by Anthony Enright
I’m a creature of habit, and I guess a bit of a domestic. I like to come home to a space that makes me feel comfortable and reflects my personal style. So when I recently moved from an apartment in Uptown (that I called home for over eight years) to a four-plex in Whittier, I was faced with a blank slate in terms of interior design. I’m not complaining, my new place has all of the classic Minneapolis details I appreciate (ornate built-ins, hardwood floors, crown moldings, a claw foot tub) as well as modern amenities, but it’s always been important to me to make a space my own. Slowly but surely I’ve been putting my stamp on the new place, and since I work in design I don’t expect a perfect space to emerge overnight. I think of interior design as a building process that will evolve to match the seasons, my moods and my budget. With this in mind, I’ve been tamping down my usual perfectionism and trying to let the space grow into something great.
This exercise has me thinking about home design for those us who are comfortable renting and aren’t inclined to own a home. One day of watching HGTV will have you thinking everyone owns a house and is in process of converting it to their perfect dream home, but in reality one third of all Americans rent, and the figure is even higher in metropolitan areas. So how can you take the typical apartment or boring bachelor pad and elevate it into a space where you won’t be embarrassed to bring a date, or to invite your boss for dinner? It’s not actually all that difficult, and like most things, the god is in the details, so without overcomplicating, a few tips are below. (Click on any photo below for links on where to buy.)
Furniture is of course going to be the base of your home’s style. Too many guys choose their furniture exclusively based on what will be comfortable to lounge around on playing Xbox. This is a mistake, and is the easiest way to make it look like you’re an overgrown teen. Don’t get me wrong, comfort should be a factor, but the most important consideration is proportion; make sure your furniture doesn’t dominate your space – this means the overstuffed black leather sectional is out! Rather than one large piece start with smaller pieces in neutral colors (i.e., grey, tan, ect.) and durable fabrics that will last.
Okay, so let’s set up a typical living room: We’ll start with a reasonably sized sofa, supplement the sofa with one or two inviting armchairs (not lazy-boy loungers) and a side table or two. Find a colorful rug and maybe a coffee table that matches the overall style of the room – without looking like one of those tacky matched sets you would buy at Bob’s Furniture Mart. These five or six elements will form the basis of your room and make you look like a grownup. Don’t be afraid to match new purchases with vintage pieces – the mix is what makes your room interesting. On the other hand, a good rule of thumb is to try to keep the lines of the pieces relatively consistent. If you bought a clean modern style sofa try to keep the other elements in the same family. Talented designers can mix and match styles in a way that looks cohesive and cool, but too often amateurs end up with a hodgepodge when they attempt this.
Once you have a bit of furniture in your house, it’s time to add some color and texture with accessories. There are a few categories of home accessories, and frankly most guys seem to regard them all as effeminate affectations. I assure you, they have a specific design function in a “pulling a room together” (to paraphrase “The Dude”) and without them your space will look like temporary housing rather than a home. Let’s review:
a. Throw Pillows: You need to add color to your room, and one of the easiest ways to do that is with some strategically planned pillows. They are an easy and inexpensive way to change up the style of your room with the seasons and make it look fresh. These can be purchased nearly anywhere, but check the care instructions and feel the fabric before you by. You want them to be comfortable and easy to care for and since they’re meant to be changed out every so often you can go with bold colors or trendy patterns without regrets. Often the “insert” (read: actual pillow) can be separated from the cover and reused when a new color is purchased. If you spring for a high quality insert like down, they can last a very long time with covers changing when necessary.
b. Rugs: Again, a rug is a decorative object but also a practical one. If you have hardwood floors thy warm up the floor and create a comfortable surface to walk on. At the same time, they give your room a focal point and can radically change the feel of a room even if the furniture remains the same. I like to mix a highly traditional rug with modern furnishings for contrast, or match a modern rug with more classic furniture for a similar effect.
c. Lighting: Try not to rely exclusively on overhead lights. Having a number of varied light sources allows you to pull the focus to various places in a room and make the room seem richer and more interesting. Get some lamps, put them on your side tables and you’re good to go. You can also vary the wattage of bulbs you use in those lamps to create areas of mood lighting and specific task lighting.
d. Decorative Objects: These could be literally anything. Don’t just stuff your surfaces with every little piece of crap and knick-knack you find, but try to display objects that have some kind of history or significance for you alongside objects that have a color, form, or texture that draws your eye. A designer trick is to display things in odd numbered groupings (i.e., one object, or three objects, or five) rather than even numbers as it mentally processes are more ordered.
Art (or, Put Something on the Wall!):
Perhaps the biggest mistake guys make is either leaving their walls bare, or putting up things that they like but which may not express their current level of maturity (i.e., anything advertising alcohol, electronics or featuring suggestively clad figures). Bare walls make a space look unfinished and constitute a massive missed opportunity to express your style. If you think art is just too expensive, try hitting up local art shows or MCAD’s yearly student and alumni art sale. You’ll learn something about the community, and are sure to find pieces you like at prices you can afford. There is some exceptional local artists out there which can both grace your walls and act as investment in your personal taste. There is truly local art to appeal to every style, so get out there and find some of your own (a few of my favorites are below). If you are just too intimated by art you can still get some graphic impact by using wallpaper. Some of the new peel and stick options combine the elegance of wallpaper with the convenience of a decal and can be ideal for apartment dwellers.
In that vein, I’m going to digress into a great recently launched design project that combines the world of local art with one of the hottest interior design trends. I found this site to be a bit of a design inspiration for my new space, and you may do the same. Area Environments is an edgy new studio producing artist designed wallpapers (both permanent and temporary) that can be used in retail or residential environments. I’m particularly taken with their offerings from well known Minneapolis artist Michael Cina, which have an impressionistic quality that I can see working with many different design styles. With a focus on creativity and the promise of many more collections to come, their clean and simple website is worth checking out for design inspiration, and the peel and stick fabric wallpaper they offer is a great option for an accent wall (even in a rental space). I like incorporating high end hospitality ideas into residential living, it makes the everyday a little more extraordinary.
By putting a just little effort into your home and following some simple design principles you can make a big impact and may find yourself feeling more centered and productive. There’s something about a well designed environment that is both calming and inspiring. Without breaking the bank or living in fussy museum, you can create a home that reflects you and makes you feel like your best self.