Style Time Capsule: Decorating Advice from 1981

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A few weeks ago, when I posted about design in 1975, many of you asked for a 1980s edition. I realize that 1981 barely counts as "the 80s," but you're at the mercy of my book collection, and Mary Gilliatt's The Decorating Book (1981) still has plenty to offer that's distinct from our tour through the 70s.

Here are some choice bits and pieces from the text (all text and images © Dorling Kindersley Ltd. & Mary Gilliatt, 1981):

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Most of the surfaces here gleam as if to reflect the expanse of glass at the far end. The walls and floor seem bleached out in deference to the foliage, and the tight-rolled matchstick blind at the top of the window embrasure creates its own demarcation line. Polished chrome furniture frames and planter contrast with the softness of the upholstery, as does the shining lacquer of the coffee table and the glass vase and objects. A room with a large expanse of glass enables people to enjoy all the feeling of outdoors, indoors.

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New juxtapositions and injections of color can transform even the dullest space. A darkish room, for instance, can be painted white and spiced with plants and pillows in primary colors to make a totally fresh looking, unrecognizable space.

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Strong, dark colors seem to move in, so if a ceiling seems too high in proportion to the rest of the room, an intense color will help bring it down visually. To make a room seem more compact, add a continuous band or stripe of color, or a contrasting picture molding round a room. Soft, matte surfaces diminish a sense of space, so use non-shiny paint for the walls of an over-large room.

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If sure use of color is absolutely basic to good decorating, a feeling for texture and pattern is the refinement or gloss and should be considered just as seriously as the whole process of building up colors in a room.

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This entrance hall is typical of many small houses, with its staircase at one end and a living room off to one side. The exercise is to make it as warm and welcoming as possible. The scheme relies on the tawny colors and different textures of matting, furniture, and rug to provide warmth against the brilliant white background.

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Beams are such a dominant feature in any room, tending to make the space seem long and low, that they need special treatment if they are not to overwhelm a space. The weathered color of the beams is repeated in various degrees throughout this room, so instead of being overpowering they fit neatly into it.

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Think consciously, first of all, of creating a foreground, middle ground, and background, a definite three-dimensional effect. The eye can be drawn out and along by diagonal or geometric or directional lines on the floor. Mirrored surfaces will always give added length, depth, and width to a room.

(Image credits: Mary Gilliatt/The Decorating Book; Mary Gilliatt/ The Decorating Book)