Design tips to cheer up your home in winter

January 11, 2012

January can be a bit of a tricky month for many of us. The holiday season is clearly over, but spring is just a tiny light at the end of a long winter tunnel at this point.

Right around this time of year, I used to find myself longing to be transported to one of a handful of favored luxury properties in the world, so I started implementing some simple design lessons I’ve learned from them into my own home.

I’m not talking about hotels that cater to business travelers, with rooms replete with printers and a Starbucks squarely planted in the lobby. Those hotels are great, too, but I don’t have a deep longing to be transported to them.

Last year, I spent three out of every four weeks in those kinds of hotels traveling for work. Although they all excel at what they do, I’d rather be home if possible. I’m talking about the most fantastic, continuously top-ranked, luxury properties in the world, which folks voluntarily travel thousands of miles to. The kinds of places where you hope no business center exists and where your cellphone doesn’t get a signal.

Unquestionably, there is something magically relaxing about stepping into a room, or sometimes a villa, at one of these top-tier properties. They’ve figured out the simple but worthwhile elements that make it feel like you’re getting a visual massage when you step into your quarters.

A little more than a week ago, I returned from three such properties all located in various parts of Thailand, where I observed firsthand how they instantaneously unwind tired guests with what goes into their rooms. These easy-to-implement elements below might not push off your desire for an early spring, but they will certainly get you closer to making your home feel as relaxed as a five-star resort:

1. Place a bowl of fresh fruit in your bedroom or living room: At every property visited, fruit was abundantly displayed in the main living space. Putting fruit in a bowl is nothing new to most people’s kitchens, but moving that bowl of fruit into the living room, family room or bedroom sitting area somehow creates a warm ease in those spaces.

2. Forgo bath mats for a beautiful rug runner: Of course it’s true that most bath mats can be tossed into the washer and dryer, but they often look it, too. Consider a lush rug runner instead. It delivers so much more bang for the buck in the looks department, and a good rug runner actually gets better-looking with age. At the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, every bathroom is outfitted with exotic tribal runners that you’d normally see in high-end residential hallways but add a special touch of unexpected luxury in front of their bathroom vanities. Every time I brushed my teeth it felt special!

3. Transfer your bath/shower toiletries into attractive dispensers: No matter how great your shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and other bathroom essentials are, the plastic bottle packaging probably isn’t the most attractive part of your bathroom. At the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, contents are transferred into attractive dispensers that enhance the overall visual appeal of the bathroom.

4. Embrace real furniture in the bathroom: Who says you have to be restricted to furniture specifically designed for the bathroom in the bathroom? Top resorts have been using beautiful furniture that would look great in any room in your house in their bathrooms, and it adds a warm and welcoming accent to all of that chrome, marble and tile that most of us have.

5. Do something exotic above or around your bed: You always hear that you spend about one-third of your life in your bed, so why not take a cue from top luxury properties and really make it something special? Netting around it, a beautiful detail on the ceiling above it, or an elegant piece of artwork above the headboard (go for local student art in lieu of a poster if you’re trying to accomplish this on a budget) enhances the feeling that you’re somewhere really special.

6. Splurge on a bed runner: There is something really great about the little touch of luxury of a bed runner. Throws and blankets are always nice at the end of the bed, but consider mixing it up a bit with a bed runner instead. This is an opportunity to have something really simple and elegant at the end of your bed that doesn’t have to be machine-washable. Go for a luxurious material like a silk or something with special details or embroidery. This isn’t something that you’ll actually sleep with, so the possibilities of what you can do really can expand.

7. Stick to a tight color palette: The tighter your color palette, the easier it is for your eye to seamlessly flow from one area to the next without having to be distracted. At the Banyan Tree Samui, the living area flows directly into the bedroom, which flows directly into the bathroom, and all areas stick to a tight neutral color palette of warm sands, fresh whites, warm charcoal grays, and accents of gold. The consistent use of one color palette not only makes the space seem larger than it really is, it also instantly sets a relaxing tone that invites you to unplug.

8. Keep flowers simple and fresh: Flower arrangements don’t need to be complicated affairs. In fact, if you’re trying to create an easy and elegant mood, the simpler the better. At the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, a single orchid blossom floated in a small bowl of water on the coffee table. At the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, a single orchid sprig alongside the bathtub set an exotic tone. And at the Banyan Tree Samui, a single orchid blossom tied to a bunch of palm stems added the one splash that could be appreciated from every angle of the room. In the case of flowers, less is not only more visually but also more affordable and more doable.

9. Set up a water dispenser: Water dispensers are elegant and affordable, and can make a drink of water feel special. I purchased one for my kitchen island over the holidays after consistently noticing myself sipping refreshing water in hotel lobbies around the world. Slice citrus, add ice and enjoy a naturally flavored water treat that also turns up the luxury factor in your kitchen.

10. Get a ceramic oil burner: Every night, upon the completion of turn-down service at the Banyan Tree Samui, my bedroom transformed into a field of fresh lemongrass. It reminded me that experiencing a great and relaxing resort room isn’t just about the visuals, even for me. Lodged in the corner of my nightstand was a ceramic oil burner fueled by a single tea light that heated a small pool of water infused with several drops of essential lemongrass oil. I immediately purchased both lemongrass oil and a ceramic oil burner from the hotel gift shop, and now that same smell permeates my bedroom each night before I go to bed.

Yip is an interior designer and star of HGTV’s “Design Star” and “Bang for Your Buck.” Originally from McLean, Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. Follow him on Facebook (Vern Yip/Artist) and Twitter (@VernYipDesigns), and learn more at www.vernyip.com. His column will appear monthly.

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