NEW YORK - Are you a T-shirt-and-jeans person with a chintz living room, or someone who loves the structure of a suit but wakes up in a shabby chic bedroom?
The decorating world is shifting toward a streamlined look that, at the very least, complements the personal style that people already incorporate into their wardrobes.
"It's a really modern thing that people look more and more like their houses," says Stephen Drucker, editor in chief of House Beautiful. "It's all connected. People used to look the way they thought they were supposed to look and decorated their homes the way they thought they should decorate their homes. But we've been moving in the last decade to a 'do-it-your-way' philosophy."
It wouldn't be uncommon to find a 42-inch, flat-screen TV as the centerpiece of a home anymore, Drucker says, and you'd probably assume the person who lives in those surroundings has the casual lifestyle to match it. Twenty years ago, that same person probably would have hidden that TV in a cabinet - and hidden his true, couch-potato self under a suit, he says.
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"Try to imagine your mother's house, and then imagine how people dress today. That person today sitting in that living room doesn't work. It's just the world moving on," he says. "The home world used to have a lot more rules."
In interviews, both Drucker and California-based interior designer Annette Tatum, author of "The Well-Dressed Home" (Clarkson Potter), point to a change in approach to furnishing a new home. In their parents' generation, they say, the first purchases were the dining set or the oversized sofa in the living room, which would almost surely have two chairs set to face it.
Everything else would be built around those big-ticket items, which would be expected to last years.
Now, it wouldn't be out of the norm to fall in love with a cheap pillow at a mass retailer and pick out everything else to highlight it. Or it could be an expensive chandelier that dictates the decor.
The point is, says Tatum, there are choices. She encourages clients to think about decorating as they would dressing: What's your signature item? What are your favorite colors? Where do you fall on the fancy meter?
Then she offers tips more often heard from wardrobe stylists:
- Layers! Wearing layers makes life easier, and so does layering your home so you can easily add, remove or swap in a new favorite in place of something so last year without major redecorating.
- Think about lifestyle. Twenty years ago, Tatum says, she wore a lot of miniskirts. She doesn't anymore. Her house reflects a stylish, busy 48-year-old mother, not a single gal. One isn't better than the other, but as life evolves, taste and preferences often do too.
- Find a little inspiration on the red carpet. "I might not relate to Britney Spears, but her whole circus theme of her tour is appealing - and it might end up being a small part of my home. Just like I'm not going to wear a pointy bra, but I might add a little edge."
- Accessorize. This is where you get the most bang for your buck, and you can drastically change the effect without a huge time or financial commitment.
"The passion for accessories has come to the home, the same way it came to fashion and became about the bag, shoes and a belt. It's now about the vase, the lamp and pillow," agrees Drucker.
He notes, however, that even though home accessories are considered temporary, they are not usually as easy to peel off as a pair of hot-pink heels.
"You have to be sure which of your fashion looks you are translating to your home," Drucker says. "You don't necessarily want 'party clothes' in your home - the equivalent of 6-inch heel platforms. You'd never wear those everyday, and home is for the long term."
Keith Johnson, host of "Man Shops Globe" on the Sundance Channel and buyer-at-large for Anthropologie, says he seeks out little pieces with high impact. "I buy things that I love, and when you love things, your eye is constantly editing. You don't end up with things that you don't like and things that don't match you, your look and your personality," Johnson says.
Johnson, who describes his own wardrobe as "tweed with a twist," says that once you find the piece or two that defines your look, the rest, such as paint colors and upholstery, falls into place.
"Imagine the life you want to live, create a setting and figure out who wants to live here. It can be any kind of character - a lady in the South of France, a 'Star Trek' character - but your house is a story. Think of it as a narrative and you are the author," Johnson says.