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Ask The Decorator

Thom Sweeney is founder and owner of Thom Sweeney Interiors, an award-winning full-service interior design studio specializing in contract design and residential business. With a well-trained and careful eye for quality, craftsmanship, and statement-making furnishings & textiles, Thom is recognized for his bold and elegant, yet timeless and classic styled designs.

Q. My friends tell me that I have an eye for selecting just the right furniture and accessories, and I do think that I have a decent color sense, but I lose all confidence when it comes to trying to combine patterns. For example: I have an off-white sofa, and I desperately need to add color to the room; I can picture in my head what pillows of several disparate patterns could do for it, but I haven’t a clue as to how to go about it. Can you help me? -Donna, Wall Township

A. Well Donna, there are a couple of very important factors that are involved with artfully getting various patterns to work with each other. They are Color and Scale. Now since you are comfortable with your color sense, let’s start with your strength: COLOR. Suppose you have chosen a fabric with a pattern that you love. Let’s say the predominate colors in it are light Sky Blue (the background), a medium Aqua, two shades of Tan, and touches of Navy, off white and Parrot Green (in much smaller proportions), and it’s a fairly large pattern with a repeat of 24” or so. The next thing you will want to experiment with is SCALE. There should be large differences in the size of the patterns you want to combine. So first look for a small, all over pattern like a contemporized leopard print in the Aqua, Light Blue and perhaps the Navy palette. Now throw in a Tan textured pillow with an Aqua or Navy brush fringe and round it out with a stripe or plaid fabric that brings in all, or most, of the colors. Step away from the sofa Donna, so that we can now see the well-deserved look of confidence on your face!

Q. We’re downsizing and moving to a 55+ community. We would like to buy all new furniture for the new place, but we have so many really good pieces, that I’d hate to part with them for a number of reasons. How do we go about determining what we should bring and what we should replace? The latest styles are so different from the furniture we have loved for 30 years. Can they be combined without looking like a mishmash? How does one go about this daunting process? -Vicki, Marlboro

A. We do it all the time. It’s not so daunting. The first thing you should do is look at every piece of furniture in your home with an objective and critical eye, and determine what you love, and what you can live without in your new home. Then get out your tape measure. Measure each piece of furniture and record the size, so that when you are given the actual measurements of each room, you can plot the furniture on the floor plan to be sure they fit. It’s best to use graph paper: Consider every square (which is ¼”) to be equivalent to 1’. That is quarter-inch scale, and most floor plans are done to that scale. So, if your sofa is 36” deep by 84” wide, that would mean that your sofa, on paper, would equal the size of 3 boxes deep x 7 boxes wide. Now you can cut that out and put it right on the ¼” scale floor plan and KNOW if your sofa will fit the area or not. That way, there will be no surprises. (“OOPS. They delivered the new sectional and only 3 of the 4 pieces fit in the room,” for example!)

The second thing to consider is having special favorite pieces recovered in a snappy new fabric. But don’t forget…reupholstery isn’t cheap. Great Aunt Sarah’s Bergere chair may be worth doing because of it’s value or sentiment, but you might be able to find a brand new one in the same classic Bergere design, with the exact fabric you were picturing, at a much lower price.

And, if it’s a new home you are buying, when you are making your selections at the builder’s Design Center, be sure to go with your gut. At this point in your life, don’t let yourself be talked into ANYTHING by any designer or well-intentioned friends. Remember it’s your home. You have to live there – they DON’T!

Q. I want a more carefree life. I don’t want to keep cleaning up after my friends or even my grandchildren. What new products are on the market that can make my life easier?

-Christine, North Beach

A. A lot of different manufacturers must have had you in mind when they started offering products to make your life easier, Christine!

As you know, one of the biggest problems that homeowners face is the soiling of upholstery fabrics. Most of the upholstery companies that we deal with have put a product called Crypton into their fabric selections. Crypton was developed several years ago for the Healthcare industry, particularly Nursing Homes, to solve the persistent problem of incontinence! You see, Crypton does not allow liquid to permeate the fabric fibers, and instead “pools” on top of the fabric until it is wiped clean. Good bye red wine stains! Originally, it had a very hard surfaces, and was very “institutional” in look and feel. Now, however, they have developed it to a point that it is offered in even a soft Chenille fabric option. It costs a little more than your average fabrics, but it is SO worth it for pieces that get a lot of hard wear.

Another fabric that you are probably familiar with is Sunbrella. And while it was formerly a canvas looking and feeling fabric, Sunbrella has now been developed to a point where they, too, have soft Chenilles and wovens that look nothing like the former Sunbrella (which was originally only used outside for poolside cushions, for example). It is still water-repellant and fade-resistant and extremely practical. I even have a wing chair in my Living Room upholstered in a fancy looking Damask Sunbrella fabric. It couldn’t be more practical because it’s right by a sunny window, which absolutely KILLED the former fabric. Not any more!

And did you know that most fabric companies with treat the yardage that you buy with a Teflon or similar coating, which doesn’t change the look or feel of the fabric, but makes is virtually stain proof, for a couple dollars additional per yard? You can also have them do a vinyl coating on the fabric, which enables you to use a stunning colorful print on those kitchen chair seats, instead of plain old vinyl that you were forced to use in days gone by.

And of course, most carpet companies now treat their fibers with Stain resistant coatings, and some are even anti-microbial and can be cleaned with bleach without harming the carpet itself (that’s called solution-dyed).

And finally, we’re fortunate that we’re living at a time when there is a widespread popularity and use of re-claimed woods for casegoods. Now your grandchildren can put their feet up on your tables without you having to worry about scratching. The highly polished tables have been replaced by those with stone or zinc tops (Hooray, right Christine?).

Paint companies have developed (really) scrubbable paints with flat finishes to make your life easier, so be sure to ask for those. Gone are the days when you had to use semi-gloss on the walls in order to clean off little fingerprints!

So Christine, put away that scrub brush and bucket, and take the cleaning time that you don’t need as much of anymore, and use it to put together a plan to redo one or more of the rooms in your home. I guarantee it will give you a lot more satisfaction and enjoyment than any amount of cleaning will. Your friends and family will never notice that you didn’t scrub every surface this week…but they will notice the new paint color you painted the Family Room, and how easily the red wine came out of the sofa!

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