To soften the modern edge of stainless steel, decorator Alisa Bloom put a traditional spin on the kitchen cabinetry of her 1920s Chicago penthouse with brass inlays. With the help of a local hardware maker, she even designed her own hinges and drawer pulls. “I would never go into a store and just buy something,” she says. “It’s all about the process and the hunt."

"Most clients don't want to hear those words," says Paul Irwin, design director with Landis Construction, in the Washington, D.C., area, "but it really needs to be considered on major remodels."In one case, for example, plans for a 1,300-square-foot addition revealed that the house's existing foundation wasn't up to code and would have to be replaced—a $30,000 proposition. After crunching the numbers, the owners concluded that it would cost as much to update the house, a former summer cottage, as it would to reproduce it new. "For a relatively small additional cost," says the owner, "we get all the benefits of new construction while preserving the character and feel of our old house."
Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. "If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that," says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. "But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before." The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load-bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, "Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.")

It is a lot easier for people to express what they do not like. By putting dislikes into the equation, we can eliminate some things and narrow in on others. For example, a bold large-scale print might remind you of something in your childhood that you do not want to see in your own space. Or a wingback chair might bring back memories of being sent to time-outs for pulling your sister’s hair. Likewise, a certain color might evoke feelings of a past design trend that you aren’t eager to repeat. These memories and reactions are very personal and individual, but also define our tastes.


Regardless of the type of space you're decorating, there's nothing more important than paying attention to details—and expressing your creativity. Taking the time to understand the basic principles of decorating, from choosing the right furniture to finding the perfect color palette, will get you one step closer to crafting the home you’ve always wanted.

Any good contractor will have no problem providing references, and copies of liability insurance before a job begins. Don’t rely solely on client testimonials, search out actual customers that can give you a firsthand account and answer any questions you may have. For any project, ask to see before and after images of a contractor’s prior work, and most importantly—trust your gut and know which questions to ask.


Sure, your eyes may want the most modern, chic couch in the showroom. But your back may not. "In my experience, it's really better to test out seating and take the time to look at the dimensions," says Sharon Blaustein. If you're tall, for instance, you might want to opt for a depth of between 40 to 42 inches for a sofa (rather than the standard depth of 36 inches).
While a textured glass shower door offers a bit of privacy, a clear glass shower door turns the shower into an extension of the rest of the bathroom rather than cutting it off the way a curtain or half wall might. If your remodeling plans allow, consider changing out a tub for a standing shower, and opt for a shower with glass sidewalls as well as a clear glass door.
Take note of design inspirations in every facet of life. I often use these as a starting point to discuss with clients when I’m hired to help them design the interiors of their homes. Recall a hotel in which you’ve stayed or restaurant in which you’ve dined that particularly struck your fancy. Perhaps it was a minimal interior from your trip to Japan or a clubby bar in New York furnished with worn leather chairs.
How do you want a space to feel? Here’s a trick to help you hone in on your style: take a look at your closet. Do you prefer tailored pieces or do you prefer looser and more comfortable items? Do you gravitate toward certain colors or patterns? Another way to help you determine your style is to think of key words that define how you want a space to feel. Traditional, formal, elegant? Playful, humorous, inviting? Monochromatic, streamlined, modern?

Lucky for you, there are paints to help. Rust-Oleum makes a "mold and mildew-proof" paint for about $27 a gallon that can protect those mold danger zones. You can fight those nasty germs with Sherwin-Williams' Paint Shield, which costs about $85 per gallon. Unlike other microbial paints, this formulation is EPA-certified to kill more than 99.9% of surface bacteria in less than two hours, including E. coli and staph.
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