Old World Meets Contemporary Design Old World Meets Contemporary Design

Q: We just built a two-story house. Our new house has lots of little niches and tons of big windows, which means there's little wall space.

I love the old-world look, but I crave the contemporary look, and I find that in our new place my styles are clashing more than ever.

I own a floral sofa, red plaid sofa, antiques, a monkey motif armchair and footstool, handmade rustic dining room table, orange swirl granite island, transom windows, French windows... all of it in reds, creams, sages, and creamy yellows.

I'm going nuts and the budget is drained from my lack of decorative coherency.

A: Take it from this anxious decorator: the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath, and maybe a stiff drink with it.

And then, think not of what you already own, but of what you love. Try writing down a list of what it is you would most like around you: the colors, the patterns, and your favorite items.

Next, let's think about what the "contemporary look" is that you crave. I assume it's the opposite of the ornate, heavy, jammed-with-things "old world" look, and that it's clean, spare, and bright.

These two are not, as they would seem at first, mutually exclusive. In fact, nothing shows off ornate antiques quite as well as a simple background.

I would suggest you start by simplifying the background of a room - and take just one room at a time. Start with painting the walls a flat, neutral color, or a pale color, such as sage, rose or yellow. This will also fit in with the colors of your furniture. Next, go ahead and decorate those nooks and shelves. Even if the items you have may seem like a crazy jumble, try to organize them thematically; a collection looks much more organized and neater than a random grouping of things. Again, keep it simple: one or two items on each shelf. For example, you could have a different antique vase on each shelf, with a black-and-white family photo hanging behind the vase.

The floral sofa will look much better in this kind of environment, as the pattern won't be competing with patterns of wallpaper or crowded shelves. The plaid sofa - now, that's another story. As far as I know, plaid is neither "old-world" nor contemporary. But don't forget, even if your budget is pinched, you can pick up loose-fitting sofa covers in many department stores or through home furnishings catalogs, often for as little as $100. This way you'll be able to choose a color that coordinates with the new wall color and with the floral sofa (if they are to be in the same room).

Now, about the problem of the rooms coordinating with one another. First, you are right on target with this; many people don't even consider this angle when planning their room décor, but it's important that you don't feel as if you're skidding from style to style as you walk through your home.

This doesn't mean, however, that you have to stick with one color. Just make sure the room colors look good together. You can even paint the trim of one room the same color as the walls of the next room, and vice-versa. Or, for an even more contemporary look, paint one wall of a room a bold gold or raspberry, and paint the other walls a cream; in the next room, do the same thing, but on walls that face opposite directions.

Most of all, I wish you luck - it isn't easy having all your creative impulses work together in one home, especially when they seem in direct opposition and the budget is running low!

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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