Tricks of the Trade Give Room ‘Wow Factor’

By Stacey Wiedower, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Thursday, May 22, 2014

During the cold, cold winter, I tossed some pillows on my sofa that were as soft and fuzzy as an angora sweater. Beside them I layered a nubby chenille throw. Together with a fire crackling in the fireplace, these tiny touches upped the room’s coziness factor by about 5,000 percent.

Now that summer’s approaching, I’ve replaced those pillows with the bright, crisp cotton variety. It’s a simple but effective change: At very little cost, I’ve updated my house for the season and changed the room’s mood.

Along with imagination and an eye for detail, interior designers have expertise in using the elements and principles of design to create a successful space. But often it’s the unexpected touches that give a room its wow factor — and these can come in small, clever details as well as big creative bursts.

Every designer I know has tricks of the trade he or she pulls out to solve design problems and take spaces beyond the ordinary. Apart from my “pillow trick,” here are a few of my own:

Go streamlined. Match your draperies to the color of the walls to visually expand a room. Why does this work? Rather than stopping at the windows, the viewer’s eye continues around the room, giving the illusion of more space.

Hang art at eye level. When you have high ceilings, it seems like it makes sense to hang artwork high to “fill” that visual space. In reality though, hanging artwork too high draws attention to the negative space around it. Try lowering paintings to the average eye level. If it still looks off, you might need artwork that better fits the scale of the room.

Don’t skimp on lamps. Lamps warm up a space, provide task lighting, set a mood and make a major difference in the look and feel of a room. Try using lamps in various sizes and styles. But most of all, never rely entirely on the ceiling fixture in the center of a room to provide all the light for the space.

Show some leg. Skirted upholstery makes a room feel “grounded,” but you don’t want every piece of upholstered furniture to have a skirt or every piece to stand on visible legs. A mix is more pleasing to the eye.

Go for “real” rugs. Use area rugs at the bathroom sink or in the kitchen instead of bath mats or standard kitchen rugs. They make a bigger design statement, and well-made rugs are meant to withstand heavy wear. Two tips if you try this trick: Place rug pads underneath to keep rugs from moving around on hard floors. And stick to bath mats in front of the tub or shower, since they’re designed to dry quickly.

I asked area experts for their own best-kept secrets, so don’t just take it from me. Here are more tricks of the trade from Memphis interior designers:

Anne Canale, Anne Canale Designs: Try shaped backsplashes. The tendency is to keep backsplashes straight, especially in bathrooms. This is easier for both fabricators and installers and therefore very typical. A shaped splash will add both drama and dimension to a vanity or tub area. I especially like this trick in small rooms such as powder rooms — it helps create unexpected presence in a space.

Colleen Hall, Colleen Hall Designs: When accessorizing bookcases it’s important to use more hard-bound books than decorative objects; too many objects will cause clutter. Layer objects onto a shelf by setting taller objects in the back and working forward with smaller objects. And remember to use the books in a variety of ways. Keep sets together, stack in piles with decorative items on top and alternate the placements of books from side to side or the middle so they don’t all line up.

Michael Taylor, Michael Taylor Interiors: When choosing an overhead light fixture for a room, add the room’s width and length. The number you come up with in feet is the number of inches the light should be. So if your room is 15 feet by 20 feet, you need approximately a 35-inch wide fixture. Also, I often tell clients who seem unsure about what colors and accessories to use to look in their closet. The reason you’re drawn to certain things and colors is no mistake. It’s because those colors look good on you — and will more than likely look good in your home.

Stacey Wiedower is a Memphis-based freelance interior design writer. Contact her at

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