I have some basic guidelines for your very first grownup house,
So, you’re getting married and now it’s time to decide what stays and what goes from your respective households. Well, there will most assuredly be some compromises. Unless you are part of one of the most fortunate couples I’ve ever known, combining your furniture pieces and deciding on a shared design direction will require some conversations! In addition to creative differences, budget constraints often come into play with younger newlyweds.
Many younger newlyweds haven’t lived on their own long enough to have a well-conceived design focus. In fact, unless you have parents in the interior design or furniture business, this whole “creating a home” is foreign territory for some. Well, I’m here to help! I have some basic guidelines for your very first grownup house, including where to spend your hard-earned money and where you can cheat—regardless of you design preferences.
Let’s focus on the living room, family room or great room. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s likely where you spend a good share of your time together. So let's focus on the this room, there are certainly places where being stingy is fine and where stretching for the best is a must.
A Strong Sofa
Do purchase the best sofa you can afford. Flopping and dropping on a poorly constructed sofa at the end of the day is a disappointment. It’s not comfortable and the furniture doesn’t last. Better quality upholstered pieces are made with the proper frame and hold up much longer than $500 super-saver sofas. If necessary, consider adopting a well-made sofa from a parent and reupholstering it to make the piece uniquely yours. Let the new upholstery become the catalyst for the room’s color palette or design direction. Reupholstering quality pieces might be your best bet for comfy chairs and ottomans as well.
A Solid Coffee Table
Putting your feet up after a long day at work is one of life’s pleasures, so a good solid coffee table is a must! Select one that is large enough for two pair of feet and structurally sound enough to sit on without groans or creaks. Here again, maybe opt for a recycled family piece. Paint it or even strip it down to raw wood for a more industrial appearance.
A Reasonably Sized Rug
If you’re considering a rug, select one that is large enough to make a statement. To keep it from looking like a postage stamp in the room, make sure the front legs of the sofa, the entire coffee table and some of the other furniture pieces all fit comfortable on the rug. Adding a rug is a wonderful way to camouflage a bad floor or icky carpet as well.
Love Your Lamps
This idea is probably going to cause some questions—but trust me, this is important, gorgeous! You cannot, let me repeat, you cannot cheat on lamps. Work with me here! When you walk into a room, a lamp is what meets most of us at eye level. It should be one of the most brilliant accessories in the room. A lamp of improper scale or size can make an entire room look unbalanced.
Now, let me share one of my sneaky little secrets with you—are you ready?! More times than not, a lamp is taller than the table it sits on. (Don’t make that face at me sweetie, because this is true!) Here’s the math, the best tool there is for design! The arm of a sofa or the arm of a chair determines the height of the side table. In most cases, arm heights are in the 24–27 inch range, making the side table similar in height. I usually error on the side of being a bit taller for the side table rather than shorter! So, let’s walk through this slowly! If the table is 26-inches tall, the light source (the actual light bulb) will be 20 to 25 inches off the top of the table. For a side table lamp to give you proper lighting for knitting or reading, the light source needs to be right there—about 20–25 inches off the tabletop. As you study the structure of a lamp, please take a peek at my illustration! In the drawing, the distance from the lamp base to the light bulb is 22 inches, the bulb is 3 inches while the harp (which holds the shade up) and the finial (which holds the shade in place) is 8 inches! Do some simple arithmetic and the lamp in the illustration is 33 inches tall — 7 inches taller than the table! And there you go, the lamp is taller than the table. Please don’t tell anyone this little design secret! Finding these beautiful beacons of light is not as difficult as you think. Online sources are amazing and many ship free, true design stores offer selections from cottage to contemporary, and don’t forget stores dedicated to illuminating your home. Even shopping at a garage sales or tag sales might reward you with a wonderful lamp.
So, let’s sum up what we know: You cannot afford to cheat on good upholstery, a good solid coffee table and the joy of brilliantly appointed side table lamps. OK, now let’s talk about where you can cheat!
Side Tables Made Simple
It’s perfectly acceptable to be frugal on side tables, which we really only request to hold a lamp, maybe a stack of books and certainly a tissue box. Just make sure the table is the same height, or taller, as the arm of upholstery it is sitting next to. (An exception: In ultra-chic contemporary rooms, side tables that are lower than the arm height are acceptable. With contemporary design, horizontal lines are a powerful part of the completed room, but that is an column for another day!)
For entertainment cabinets, a more modest price point is acceptable. The only concern is that the piece handles the weight of the TV and places it at the ideal height for viewing. The pieces you could consider for this area are almost limitless—try a repurposed dresser, a wonderful old sideboard or, in the case of a flat screen, bookcases with shelves removed. This is something you can have fun with and be very clever, so put your thinking cap on!
Starting a new life together as a couple is one of life’s wonderful adventures. Take the time to evaluate what you both like and how you can blend those ideas into a wonderful new nest for yourselves. Think about registering in places you might not think of—like furniture stores! A new sofa or chair and ottoman might be more appreciated than a china cabinet full of dishes. Merely a thought!
I’ll be here next Saturday to visit. See you then!
Jan Colvin has been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). She has taught interior design at the college level and operated her private design business since 2001. Look for her new book soon! Jan welcomes questions, which will be answered in her columns. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org