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Doug's Rooms: Transforming Your Space One Room at a Time

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You marvel as Doug Wilson races against the clock to create stylish, over-the-top rooms on Trading Spaces, and you dream of inviting him into your own home to do his thing. Now your dreams have come true. Here are Doug’s insider secrets, tips, and pointers for creating high-impact interiors, with easy step-by-step instructions for duplicating many of his projects and effects. Complete with special “Kick Start” sections that show how you can use any item (even your favorite handbag or a souvenir from your last ...
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Overview

You marvel as Doug Wilson races against the clock to create stylish, over-the-top rooms on Trading Spaces, and you dream of inviting him into your own home to do his thing. Now your dreams have come true. Here are Doug’s insider secrets, tips, and pointers for creating high-impact interiors, with easy step-by-step instructions for duplicating many of his projects and effects. Complete with special “Kick Start” sections that show how you can use any item (even your favorite handbag or a souvenir from your last vacation) to inspire a new look in any room—Doug’s Rooms will help you design spaces that will make your friends turn green with envy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400050154
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/16/2004
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Wilson has created sophisticated and innovative paint and plaster treatments, furniture, and lighting concepts for some of the most noteworthy homes in America. He has collaborated with revered interior designers such as Albert Hadley and Alexa Hampton. Doug demonstrates his design skills on the hit TV series Trading Spaces and now shares his expertise as host of TLC’s America’s Ugliest and Moving Up. He has been featured in national publications such as House Beautiful, House & Garden, Elle Décor, and the New York Times, is a frequent guest on NBC’s Today, and writes a column for InTouch Weekly.
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Read an Excerpt

Part I: how to decorate

Decorating intimidates a lot of people. I see the evidence all the time when I'm taping Trading Spaces or giving lectures on design. Everywhere I go, I meet homeowners who are stressed out by the whole interior design process. They're short on time, money, and creativity. They're frustrated that their interiors resemble generic rent-to-own showrooms, with matching suites of generic furniture, but they're confused about how to improve them because they aren't exactly sure what the problem is. So they resort to decorating by default.

Maybe you're even guilty of this, too. Tell me if this sounds familiar: For the master bedroom, you buy a headboard, two coordinating nightstands, and a matching dresser. You hang a mass-produced print above the headboard, paint the walls white, and voilà-a finished bedroom. Or you plunk a coffee table in front of the sofa, add two flanking armchairs, hang some framed posters on the walls, shove a fake ficus in the corner and, presto, instant living room. This is the kind of "decorating" that keeps me up at night-and, fortunately for me, keeps Trading Spaces on the air.

Doug's Rooms is all about removing the intimidation factor from decorating. Because welcoming interiors that you're happy to come home to every day and that reflect your personality aren't just for a lucky few who are chosen to appear on interior design television shows, or who can afford high-end decorators. Trust me: there are basic principles for achieving high-impact design, and they can be learned easily and put into practice-fast-by anyone. I've distilled them into five user-friendly rules that will have a transformative effect on your home and give you the tools to become your own designer. Turn the page to start reading about proportion, furniture placement, color, lighting, and clutter control, then flip to page 000 to see how I put them into practice in a variety of spaces.

Proportion and scale: size matters

Whenever I attempt to discuss proportion and scale with most homeowners, their eyes glaze over as if I'm a Fermilab scientist deconstructing the intricacies of atom splitting. I keep the definitions as straightforward as possible-proportion is the relationship of one object to another; scale is the relative size of an object-but the response is always vacant stares and mouth breathing. Then I hit on a foolproof way to explain these crucial decorating principles: I trot out the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Sure, it seems like a simple fairy tale for the rugrats, but it's actually a detailed, textbook case of scale and proportion that everyone can understand. There's Goldy, puzzling through and trying out furnishings and accessories that are too big or too small, until she eventually hits on the ones that are just right. It's so instructive, it should be required reading for interior design students and anyone decorating a home-especially if the home in question is in a locale where hypercritical, porridge-guzzling blond chippies are roaming around.

Creating a room that feels "just right" for them trips up many homeowners. While recognizing obvious gaffes is easy-a grand piano jutting out of a tiny sunporch, say-more subtle problems are tough to pinpoint, because there aren 't as many ironclad rules for scale and proportion as there are for other areas of decorating. Before I redo any room, for example, I trot out a list of universal design truths that are unchanging. That includes citrus yellow walls read as energetic, area rugs can carve out separate conversation areas in a large space, and fake flower arrangements are a must-have (if I'm redoing a methadone clinic waiting room, that is).

Proportion and scale isn't as regimented, or as prone to foregone conclusions. Since it's all about objects in relation to one another, it's more intuitive than formulaic, more go-from-the-gut than cerebral. The feng shui industry has minted money exploiting this loosey-goosiness by codifying strict scale and proportion rules for befuddled homeowners. Which is fine if you want to leach all the vitality out of the creative process and allow yourself to become a decorating automaton who has to explain to every guest why there's a mirror hanging over the stove (spare me).

Of course, there's a lot to be said for achieving eye-pleasing scale and proportion in a room by trial-and-error, and learning to rely on your instincts. Within those first few nanoseconds of entering a room we all subconsciously size up the dimensions of the space and the furniture, and know immediately if the room feels "off." The most common mistake that triggers this sensation: furniture that's not in proportion with the rest of the room. Take a master bedroom with soaring cathedral ceilings and a pair of enormous arched-top windows, fairly common in new home construction these days. A space this imposing needs weighty, almost hulking furniture, like a king-size canopy bed and an 8-foot armoire, to counterbalance all that architectural grandiosity. Accessories here should also be large scale: substantial, lush curtains that puddle onto the floor, a table lamp with the circumference of a cistern. Fill a room this gargantuan with wimpy furnishings, and it'll feel like a dollhouse.

