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Five secrets to high-contrast decorating

One of the most effective ways to play with opposites in your decor is to pair dark and light colors. SHNS photo courtesy Nell Hill's

By Mary Carol Garrity

Scripps Howard News Service

Dan and I are proof that opposites attract. I tease him that he’s so mellow, he’s one step above a coma. And he says I’m so hyper, I could be a poster child for Ritalin. Pairing opposites may or may not be the recipe for a good marriage, but it’s definitely an exciting approach when it comes to interior design.

Here are five secrets for working the magic of high-contrast decorating into home design.

1. Pair light and dark colors

One of the most effective ways to play with opposites in decor is to pair dark and light colors. Some of my favorite dynamic duos? Black and white. Navy and cream. I love to pull these and other high-contrast colors together when designing because of their wow factor.

My dining room features navy walls. If the entire room happened to be this deep, dark color, it would be a little too brooding for my taste. So I painted the trim and the paneling, which covers the lower portion of the walls, in cream. The cream keeps the space from taking itself too seriously by brightening the overall appearance of the room.

Black and white, a perennial favorite of mine, is gaining strength with interior designers again. We’re seeing it popping back up at market and in the work of new designers. It’s never gone out of vogue in my heart because it’s such a timeless classic.

You can also use high-contrast color combinations in furnishings. Just place a light-colored piece of furniture next to one that is dark. Bingo! Accent your light or dark sofa with a mix of contrasting pillows. If you have dark hardwood floors, zip them up with light area rugs.

2. Mix refined and rough objects

Another of my favorite techniques for high-contrast decorating is to create tableaux that include both refined and rough elements. We wanted to make an elegant silver tea service even more arresting, so we brought in some visual contrast by including a gritty garden statue in the display. The pairing of these two unlikely partners makes them each all the more beautiful.

Look around your home and see what type of refined and rough pieces you have, and then mix them together in a display. Maybe it’s a china soup tureen or English footbath filled with earthy moss balls. Or a primitive wooden dough bowl cradling crystal candlesticks.

A natural place to blend refined and rough is in outdoor rooms. A weatherworn cement table stands in my courtyard year-round. It seems ironic to cover this rugged piece of furniture with a gorgeous custom tablecloth, doesn’t it? A delicate urn on the table doesn’t belong out in the yard — or does it? It does at my house. When I entertain outdoors, you’ll find my best pieces on the al fresco dining table, from heirloom china to crystal water goblets.

3. Blend the elegant and everyday

When designing rooms, I intertwine pieces that are elegant with those that are everyday.

One friend’s home is a great example. We dressed her formal sofa in sophisticated silk pillows. Then we contrasted this fussy fabric with no-nonsense window coverings: garden-variety bamboo roller shades. I’m bringing the same concept to life in my home right now. I’ve covered some upholstered furniture in ticking, one of my favorite fabrics because it’s so simple and unassuming. Then I helped it go a bit uptown by tossing on some accent pillows in a formal damask. Some of my other elegant and everyday fabric combos? Buffalo check or burlap threaded together with luxurious velvets, plaids and paisleys.

4. Wed the manufactured with the organic

My style is ever evolving, and I’m increasingly in love with the clean and simple contemporary accents that are so hot today, like colorful pottery. But an unshakable bedrock of my style is using organic elements in everyday decor. To create a high-impact, high-contrast look, I use them both, together, in my decor. I often display items that are made out of natural materials with those that are not. For example, I may place a lovely drinks service on a wicker tray. Or fill a china bowl with stones or nuts.

What natural treasures delight you? Collect things you fancy as you walk in the woods or along the beach, then add them to your existing decor.

5. Put inexpensive and expensive together

Sometimes there is no replacement for using well-made, high-quality pieces in your decor. I feel that way about upholstered furniture. You definitely get what you pay for. But when I can, I love to cheat, opting for pieces that look super-expensive but are a bargain.

If you wander through my home, you’ll see pieces of great value mixed together with those that are inexpensive. Often, they are hardly distinguishable from one another. I embraced this marriage of inexpensive and expensive in my 20s, when I was too broke to purchase more than a few nice things for my apartment. I would save my pennies and buy one or two investment pieces, then fill in with low-cost pretenders. Another example is the place setting, where I grounded the display of china on inexpensive placemats.

— The column has been adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at www.nellhills.com. She can be reached at [email protected]

Scripps Howard News Service

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