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Mix the High, the Low and the Odd

Mix Master – ” The stage at the Tony Duquette studio ballroom, decorated with panels of crushed abalone shell, crystal chandeliers, and a throne from the Chapultapec palace in Mexico.” from

Every great designer worth their salt knows to mix the “lux” with the lowly and the exotic with the traditional too.

The key is to look at any item from the point of view of complete innocence. Forget where it came from and how much it cost. Just assess whether the size, shape color texture and mood it invokes adds something to the design you are creating and act accordingly. How about an antique Oriental rug on a concrete floor? How about a vintage beaded cashmere sweater (one that is a little too vintage to be worn as clothing, of course) used as a fabulous pillow cover?

Add a little glamour to modest surroundings and you’ll look like a genius.

Oh, grow up. No, all things do not go together willy-nilly just because you like them. Think before mixing. One of the most important concept to master in mixing styles is relatedness: A curve for a curve so to speak. Look at the shapes of the arms of your big upholstered pieces. They should relate to each other by similar curves or by similar square-ish-ness. The same is true about furniture shapes. Clean-lined furniture with similar legs play well together as does furniture with curved edges and legs.

Once you have ordered your major pieces into shape agreement, you can throw in a few opposites to create interest. In a “curve dominated” room, a clean and straight lined piece will stand out like jewelry. In “a room for squares”, use curved vases, and other rounded accessories. Extravagant bouquets of lush petaled peonies will lend harmony to the straight edges as well.

Regardless of provenance, keep an orderly rationale in mind. Some items serve a purpose, as with lighting sources such as lamps, while others, such as artwork or accessories, require thoughtful placement.

  • Shine a light. Most of us, for lack of a better experience, under-light our homes with either too few light sources, or worse, “over-light” with a couple of light sources at very high wattage.  What you want is a range of lighting options that meet your needs for the tasks at hand, as well as fill your rooms with an ambient glow to banish all dark corners. Lamps don’t have to be identical but they do have to have similar proportions and height, along with shades in similar colors or shapes.
  • Nix the scattershot approach. A small picture swimming by itself on a lot of wall space looks lonely. In the same vein, collections of “objets”, including those dear family photos, spread lovingly over every surface, are in grave danger of just looking messy. Groups of anything make more impact than a galaxy of single gestures. For some unknown reason, odd numbers of objects look better together than even numbers.

Step back and notice you are creating a Big Composition in three-dimensional space. For example, art over the sofa should be in proportion to the size of the sofa, i.e. Big. Create Big when necessary by grouping lots of smaller pictures together with about one and a half to two inches of space around each frame. Group these multiples in large geometric shapes like a rectangles, circles, diamonds, or squares.

The bottom line – keep it simple. Starring roles are like alpha dogs. There can only be one at any given time and place without a fight for attention. When styling a room, remember that between your walls, floors, ceiling and furniture, only one element can be the star performer in any given room, with all other details playing a supporting role.

Lighten Up. All great designers know that Magical Thinking has its place. Any sentence that has “should always”, “should only”, or “should never” in it, is a decorating mental block. The only “should always” that will net great results for you and your home is “have an open mind to new ideas”.

There will always be mistakes too…and sometimes they become your favorite thing. In the end it’s all about you and what you find beautiful and practical to live with.

Besides, as Dorothy Parker put it,  “A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.”

Make yourself at home.

Related Posts

Decor Aid: Where Do I Start?

Get Your Own Designer Look #2: Balancing Act

Get Your Own Designer Look #1: Vision Quest

Mixing Decor For Two #1:  Your Style

Wall Color Selection #8: Perfect Wall Color

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This part of a recent article I wrote for publication on It’s represented here as a foundation for further topic discussion, updates and commentaries…

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2 Responses to “Get Your Own Designer Look #3: It’s In The Mix”

  1. excellent writing about decorating, it is actually useful for me. keep writing and happy blogging.

  2. Hey, I just forwarded this to some friends, loving it!

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