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Anatomy of a Console Table

Generally speaking, there are precious few "rules" when it comes to decorating. After all, taste isn't really a matter of following a prescribed list of "do's" and "don'ts", but instead a more elusive art form: it is emotional rather than logical. There's an often repeated mantra that good taste can't be taught -- and perhaps that is in fact the case. However,I firmly believe that if we take the time to train our eyes, we can learn short cuts and handy tricks that can at the very least help us approximate good taste, even if it isn't innate.

One area of decorating that appears to have surprising uniformity is styling a console table. A console table is the true workhorse of occasional tables -- it works equally well behind a sofa as it does in foyer -- and it's also an amazing opportunity to practice styling on a small scale. For many designers, the task can even be broken down into a rather simple arithmetic formula. Take for example Sara Gilbane's alcove (shown above). The classical elegance of the console table is anchors the statement-making gilt mirror. A pair of tall vases flank either end of the table and help bridge the space between the mirror and table top. Smaller-scaled picture frames and a decorative bowl fill in the center of the table and create further symmetry. This symmetrical arrangement is then echoed on the lower shelf with two small plants flanking the inlaid box.

Following this symmetrical formula is a simple and guaranteed way to achieve a visually pleasing arrangement. A few more examples from some of my favorite designers to illustrate some of the many variations on this theme:

Hillary Thomas Designs

John Willey Interior Design

Meg Braff

Ashley Whittaker

Miles Redd

If you have a longer wall to fill, follow the lead of Miles Redd (above) and Sally Steponkus (below) and try flanking the console table with a pair of smaller chairs. When company comes, you'll have the extra seating, but otherwise the chairs will be out of the way for day-to-day activities.

Sally Steponkus

If you're ready to move on to the next level, try breaking up the symmetry a bit, which can create a far more interesting (and less "decorated") look. The key to your success though will be to maintain the balance. Here, Kristen Hutchins uses only one table lamp (a good choice as the console table is on the small side), but balances it with a small floral arrangement at the other end.

Here, the very symmetrical arrangement of mirrors above the console is loosened up by the more haphazardly arranged orange boxes below. If the boxes had been stacked more tidily, the overall effect would have been far too geometric, which would have felt too studied and not in keeping with the more organic qualities of the decorative objects on the table itself.

Ruthie Sommers

If you're trying to break up the symmetry a bit, I'd suggest keeping at least one element symmetrical, as Ruthie Sommers did here with the pair of sconces flanking the mirror. This is a simple trick to bring balance back to an asymmetrical space. [Random aside: Did you notice the adorable dog lounging on the stairs in the mirror's reflection?]

Lindsey Coral Harper

Sometimes a simpler, less cluttered arrangement is best, particularly in a small entryway or hallway. Here, Lindsey puts the emphasis on the vertical space of the room rather than the horizontal by using highly reflective elements (the metallic wall paint, the gilt mirror, the glittering wall sconces). The effect is further realized by placing the mirror and sconces higher up on the wall. A word to the wise though: when hanging wall art, mirrors, sconces, etc. it's best to keep them below the height of the door or window frame.

Time for the masters' class! In this vignette by Tim Clark, nothing is symmetrical and yet the arrangement is still highly successful. The red rattan chair is balanced by the palm in the red pot and the height of the pot is similar to the height of the floor lamp behind the chair. The green stools echo the color and shape of the small vases on the opposite side of the console table. As each side speaks to the other, the eye moves back and forth across the vignette.

Amanda Nisbet

A final point to consider is that sometimes fewer, larger pieces are far more effective than a bunch of small tchotchkes. In this vignette by Amanda Nisbet, the scale of the mirror, lamp and bust create a lot of drama without creating a lot of visual clutter. The neutral palette also ensures that these disparate pieces work harmoniously together.

Patterned Powder Rooms

I suppose I've been on something of a bathroom kick recently. After putting the finishing touches on my master bath last month, I painted my upstairs' guest bath turquoise last week. Next up on my bathroom "to decorate" list is the powder room. What I love about decorating powder rooms is how you can really go all out. Since powder rooms are separated and closed off from the rest of your house, you don't have to worry too much about matching it to the rest of your decor or simply getting sick of it (after all, how much time do you really spend in your powder room?). Unencumbered by any sort of obligation to make it work with the rest of your home, a powder room is a great opportunity to try out crazy color schemes, bold patterns, etc. And, from a practical standpoint, a powder room's small size also equates to fewer dollars spent (particularly important if you're working with a pricier wallpaper) and an easier time redoing everything should you find yourself regretting your leap of faith.

