Personalize Your Place With Homemade Decorations

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Q I sold my darling Capitol Hill condo and moved into an apartment. It's okay but has plain, white walls and no painting is allowed. I'm missing all the personal touches I added to my condo. What can I do to make my new home feel "homey," short of dozens more throw pillows and candles? -- Washington

A Because you cannot tamper with the walls, the best way to make your atmosphere homier is to bring color into your apartment by imaginatively using your wall space and the floor, said Dupont Circle interior designer Kerry Touchette.

"You can't paint the walls so you're stuck on hanging things on it. And textiles on the floor are also good, especially if you want to get something you will keep and carry to your next apartment," he said.

"If you're just trying to make it look homey, a lot of things can be used in terms of adding a little interest," Touchette said. Among those touches are large, colorful art pieces, table coverings and skirts, mirrors, plants, rugs and floor pillows.

What might really make a place homey, Touchette suggested, is personalizing it by making your own decorations. "A nice pattern, a textile kind of thing is a quick and easy way to make something your own. Otherwise you're stuck with posters or prints from museums that you have to frame, which can get expensive," he said.

For example, buy colorful table coverings or take an old baby quilt or other piece of light-weight fabric. Then at an art store, framing store or somewhere such as Target or Ikea, buy a large canvas stretched across a wooden frame. Stretch your own fabric over the blank (or ugly) canvas and tack it to the back of the frame.

Another way to make a place more you is to display groups of similar items that you like, such as a collection of pottery or framed mirrors or varying sizes of green plants. "It's good to have things that are compatible, like a collection of little pitchers or creamers that you put together on a table surface," Touchette said. "Whatever the identifying common denominator is, if it's blue and white, then get a lot of blue and white and make sure it's represented well. In terms of pictures, it's better to have a series of things that are compatible rather than a whole lot of stuff that doesn't go. You can have an eclectic look, but you don't want it to look mismatched." Also, don't be afraid of colorful serving dishes and those things that you can display outside of your cabinets. "White is boring," he said.

As you've discovered, candles can add a nice touch and make your living environment feel more comfortable, but obviously be mindful that too many candles, or even just one neglected candle, could be a fire hazard.

So maybe instead of lighting a lot of candles to overcompensate for not owning your walls, look for a lamp that you like that might bring safer, more permanent life to your place.

It's good to have balanced lighting in your apartment. Touchette rejects the $19.95 torchiere lamp that many apartment-dwellers have. He said its hot bulb makes it dangerous, plus it breaks easily and does not help give your apartment a light balance. You can do this with different-size lamps as well as by putting mirrors around your apartment to bounce off the natural light that comes in your windows. The French tradition of hanging a mirror in the space between two windows is also a nice touch, Touchette said.

You also want to make sure you pay attention to proportion and symmetry because too many decorative items will make your apartment look cluttered. In this respect, Touchette warned that one giant piece of furniture can make your apartment look and feel smaller and said that sometimes it's better to get pairs of smaller items, such as two chairs instead of a chair-and-a-half.

But the key to making a place homey, Touchette said, is more about what you do with the walls and floors than furniture. So, when you're done making your own canvas or finding your favorite tall plant, you could also look for floor coverings. If you have hardwood floors that are not covered with wall-to-wall carpeting, then rugs are another good way to bring in color and make the place inviting and warm. So is a collection of differently shaped, trendy, large floor pillows.

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