Harmony at home

We all long for a harmonious home—a tempting space where color and texture blend seamlessly and each room has a visual connection with the next. A home so well-planned you can chat on the phone while stirring supper, where work lights are aptly placed, and there’s always a connection for the laptop.

We all long for a harmonious home—a tempting space where color and texture blend seamlessly and each room has a visual connection with the next. A home so well-planned you can chat on the phone while stirring supper, where work lights are aptly placed, and there’s always a connection for the laptop. Even better, one whose space configuration perfectly matches your lifestyle, whether that means flexible areas for socializing or a tiny cottage for two. In an ideal world, we’d all reach design nirvana with a newly built home. The reality, however, is that most of us will need to tweak the property we already own.

The first step in creating a harmonious home is to think through why an existing home isn’t working, and how it may be altered. Is the lighting system beyond its years? Do you have to run from room to room to answer the phone? Apply these thought processes across the whole home, not just to random rooms. Think of it as a home health-check. And when it’s time for decorative decisions, the whole-home approach makes light work of creating a cohesive scheme. Many of us plan individual rooms with little thought to how everything hangs together visually. Yet the dynamic of any home is that we travel constantly through it catching glimpses from room to room, even moving furniture between spaces. So it makes sense to pick a limited palette of colors and surfaces, which can be reinterpreted around the house, giving balance and contrast.

In its simplest form, a unifying hard surface might be wood flooring that runs across the ground floor. Or it may be the decision to choose polished plaster walls throughout, or oak-paneled storage everywhere. When it comes to fabrics, plan schemes in the context of the whole home so that key textures or patterns repeat from room to room. Plain curtains or Roman blinds, all identical, can be wonderfully unifying. So, too, can the same slip covers in every room: white cotton, say, or linen. If it’s difficult to work out which fabrics will suit a variety of rooms, get a large sheet of cardboard, sketch out every room on a particular floor, then start to assemble fabrics. You will soon see if a gray denim upholstery or cream linen curtains will work well throughout. As for color, a home feels calmer if colors blend smoothly throughout the whole interior. A carefully chosen palette (from three to six shades) can be reworked in varying tones and quantities in every room. The core palette will depend not just on the colors you personally find uplifting, but on how light or dark the property is, whether the planned mood is cozy or tranquil, and if the desired decorative effect is dramatic or soothing.

The best homes have a balance of great spaces. Be they boxy and modern or a mix of big and small, it’s not dimensions that matter, but the ebb and flow from intimate space to open-plan and back again. If you have a big room, list the room’s good and bad architectural points. How can you enhance or correct them? Decide what your focal point will be. Do you need to add one? Ask yourself what functions the large space must fulfill. How will you arrange furniture to create different activity zones? Does your furniture look in proportion?

If you have small rooms, consider visual tricks to prevent claustrophobia. A room will seem bigger if the borders between individual planes (walls, floors, ceiling) are blurred. So try painting everything in one color. Check that a fireplace and mantel aren’t too large for the room, and plan treatments that elongate, rather than shorten, windows: full-length curtains, not tiny blinds. It’s a common misconception that large furniture clutters up a small room. In fact, it can actually make it feel larger. So use scale cleverly, to trick the eye. A four-poster bed can make a bedroom ceiling seem higher; a generous round table sociably fills a dining room. The key is to keep furniture shapes streamlined, accessories bold yet minimal, and—most important—plan room layouts for ease of movement.

Just as every lifestyle is unique, there’s only one individual who can guarantee a truly personalized environment—and that is you. So take responsibility for it. Time spent planning a tailor-made home shouldn’t be a chore, but a pleasure. Enjoy the ride.

Checklists for your own Harmonious home.

Excerpted from Harmonious Home – © Loupe Images/Ryland Peters, Author Judith Wilson, Photographer Jan Baldwin

Lifestyle checklist

  • Define your home personality. Does your lifestyle demand a tidy, busy, tranquil or cozy space?
  • How many live there? Do numbers swell at weekends/holidays?
  • How sociable are you? Is there room for parties?
  • Where does everyone naturally congregate?
  • Do you need quiet rooms, as well as activity spaces?
  • Is this a daytime home, or an evening retreat?
  • Are you usually at home on weekends, or away? Are you and indoors or outdoors fan?

Services checklist

  • Get a professional to check wiring and plumbing. If it needs overhauling, is the budget available?
  • Are there any rooms consistently chilly or too hot? Do any radiators break up the run of a wall/spoil a window?
  • Do the style of radiators jar? Is underfloor or grille heating an option?
  • Do you want ambience of an open or faux gas fire?
  • Does the lighting work well for you? Are there enough work area lights? In the right places? Which rooms need extra lighting, to improve ambience or drama?
  • Does the plumbing work well? Is the tank big enough to cope with several bathrooms?
  • Is feeble water pressure a problem, or should you add a water pump and improve water flow?
  • Will TV/hi-fi/computer go on show or be concealed?

Architectural details checklist

  • Locate your favorite architectural details. Sketch or imagine how they may be reinterpreted in new ways around the house.
  • Look for interesting patterns, such as the criss-cross of a parquet floor, which may be echoed in upholstery or rugs.
  • Be a perfectionist: are all the details in similar styles/materials?

Storage checklist

  • How well does the existing storage work? What currently doesn’t have a home?
  • What’s your storage "personality?" Closed doors or open shelves? Built-in or free-standing?
  • Is there sports equipment/collections for display/ lots of shoes that need specialized storage?
  • What areas can be exploited to create new storage?
  • How much day-to-day storage is needed, and what can be stored in less accessible areas?
  • Can any rooms/parts of a room be devoted to storage, such as a walk-in closet?
  • Think of your favorite styles (plain or molded shelves, flush or paneled doors) and potential materials (wood, glass, composite board, stainless steel).

Color checklist

  • Which colors do you like best? Do you prefer neutrals, pastels, shades of white, deep colors or bright colors?
  • Are you a one-color person, or would you rather have a mix of shades?
  • Is the space open-plan? Can color be used to unify spaces or alternatively to delineate active or peaceful zones?
  • Look at your planned hard surfaces: do they tone well or fight with potential colors?
  • How important is pattern? One strong design can be the core to a working palette throughout a home.

Open-plan checklist

  • Why do you want an open-plan space? Improved communication, to make a design statement?
  • Is finance available for turning a ground floor into an open-plan zone? Or should you buy a shell?
  • Will you employ an architect? Or a builder and structural engineer to work your own design?
  • What key zones do you require? Plan for places to cook, relax, eat, socialize and work.
  • Will your existing furniture suit a new, but space?


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