Finding your element with interior design

Friday, October 26, 2018
This showroom demonstration at the decorating seminar showcases the concept of layering, paying mind to scale, proportions, and different textures.
/Photos by Elijah Decious

Accessorizing is a key to decorating your home, says Kathy Sorbe, interior designer and owner of Elements by K Sorbe on Milwaukee Ave.

“You can buy fabulous furniture, but if you don’t accessorize, nobody knows it’s there,” said Sorbe.

People are intimidated by the task of decorating, she finds. “They think it’s an exact science, and it’s not,” she said. “So one of the biggest things we do at the store is to take that intimidation out of it and have it make more sense to them.”

This table with comfy stools behind the couch is one idea that allows you to stay upright and awake during the evening, allowing you to be engaged with your family while they lounge around for living room activities.

But be not deceived: the art of interior design requires some discipline. Using the tips Sorbe guides her two Iowa stores by, you too can find your element at home.

“It’s a bit more controlled than that,” Sorbe said of the free-style impressions many have of design and decor. Simply put, there has to be functionality behind the creativity.

Comfort first

Color coordinating candy dishes with pillows and other accessories makes your accents pop.

“Comfort first, and durability—then make it pretty,” she told her holiday decorating seminar attendees last Thursday, demonstrating a living room table with tasteful barstools behind a couch to allow you to stay awake and engaged in the evening. This idea allows you to stay involved with the rest of the family lounging around.

Color combination, furniture placement, clutter and scale are the basics that can make or break your home’s look. “It is not ever price,” Sorbe said. “It just isn’t. It’s more about combinations of things put together to create an attitude or atmosphere.”

She says scale is something critical that tends to get overlooked, particularly with people who have a lot of small items. “If they don’t feel like it’s the look they want, they add more,” she said, recommending that you stay away from trendy items and instead gravitate towards more classic, solid and timeless pieces.

How often do you use your formal dining room? This idea transforms it into an office you can use for most of the year when you don’t have company. A special attention to natural elements and accents that make you smile, like the labradors on the wall, brighten the dark, muted tones of the furniture.

Clutter can also cramp your style if you have too many things obscuring the look you want.

By keeping the basics neutral, you can add to your heart’s content. “Instead of being overtly something, you can add until the cows come home to get personality across,” Sorbe says, “but you can’t subtract.” Don’t invest too much in expensive furniture and pieces upfront—otherwise you might be hooked into them if it doesn’t work out with your overall scheme.

This is particularly apt advice to pay attention to if your tastes change on a regular basis.

You don’t have have to overhaul your entire house to decorate for the holidays. Use a few bright ornaments and festive frosted branches, for example, to spruce up what you have and incorporate Christmas in simple ways.

Like dressing for cold weather, the key is layering

Demonstrations at her shop showed layering as a key to accessorizing. Just when the audience thought the assembly of a room was finished, another layer was added, drawing awe from the depth added with acute attention to detail coordination.

The finished product achieved warmth using neutral, muted tones in most of the furniture selection. By mixing textures and using coordinated accents of color here and there, design schemes can accomplish a look that strikes a balance that seems modern but not cold.

Add softness, like a fuzzy blanket to a wooden bench, a knitted throw over the shoulder of the leather couch or a vase of demure flowers to the end table. Coordinate the festive red or green Christmas accessories on the coffee table with a candy dish of the same color next to the lounge chair.

As for colors, she says most single colors don’t go out of style. Rather, it’s the color combinations that blow with the wind.

Finding what you already love—rather than reinventing yourself when you decorate—is the name of the game. “We want it to be personal and authentic, not a retail set-up,” the expert said. You can often get closer to the look you want by using small, inexpensive items you may have overlooked or already have around the home.

Look at a different mirror to find a fresh take on yourself

But as you look for your reflection in the things you enjoy, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. “In an effort to be safe, some get ordinary,” Sorbe said of those who get trapped into only doing what they’ve seen before.

You don’t have to match things, she told seminar attendees last week. In fact, it’s preferable that you don’t. “Most of the time, if you pick things right, and they’re dressed properly—like a wonderful coffee table—it can tone something wild down,” so that it is within your design’s parameters. If it’s wild and not dressed down, it will be the pink elephant in the room.

It’s that time of year

Those eager to get a start on their Christmas looks before the orange is out the door on November 1 can plan to accessorize in modern, less conventional ways without just red and green.

“Christmas is a time where there aren’t any rules,” Sorbe says. You can overdo it, if you’re careful, and still be stylish.

But traditionalists need not fret—just invest in good quality items that will stand the test of time. Red is still the most popular holiday color in the world.

Instead of overhauling your entire room, bring the holidays to your home in simple, thoughtful ways that are recognizable to everyone. Instead of 15,000 Santas, maybe just get a couple Santas, and spruce up vases and mantles with split branches of greenery and eye-catching ornaments. Get rid of long stems on decorative branches by cutting them into multiple pieces for more spread out coverage.

“It’s simpler, and you get to enjoy those two Santas specifically,” Sorbe advised.

“We’re not adding a lot of Christmas structures, we’re adding Christmas to what is already here,” she told her seminar.

That’s the foundation of the service her stores provide—seeing what clients have chosen to put around them, and incorporating their tastes in a way that will transform a look while still letting its originality shine through.

By being mindful and adding structure to your creativity, amateur home decorators and professional interior designers alike can find a finished room—a place becomes more than the sum of its parts when you visualize more than the pieces strung together in a space. That is when a room becomes part of a home.