The opposite is true for small spaces-usually (hey, I never said this was a gut course, just that you'd be using your gut). Obviously you don't want to cram such a sprawling sectional sofa into a Lilliputian living room that you 'll need to walk on top of the cushions just to cross from one side to the other. But petite pads sometimes benefit from the graphic punch of something oversized, like a painting that nearly takes up a whole wall or a massive chaise longue that fills an entire corner. Seemingly off-kilter pieces like this add much-needed tension in a space that lacks the inherent drama of, say, 20-foot ceilings.

What you want scale and proportion to achieve in any room-large or small-is visual variety. Static spaces are boring. If your space is in dire need of some optical excitement, the following decorating ideas should help open (and entertain) your eyes, and guide you toward creating high-impact spaces all your own:

—Strive to have furniture of three different heights in a room and in equal proportions: tall, like a bookcase or a tree-size plant (please, no bonsais); medium, such as a couch or console table; and low, which can include ottomans or floor cushions. Bedrooms are especially prone to visual monotony because so much of their furnishings fall into the medium or low category. Counter this by increasing verticality with simple, three-foot-tall cylinder vases. Fill a pair with a tall arrangement-curly willow, apple blossom, or forsythia branches are great-and place on the nightstands flanking the bed.

—Fight the fact that most furniture has standardized dimensions: tables and desks are 30 inches high; sofas and loveseats are 36 inches deep; rectangular dining room tables are 34 inches across; queen-size beds are 80 inches long, etc. The upside to all this homogenization is that it simplifies things for retailers and consumers (you don't have to worry about tripping over an ankle-high desk), but the downside is that your rooms are so perfectly in scale that they look weirdly airbrushed. To counter this my-room-was-decorated-by-the-Stepford-wives effect, seek out items that are specially made to be over- or undersize-just make sure they're comfortable, can fit through doorways, and are used sparingly. One piece like this per room is plenty. Or use standard, off-the-rack furniture to create an unexpected juxtaposition of scale and proportion. Turn a straight-backed wooden child's chair into a funky yet functional bedside table, or mount your mattress on a 5-foot-high elevated plywood platform and mound with frilly linens for a "Princess and the Pea" effect.

—A humongous freestanding floor mirror is a classic of the overscale genre-but it will seriously downsize your bank account. Save cash and get a similar look with inexpensive, stick-on mirrored tiles from a home improvement store. Mount them directly onto the wall, with no gaps between the squares, in a formation measuring as close to 7 feet high by 4 feet wide as you can get. Frame with molding.

—Perch a 3 1/2-foot-high orchid on your toilet tank. If it's fake, I don't want to know about it.

—Work with a photography center to blow up a minimalist still-life image that you've snapped—think Georgia O'Keeffe abstract—until it's at least poster-sized. Frame and hang, or apply directly to the wall with wallpaper paste.

When scale and proportion attack

Talk about a three-peat. No matter where I travel in America for a room redo, I consistently encounter the same trio of decorating mistakes involving scale and proportion. Whether I'm in southern Florida, northern Maine, or coastal Oregon, the rooms are always predictably wrong, and eerily identical in their wrongness. (I think there might have been a Twilight Zone episode devoted to this phenomenon.) While I can't personally visit all of your residences to point out these gaffes, I've catalogued them below. Chances are pretty good that you're committing at least one-if not all-of the following. Fix them, and your place will look instantly and exponentially better. And I won't even send you a bill for services rendered:

—Postage-stamp-size artwork hung behind a couch

Ever notice how a Chihuahua standing next to a Great Dane makes the little dog seem even littler, and the big dog even bigger? That's because side-by-side comparison amplifies an object's perceived size. The same principle applies to your couch. As the largest piece of furniture in your living room, it's going to look even more gargantuan if you place itsy-bitsy art behind it. Keep this relationship in better balance by choosing a print or canvas that's about the same height as the sofa, and between a half and two thirds its width. You can also hang multiple smaller items, as long as their combined total size is equal to the dimensions of the aforementioned single piece of artwork.

—One lone, small shelf, usually crammed with tchotchkes, mounted on an otherwise bare wall

I've seen this pairing with such regularity that I wonder if it's not a standard feature that's included when you buy a house, like a toilet or a stove. Set adrift on an empty stretch of wall, a single shelf loses any kind of visual impact, and anything you place on top of it will look so inconsequential as to be almost invisible (this may be a blessing in disguise, of course). A solution more in scale with the surroundings: hang three separate shelves, each measuring one third of the total width of the wall, in a slight zigzag pattern. This asymmetrical grouping creates tension by keeping your line of sight slightly off-balance, and its heft holds its own against the visual weight of the wall. Whether two additional shelves can hold all your collectables-well, take that up in the chapter on clutter (see page 000).

—Drapes that end at the bottom of the windowsill

Call it tough-love decorating. I'm on a one-man mission to eradicate ill-proportioned window treatments, and if I have my way, it's curtains for these namby-pamby little half-drapes I see again and again.* Sometimes called café curtains, they're best left to bathrooms and smoky Parisian boîtes overlooking the Seine. Repeat after me: "Partial drapes do nothing for my windows." They look squat, insubstantial, and inconsequential, and are out of balance with the rest of the wall. Ditch the partials for full-length fabric curtains that go all the way to the floor-because everyone looks better in a full-length gown. Want the drapes to have even more impact? Mount the curtain rod well above the top of the window, almost flush with the ceiling. And make sure that the fabric goes all the way to the floor.

*Most often in living rooms.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2005

    Innovative Doug Wilson Hits The Mark

    I've always admired Doug's designs on the hit show, 'Trading Spaces', so to see how to do them in print, step by step, was great. The book is informative and gives a look inside the world of this great designer.

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