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By Cheryl Truman

RISMEDIA, April 3, 2008-(MCT)-It’s a complex relationship between you and the house you love and hate. You want to feel as if you’re at home. Instead, you feel some times as if you’re living in a Days Inn with a mailbox and a mortgage. There’s too much stuff, and you shuffle between piles of depressing clutter. Or there’s not enough stuff. Your house looks as if you’re perpetually in the process of moving out. Or what you do have is the wrong color, or shape, or style. It’s too small for the wall, or too big, or too dark.

Or none of it seems to go together. There are acres of too-pale wall space ornamented with framed posters from your dorm days. Your towels are mismatched, your living room looks like a TV-adorned dungeon, and your bedroom features something grayish and lumpy shoved up against the wall.

Really, the whole setup makes you want to just huddle on the floor with a TV remote and a sleeping bag and be done with the whole thing.

It’s time for spring cleaning-and reorganizing, decluttering and tossing. And professionals like Beth Harper-who dubs herself The Lone Rearranger are here to help.

Harper works with people from all kinds of houses: model homes, starters and mansions. She operates with a basic set of principles: Pay attention to the basics, and accessorize properly. (Well, you still have to clean.)

What Harper thinks:

– Good design doesn’t have to be designer-label. You learned that from all those years you spent watching penny-wise decorating on Trading Spaces, and it’s true: For a boy’s room at a Georgetown, Ky., model home, Harper used steering wheel covers and floor mats mounted on the wall: simultaneously colorful and automotive. Nearby is a stepladder shelf with 5 kinds of motor oil. It sounds odd, and motor oil around new carpet definitely gets your attention. Yet it works.

– Not everything has to be fine art, but if you have the money, go for the quality. Harper tailors her decor for finances and home value, but she says that decor does not have to be pricey to be striking. For a model home in the $300,000s, her shopping destinations have included Big Lots, Home Goods and dollar stores; for a classic Fayette Park, Ky., house that she’s accessorizing after a decorator has already done her work, she’s looking at an $800 red leather tapestry piece from an upscale Hamburg furniture store. She’s arranging higher-end art into shelves in the master bathroom that coordinates with the sage-tinted linens.

“When I buy it, I have no idea where I’m going to put it,” she says. “I just know it’s going to work in the room.”

– Rearranging is a whole different kettle of tchotchkes. And that’s where Harper’s eye really comes in: She looks around your house to see what you have, and she might pull items from a variety of locations to make an old room seem newer, more comfortable, more accessible. True, a model home is a clean slate, but you can make your own clean slate in the house where you live. “You want people to envision their lives in this house,” Harper says.

– Don’t push everything against the wall, assuming that gives you more space. “I’m a big angler,” Harper says. “I just don’t like things lined up against the wall. There’s just no visual interest.”

Lining things up makes the room look flat, Harper says; angling them creates a more three-dimensional effect. Put sofas, chairs, rugs, even dining tables, at an angle. Unless you’re living in a cell, you have enough space to angle your furniture.

– Mix up sizes in your knickknacks and decorative items. You’re not nesting Russian dolls here; not everything has to progress from smallest to largest.

– Don’t assume that your ceilings have to be white. “This is going to be on my tombstone: no white ceilings anywhere,” Harper says. “It does not make a room smaller to make the ceiling the same color.” For tray ceilings, use variations of the wall color: In one model home, a tray ceiling in a room painted “palomino”-a musky brown-lines up with deeper tones toward the ceiling, making the tray look even deeper and more dramatic.

© 2008, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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