Easy Ways to Update Your Decor
How to use feminine colors, soft textures and hand-picked accent pieces to warm up sleek modern furniture
"Yes, I did it all myself, down to the last accent pillow," says Deborah Llewellyn, when asked if she designed the warm, bright interior of her 1920s bungalow. Her look? "I'd call it 'soft contemporary,'" says the Atlanta-based photographer. "I like clean, modern lines, but it's got to be comfortable." She happily admits she developed her signature style—dark wood tones, plush textures, and plenty of color—by taking a page from other people's homes (she mainly shoots interiors) and by studying magazines.
"The house had been renovated in the bachelor style," she explains, "and I liked the dark floors and the neutral beige in the living room, but the rooms felt cold." So she decided to enliven them with soft greens and blues and dashes of yellow and orange. "One thing I've learned is to establish an overall palette right off, even if you can't finish all the rooms at once."
Shown: A 1920s bungalow with diamond-pane windows snaps to attention with clean-lined furniture, bold geometric fabrics, and whimsical decorative accents. Curtains the same color as the walls keep the focus on that leaded glass. Decorative pottery—echoed by the artwork on the wall—contributes an unexpected note to the "tablescape."
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Berkshire Beige (walls) and Seashell (trim).
As a result, furniture and fabrics, drapes and wall colors all coordinate. "I had to learn not to be matchy-matchy," she adds. "And to carry around fabric swatches for months to get the colors just right!" Having an artist's eye helped—and also the self-confidence to trust her instincts. For instance, she found inspiration for her kitchen's blue walls on a decorative plate—then bravely handed over the dining room to a painter, who wrapped it in a dramatic oversize floral. Oh, and it pays to be lucky: "I was able to buy some high-end furnishings at consignment shops and a friend's moving sale," she explains. New upholstery altered them to suit her style.
Looking to pull together rooms of your own? Read on for ideas you can adapt—and ways to get the look shown here.
Shown: Upholstered chairs invite guests to linger over dinner and double as extra seating in the living room. Big painted flowers and tendrils beat busy wallpaper. "It's fun to give a formal room an unexpected twist, like painting the walls with a blown-out pattern—it says it's okay to relax," says Llewellyn. Follow our painting how-to to recreate this oversize design in your own home.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Province Blue, Salisbury Green, and Blair Gold. Decorative painting by Brian Carter.
Tribeca velvet fabric by Lee Jofa; call 888-533-5632 to order.
In the living room, separate spots for TV and entertaining are defined by two types of shag carpet bound as rugs. "I wanted a soft, contemporary look—not country chic, which can be fussy, and not super modern, which can be cold," says Llewellyn. A console table set off by bright artwork acts as the dividing line. The dining room, glimpsed through a doorway, plays off the same palette.
A bright triptych balances the strong symmetry of a console table flanked by matching chairs.
Handmade stoneware Utopia Sun by Jonathan Adler, about $175; 877-287-1910 to order
A new but bland brown-and-beige kitchen came with the house. Cheery blue walls and colorful accents gave it the same liveliness as the rest of the rooms. "Colorful walls and bright accents warm up cold granite and stainless steel, turning a functional kitchen into an inviting gathering spot," says Llewellyn. Alternating frosted and clear glass subway tiles in the backsplash creates a subtle, light-reflecting design.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Antiguan Sky.
The main hallway is lined with artwork and family portraits shot by Llewellyn. Candy-colored landing spots encourage pausing to enjoy them. "I hate to waste space, especially in a small house, so I'll treat a hallway like a room. It's a safe place to experiment with bold colors—on the walls and on the floor," she says.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Hampton Green.
Soft chocolate brown and ivory linens reinforce the furniture's crisp horizontal lines. "Contrasting textures add interest—plush curtains on a wrought-iron rod, a sheepskin pillow on a wood-frame bed," expains Llewellyn. Caramel curtains, a gold-toned carpet, and patterned lamp shades warm up the dark furniture.
Decorative painting by Brian Carter.