Your Home: 100 ideas under $100

Designer tricks for the living room

Architects and interiors specialists share their secret sources, strategies for clever styling, organizing tips, and other home updates you can do yourself.

By Marni Elyse Katz and Deblina Chakraborty
June 12, 2009
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Think inside the box Interior designer and color expert Susan Sargent, who has a home on Beacon Hill and a paint, textile, and ceramics business in southern Vermont, put together a "spice" palette for the home pictured at right. Most of the colors were then used to accent a grid of bookshelves. Susan Sargent Designs, 3609 Main Street, Manchester Village, Vermont, 802-366-4955,

Loosen up Ipswich artist Janice Colby has a message for anyone thinking about decorating -- not just painting -- a table or chair. "If you plan to paint patterns or designs," she says, "let loose. It looks better if it's not perfect."

Go for the bold For solid jobs, Essex architectural color designer Kimberly Collins Jermain recommends using rich colors to emphasize the silhouette of the piece you're painting. But if you have a matched set, don't use just one color, Jermain says. "Use similar but distinct colors, such as deep red and rich burgundy, then add a complementary color, like forest green."

Focus your efforts Wallpaper has made a big comeback. But Boston interior designer Kathie Chrisicos likes using it in a limited way in clients' living rooms. She papers only the fireplace wall, making it even more of a focus. (And often using just one roll.)

Split things up Belmont designer Kristine Mullaney, who helps some clients simply rearrange their own furniture, suggests uncoupling your sectional's parts. Often, she says, an L-shape cuts off access to part of the room, like a bay window. Use the parts instead to create distinct, discrete seating areas.

Bring the heat Don't take a sledgehammer to that tile hearth you hate. Paint it, says Jeanne Babel of Babel's Paint & Decorating. First, scrub off soot with TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water, then rinse and dry completely. Next, brush on Stix Bonding Primer. When dry, finish with two coats of semigloss. Babel's Paint & Decorating, 23 Cottage Street, Norwood, 781-762-3128, and other locations;

Read more into it Still organizing books by subject and author? Sure, that's practical, but color is much prettier. Start by sorting books into color groups, then "use a color wheel" as you re-shelve "to help guide your color transitions," says Watertown interior designer Urit Chaimovitz.

Sew nice If you're sewing curtains, pillows, or taking on a bigger project, Everything LEB ( blogger Lindsay Butler of Brookline recommends the upholstery selection at discounter Sewfisticated, where she recently scored high-end Schumacher fabric for less than $7 per yard. Sewfisticated Discount Fabrics, Twin City Plaza, 14 McGrath Highway, Somerville, 617-625-7996, and 735 Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester, 617-825-2949;

Create boundaries If you work and play in the same space, add a divider to make your home feel more like home. NYX Jewelry designer Nicole Rueda-Watts sewed rings to the top of a huge stretch of gauzy fabric and hung it from hooks she installed in the ceiling of her Boston loft. When she wants to open things up, she uses a sash to pull the curtain off to the side. For a sleeker look, hang IKEA's Kvartal track and sheer white panels. IKEA, 1 IKEA Way, Stoughton, 781-344-4532,

Define your detailing Designer Susan Sargent painted the mantel pictured at left two shades of lime green. "It made the wall come to life," she says, "and emphasized the geometry of the fireplace." (She used the same trick in the room that's pictured on the cover.) As a finishing touch, she also painted an inexpensive lampshade with matching acrylic.

Minimalize to muslin Audra Boyle, owner of South End clothing boutique Looc, wanted to use an imported print to upholster the s hop's Louis XVI-style chairs. When she saw the cost, she decided to "embrace the unfinished effect -- it's chic," she says, and stuck with plain white muslin. This looks especially good on ornate pieces.

Shade softly Back Bay interior designer Jeffrey Delvy insists on colored lampshades over harsh white for his clients' homes, often matching a color from a pillow or drape in the same room. To warm up a paper shade you already own, you can use any paint at all, he says -- as long as you use it on the shade's inside. Says Delvy: "I had black shades with bright white interiors that I painted copper," to create warmer light.

Display your cache Attractive china plates you've inherited or found at a shop like Upstairs Downstairs Antiques on Charles Street should be displayed, says Boston interior designer Annsley McAleer. Group plates with a color or theme in common, like roses or graphic blacks and whites, and let your space dictate the pattern. Before hanging, she suggests, use paper templates to try out different arrangements. Plate hangers cost around $3 at hardware stores. Upstairs Downstairs Antiques, 93 Charles Street, Boston, 617-367-1950

Trim down Lindsay Butler of Everything LEB ( recommends punching up pillows by attaching trim with either HeatnBond iron-on adhesive or Fabri-Tac fabric glue, though for pillows that get a lot of use, she recommends sewing (or having a dry cleaner do it).