Brava Magazine - Striking a Balance

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Just-Right Design + Decor

Marni McEntee

“You’ve probably been in those rooms where the furniture is way too big for [its] size,” says Paul Dominie, an acclaimed interior designer and president of MEEP Design and Consulting. “Or you’ve got too many patterns going on. Or you’ve got two colors that are trying to fight for dominance.” 
Maybe you even have some of those rooms in your own home. 
It’s true; sometimes when decorating or remodeling, we get carried away with our favorite colors, fabrics and knick-knacks and forget the bigger picture. We lose sight of our ultimate goal: a balanced, functional space. So how to achieve equilibrium? “Always trust your eye,” says Dominie. “It’ll say to you, ‘This is not warm enough,’ or, ‘This is too busy,’ or, ‘I need one more piece of furniture.’ Trust your opinion of what you’re seeing.” 
OK, so there is a designer’s instinct within all of us, after all. If you’re still feeling unsure, here are more expert tips from Dominie.  

Conflict Resolution 
A room isn’t balanced if it doesn’t serve everyone. Usually, decor re-do and remodels must work not just for one person, but for a couple or family. How do you reconcile conflicting goals for one space? Look for innovative solutions that make everyone happy.
Example: During a bathroom remodel, Dominie faced the challenge of pleasing both a body builder—who wanted a spacious shower so he wouldn’t bump into the glass—and his petite wife, who feared she’d freeze if he got his way. Dominie’s fix? Install in-floor heating in a large shower. “They both got what they wanted,” he explains. 

See the Light 
Lighting is one of the most important factors for the mood of a space. “[It’s] like a fourth dimension,” Dominie says. Match your lighting—both natural and electric—with the feeling you want, whether it’s warm and cozy or bright and airy. 

Color Wheel 
Incorporating color can be tricky—it can either liven up a space or overpower it. Dominie recommends adding punches of vibrant color to a neutral base through accessories like towels, vases, lampshades and artwork. Or paint on a vivid hue, but only on one wall or portion of a wall, for a harmonious balance. 
Example: Dominie fitted a client’s living room with a bold statement piece—a red and gold tiger-stripe rug. “It completely ignites the room,” Dominie says. Because everything else is dark and neutral, the rug attracts the eye rather than overwhelming it.   

Let’s Get Physical 
Balance physical realities of the room—including size, angles and the number of windows—with your vision for the space. Sometimes that means dividing it into two distinct areas or using flexible furniture so it can serve multiple purposes. Don’t be afraid to break conventions! 

Rethink Your Space: sensible solutions

Not sure if you need renovations or just re-balanced décor? The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) offers these general tips for reimagining your space.

Keep it simple: Does your space need just a little lift, or minor damage repair? If you’re budget conscious, see if color changes or wall paper applications will make a quick fix that revitalizes or hides faults—before jumping into costly, time-consuming structural changes.

Consider it: If you’ve just moved in, don’t rush into a structural remodel. “If I had my magic wand I’d say take your time and think about it,” says Madison builder and Madison Chapter NARI member Tim Sweeney, of Sweeney Construction. “Live in the house for a while before making a change.”

Get creative: Before locking yourself into a fix, check with experienced contractors. A great ideas resource, they can help you find multiple viable solutions, at various price points, to a design problem—and show you that it’s not so much of a problem after all.   

Take a test run: “I’m a big fan of test driving your contractor. Try him on a small project. Replace a screen door,” says Sweeney, to see if he delivers on his commitment and is someone you can work with easily and effectively.

Plan ahead: Go through the design process first and choose everything you think you want. Tally it up, and prioritize—then you can make a realistic budget you can stick with.

Put it—clearly—in writing: If you do hire a contractor, NARI suggests creating a well-written contract, which can prevent costly mistakes or additions to your project.

Find more tips and remodeling information at, or Tim Sweeney’s remodeling newsletter,


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