Use fabrics, furniture and art to tell your personal story. Layering is an effective way to inject your personality into your home.
Anyone who's combined various decor elements to pleasing effect in her home is layering. In design terms, explains designer MaryLynne Meschino of Allegro Interiors, it's the art of "assembling the appropriate number and type of patterns and textures in a room to create the desired effect."
If you have collected things over time and arranged those pieces in your home, you have engaged in the act of layering. It's an integral part of design, says Ms. Meschino, because "it allows you to express your personality, but it also creates comfort, interest and depth, even if you don't intellectually know why."
Toronto designer Jenn Hannotte adds, "Layering is the step that tells your story. Done properly and with restraint, it shows off what you collect without your home feeling chaotic, messy or cluttered."
Learning how, though, comes from practice, Ms. Hannotte cautions. The best way to achieve this is to "play with things, move them around, try a lamp on a stack of books instead of on a table or the floor. Sometimes you only know it's right once you see it."
Designers usually supply clients with a storyboard that assembles at least one option for materials – fabrics, tiles, flooring – they intend to use. When doing it yourself, it helps to lay everything out to see how the elements work together. Samples and swatches are readily available from fabric, tile or flooring stores.
Ms. Meschino begins with a starting point, which could be a rug or piece of the client's furniture. When her clients have pieces they want to keep, she takes it in stride by looking at combining old and new like a puzzle, while keeping her eye on the ultimate tone, style and purpose for the room.
While neutral rooms can be calming and soothing, colour and pattern will add zing, energy and personality to your home.
Patterns work best together when they're in the same or complementary colour family so they don't compete with each other, says Decorium's store manager Lisba Selbo. A mix of scales – large, medium and smaller patterns – work well together. White will provide the negative space to give your eye a rest and will add depth.
When Ms. Meschino recently designed a sunroom addition with big patio doors and clerestory windows, her starting point was the red-and-cream rug. From this, she assembled the palette by pulling out the neutral wall colour and the red for the sofa. A pattern adds interest, so two existing club chairs in beige were reupholstered in a red-and-gold diamond fabric, while two new chairs were covered in stripes. She chose throw pillows in some of the rug's other colours – blue, cream and pale yellow – and redid the fireplace in a textural stone mosaic tile. Chrome lamps added sparkle to the otherwise earthy room.
Keep it simple
"Keep things fairly simple," advises Ms. Selbo, an interior designer, "otherwise your eyes will go crazy. Aim for harmonization in colour, shape and proportion."
If you have a plain sofa, but love florals, she suggests picking a floral side chair, then selecting colours from the chair to add to the whole palette, something in a similar colour, but smaller pattern, or a stripe. But remember that harmonization doesn't exclude colours that take the energy level up a notch. A dull blue-and-brown scheme can be intensified by a turquoise accent, brought in through artwork or accessories.
Stores like Decorium have interior designers on staff, so Ms. Selbo recommends bringing photos of your space, a rough sketch of the floor plan, and as many swatches as you have, so they can make recommendations. "It's always best to underbuy, go home and live with it, then add as you go."
Layering furniture works much the same. Ms. Selbo loves to see an exquisite antique piece in the middle of a room with modern clean-lined furniture. "It's the juxtaposition that makes the layering work. For example, a gothic rectory dining table wouldn't work so well with tiny gilded chairs, but would look great with sleek mid-century modern."
She recommends going outside your comfort zone. "A lot of people are scared of doing something wrong. So play with furniture. Ultimately it's about restraint and editing, and you'll know when."
If you've inherited furniture and want to keep it for sentimental reasons, Ms. Selbo says don't hold back on reinventing the piece through painting or reupholstery (unless it's a priceless antique). "Jazz it up to be fabulous."
There's no rule that says you must lay down one large rug to fill the room. In fact, layering your rugs can nicely break up a large open-concept space.
Layered rugs also help achieve an artsy and eclectic bohemian look. To save money, put down a solid wool, seagrass or sisal carpet, and layer a small oriental piece over top for a great look.
Toronto designer Deirdre Dyment loves using a client's existing pieces – and many have large oriental carpets. Done well, oriental carpets layered atop each other can help create a cozy, rich atmosphere, especially in a north-facing room with a fireplace. Add a mahogany chest of drawers, lots of books, a chess set and a bar table set with crystal and you have your own gentleman's club.
Designer Jenn Hannotte loves to layer artwork. On her mantel, she has a large canvas painted a solid colour, on top of that a framed illustration, on top of that a deer skull, while on the other side of the mantel proudly stands a bust, trophy and candle.
It's all about scale and colour, says the designer whose academic background in museum studies is something she admits to rebelling against. Academic curation is too rigid for the average person's life, she says. "To me it's the layers that make a home, because they reveal the story of a life or lives lived."
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.