Surprising Decorating Moves That Work

We all know sofas don't really belong in the kitchen, bold colour makes a ceiling look lower and pattern-on-pattern overwhelms small spaces, but here's what happens when designers break to rules. (Spoiler alert: the consequences are beautiful!)

  • Small, Layered Living Room

    Go dark and dramatic on the ceiling.

    Designer and TV host Alexandra Hutchinson gave her living room ceiling a splash of rich, peacock blue paint for a surprising, whimsical effect. Contrasting white trim calls attention to the dramatic pendant light. A natural-dye Chobi rug adds a rich hit of pattern underfoot, while the chenille sofa's blue tone is a pleasing reference to the ceiling.

    Source: House & Home August 2013 issue
    Photographer: Michael Graydon
    Designer: Alexandra Hutchinson

  • Moody and Dramatic Library

    Use unexpected upholstery accents.

    In this welcoming library, designer Tommy Smythe combined traditional furniture, a grand chandelier and whimsical throw pillows for an eclectic feel. He designed this sofa with leather piping, an unexpected detail, and continued that trend with the pompom trimmed pillows. The combination of crisp white moulding and the walls' light-reflecting, high-gloss finish has a modernizing influence, keeping the room from feeling too dark despite a dramatic black paint job.

    Source: House & Home January 2012 issue.
    Photographer: Angus Fergusson
    Designer: Tommy Smythe

  • Multifunctional Sitting Area

    Use a formal dining area for lounging instead.

    Smythe opted out of a formal dining area in favour of a sitting room off the kitchen: "I think it's just about the truth," he says. "The kitchen is where everyone wants to be in any house, and in this one, the family can cook, eat, watch TV and talk to each other." The red tufted sofa ties in with a red pendant light in the kitchen and a red bentwood chair at the dining table.Source: House & Home January 2012 issue
    Photographer: Angus Fergusson
    Designer: Tommy Smythe; project manager, Jenny Dames.

  • Graphic Meets Traditional Spaces

    Experiment with pattern.

    For the main-floor bathroom and staircase, Smythe introduced a few fun elements to liven up the Victorian home. The powder room's fixtures, sconces and art are ultratraditional to offset the bold zigzag pattern painted on the walls. Project manager Jenny Dames actually blew up a scale of wallpaper she and Smythe liked, then hired a painter to bring it to life. Smythe also hung a series of convex mirrors in the stairwell instead of the usual family photographs. Mix and match vintage gold frames offer a eclectic look.Source: House & Home January 2012 issue
    Photographer: Angus Fergusson
    Designer: Tommy Smythe; project manager, Jenny Dames.

  • Cheerful Yellow Entryway

    Complementary patterns are a fun addition.

    H&H design editor Sally Armstrong took a pattern-on-pattern approach to her home's entryway. She started with the floors, taking an inspiration shot featuring dramatic patterned tilework to Edgewater Studios and asking them to make a similar pattern. From there, she chose a sunny, yellow wallpaper that doesn't feel too busy combined with the floor, thanks to its smaller pattern. A mod bench and handy hooks complete the space.

    Source: House & Home February 2013 issue
    Photographer: Virginia Macdonald
    Designer: Sally Armstrong

  • Exotic Minimal Living Room

    An eye-catching sofa grounds a small space.

    A custom-made sofa is the focal point of this small living room. Contrasting upholstery is a bold move, but one that works thanks to an all-white envelope. This space was inspired by Diana Vreeland's famous quote, "Pink is the navy blue of India," so it's no surprise that exotic touches abound: a fluffy, Mongolian pouf and wooden chandelier add to the room's collected, well-traveled feel.

    Source: House & Home September 2013 issue
    Photographer: Janis Nicolay
    Designer: Joanna Vagelatos

  • Lush Living Room Mural

    A painterly wall treatment softens modern lines.

    To create this soft, painterly wall treatment, H&H design editor Stacey Smithers enlarged a section of a 19th century still life by Otto Franz Scholderer onto a custom, self-adhesive wall mural. This large-scale art becomes the focal point of the space, softening the effect of the sofa's contemporary silhouette, graphic striped rug and sleek floor lamp.

    Source: House & Home May 2014 issue
    Photographer: Angus Fergusson
    Designer: Stacey Smithers

  • Multipurpose Dining Room

    Bold walls and a ceiling fresco add personality to this dual-purpose space.

    A blue lacquered wall and ceiling fresco are just two of the rich details that give this dining room, which designer Colette van den Thillart uses for her home office, personality. The striped tablecloth and green velvet chair add contrast, while gold shell-shaped lights shine on book spines for easy searching.Source: House & Home January 2011 issue
    Photographer: Chris Tubbs
  • Ikat Upholstered Headboard

    An unexpected circular shape adds instant impact.

    Inspired by childhood vacations to Los Angeles and Bermuda, homeowner Victoria Webster opted for loads of colour in her bedroom. The Art Nouveau designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann-inspired bed is the focal point, and a backdrop of textural green wallpaper makes the oversized, nailhead trimmed headboard stand out even more.Source: House & Home January 2010 issue
    Photographer: Michael Graydon
  • Bright & Playful Living Room

    Bright colours and pattern look sophisticated when paired with on-trend neutrals.

    Yellow drapes with a box-pleat valance and patterned wallpaper combine for a polished tone-on-tone effect in Victoria Webster's living room. The sofa, carpet and trim in pale grey balance the graphic impact of the yellow wallpaper without stealing its thunder.Source: House & Home January 2010 issue
    Photographer: Michael Graydon