Prized possessions aren’t always the perfect décor, so how do you make them blend in?
No one buys a cheap set of toy farm animals expecting them to become part of the décor. But that’s what happened to Haley Carrollhach when she and her daughter noticed one of the animals in particular – a lying-down cow. Thus began their constant search for pieces in this quirky collection.
If you’ve ever collected, cohabitated, inherited or received an unfortunate gift from a loved one, chances are you’ve tried to design around an object that doesn’t fit in with your other belongings. If shunted off in a corner or thinly disguised, such objects become the proverbial elephant in the room — a commanding yet discomfiting presence.
Carrollhach, of Iowa City, Iowa, and her daughter now have at least 100 lying-down cows, from cheap toys to cherished antiques, all crammed into a Victorian dollhouse on a trunk at the base of the staircase.
“They don’t necessarily fit into the overall aesthetic of the room, and that’s kind of the point,” Carrollhach says.
There’s quirky, and then there’s ugly. “My husband brought his giant old-fashioned stereo speakers into our relationship over 20 years ago,” says Joanne Rocklin, of Oakland, Calif. “They’re used as end tables and I keep hoping guests don’t notice what they really are. I have a lamp and photos on top, but there’s not much I can do to disguise them.”
On the other hand, oddball possessions like Carrollhach’s house of cows can become delightful conversation pieces or a surprise element in your overall design, like a visual exclamation point.
So how do you make a misfit item either blend in or stand out in a good way?
Sometimes a coat of paint, a different finish or new upholstery can make a homely piece look more refined, says Los Angeles interior designer Michelle Workman.
“You can’t make something fit that just doesn’t fit without doing something to it. So if color is the problem, change the color,” advises Workman, adding that valuable antiques ought not to be altered.
If a cosmetic makeover isn’t possible or won’t help, “Don’t try to camouflage it — that just draws attention,” says interior stylist Jane Brown, based in New York City. “For quirky pieces, bring them out into the light and link things in with them. It’s always about linking and cohesiveness. A surefire way is always with color.”
Is your spouse fiercely attached to a hideous recliner? “The thing is to highlight the piece and make it a standout feature,” Brown says. “Say it’s green and mustard-yellow. Maybe paint the wall next to it a really deep rich green or mustard to make a statement. Trust me, the chair won’t seem so ugly.”
For maximum impact, Workman can picture Carrollhach’s cows in a more free-range environment: “She could mount little Lucite shelves on the wall and have a cow on each shelf. She’d have a wall of floating cows.”
Floating cows need an anchor, Workman says, and a chair or pillow upholstered in cowhide would tie them to the rest of the space and create a sense of cohesion.
At the homeowners’ request, interior designer Michelle Workman, who favors eclecticism, happily accommodated this plaid pooch into the room design by picking up the pink, green and gold colors in the canine’s coat and repeating them throughout the room. In a fairly traditional design overall, the dog is a surprise element serving the same purpose as a punctuation mark.
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