This Decorating Technique Separates the Pros from the Amateurs

Photo: Eric Piasecki/Otto

AMATEUR DECORATORS LIKE you and me struggle with the same array of variables that interior designers do: furniture, lighting, paint, artwork, rugs, window treatments, cats determined to destroy those window treatments. But pros take into account an overarching factor that eludes untrained eyes: a room’s visual connection to the adjacent space.

“It’s all about the procession,” said Andrew Franz, an architect and interior designer in New York. As soon as you enter a home, he believes, your eye should be led to another visual destination, “because the activity between rooms is what creates a successful, comfortable design.”

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This was, famously, a tenet of designer and architect Le Corbusier, who said that propelling the eye through a floor plan is a planner’s greatest challenge. “So true is this that architectural works can be divided into dead and living ones,” he once explained, “depending on whether the law of ‘roaming through’ has not been observed or whether on the contrary it has been brilliantly obeyed.”

So aim to obey! You needn’t make each room predictably like the next to create flow. Clever designers have used contrast just as successfully to tie two rooms together. Here, five ways to think about making the link.

Photo: Susan Sully
Find kindred spirits when it comes to upholstery and art

Wide openings, not doors, give way to adjacent spaces on the first floor of this 19th-century mansion in Savannah, Ga. This made flow especially crucial to designer Chuck Chewning’s plan. “As you move from room to room it has a theatrical effect, as if you’re going from set to set,” he said of the house, which appears in Rizzoli’s new book “Southern Hospitality at Home,” by Susan Sully. From the living room, the homeowners get a generous glimpse of a massive abstract by Atlanta artist Carolyn Carr in the adjoining dining room. To anticipate the painting, Mr. Chewning chose to upholster two Italian Louis XVI chairs in Donghia’s Bees Knees, a fabric that echoes the canvas’s colors and organic forms. Other unifiers: symmetry, neutral shades (the wall colors, the rug, the artwork’s canvas) and the way the crystal chandelier in the dining room nods to the fussiness of the twin chairs and the gilded table lights.

Photo: Nathan Schroder
Allow boldness to lead the eye to more boldness

“A home should feel like a well-written paper,” said Dallas designer Jean Liu. “Each paragraph can make its own point, but there has to be a central theme tying everything together.” When decorating her own home, a 1920s Italianate villa, one of Ms. Liu’s priorities was to showcase her contemporary art collection. Here, visitors are drawn from the dining room into an adjacent hallway by an emphatic painting by Los Angeles artist Jonas Wood. The dining room’s wallpaper, from Kansas City brand Porter Teleo’s Tangled collection, carries on a boisterous aesthetic conversation with the painting. Both the pattern of the wallcovering and the artwork have a kinetic, hand-drawn, oversize quality. Both rely heavily on gestural black lines. (The bendy, linear gold base of the bench helps, too.) Further blending the two spaces: The rough, visible weave of the hallway’s sea-grass rug finds a cousin in the light-gray grid that forms the background of the wallpaper’s Franz Kline-like strokes.

Photo: Antoine Bootz
Unify with contrasts—and lots of blues

“It’s counterintuitive, but juxtapositions can be unifying,” said designer David Scott. Because the ceiling height in his North Haven, N.Y., living room (visible here through a doorway) measures 20 feet high, he emphasized coziness in the foyer that leads to it. “I wanted my guests to feel enveloped when they first arrive,” he said, achieving the desired vibe with gray silk walls, fumed-oak floors and a plush Moroccan rug. With its bright white walls, the living room has an inverse quality. The two spaces are united by eclectic organic furnishings—a rustic Thai sculpture, a mahogany French chair, a driftwood lamp. The other key to coherence: blue, as seen in the cornflower-cowhide daybed, a 1950s painting that echoes the striations of the entry walls, and the coat-closet door, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue.

Photo: Eric Piasecki/Otto
Forge a connection with complementary colors

In the former attic of a Larchmont, N.Y., Victorian, leaves outside inspired the kids’ library. “It’s a treehouse up there,” said Manhattan designer Robin Henry. She selected Donald Kaufman Color’s DKC-102, a green, then looked across the color wheel for the dad’s adjacent office. In that room, red-and-white Indian Kalamkari fabric covers the walls and Farrow & Ball’s Blazer the trim. Scarlet enters the library via a Swedish rug and needlepoint pillow. “People dismiss red and green as Christmassy,” Ms. Henry said, “but it’s a magical combination when you play with tones that don’t read ‘holiday sweater.’”

Photo: Albert Vecerka/ESTO
Let not the marriage of true woods admit impediments

Of the master-bath design in a Harrison, N.Y., home, architect and designer Andrew Franz said, “The goal was not only to connect it to the bedroom but to the rest of the house,” from which the room had been aesthetically divorced by previous renovations. Mr. Franz unified the home, originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte Edgar Tafel, by prioritizing its midcentury pedigree. Critically, cedar and birch wood, key materials throughout, can be seen in the bedroom doors as well as the ceiling, door casing and medicine chests of the bath. Other points of harmony: Sink fixtures and the dresser’s mushroom lamp are both cast in brass; and the vanity’s creamy Macchia Vecchia marble nods to the Berber carpet next door.

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