Monday, February 22, 2010

Over or Under?

Have you ever seen those funny Cottonelle commercials? Word play or any other kind, when it comes to over or under, hey, it's all good. While some would insist that over is the right way, it all comes down to who is saying it. Who's to say what the right way to roll is? It's all a matter of preference.
Here's a video clip of the commercial:

Over or under. There still are matters that are best left being either way.

Filling up a display cabinet or a console table with everything you own and everything that's ever been given to you--OVER.
Edit, edit, edit! Not everything has to be on display. This is true in dressing yourself up or decorating your house. If you can no longer dust your display shelf or fireplace mantle because there are a hundred little things on it, it's time to take a long hard look at what you've got and decide which ones really deserve to seen in public.
Design note: When creating an arrangement of objects or a vignette, odd numbers work best (unless that number is something like 17). Have a variety of sizes and heights for visual interest.

A little bit of everything: This vignette of five items combines function and sentimentality and proves that you can express yourself on such a well-edited scale.

An empty coffee table--UNDER.
Sure, they were made for propping your feet up while watching TV, but even a simple vase of fresh flowers now and then can lift up your mood and bring color into your room.
Design note: A coffee table must be around 3/4 the length of your sofa and must be neither too high or too low for the seating around it.

Light and fit: Note the simple forms and lines on the flowers, the vase and the table. The transparency of glass allows you to add objects without adding much visual weight by allowing you to see through it. Right: Tanner Coffee Table, $399, Pottery Barn.

Pillows and throw pillows that occupy half of the bed--OVER.
In your room, the bed is your oasis, promising of comfort and pleasure at the end of the day. It should beckon you to jump in with abandon. The last thing you want to have to do is to remove eight or so small pillows to make room for you (and put them back on in the morning). You need to be able to fall into bed, to read, to sleep or whatever your business is. There should be no sweeping involved--they only do that in movies, and it's usually a huge desk in an office penthouse.
Design note: For a queen bed, a good formula would be two shams for visual bulk, for cushioning and for leaning, two or three regular pillows for sleeping, and one or two small-ish accent pillows for interest. You might also add a colorful throw for flourish and to cover yourself when you just want to sit up in bed without messing up your covers. 

Sweet slumber: A bed should look inviting and must fulfill that promise when you dive in. Left: Pia duvet set,$129,

Big wall, small picture frames--UNDER.
Scale and proportion. The issue at hand here is the relationship between objects or parts of a whole.  A big expanse of wall calls for a bigger piece of framed art, or a carefully chosen collage of smaller pieces that read as a whole. For general purposes, most frames should hang at eye level or just a few inches above that, and there should be no more than 12-15 inches of negative space (the empty wall space) on the left and right sides of the frame or collage of frames. A really small picture frame just gets lost when hung on a big wall. 
Design note: Photos too small? Mat them! An 8" x 10" photograph can be blown up using a larger frame with a mat.

Vary and unify: The different sizes and orientations of the frames are unified by using the same kinds of frames and all black and white photos. Right: Esquire Collection wall frames, Aaron Brothers

Small room, huge sofa--OVER.
Again, scale and proportion. It was a sad day when I had to tell a friend there was just no way we could rearrange her living room unless she parted with one of her two overstuffed leather recliner sofas. The problem was she had this small living room and these two huge sofas. This is a common mistake when selecting living room seating.  Why? Viewed in a large showroom with high ceilings, these sofas don't really look big at all, but in any given standard 250 sq. foot living room, they are simply what they are--oversized. While they would fit in a large family room, they are too big for most. There should be enough space left for other items and for proper circulation.
Design note:  There should at least be 18 inches of space between your coffee table and the edge of your sofa.

If you must have leather: Choose carefully. This leather sofa achieves balance by toning down the heft of leather with its slim scale and straight lines. It is all leather but looks light because it is raised up on legs. Avoid monotony by picking a chair covered in fabric, no more need to be matchy-matchy. Also note the open design of the coffee and side tables used to balance the visual weight of the leather sofa.
Right: Photo from
Not enough lighting--UNDER.
The better stores can make that dress look really good on you in the fitting room, you buy it without a second thought. The furniture looks so much better at a Crate and Barrel store than at any Walmart not just because they mostly are, but because even the finest cherry cabinet will look dull and washed out under Walmart's high ceilings and stark, industrial white lighting. Even the prize (and/or taste) difference of a burger at a Chili's restaurant  and at a Burger King has something to do with the lighting at either stores. A Burger King Whopper (albeit in harsh, flourescent lighting) often tastes better than the restaurant variety, but sometimes you are willing to pay more for the pleasure of eating your burger at a dimly-lit Island's or Chili's. We will eat and run in one and tend to linger in another. Lighting is one of the most important elements in the design of a room. An improperly lit space can have the best looking furnishings but still look dull. Colors and textures are dulled when there is not enough proper lighting in the room. A room can look smaller if there are too many dark corners, and we cannot perform our functions well if there is not enough task lighting.
Design note: Have at least the two basic kinds of lighting: Ambient and task. Ambient is the general lighting you have in the space, such as your recessed lights. No recessed lights? Floor lamps and table lamps scattered around the room fill it with beautiful pools of light. Task lighting is the kind you use for tasks such as reading. For example, a side table beside a chair or a couch must have a table lamp for reading. 
Go Green!: That being said, there are now CFL (Compact Flourescent Lighting) bulbs for every purpose. The technology has come a long way, they now come in various sizes and shapes and the light is much warmer you'd think it was incandescent. 

Placement is key: Most overhead lighting such as our recessed can lights, only provide general light, and on low ceilings can cast unflattering shadows on people's faces. Otherwise they are too high to light up tasks such as reading. Floor lamps like these, double-duty as ambient and task lighting. Above left: Tripod Floor Lamp, $350, Design Within Reach. Right: Pleated Shade Floor Lamp, $249, West Elm