When Not to Decorate in Competing Styles When Not to Decorate in Competing Styles

Q: Is it really tacky to decorate the kitchen in a different theme than the living room if they are two different rooms, but are situated right next to each other? For example, could I do the kitchen a country style but do the living room in a more formal style?

A: One of the most frustrating things about getting the decorating bug is that, unless your name is Trump, chances are you have a limited number of rooms on which to bestow your skills.

I just redecorated my bathroom. I'm quite pleased with the results - a fresh green and white color scheme, with three little green bowls in which I'm forcing narcissus bulbs, to make me think spring might arrive one day. But no sooner was the job completed than I started thinking it would also be nice to do something in a Mexican tiled look.

And yet, there is only one bathroom in this apartment, so I guess I have to satisfy my urge to decorate by answering your questions here.

Of course, you could do the kitchen in a completely different style from the living room. But for the sake of unity of the home, you may want to consider this a little more before you get those gingham checked curtains and the marble coffee table.

  • Tip: In terms of formality, remember that kitchens, traditionally, are less formal than living rooms or dining rooms. That's why we all tend to congregate in the kitchen when we're just relaxing among friends and family, and why living and dining rooms so often go unused.

So to have a kitchen that's less formal than a living room is entirely acceptable, and even is to be expected to some extent.

My concern would be if you try to really push the kitchen in a less formal direction, and push the living room in the opposite direction, but there are ways around this.

For one thing, consider the colors you'll be using. If you can tie the two rooms together with color, you won't have to worry too much about tying them together with the style.

But also there is country kitchen and then there is Kountry Kitchen. By this I mean that if you go all-out, with scrolled blonde-maple cabinets and wrought-iron hardware, with gingham curtains and duckling-decorated tea kettles, that is Kountry Kitchen. And if you try to combine this with an elegant, formal living room, done in a modern style with sleek lines and black lacquer and glass, your head will be spinning every time you walk through the house.

Instead, maybe you could opt for an old-fashioned formality in the living room, with wing chairs, Queen Anne side tables, a fireplace, and framed paintings of landscapes. You could even use floral wallpaper or trim.

Or, your country kitchen could have Shaker-style cabinets painted in a steely blue, a Mission table and chairs, and a work-manlike attitude. This hardness of line will offset the cuteness often associated with a country kitchen, and then you could have a more modern and elegant living room nearby, with the same kind of lines in the furnishings. The squared-off look of much modernist furniture of the 50's and 60's would go quite nicely with this kind of Shaker/Mission style in the kitchen, and would still provide a more formal look to the living room.

Most of all, bear in mind the Sheffield Guidelines to Interior Design: function, mood, and harmony. You want that formal living room to serve a function as a gathering place, so unless you already lead a formal lifestyle, make sure it's comfortable and casual enough so that you'll actually be using it.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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