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A vibrant rug can work as an instant design GPS for a living room.FollowTheFlow/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Decorating today is like the television industry. It’s the golden age and, thanks to e-commerce and social media, there’s more choice than ever. No wonder it’s a headache-inducing task to hone in on your style (am I modern minimal or more-is-more neo-Victorian?), let alone pick the fabrics, furniture and accessories to tell that story.

I’ve heard it said you should look to your closet for cues about the colours you gravitate to and want to live with, but that doesn’t make much sense to me – I wear a lot of black, but I don’t necessarily want to fill my house with it. So here’s my simple, foolproof trick: Look down. Do you have a vibrant, multicoloured rug? It can be your GPS, guiding you to an instant palette for your space. If you don’t have a great area rug, get one. It’s much easier to find paint and fabrics to support a stunner of a rug than vice versa.

Once you have a rug in place, think of the room as a band – a functional band, not one that’s about to break up. Defined roles keep everyone feeling harmonious on tour, right? Look around your room and consider who’ll be the front woman and who’ll be the backup singer. Not every piece can or should grab the mic. Pull out one of the rug’s colours, ideally not the dominant one, and use it for a big, solid-coloured upholstered piece such as the sofa. Pick a second colour from the pattern and use it in accent prints, such as cushions or curtains. The rug’s dominant colour can pop up in a supporting role, like in your artwork or accessories on a shelf. For fun, throw in a colour that’s not even in the rug to give the room an element of surprise. And there you have it: A cohesive palette.

If you’re not convinced by my from-the-floor-up strategy, or if you prefer a neutral rug, here are a couple of other routes to try. Think about where you are. There’s a reason lake houses feature shades of blue and condos shine with steely greys, golds and black: It works. I’m not advocating for theme decorating (that’s a column for another day), but stealing from nature’s palette, or at least what you see out the window, makes good sense as a starting point.

When in doubt, pay a visit to your neighbourhood paint store. Most companies offer ready-made schemes and though you wouldn’t want to use all those paints at once, consider it a recipe card for sourcing fabrics in complementary tones. Someone’s already done the work for you!

Need some advice about interior design and decor? Send your questions to personaldesigner@globeandmail.com.

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