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Adaptable abode
Spice up your living space with tips from designers



Though there will be no photos of living room accessories with black bars across them to shamefully mark as erroneous don’ts, the passionate responses from top local designers on what accessories can completely make a living room may be just as dramatic. Here’s what they had to say on the subject of accessorizing your living space.

Illuminate the Room

Lamps serving just to light a room? Not exclusively, according to Mark Van Ess, co-owner of Cranston, Milwaukee. "Let your decorative lamp be an expression of yourself and your environment," he says. A great, easy tip for a change in season or personal style is to have a custom shade created to fit your existing base.

Celebrate your Inner Fluffy Side

"Pillows and sofas are like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," says Donna Sweet, designer and co-owner of Haven Interiors, Milwaukee. "The pillows are the good stuff — the peanut butter and jelly." (The couch, like the bread, holds the good stuff.) Pillows have the power to pull in color, patterns or texture. Quoting today’s hip, young fashionistas, Sweet says the spot to splurge is "on a fierce fabric and a down insert."

Be Classic and Approachable

No living room should be without a comfortable yet classy chair, says Anne Francois, interior designer at Collaborative Designs, Waukesha. "One with beautiful lines and fabric that fits the personality of the room," Francois says.

Accessorize With Art

Multiple designers pointed to a painting or piece of artwork as the most important accessory to set the tone or complement the décor of a living room. "It’s the jewelry on the little black dress," says Peg Winters, interior designer at The Winters Partnership in Oconomowoc.

"Artwork can add drama or make a strong design statement on how it is arranged," says Milwaukee’s Thomas Hoffman of Hoffman Design. "It can set a mood, add a calming effect, bring back memories — it can give insight into you and your family or tell people what you are about and what interests you have."

Beyond being an expression of the owner, a significant piece of artwork is so important, says Nancy Miller, owner of Form & Function in Bayside. "It should serve as the focal point of the room." She suggests mixing the style of the painting, photograph, textile or sculpture with the style of the room. "A contemporary piece will work well with traditional furnishings and design," Miller says. To really showcase the piece, proper lighting is an important consideration, too.

Reflect Your Personality

Insert accessory here. Few designers say the biggest "do" in accessorizing comes down to individual personality or passion, or simply establishing a focal point for the room.

Barb Brinkman, owner of Barb’s Interior Design in Cedarburg, suggests that more and more often today, the TV is the focal point. "You need to artfully place them so that you and your guest enjoy the comfort of the room as well," she says, adding that other than the kitchen, the living room is the second most popular room to hang out in.

"So many things go into the selection process," agrees Sarah Steltenpohl, interior designer at Swan Furniture and Interiors in Wauwatosa. "Who the people are, what the style of the house and the rest of the rooms are, what are the needs — and their lifestyle. Do they have kids, for example." Steltenpohl may try to place the one accessory that reflects their passion and then uses that piece as inspiration.

Personalizing with collectibles is a tip from Betsy Hoke, owner of Sturgeon Interiors in Whitefish Bay. "Glass collectors can accessorize their space with vases, pots, plates — and will want to consider proper lighting and showcasing on a glass shelf or pedestal," she says. Accessories are the finishing touches once the basic things are in the room, and they can be as different as the individuals themselves.

Avoid Trends

Don’t choose the hot trendy accessory of the moment — unless it works for you and the room. "I do not sell a giraffe unless it complements the room or reflects the personality of the owners," Steltenpohl cautions. "If it is a good fit, they will love it for years."

Look At the Layout

Don’t place the fireplace and TV on opposite walls, Brinkman says. "You want them on the same wall or close together so the furniture can face and nestle around them. M