Many of us breeze through domestic life blissfully oblivious to the rules of interior design. We paint the walls, move the furniture, and replace the bric-a-brac according to our whims and perhaps inspiration from a page or two of a magazine.
But even if we don't consciously think about rules, odds are we're still following the unwritten ones we grew up with. Take white ceilings, for example. Until recently, no matter what cutting-edge hue you picked out for the family room, chances are you also grabbed the ''ceiling white,'' because well, just because. Ceilings are supposed to be white, right?
Not really. Interior design choices have loosened quite a lot in the past few years. ''The first rule is that there are no rules,'' says Edwina Drummond, owner of Edwina Drummond Interiors in Waltham. ''Everybody's spaces are different.''
In many cases, yesterday's design ''rules'' are today's design myths. Here's some insight into the new reality of design.
You can't mix antique and contemporary
People who want a new look are often hesitant to incorporate their older pieces. In fact, fine antiques and collectibles harmonize well with modern designs. The proper mix can even create a more personal and unique look for your home than an all-period or all-contemporary look.
Small rooms need to be painted light colors to appear larger
Not true, say most designers. "You can take that small room and paint it a dark color to make it very dramatic," says Waltham designer Edwina Drummond.
Everything [color, period, style] must match
This design notion trips up homeowners more than almost any other. "People get really hung up on this, and especially on color," says Drummond. Too many matching colors and patterns may in fact create an unsophisticated effect. If every piece of furniture is the same make and model, your room could end up looking like it belongs in a furniture warehouse instead of a home. "Don't be afraid to mix and match," says Mollie Johnson of Mollie Johnson Interiors in Wellesley.
Small rooms call for small furniture
Follow this stricture too closely and you may end up feeling like Alice in Wonderland after her growth spurt. People often try to cram many small items into a small room, according to Eric Roseff of Roseff Designs in Dorchester, when a few large items, chosen well, can make the room work to its best advantage.
Interior design must reflect the era of the house
"People moving into a brownstone or a Colonial think they need to stick with those periods," says Ken Dietz, owner of Dietz & Associates, a Jamaica Plain design fi rm. "Especially in Boston, which is so tied to a traditional background." In fact, that 1880s brownstone need not consign you to life amid dark velvet draperies and gilded mirrors. Windows of that era work well with lighter fabrics, for example, or even shades, "which accentuate the period details," according to Dietz.
Ceilings must be painted white
It's not always a bad idea, but white doesn't "lift up" a ceiling, which was for many years one of the prevailing theories behind its use. Karen Newman, co-owner of Pentimento, a design firm based in Newton, speculates that ceilings also ended up white by default because they were afterthoughts. "People saw a room as four walls," she says, "and the ceiling as not part of the room." This certainly wasn't true in the days when Michaelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, she points out, and it's becoming less true today.
Contemporary means stark
Many people think of contemporary as cold and minimal, such as apiece of sculpted rock sitting atop a glass coffee table in front of a white couch in an otherwise empty room. Not so. "You can make a contemporary environment very lush with the proper use of fabrics, lighting, textures, etc," says designer Ken Dietz. With soft fabrics, gentle lighting, and comfortable furniture, your contemporary home can be as warm and welcoming as the stereotypical country cottage.
You can redesign a home in 24 hours
Home makeover shows on TV have given some clients unrealistic expectations about how long it actually takes to develop and execute a design, says designer Mollie Johnson. "If you hire a designer, it takes at least a month to get things in. It can take up to six months if you order customized items." Even if you're going the do-it-yourself route, don't expect to take care of everything in one visit to Crate & Barrel. It takes time to decide what you want, to fi nd it, and to make sure that it all works together.
New design means tossing old collections
Though massive compilations of salt cellars or beer steins do present a challenge, these treasured items needn't be consigned to the attic. One way of dealing with unruly collections, according to Ken Dietz of Dietz & Associates, is to edit them, saving just your favorites. Organize those items into one cabinet or mount them onto a single wall, where, with proper lighting, the collection becomes a work of art in its own right.
Wall-to-wall carpet has to be the same in every room
While few designers recommend abutting different colors and patterns of carpet between, say, a living room and dining room, the case is different for bedrooms, which are, notes designer Mollie Johnson of Wellesley, "each individual's unique space." What is necessary, she explains, are dividers of metal, wood, or stone, for a clean break between different carpets.