As I've been contemplating the direction I want to take my powder room over the past six months or so, I've also been saving inspiration photos of particularly inspiring bathrooms. When looking back over these shots, the one thing that's immediately apparent is that I have a thing for patterned wallpaper in powder rooms. The wallpaper used in the powder room by Jonathan Berger above is Lysette in Magenta by China Seas and I love the bright pattern and how well it works with the white fixtures. The hot pink is also a great reference back to the main floor of the house, which incorporates hot pink throughout.

Meg Braff

If the wallpapers play a starring role in these powder rooms, then the vanity mirrors are without question the award-winning supporting actresses and actors. In this bathroom from Meg Braff, the organic pattern of the wallpaper (Potalla Background in Jungle Green by Alan Campbell) is nicely set-off by the geometric greek key on the mirror. Just like white woodwork against dark walls, a white mirror creates contrast and even architectural interest where there was none before. There are so many incredible mirrors available on the market today that can be hard to pick a direction but the best advice I can give you is not to limit yourself to mirrors that are expressly for bathrooms. For a roundup of my favorite mirrors, see HERE.

Joe Nahem

This powder room from Joe Nahem is almost too pretty for words, but the Barbara Barry mirrored vanity shifts the mood from girly to glamorous. Describing this wallcovering as "wallpaper" is probably an insult -- it is in fact hand-painted and embroidered silk wallcovering from Fromental. A serious investment, to be sure, but it's undeniably gorgeous.

Jeffers Design Group out of San Francisco is consistently one of my favorite design teams. Their work is colorful, dramatic and unique, but there's enough traditional elements to keep it from feeling completely off-the-wall -- and that's exactly how I would describe this powder room. I'm a huge fan of wall-mounted faucets, especially when the sink is deck-mounted. I also love the variety of materials used in this room -- nothing matches but it still all works together. And that, in my opinion, is the hallmark of a design professional.

Alessandra Branca

I actually have a number of powder rooms in my inspiration files that have a wonderful "tented" trompe l'oeil effect, and I love the effect in powder rooms that are particularly cramped and/or have low ceilings. Instead of trying to hide the lack of (horizontal or vertical) space, the small size is celebrated. Since my powder room is tiny and tucked underneath the stairs, I contemplated going this route myself.

Thom Filicia

I love how Thom took the wallpaper (Cavern Home's Blackbird Wallpaper) and ran it all the way up and over the ceiling. Not only does it stretch the ceiling height, but it also helps enhance the fantasy-like quality of the paper. To keep the room from being overwhelmed, however, Thom left the wall behind the vanity white (also a great cost-savings measure) and kept the fixtures very sleek and modern.

Monique Lhuillier

Designer Monique Lhuillier's home is still one of my favorite spreads in Elle Decor (see HERE). It's a gorgeous example of how a predominately neutral palette (most of the house is decorated in black, white and grays) can still be incredibly glamorous, dramatic and feminine -- and Monique's powder room is a great example of this. The custom wallpaper is a KWID Imperial Trellis look-a-like from Astek. KWID's classic print is not available in black and white, but you can find it in a tone-on-tone black as well as charcoal and white.

Canadian House & Home

There's something about yellow and white that just makes me happy and it's the perfect palette for a bathroom with little or no natural light. The wallpaper is by Telio, which appears to be available in Canada only. If you're looking for a similar look from a resource available in the use, try Farrow and Ball, which has a great selection of yellow wallpaper in a variety of patterns. If you'd like to see this entire home (which is just as darling as its powder room would suggest), I did a post on it last summer you can view HERE.

Miles Redd

The genius of Miles Redd is that he takes very traditional design elements -- even "granny-ish" elements -- and makes them feel young, hip and new. I absolutely love the sink/faucet in this bathroom, but of course it's Scalamadre "Zebra" wallpaper that really steals the show.

Kristen Buckingham

Okay so I've cheated here a bit: the wallcovering here isn't actually wallpaper, it's one of my favorite fabrics ("Domino" print by Duralee), but if you're looking for a wallpaper in a similar pattern, try the Lydford Pagoda in Black on White by China Seas. I think I would have instinctively stuck with the black and white theme and gone with a white mirror in this bathroom, but I think the antique brass mirror really adds a wonderfully unexpected (and traditional) touch.

So when it came time to select the wallpaper that would go in my powder room I really agonized over the decision -- which is pretty atypical for me. Normally, I select paint colors, fabrics and even furniture relatively quickly. I tend to love things on sight and if the price is right, I go for it. But wallpaper admittedly intimidates me quite a bit. After all, it's not nearly as easy to change as paint and the price can often make a quick change prohibitive anyway.

