When it comes to personal values, having an old-school rules mindset is very admirable, but if you blindly follow old-school design rules, it can quickly bring about new-design school failures. So, what’s changed and what are the new rules?

Always mix patterns and prints! Whether we’re talking upholstery, furniture styles, or vintage and new, mixing is always so much more interesting than matching. Through artful pairing you can feature two, three (even five!) fabulous patterns. When mixing florals and plaids, pick them to complement rather than compete with each other. Any combination is possible with the right colors and patterns. You’ll be fine as long as you stay with similar color schemes, don’t repeat the same patterns too often, and are creative with your use of scale.

That’s not to say that choosing all your décor to fit one design theme is wrong, but please don’t match everything. Over time an incredibly precise, painstakingly themed décor starts out looking forced, then flat and eventually, dated and tired. You can create a much more visually interesting décor by using contrasting and complimentary accessories than you ever will by limiting your décor to matched pieces.

Choose balance over symmetry. Designers encourage working with odd numbers in accessory arrangements, hanging artwork off-center, and even go so far as to mismatch seating. Sometimes, nothing achieves balance better than placing an element that’s a bit askew. Asymmetrical balance draws the eye around the room and helps you appreciate the layered quality of a space. What grounds and frames such a room are design elements like the right-sized rugs, properly hung curtains, and an interesting interplay of color, texture and pattern.

Place wall art wherever it feels natural to your eyes. If your child is a budding artist like Picasso, Klee, or Pollock, be proud and encourage him or her by uploading their young masterpieces off the fridge and onto an appropriate wall. Better still, prop artwork on a shelf, mantel or bookcase. The right artwork does more than provide major or minor focal points; it adds to the color, rhythm and movement flowing through a room. And yes, large rooms can easily have more than one focal point. It’s the piece with the most character, not highest price tag, that deserves the spotlight.

Speaking of walls … in large rooms, float your furniture away from them. The old-school rule of placing furniture against the walls is an extremely difficult rule to follow when dealing with the large homes and open spaces that are so popular today. All conversation groups need to be grounded, but when walls aren’t close together, furniture pieces need to be floated out into the room and anchored with an area rug to define your conversation areas. Think of it this way: The farther you sit away from someone while having a conversation, the less of a connection you’ll feel with them. Close seating is good for intimate conversation. There is a good reason a two-person sofa is called a love seat!

Never buy a completely ready-made set of furniture. Your room will look its best when you blend styles. New rules call for an organic composite of furniture styles. Most furnishings have sharp, 90-degree angles: rugs, tables, chairs pictures. Soften their corners by mixing in a few pieces with rounded edges to avoid seeing an overabundance of hard corners everywhere. Throw in a round coffee table or end table to make the room more visually interesting. Remember to mix, not match.

Decorating you home is similar to putting together an outfit. It isn’t strictly about matching the skirt, blouse, scarf and accessories. It should be more about how the ensemble’s pieces play off each other – where the look of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Live well – live in beauty!

STEPHEN THOMPSON creates tasteful interiors in north Mississippi. For consultations, comments, or questions, contact Designer Connection, P.O. Box 361, Tupelo, MS 38802.

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