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Home & Garden

For the winter doldrums: small design moves with big impact

| Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

We still have a month until spring is officially here. It's cold and rainy, and still getting dark early. A lot of us could use some kind of visual pick-me-up.

Brightening your home can definitely boost your mood, but this isn't the season for big decorating projects, says Florida-based interior designer Andrew Howard.

“Winter's such a bad time for starting something brand new,” he says. “No one has the energy for it.”

Here, Howard and two other interior design experts — Deborah Martin and Jenny Dina Kirschner, both designers based in New York — offer advice on small but powerful decorating moves that can bring fresh style to a room with little expense. What choices — even things as simple as treating yourself to a vase of fresh flowers — can make a home feel bright and new without major effort?

Warm up your lighting

Decorative lighting is “the single most effective midwinter decor pick-me-up,” says Martin, because it adds the warmth and light we're all craving.

“A lamp in the window when you come home at the end of a long day,” she says, “signals home. It signals cozy.”

Table and console lamps are a great choice because they're less expensive than ceiling fixtures and “add a unique cheerfulness and a functionality,” Martin says. “They're stylish and effective.”

Candles can also brighten up a room and can boost your mood if you choose the right scent.

“At holiday time, we usually put out candles that have sweeter and spicier scents,” Kirschner says. If you're getting tired of those wintry fragrances, she suggests switching to ones that evoke spring and summer, such as lemongrass or gardenia.

Get some greenery

If you flip through decor magazines, Howard says, you'll see “plants and living things on every surface.”

He recommends adding a few new plants at this time of year or even “clipping something from your backyard or from a wooded area near your house.” Living in Florida, Howard often will “clip a palm and put it in a vase on a console,” he says, to brighten up his home's entrance when guests are coming over.

Martin feels the same way about vases of fresh flowers, and suggests you don't wait for guests.

“When we surround ourselves with flowers, it helps balance what we see when we look outside our windows” and the landscape is gray, she says.

To keep costs down, she recommends choosing flowers with a long shelf life and adding plenty of less expensive greenery to the vase.

Kirschner agrees that flowers and plants, especially in a colorful planter, can change a room. Even a big bowl of citrus fruit on a dining table or coffee table can bring a hint of spring, with bright colors and fresh scents, she says.

Try new accessories

All three designers mentioned that new throw pillows can easily change the look of a living room sofa.

“They bring in a pop of color and pattern, but don't overwhelm the space,” Martin says. And because they can be inexpensive, pillows let you take risks with unexpected colors.

“Sometimes I'll pick a color that's not even in the room, but somehow it works,” she says, “because you're introducing an element that kind of adds an imperfection.”

Another easy accessory: Howard suggests swapping out the books on your coffee table for new ones with beautifully designed covers.

“I like to have my coffee table full of books,” he says. Buying new ones changes the look a little, leaves you excited about reading something new and provides conversation starters with guests.

Embrace bright colors

“I just got back from Scotland, where the days are especially short and it's dreary,” says Martin. In many hotels and restaurants, she noticed “the unapologetic use of color — color everywhere.” Even tartan plaid throws in neon colors, not normally her style, struck her as beautiful and mood-boosting against the gray skies and rain.

Add color with a bright throw blanket, she suggests, and consider painting a focal wall in a rich, energizing color. If that's too big a commitment, try painting the back wall inside a bookcase. Even better, line the back wall of a bookcase with a high-end wall covering in a rich, textured fabric, perhaps with a light-catching sheen.

Plunder your own things

Items that are getting little attention in one room can sometimes take on new life if you relocate them. Try swapping a framed piece of art from one room with one from another. Or give a second chance to a framed item you put away in a closet years ago.

“We never have enough walls for everything we love,” Martin says.

Another option: Take smaller items out of their frames and swap in something else, such as postcards or small prints you've collected but never framed.

When Howard wants to make a change to a room in his own home, he often searches through items he hasn't used lately. Don't be afraid, he says, to give a second chance to decorative pieces that you once dismissed as outdated.

“Decorating cycles so much now,” he says. “You're seeing trends from so many other years come back.”

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