Everything about a home makes a statement. While the colors and textures of your walls and floors certainly affect the level of welcome or personality, furnishings introduce the most play and the most fun. How we fill a space tells the story of who we are, what we love and where we find comfort. From furniture items with bold colors and big curves to art with clean lines and monotone shades, furnishings allow for freedom of expression. That is, so long as you don’t find yourself caught in a trend trap.
Having lately spent more time than usual at home has many of us considering our “stuff,” what we love and what now bores us. Perhaps we’ve had more time to watch home design shows, time to eye spaces that are enviably fresher than our stale sitting rooms and bedrooms. But often, these visuals feed us fleeting trends or give undue praise to spaces void of personality.
Penny Francis, owner and principal designer of Eclectic Home, warns that too often these images from TV, apps or magazines are used for imitation rather than inspiration.
“Our advice is to use the photos as a guide to how you want your space to feel and what emotion to evoke,” she says. By playing with furnishings, whether already owned or new, designers like Francis have a variety of tricks up their sleeves to create rooms that reflect personal style. One of her tricks is simply repurpose items that you may want to replace or update but not fully discard — hang a vintage or antique rug as impactful, beautiful wall art or turn an old farm table into a kitchen island, desk or base for a double vanity.
“When it comes to trends, less is more,” says Vikki Leftwich, interior designer and owner of Villa Vici. It’s OK to like a trend — after all, likeability makes a trend — but not to overdo it. “If there’s a trend you really love, whether it’s curved sofas and chairs or rattan pieces, choose one item to use in a special spot in your design rather than incorporating too many of the same style throughout your décor.”
Seating takes up much of a home’s space, which means it deserves more consideration than a lot of people give it. For Nicole Ruppel Jones, interior designer for Legend Interiors, chairs are a favorite furnishing for showcasing style.
“In my own tiny home, I must own 10 different styles of chairs just downstairs,” she says. “It’s a great way to showcase different styles without overpowering the overall design.”
If you’re struggling to incorporate that pair of 19th-century, Louis XVI armchairs you inherited into your bold, eccentric room design, try upholstering them with modern fabrics. This is a common trick for designers who create eye-catching scenes with juxtapositions of old and new. Modifications can also be made to sofas — reupholstering or adding a slipcover are easy ways to give your furniture a makeover. Jones says you could even add a metal detail to an existing wood frame or take away an existing ornate detail to give the sofa a clean, sleek look.
As a furniture designer and builder, it’s probably no surprise that Alex Geriner of Doorman Designs is passionate about the items used to fill a space.
“In my own home, I only place furniture that means something to me,” he says. “I want each piece to have a story.”
Geriner’s dining table has an 800-year-old story — the converted ancient cypress stump was rescued from a front yard in rural Florida after being dug from the mud of a nearby swamp.
For showcasing personal style in a bedroom, Geriner loves the canopy bed.
“They’re fun, they’re cozy, they’re dramatic,” he says. “They can be overstated or understated, flashy and colorful or muted and paired down.”
Compared to chairs and beds, a person’s art collection is a more obvious starting point for personal expression. Creating transitional designs that will last for years and allow for the mixing in of unique art pieces is one of Hailey Mathews’ go-to tricks.
“One of my favorite examples is a client who had a home full of gorgeous inherited antiques that we styled with really bold and bright modern art,” says Mathews, owner and designer of H. Mathews Interiors. “It was a way of making sure their taste stood out amongst the original furniture.”
Conversely, according to Erin Nicolosi, owner of Abode, an antique still-life painting — perhaps a dramatically lit bowl of apples or grapes — with an ornate frame can be elevated to new appreciation when paired with a modern chair or table.
“Layering in antique with modern is a great way to be timeless,” says Nicolosi. “Before you get rid of pieces, get a second pair of eyes to take a peek and see how it might work in ways and places you didn’t think possible.”
It’s no secret that over the last few years, white and gray room designs have been prolific. But designers warn not to fall into that trend trap either, as color is one of the best ways to access personality. Lately, Mathews finds herself steering clients away from all-white homes.
“It is gorgeous but also creates very cold spaces,” she says. “If you want the all-white look, I think it is best to mix in warmer woods [for] case goods and brighter colors [with] the accessories to avoid being part of the trend.”
According to Tara Shaw, owner and designer at Tara Shaw Design, your home should read like your biography. As a collector, Shaw has amassed two decades’ worth of furnishings from her travels to France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden, and her home tells that story even as she edits it yearly by changing things around. She recommends finding the styles that speak to you and begin building your rooms around these items that you want to live with long term.
“Collecting is a lifelong journey,” she says.
Part of what makes design so fun for these designers is reading their clients’ stories by viewing what items they’ve collected over time. Whether that collection begins with a lovable trend or just some quirky detail you’re drawn to, it’s worth including in your furnishing story. Fortunately, it’s a story that can be made fresh time and again with a few simple edits.