Last June I ran a poll on wallpaper options. And, while I still love both patterns (and agree with the majority's choice of the Banswara pattern), I decided to go a slightly different direction, primarily because I wanted the powder room to tie in with the adjacent family room and entryway. After much internal debate and hand-wringing, I've decided to go with a classic: Summer Palace by Osborne & Little (shown above). Not only is the print in my beloved blue and white, but it's in a classic chinoiserie pagoda pattern that will stand the test of time. And as for my fear of getting sick of it? Well, I had a nearly identical print (though in a more muted palette of cream and champagne) on the walls of my childhood bedroom. I figure if I still like the initial choice that I made at 16, then it should stand the test of time.

And so, with Summer Palace as a jumping off point for my inspiration, this is my vision for the powder room:

I would love to swap out my existing pedestal sink (similar to the Kohler one shown above) for something a bit sleeker and more "me", but that quite simply isn't in the budget right now. Besides, it's hard to justify ripping out a brand-new sink just because I'm not in love with it, especially when there are far more pressing items on my design "to do" list. So the plan is to stick with the existing sink and hardware and spend the bulk of my budget on the two items that should make the most impact: the wallpaper and the mirror (Williams-Sonoma Home's Hampstead mirror in white, which Dave gave to me for Christmas). Since the pedestal sink is seriously short on storage space, the plan is to pick up a small storage unit like the Newbury etagere from Restoration Hardware ($259) to store necessary sundries...and to display a few pretties as well.

While I'd love to invest in a few hand towels from Leontine Linens, I'm quite sure that, with hand towels starting at $90 a piece, I would never, ever allow anyone to actually wipe their hands with them. And so, in the interest of not completely freaking out my guests, I'll be picking up a few hand towels from Williams-Sonoma Home embroidered with pagodas. Even better, they're currently on sale for $18 a piece. Because all powder rooms should be gorgeously scented, I'd use one of Delirium & Co.'s Blue Period candles (shown is Delirium & Co.'s Blue Absinthe candle ($38)). Finally, for art, I'd hang Anne Harwell's Blue and White Ginger Jar print, which I picked up over the holidays but hadn't found a home for yet.

A Craving For Citrus

As most of you know, my home is largely decorated in cooler tones: blues, grays, purples, etc. But that doesn't mean that every now and then I don't get a craving for something different. Like these citrus-inspired interiors from the West Coast design firm Bonesteel Trout Hall. I don't typically gravitate towards greens, yellows and oranges (particularly altogether) but these rooms are so cheerful and bright that I can't help but think they're the perfect anecdote to (another) gray February day.

Citrus brights are a great option for a playroom that's fun and kid-friendly, but still chic enough to show off when guests come over. Besides, secondary colors are a welcome change from the primary colors that typically decorate young children's spaces.

Overall, I love this room -- it's casual and homey, but still put together and sharp. I'm normally not a fan of denim sofas, but the slim, modern lines of this sofa lend it a touch of sophistication, while the workaday denim ensures that it's still casual enough for a family or media room. The bright orange chair and coordinating pillows are a great contrast to the dark wash of the denim upholstery.

I'm always drawn to a bright, white kitchen with pops of bright accent colors in the form of dishware, accessories or even food. Since kitchen renovations are so pricey, this is a great way to bring in color without the long-term commitment. Besides, I can never get enough of vaulted ceilings!

I love how all that orange is balanced out by the light, natural materials on the chairs, floor and even light fixture. And those orchids in the giant clam shell are such a statement! I'd love something like that in my bathroom.

The choice of green glass is a bold one to be sure, but it's well balanced by all the other classic choices in the room: black granite countertops, nickel hardware, and classic sconces. The overall feeling is modern, but still timeless.

The linens here remind me of the linens at the hotel room I stayed at earlier this week while I was attending a conference in Austin. [As with everything in Austin, the room was decked out in burnt orange, complete with orange-trimmed bed linens like the ones above. Here though, they're much more tastefully incorporated with all that breezy white instead of the heavy orange leather headboard and orange accent wall in my hotel room.] I'm particularly fond of the large green artwork on either side of the bed as it was such a great choice to go big here -- I think the natural inclination would be to go smaller given the space, but it's far more impactful this way. Note also how the lamps don't match, which is a great way to break up all that symmetry.

If you're looking to bring a few pops of citrus into your own home, CB2 currently has a huge selection of brightly-colored furniture and accessories to get you started.

To help keep these citrus brights in check, I'd follow in BTH's footsteps and mix them in with a lot of white and a few organic touches (think grass cloth wallpaper, sea grass rugs, rattan, etc.) . The white will keep the room from feeling too retro and the organic touches will ensure your room is more eclectic and less Pop Art.

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