Random Acts of Home Decor

I’m a decoraholic. A design devotee. A determined decorator. I spend hours drooling over beautiful rooms in magazines. I scour the Internet for the most popular paint colors. To me, HGTV is not a network, it’s a sacred institution.

Sometimes when I’m watching a movie, I will start to think about how well the colors in the room go together and then I’ll notice a fabulous lamp, how the books are all lined up across the mantel and — wait a minute — he’s a vampire?! (Fun fact: vampires typically have good taste in home furnishings and usually own expensive antiques.)

The problem is, as much as I love decorating, I am not very good at it. I blame it on my genes. I’m sure my ancient ancestors were the ones with the drab cave with all the clutter. Somehow, despite the thousands of magazines, shows and articles with “Can’t Miss Tips” for decorating, I can’t get it right.

It’s not that I don’t know what I like. I have very strong preferences in home decor. And I can sort of tell when something isn’t working. The problem is I just don’t know how to fix it. Some people have a natural ability to decorate. They throw around phrases like “pull a color out of the rug,” and “make sure all the undertones agree.” Well, I have spent hours sitting in my living room waiting for my undertones to communicate with me. So far, not a word.

Still, I refuse to be doomed to a lifetime of bed-in-a-bag and builder white walls. As a result, I’ve had to teach myself some basic guidelines. And I find that as long as I stick to them, I can usually keep myself out of the woods. Even if I’m decorating with a botanical theme (see Rule #3, below.)

Rule #1. There are no rules. Really! Decorate however you want. Your home should reflect you — your unique personality, your particular tastes. If a purple dining room with fuchsia curtains rocks your world, go right ahead.

Rule #2. The “Goes With” rule. This is a hard one, but if you can master it, it’s golden. It deals mostly with color, but can also apply to just about anything in a room.

The idea is to look for things that complement each other, but also are different enough to be interesting. Without clashing! I know, this is a BIG CONCEPT for the decor-challenged. Don’t expect to grasp it right away.

One of the goals is to avoid the dreaded “matchy-matchy,” also known as the “purse matches the shoes, matches the eye shadow” syndrome. You want to give the eye variety, but at the same time you don’t want to totally freak it out with TOO MUCH TO LOOK AT! It’s a fine line, and I’ve often had to call foul on myself for crossing it.

Rule #3. This is more of a warning, and it goes roughly something like: “Stay Out Of The Theme Park!”

This warning applies to a wide variety of themes, such as “ye olde worlde living room,” “the French countryside exploded in my kitchen” and the ever-popular “can’t see the tropics for all the palm trees and elephant lamps.”

It’s easy for the amateur decorator to stray into theme park territory, but you must, must, resist. I’m all for bringing a little international flavor to a home, but if your guests keep trying to flag down a waiter for more chips and salsa, you might want to tone down the “South of the Border” decor a tad.

Rule #4. Ask. Also known as the Google referendum.

I’m a big believer in asking for help, advice and opinions. I realize personal tastes vary, and the lady at Calico Corners might have a passion for paisley you don’t share but she also probably knows exactly how much yardage you need to make a valance.

Another no-brainer for free information is, of course, the Internet.

HGTV.com is a veritable mother lode of all elements that are home related. Beyond information about television shows, the site also features articles, tips and how-to videos. A popular recent addition is “Rate My Space,” where ordinary people post pictures of their home decor projects. Total strangers then tell the decorator their opinion, rating them on a scale of one to five stars. I enjoy looking at all the rooms decorated by real people with real budgets.

Generally, in my travels across the Internet, I’ve garnered great tips about decorating and design. Through the magic of Google, I’ve researched architectural styles, located sources for antique hardware and even found a companion piece for my favorite monkey print.

I learned the “three plus one” trick for displaying decorative items: groupings of three, plus one on the opposite side. I learned how high to hang art: generally, the center of the art should be around eye level, but also take into consideration the space around the art.

Of course, sometimes I still get it wrong. I may not be a designer star just yet, but that’s okay. To me, my home is an on-going project, a canvas constantly changing to reflect my evolving taste and knowledge. As I continue to learn how to put things together, I continue to find joy in the expression of myself in my home. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes all it takes is a little paint, perhaps to cover up that pea soup color. And that, my friends, is some fine decorating.

Tara Zucker is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a book of humorous essays about finally finding love and the perfect paint color for the living room. Visit http://rahd.wordpress.com/ for more humorous writings about home decor.

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