5 Design on a Dime Lessons That Work for Any Room

If you weren’t lucky enough to attend the 2011 Design on a Dime, NYC’s hot-ticket annual design and fundraising event, and take something home from any one of the 50+ designer vignettes, fear not. Here are five tips you can take from my vignette, my first time designing for this star-studded fundraiser. Read on to see how designing for this premiere design and charity event was, surprisingly, a lot like the typical design process when there are four walls, not just three. What an honor, what extraordinary company (Nate Berkus, Iman, Robert Verdi, Laura Spencer, Ralph Lauren Home, Shawn Henderson, Miles Redd, James Huniford, to name-drop a few) but what a lot of work, pulling a high-style room together from generous donors, companies and friends. While the process for creating a room vignette for Design on a Dime to benefit Housing Works, was in many ways unconventional (primarily because everything had to be donated), it turned out to parallel the way a room comes together when I’m designing for clients in a lot of ways.
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1) Invest, Save and Splurge… and Start with a Rug. Every room should be an exercise in “Invest, Splurge and Save,” and that plan was mirrored here. The first thing I was able to nail down was a rug (a great place to start, and a great place to invest.) and it’s often the starting point in a client space.

Seating and key storage (like the Quinn chairs and Kimora credenza, all generously donated by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams) are also great places to invest. Choose pieces with quality construction, good bones and clean lines, and those investments will see you through more than a few location changes. Higher ticket decorative items and art (two pieces by artists Babette Herschberger) fall in the splurge category, and savings came from tapping catalog and Internet sources.

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2) A Little Room Can Take a Lot of Content. Okay, so maybe the Design on a Dime event might push this to an extreme (since everything in the room was there for sale), but most people stop short from realizing a room’s full potential. Nowhere does this hold more true than in a small space, which usually needs a LOT of function. Stopping short in a small space can actually make a room feel unfinished, and give your fewer places to sit, work or organize. What are the tricks to keep it from overwhelming the room? For one, keep bigger pieces in the same tonal range as your walls and/or flooring choices.
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3) Layer the Light.
One overhead in a rental and you think you’re done? Far from it. Furniture looks great in showrooms because they layer the light… overhead general lighting, overhead accents and directional lighting, lamplight, incandescent, halogen, so do the same at home. Not only does it create a flattering, layered plan, it also gives you functional differences in your space… for TV watching, working, cleaning, entertaining… even date-night smooching!

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4) Compare and Contrast… then Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Okay, so this is actually two tips. Everything in a room should share some commonality, to make it all sit together, but also have some real contrast (color or shape) to keep it from all looking like it arrived on one truck. Repeating elements (color, material or shape) helps with filling your room with function, but not overwhelming it with visual elements.

5) Shine Activates a Room.
Why do some rooms seem “activated” and others fall flat? Many times, the difference is shine. Metals, glass, mirror, even fabrics that have some sheen, like the chairs’ metallic vinyl, or the NIBA Rug Collections rug with its light-catching viscose content… all things that bounce light and add visual dimension. It also makes sure your nighttime lighting loots extra glamorous. But like in #4 above, repeat those metals (all silvers, or all brasses, for example) for continuity and easy-on-the eye transition.

For the rest of the 13 Tips, including mixing woods, bringing an organic quality into a space without loading up on houseplants, and more pictures, head to AskPatrick.

Resources of Note:


Special Thanks to:
Michael Tavano, Jan MacLatchie, Alex Channing, Bibi Mohammed and Bruce Schneider of Koroseal, and Eloise Goldman of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.

Images: Jody Kivort

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