especially in a utilitarian room like the bathroom. Keep cotton swabs in a hand-painted tin or sea-grass box; hang art that can survive a splash." —Bunny Williams
Francesco Lagnese
Put Investment Pieces Up Front

If you truly love something, you'll want to put it on display. "Use and enjoy your antiques and unique finds, especially in a utilitarian room like the bathroom," advises designer Bunny Williams.

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Eric Piasecki
Swap Chairs For Benches

Dining room benches might not be conventional, but they sure are cozy. "You automatically feel more friendly when you're sharing a seat," points out designer Thom Filicia. "It could quickly become corporate if you were looking at a room full of chairs." Vicente Wolf, also a designer, agrees on mixing it up: "You wouldn't have eight identical chairs in your living area."

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Francesco Lagnese
Use The 50/150 Rule

For the perfect color family, mix one batch of paint 50% lighter than the base and another 150% darker. "That's a fail­safe method for striping a wall," says Mary Douglas Drysdale, who designed this bold blue kitchen. "It's also a very architectural way of using color."

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Courtesy of Jan Showers
Warm Up A Room With Mirrors

Mirrored panels like the ones lining this alcove can be elegant — but don't just slap them up, designer Jan Showers warns. Large sheets of mirror will look commercial, so try a sectioned pattern in the traditional French style instead.

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Getty Images
Add Velvet

"I don't think it will last too long, but the look of velvet is a big trend," says and designer on the new season of Trading Spaces, Sabrina Soto. She embraced this material by buying a deep blue velvet couch for her formal living room, but if you want a safer choice, go with a soft gray.

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Douglas Friedman
Don't Skimp On The Sofa

Don't postpone a makeover because of messy kids. "Put your money into a comfortable, well-made sofa that you'll have forever," advises Krista Ewart, a designer based in California. "You don't have to deny yourself that expensive designer fabric you love — just put it on something small, like a pillow."

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contrast palette
Kilz
Try A High Contrast Palette

"I'm really into saturated color with white to balance it out so it doesn’t feel over-whelming," says Joanna Gaines, the star of HGTV's and mastermind behind in partnership with Kilz. Having trouble picking out a bold color? Gaines recommends green, because it's found in nature and timeless.

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martha angus and katie mccaffrey bedroom desk
James Carrière
Choose The Right Curtain Length

"For classic side panels, you really have to go all the way to the floor," designer Scot Meacham Wood says. "If you're looking at ready-made drapes, make sure that they touch the floor, even if you have to buy the next size up and have them hemmed."

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Although his Manhattan studio apartment totals just 525 square feet, Max Sinsteden conjured up a gracious "enfilade" extending from the foyer, in Fine Paints of Europe's Cave Creek, to the curtained off bed alcove. The stunning Art Deco console is by Bermingham & Co.
Ngoc Minh Ngo
Paint Your Rental

A temporary space can look beautiful, even with a small budget. "We are so used to having painters sand for ages to produce mirror-smooth walls, but I wasn't about to spend the money to do that in a rental," says designer Max Sinsteden of his bright green entryway. "It turns out the irregular surface just sparkles all the more."

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Look online (and in thrift shops) for beautiful sets of antique china and silver flatware sold for less than a contemporary place setting. They often feel more special to guests than a brand-new one.
Francesco Lagnese
Mix Tableware

Matching can be so overrated — and expensive. Look online (and in thrift shops) for beautiful sets of antique china and silver flatware, recommends Williams. You'll save money and the place settings will feel more special to guests than brand-new ones.

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JAMES BAIGRIE
Paint Your Ceiling

Kitchens with floor-to-ceiling cabinets can look dark, but here's how to fool the eye: Designer Caitlin Moran will paint the ceiling a slightly paler version of the walls, so the room seems brighter even with just a few windows.

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Joe Schmelzer
Mix Metallics

Metallic finishes already add plenty of sparkle, but the sheen will make a bigger impact in a variety of colors. "I don't know why people don't mix gold with silver more often — they look so smart together," says designer John De Bastiani. "The key is to use a lot of both; you can't be shy with one or the other."

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Paul Raeside
Go Dark

Taking the plunge on a strong hue can be intimidating, but the best way is to dive in head first. "One of the most successful strategies is to paint a strong color on everything, from the baseboard and crown molding to the walls," says Garrow Kedigian, a designer based in New York. "It works well because it's not contrasted against a different trim color."

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TREVOR TONDRO
Fake Square Footage

Most people opt for a frosted glass or an opaque curtain for extra privacy, but there's something to be said for transparency. Glass shower doors, like in this guest bathroom by designer Amy Meier, add instant square footage. To complete the illusion, run the floor tiles straight into the stall. "It makes the room feel larger," adds designer Alla Akimova. "If I had changed materials, it would have interrupted the space."

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Courtesy of Jan Showers
Hang Mirrors Strategically

When hanging mirrors, think carefully about what they'll will reflect, advises Showers. You want to pick up a great scene, like a pretty chandelier.

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pillows on a sofa
Victoria Pearson
Pile On Pillows

One pair of pillows always looks skimpy, says Melissa Warner, a California-based designer. Use two pairs, in contrasting patterns, colors, and textures. De Bastiani agrees: "I don't do dinky accents...small pillows look like something that came with the furniture."

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