Design WiseShelagh Duncan

Answers To Some Of The Most-Often-Asked Decorating Questions.

By Shelagh Duncan 

My passion is design and I love problem-solving! Here are some easy and inexpensive solutions to a few of the most commonly asked decorating questions: 

Q:  What color should I paint my walls?

Pick A Paint Colour To Work With Your Chosen Fabric
Pick A Paint Colour To Work With Your Chosen Fabric

Orange. Okay I’m kidding. But only you will know what colors work best for you. You can figure it out…. Look at the accessories you already have – pillows, artwork, fabrics. You will probably start to see a colour theme there.

If you are starting from scratch, go and find yourself a fabulous fabric (or picture) you love  What are the dominant colours, what are the complementary colours? Pick your favourite colour from what you see in your accessories. You can go lighter or darker, but make sure what you choose relates to something in that pillow or art. 

Royal Palm Interiors

Q:  I’m starting from scratch in decorating my home. What Style should I choose?

This is a great question! Most of us lean towards basically traditional or contemporary styles. But for our homes here we can choose from Tropical Chic,  Coastal,  Mediterranean, or Pacific, to name a few.

To help you identify your style, look at decorating magazines, in print and online, visit furniture stores in person, or their web sites, and look at your friends homes. You can see many designer showcase homes featured on the web and many homes-for-sale have lots of interior shots. Make notes, take screen shots, and dog-ear pages. When you have collected enough you will begin to see a style developing. Often your local furniture store can help narrow this down for you. Talk to them!

 Also, you don’t have to keep strictly to one style. As long as the decor is in harmony there can be flow between different styles. 

Q:  How do I protect my new wood tables from scratches from my young children? I was thinking about putting glass on the tops.

If you do this please make sure that they have those rubber ‘bumpers’ to stop the glass from slipping off. Dust and moisture may build up under the glass, so remember to remove it and clean regularly. Let the furniture top dry completely before replacing the glass.

You can also apply a good wax on the tables and use them without glass. The marks and scratches that happen naturally with everyday use give furniture character. If a disaster does happen, the table top can always be refinished. 

Q:  How can I make my small room look bigger?

The #1 answer is – eliminate clutter. But keeping the furnishings and wall color in the same general tones will help greatly. Use items that are transparent or reflective – such as glass or acrylic tables, mirrors, etc. and keep window treatments to a minimum. Simple fabric or wood blinds and shades work best and help to keep your eye moving past the walls to the outside. Create long sight lines by placing furnishings so that you can look all the way across the longest points of the room without having your vision blocked by furniture. (This is a well-known trick often used in model homes.) And, don’t arrange all your furniture along the walls to try and make the room seem larger – it just doesn’t work. 

Q:  We have no furniture in our living room because I simply don’t know where to start. What do I do first – buy a rug, shop for a sofa or choose a paint colour?

It is best to start with larger items – the investment pieces that cost most and are hardest to find. Begin by looking for sofas and rugs. Which one? There’s no right answer. Both rugs and sofas can be statement pieces in a room. So, if you find a great sofa or sectional you love, choose a rug to work with that (and vice versa). Let these pieces anchor the room, then you can add the tables and accent pieces to pull the room together. Don’t worry about the paint colour too soon, use your anchor pieces for  your inspiration. If you paint first you will be more limited in sofa fabric and rug colour options. 

Q:  I love deep colors, but hesitate to use them because I’m afraid they will make my rooms look small.

Create a feature wall with just paint
Create a Feature Wall with Just Paint

It’s contrast, not color, that makes a room look small. When you have extreme contrast between walls and your furnishings, such as bulky, dark furniture surrounded by white walls, you visually shrink the space. However, if you have dark furniture, a deep color on the walls will help to balance the furniture with its background, and can add life to the room. In a small home, paint adjoining rooms the same color. By doing this, the eye keeps moving from room to room and judges the space to be larger than it is. If you are still unsure,  just paint one wall in the deep colour and let that make a statement, or use it in your powder room for a really bold impact. 

Q:  Is leather furniture a good idea for my family room? We have two kids, a dog and no A/C.

There is  no right or wrong answer here. Don’t assume that all leather is durable or practical for our rather extreme environment. Educate yourself on the different types of leather and leather furniture.  Some ‘leathers’ are just a thin layer of leather bonded to vinyl, these peel and crack very easily. The most durable leathers are full-grain and top-grain, and they are also the most expensive. If your budget allows, this type of leather furniture should hold up well. With frequent use, mold should not be a problem either. Talk with a salesperson at the furniture store and ask for the literature provided by the manufacturer before you decide. Stay away from Bi-cast ‘leather’! 

Q:  Drapes, shades, blinds, or bare? What is best for my windows?

Your choice of window covering is determined by both the view inside and out. If you have a stunning view and little need for privacy, you may prefer minimal covering – drapery panels that can be pushed to the side, a simple valance, or a semi-transparent sheer. Not much of a view? Then keep the focus on your stunning interior and opt for wood (or faux wood) blinds, Roman blinds or roller shades. If the room is used mostly at night, then the window coverings can be a feature.

Remember that your guests may appreciate privacy drapes or blinds in the guest bedroom, even though you know you are not overlooked. Ready-made panels are usually inexpensive and convenient. 

Q:  My living room has zero architectural interest. What can I do that doesn’t cost a fortune to improve it?

Colourwashed Walls with Added Stencil Designs
Colourwashed Walls with Added Stencil Designs

One of the easiest things you can do is to add baseboard interest. Add a contrast tile baseboard, or add a tile line above the existing to increase the height. Like the Spanish Colonial style? Then add decorative tile, or paint a colourful design around your windows. Another idea is to add wood trim around windows and doors, and finish them to match the existing cabinetry or furniture. If you have flat ceilings, there is a Styrofoam crown moulding that gives a big bang for few bucks – just install, paint and enjoy. Adding a few strategically placed decorative tiles or a pre-made metal design to a wall will give instant interest, or add slate tiles or sandstone on a small wall, or around your main door. 

Try creating a feature wall by painting it a different colour – that will add some impact – or try your hand at some faux-finishing. On your feature wall, (or hone your skills first in the garage) use two or three watered down versions of the same basic colour – one light, one medium and one dark, and dapple on with a sponge or rag – then start creating! Choose water based paint and keep a water spritzer handy for quick fix-ups. Work in small areas only as you don’t want the paint to dry before you have worked your magic. When finished cover with a top coat of clear glaze to give depth and interest. 

Q:  We spent so much money on building our house, that I don’t have much money left to furnish and accessorize the room. Any ideas?

Baseboard With Added Hight & Interest
Baseboard With Added Hight & Interest

Most importantly figure out what you can now afford – this is your budget. Then decide on the most important things you will need early on: a bed, a sofa, outdoor dining set etc. I suggest you buy the best mattress and sofa you can afford. A comfortable mattress and sofa will last a long time and you will never regret the money you spent on them. You can economise on less important pieces, but save some of your budget for the fun stuff. Adding colourful art on the walls and pillows on the chairs will help the place feel like home. Some coloured candles and vases can be inexpensive and make a big difference. Ask around your neighbours and friends for ‘garage sale’ items that you can paint or fix up: be crafty and creative. Use colourful beach wraps for window coverings and even for bed throws until you can afford to upgrade.

Also talk to your local furniture store. They may have scratch and dent items for sale, or have special promotions you can take advantage of.  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know about that great bargain! 

If you have your own design or decorating questions, please email me at [email protected]

Until next time… 


Royal Palm Interiors – Uvita – 2743-8323,,