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home_decorRISMEDIA, November 7, 2009—(MCT)—Too often, when decorating our homes, we tend to gravitate toward what we have seen in catalogues or other people’s homes. In other words, we re-create a “safe” look. It can turn into a predictable page out of the Pottery Barn playbook. 

Design elements that pop or surprise can be the most delightful. A pulled-together room should have an unexpected element to create some visual interest. And, sometimes, we need to break a few de-facto “rules” to achieve that effect. 

Here are the best rules to break to create something unexpected: 

Rule No. 1: Seek symmetry – Yes, a symmetrical display looks balanced, but it can also look boring, especially on a mantle or a display shelf. Mix things up by creating a different unifying line or idea and find a new way to group items. Wall art and mirrors should be hung in symmetrical balance, but accessories need not be arranged that way. Often, less is more when decorating. Try taking a few things out of a room and see how the remaining pieces come together. 

Rule No. 2: Place settings should match – Pick a unifying element in your table decor, such as a color, theme or texture, and have fun with it. Matched place settings instantly create a formal mood, but mixing up place settings can be perfect for a hip get-together. It’s visually interesting, creative and a conversation starter. Adding a piece of your grandma’s blue china with your stark white Crate and Barrel plates will be much more memorable. 

Rule No. 3: Large furniture does not work in small spaces – While some say large furniture will crowd small spaces, small pieces tend to work against a small space. An oversized sofa adds heft and substance to a smaller room, as long as the rest of the furniture is kept in scale. Choose pieces that can multitask, like a dining table that doubles as a desk or an ottoman that can be used as a cocktail table or for storage. Use other visual tricks to make the room appear larger, such as monochromatic colors, see-through or reflective surfaces. The most important tip in decorating a smaller space: Eliminate clutter. 

Rule No. 4: Don’t mix contemporary and traditional furnishings – When the mixing is done right, it creates a layered look, which is much more visually interesting and inviting than sticking too closely to one type of style. It is important to decide which look you prefer and will dominate the space. That way, eclectic pieces can serve as an accent. Exposed, unfinished wood furnishing can warm the cold, sleek lines of a modern space. Similarly, clean lines can be paired with more traditional fabrics and prints, giving more pop to that style element. 

Rule No. 5: You cannot have substantial art in the kitchen or bathroom – Too often, kitchen and bathroom knickknacks are caricatures of real art, cartoonish or homespun, but it doesn’t have to be this way. One of my favorite pieces of art takes up an entire wall in our kitchen. It’s a stark, black tree against a cream canvas. It’s a modern piece and not in the least cutesy or kitschy. There is no need to save serious art for serious rooms, such as living and dining rooms. So much of our gathering and entertaining happens in our kitchens, that it’s a perfect place to display beloved and serious artwork. 

(c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.