Eight things that’ll make any room richer

During the holiday tour a few people asked if I were a designer. I am not, but I am a great analyst. For a decade I’ve been analyzing shelter magazines, particularly House Beautiful, on the regular to figure out what makes a room look beautiful AND what I like to see in a room.

I’ve discovered a few tried-and-true finishes and décor items that give a room depth and polish, and I’ve adopted these in my own house. Here’s a short list of some of the best:


Animal print as a neutral. I added “as a neutral” because I’m talking about animal print in a big dose—so big that it pretty much blends into the background in a lovely way.



Something blue and white. It really is true: This combo looks good in any room. Try it on vases, pots, pillows, throws, trays—you name it. Blue and white looks especially pretty as a foil to animal print—something prim and proper to tame something wild.



Colored trim or ceiling. Why we always default to white, I don’t know. Historic homes commonly had colored trim, and this is the fastest, least expensive way to add flavor to a space. Even if you’re nervous, you can go with gray or taupe.



Live plants or cut flowers. Every Tuesday when I gather my plants to water them in the tub, the rooms look so empty while they’re away. Plants add life to every space. Just make sure that when you’re buying, you really pay attention to the light a plant requires and follow that requirement like it’s the gospel truth. You can’t fudge your way out of the wrong lighting. Got a black thumb? No worries—flowers or branches cut from the yard work the same way.


Books. Books make any room feel like real people live there. So stack them in a bookcase, pile them by the sofa, or place one or two pretty volumes on your coffee table. Arrange by color for a foolproof good look.


Plenty of lighting. No room has enough lighting options when it’s built. You’ve got to add lamps to the mix for coziness and intimacy—and better reading. Small lamps look lovely on a kitchen counter and make the room feel less utilitarian. Big lamps are a great option for side tables or buffets. And don’t forget the trusty clip-on lamp, which can be a real winner in a bedroom where space is too tight for a pair of nightstands.


Original artwork. Even if it’s an amateur’s work, having a piece with real brush strokes and paint in varying thicknesses and subtle shade differences just looks richer than a print.


A big mirror. Place one in any room to multiply light and create another “window.” If it’s extra heavy, place the mirror on the mantel and lean it against the wall, or if it’s tall, position it on the floor.

I can’t think of any room that wouldn’t look better by adding these elements. And if you pay attention, you’ll see that each photo above features more than one of these things. What is your go-to décor for a pretty room?

P.S. Have you been following the hubbub surrounding the changes at House Beautiful? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, get caught up on Instagram by following @theoldhousebeautiful. •

4 thoughts

  1. I love this list. I’m with you on the lighting. Have you seen the work of JAS Design Build? I’m so inspired by the way they use lighting. I’d also add layered shelves to the list–like in your example with the blue & white.


    1. No, I’m not familiar with JAS, but I’m going to look them up—thanks for the tip.

      You’re right about layered shelves. Layering in all its forms could have been on the list. I also could have added rugs and stuff with textures, but I had to stop somewhere! 🙂 Thanks for your comment.


  2. Love this list and couldn’t agree more with every single item. The only one I don’t have in our house is the colored trim or ceiling. I think I’ll start with painting the ceiling of our screened porch haint blue!


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