The most important guideline in mixing furniture and objects is balance, which is based on three concepts: scale, color and style. Scale simply means that in any one room, the large and small pieces should not all be clustered in one area. If you are the proud owner of a baby grand piano and a tall breakfront, these two pieces should be as far from one another as possible and preferably at diagonal opposites. The sheer bulk of each balance the bulk of the other, preventing a feeling that the whole room is tipping over at one end.
Balance in color is also helpful. In a neutral room, for instance, one single bright accent is as unsettling as showing a red cloak to a bull. The accent should be repeated elsewhere.
Style is also an integral part of the balancing act. An unbalanced room is one in which all the furnishings are contemporary except for a single end table or one Chippendale chair. A balanced look is where the writing desk or end table at one end of the room is balanced by the Chippendale chair at the other end, placed at right angles to the sofa.
The concept of balance is simple: Don't pull all your eggs in one basket. In one contemporary living room. I used a grouping at the window that handily illustrates balance of scale, style and color. The background is definitely modern: an arched window finished with a sill-height counter that conceals a radiator and in-the-wall air-conditioning. Filling the open space under the edge is shelf storage behind pairs of hinged doors.
In front of this sleek set-up is an oversized, soft wing chair, its rounded back echoing and balancing the arch of the window frame. On the wall is a huge antique clock, originally used to tell time at a country railroad station, but picked up by the owner at a local flea market. A modern chrome reading lamp hovers over the chair on one side, while a delicate Queen Anne plantstand doubles as a small end table.
The colors help maintain the balance. Dark teal blue walls and white woodwork are contrasted with off-white velours of an arm chair, while the rug repeats the blue and adds a touch of rust that is repeated in an occasional pillow on the chair.