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Secrets from a stylist
Find your decorating style


September 2014

Gather images from interior design and fashion magazines, collect objects that mean something to you and start sifting through fabric, paint and finish samples. Take a cue from your closet: a scarf or pair of shoes can lend inspiration to your color palette and decorating vibe. Coffee table and area rug, Ethan Allen, Brookfield. Photography by Dan Bishop. Styling by Pam Stasney

Have you ever walked into a home and immediately felt enveloped by your surroundings? You couldnít put your finger on it, but you were drawn in by the homeís effortless design. What was it exactly that spoke to you? Maybe it was the collection of vintage family photographs that started a conversation, or the way the homeowner displayed an array of pottery collected from world travels. Perhaps it was the calm color palette or a daring color choice?

Some people have a knack for creating an environment that is both welcoming and intriguing ó and they make it look effortless. It doesnít feel like a showroom or a model house; itís full of life and stories. It isnít fussy or pristine, but welcomes you with ease and warmth.

That special something is about being true to yourself and finding your personal decorating style. Sometimes people are afraid, or feel it is too risky to expose their true selves, when it comes to decorating their homes. Itís easier to buy the furniture grouping as you see it in the store. Finding your own style does take time, thought and effort. Yet the end result will be well worth it. Not only will your family and friends enjoy your creation, you will enjoy your home like never before.

As a set stylist for photo shoots and films, I pay close attention to what gives a place character. Letís take the mystery out of what makes a great space and focus on what makes you special. Your home should be a reflection of those unique qualities.

I create a mood board or inspiration board for every project to lead my process. This takes some homework, but is worth the time.

Before you begin gathering images and paint swatches, ask yourself some questions: How would you describe your personal style? Whatís your favorite restaurant or hotel (for the ambiance)? What is it about the decor that you like? What do you love to do with your free time? Where are your favorite places to travel? Do you love the city? The country?

Midcentury Modern:

An iconic Eames lounge chair, framed by a modern library wall, renders a sophisticated midcentury appeal. Photography and interior design by Amy Carman Design


When you vacation, do you want a cabin in the woods? Or a hammock on the beach? If you go to art museums, what type of art are you drawn to ó abstract, Impressionist, Renaissance, primitive? What is it that draws you to it?

Several years ago, I was a guest interior designer for InStyle Networkís home makeover show called "Area." I was charged to create a space for roommates who at first glance seemed like polar opposites. I asked them each to name their favorite restaurant. Their restaurants were different, and yet the ambiance of both places was similar. This became the catalyst for a successful design. Asking questions helped me discover something about their individual styles and opened the door for discovering a style they both liked. (Married couples take note.)

Here are more areas to investigate:

Look through your closet. What colors look good on you? Are you more comfortable with classic neutrals or are you bohemian and free-spirited? Do you like lots of bold color or just a touch? Do you accessorize with a statement necklace or something more delicate? Your wardrobe will give you some hints, but donít let it limit your thinking.

Whatís important to you and your family? Your home should showcase the people and experiences that matter most to you. Do you love to travel? Even staycations make some of the best memories. Whether you travel the globe and collect meaningful sculptures or you travel close to home and collect mason jars of nature finds from hiking together as a family ó display it. Maybe youíre not a traveler, but you love the outdoors and sporting adventures. Your memorabilia can be tastefully displayed for all to enjoy.

Relaxed Sophistication: Mixed vintage chairs, custom-built table and lantern-inspired pendants add to the timeless architectural design. Photography by Jeff Stasney. Interior design by Mary Jo Luellwitz of Fabulous Pieces. Styling by Pam Stasney

Browse interior design and fashion photos. Look through some interior design magazines or Pinterest or houzz or any of your favorite websites. Collect the images that speak to you in some way: perhaps you love the elegant lines of a certain sofa or the organic feel of a natural wood coffee table. Fashion magazines are also great for finding fabric textures, patterns and designs that appeal to you.

Pretend like youíre doing a project for art school. Cut out the images that you love, put them together on a poster board or magnetic board. Or create a Pinterest board for your inspirations. There are also apps like Moodboard and Remodelista that can help you collect images and resources. Add paint and fabric swatches, wood finishes, anything that inspires the mood you want to create.

Putting together all of your likes, will help you envision your style and bring clarity to your future decorating decisions. Take note of common themes, colors and patterns.

Country: A sturdy table and a soft color palette are classic elements in this sophisticated design. Photography courtesy of Ethan Allen

Imagine your cinema-self. Hereís a fun exercise from "The Artistís Way" author Julia Cameron. Cameron suggests that you imagine your "cinema self." To paraphrase Kate Winslet in "The Holiday," shouldnít we be the stars of own lives? In your imaginary movie, what does your life look like? Who is the actor playing you? How do you dress? And in this case, "What does your home look like?" This exercise helps you free your mind. In your dream or imaginary world, you arenít limited by budget or other restrictions. You can create the interior of your dreams.

Donít limit yourself to one decorating style. Most people are a combination of styles. As you live life and experience new adventures, your priorities will change and your personal style will evolve. As you change, so should your decorating.

Style Finders

Take a quiz online to zero in on your personal decorating style.

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This story ran in the September 2014 issue of: