Fall is an ideal time to spruce up your interior spaces, and there are plenty of little changes that can make a big difference. Discover some of the small-scale updates that make a cozy living space.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to crack an egg, and the same holds true when it comes to tweaking your home decor. Fall is a great time to redecorate, and a variety of creative professionals can offer just the advice you need. That might mean adding vivid colors, introducing a gorgeous rug or unearthing a quirky antique. When it comes to making changes, the best advice from experts is, “Buy what you like.”
Rugs by Design
Whether it’s an area rug or a beautiful floral arrangement, there are no boundaries when it comes to creative home décor.
The Strawflower Shop, 210 W. State St., Geneva, is a boutique furniture store that offers numerous home accessories along with interior design services. The store carries floor coverings, furniture and accessories, but its specialty is creating vivid floral arrangements and dramatic room settings.
“We help the customer make something that no one else has – it becomes their own signature item,’” says Mike Haas, who has owned the business with his wife, Susan, for more than 30 years.
“Color is the big thing in our industry right now,” he adds. “The Midwest is tuned in to earth tones – brown, burgundy, gray and ivory. It’s my job to make sure that on any project we do, color is the focus that makes the rooms feel vibrant.”
That includes rugs – a must for any renovation project. Haas says the preference of choice these days is tone-on-tone pieces, to coordinate with the room’s furniture. There are different designs for different decor, but the most popular color combinations are charcoal gray and brown.
“Rugs really ground a room,” he says. “We use them to protect wood floors, and to stop the echoes in the dining and living rooms, as well as the front entrance halls and staircases. Hand-knotted rugs are more expensive than machine-made rugs, but if you surround them with a quality sofa and chairs, it really changes the feel of the room.”
The Strawflower Shop also offers custom-designed floral arrangements. “Customers will bring in photos, along with a swatch of drapes, and we can work off that to make a beautiful arrangement for the entrance hall, dining room or living room table,” Haas says.
The latest trend is to include turkey and pheasant feathers to floral arrangements, which has become a big hit with both men and women. “Add feathers to hydrangeas, silk or dry flowers to make a beautiful arrangement,” Haas says. “They’re real showstoppers for any dining table or fireplace mantle. Many times, we can tie in the colors of a sofa, chair or drapery by adding a floral arrangement. It’s all made to complement the room.”
Before you begin that home decor project, Haas recommends checking with an interior designer, who can make color suggestions and offer advice.
Living Room Comeback
Are you ready to give up on your mostly unused formal living room? Not so fast, says Lynne Wickham, who’s been in the home interior business for the past 30 years.
Wickham is owner of Wickham Interiors, 67 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, a full-service interior design firm that coordinates everything from consulting and floor plans to layout of furniture, windows, flooring and lighting.
“There are many ways to give a living room new life,” she says. “It’s a room that more of us really need. Many of us don’t have the luxury of making it just a showroom.”
Simple touches are a good starting point. For example, add books and make it a library, or add a nice table or desk, to play games with family and friends.
“People won’t use it if you don’t have comfortable furniture,” she says. “We’re seeing more chairs and fewer loveseats.”
Speaking of furniture, Wickham recommends doing some soul searching when it comes to your sofa. “Do you really need a new sofa? Is it worth re-upholstering? You can slipcover your furniture, but that can cost as much as upholstery,” she says. “Most rooms are not big enough to accommodate bigger furniture, so that’s why we’re seeing subtle changes to sofas and chairs, like smaller arms. We can make the room comfortable and useable a little at a time.”
Accessories like lamps, pictures and pillows can go a long way toward creating a new feel, but keep in mind that less is more.
“The trend is to become simpler by adding fewer accessories,” Wickham says. “People need to look at larger items, instead of a lot of smaller things. There has to be some balance to your room. One larger piece – a container, box, floral arrangement or larger painting, for example – will say more about your room than a collection of smaller ones.”
Let’s not forget about window treatments. “More people are going to draw shears, as opposed to blinds or shades, giving the room a softer look,” she says. “Heavier treatments tend to weigh down a window.”
“If you don’t know how to get started, find someone who can help you think it through,” she says. “Everyone’s taste is different. We don’t all want the same type of living room. I don’t decorate by trends. I decorate how people like to live.”
Thinking Outside the Box
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to home decor. Just ask Mary Batson, owner of Out of the Box, 71 N. Williams St., downtown Crystal Lake, a gift shop that features home decor items as well as jewelry, purses, baby gifts and accessories.
“If you can’t afford to buy a room full of new furniture, another way to refresh your home is by adding smaller accent pieces,” says Batson, who opened her business five years ago. “Using smaller-ticket items, especially around Halloween or Christmas, can go a long way to brightening up any room in your house.”
Inspirational plaques and frames, which can be displayed on the wall or placed on a desk or table, are big sellers these days.
“They’re practical but reasonably priced gifts,” Batson says. “Sometimes we see a friend going through a tough time, such as a job loss, health issue or divorce. A gift of home decor is twofold. It can brighten up a home, and speaks of a personal friendship that says, ‘I’m thinking of you.’”
Looking for a great seasonal addition? Consider an assortment of candles, including pumpkin and cinnamon scented.
“They give the entire home a pleasant aroma,” Batson says. “Candleholders and serving pieces are also a must, especially for when family comes for a visit.”
Other popular gift items are table clocks – small timepieces that are ideal on a nightstand or bathroom counter.
“This is an interesting trend,” Batson says. “You would think that in this technology-driven world we live in, people wouldn’t have a need for an analog clock. But that’s not the case.”
Out of the Box also carries a variety of art by regional and national artists, such as Kelly Rae Roberts from Portland, Ore.
“Art appeals to different people for different reasons,” Batson says. “It’s a cool thing to introduce the work of new artists. A nice piece of art can go a long way in helping to shape a room.”
Batson enjoys helping patrons in finding just the right item.
“The best part of our business is sending happy customers out the door, eager to give their home decor gifts to a special loved one,” she adds. “People will never stop giving gifts. Not only are these items ideal as gifts, but they’re great to buy for yourself.”
A visible way to cheer up a room is by adding artwork.
“Art is subjective,” says Sharon Liberman, owner of Verve on Third, 227 S. Third Street, Geneva. “You can build a room around nice pieces of artwork.”
Liberman and husband Jeff opened this colorful art gallery a decade ago. After traveling together for more than 30 years, the couple wanted to create a business showcasing their passion for visual art.
Verve on Third emphasizes color and the unique vision of 160 artists. It sells everything from hand-painted furniture to flying fairies and hand-blown glass, representing lines such as Sticks, Motawi Tileworks and StoryPeople. Each original work of art is handmade in the United States, many from right here in the Midwest.
Liberman shies away from Caribbean or tropical colors. Instead, she prefers rich or elegant tones like burgundy. “Everything is colorful,” she says. “Whether it’s a frame, wall color or a funky clock in the kitchen, every room in the house can use a pop of color. The key is finding pieces that make you smile and feel happy.”
Liberman cautions to consider the wall size and furniture weight when choosing art. Any piece should feel balanced to your eye. “It doesn’t have to match, but it has to flow from room to room,” she says. “If it flows, it doesn’t matter what the colors are. Art doesn’t have to match furniture, but it’s important to strike a balance.”
Some people walk into Verve on Third looking for a specific piece, while others come in search of inspiration. There are no rules when it comes to art.
“Art is different from anything else,” Liberman says. “It has to speak to you, and it has to fit in your home. Sometimes, customers walk in and have to have it, or sometimes they go home and think about it. Art is unique that way.”
For children’s rooms, Liberman recommends adding fun, vibrant and inspirational pieces. But when the kids are grown and out of the house, that’s the time to experiment. Focus on the details, and switch up art when you’re bored with it.
“Empty nesters can try different things because they can,” she says. “For example, consider buying a funky mirror for the bathroom, just to change things up. Most people have lived with a certain look for years. Don’t be afraid to try something different.”
Your home decor doesn’t have to come from a foreign country. In fact, your best route may be American-made products, says Deborah Leydig, whose store, Norton’s U.S.A., 400 Lageschulte St., Barrington, is all about American goods.
This general store has it all – cookware, table linens, candles, cutlery – anything to add the right touch of elegance. There are garden accessories like birdhouses and wind chimes, display signs and patriotic decor. As for American-made lighting or furniture, Leydig is one source who can help you to locate it.
Norton’s appeals to a variety of customers, from neighborhood children to out-of-town shoppers. Some come in armed with ideas from magazines, sending Leydig on a search to find American-made versions, no matter how big or small.
“We give our customers ideas on how to improve their decor, or just simple ideas on how to decorate that pumpkin during Halloween,” she says.
One of the top lines that Norton’s carries is Pendleton Woolen Mills bed blankets and throws. “If you’re looking for a gorgeous accent pillow to enhance a bed or sofa, why not make it an American-made throw?” Leydig says. “Not enough things are made here in America. We’re dependent on other countries to get supplies, when we used to be on the forefront of all of that.”
Ten years ago, the former actress was inspired to open her store while researching her lead role in a stage adaptation of the book, Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Erhenreich.
“I was upset when I found how many jobs were being lost to overseas producers, and how many American workers were struggling to make ends meet,” she says. “Seventy percent of all people would prefer to buy an American-made product, if they had the option. If you buy American, you’re helping the economy, and keeping people employed.”
Follow Your Heart
Consignment shop owners were delighted to learn that Catherine Zeta-Jones was seen consignment shopping in New York recently. It showed that even celebrities prefer the thrill of the hunt and unearthing one-of-a-kind items that can only be found in resale shops.
These types of shops abound in the northwest suburbs. In Barrington, The Pink Geranium, 200 Lageschulte St., is an upscale consignment shop and a virtual treasure trove of decorating items and ideas. Every day is a new discovery.
“Thrifting, shopping resale and consignment is a huge trend right now,” says co-owner Debbie Smith. “I only see it growing.”
She and partners Karin Cumming and Kim Van Fossan are selective about what passes through the front door.
Well-known manufacturers such as Baker, Henredon, Henkel Harris and Kittinger, in addition to brands such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel, are almost always represented on the merchandise floor. Decorative accessories often include Waterford, Tiffany, Lalique, Baccarat and Lladro. The walls are decorated with artwork, including original oil and watercolor paintings, prints and posters.
Some of the Pink Geranium’s more unusual consignments have included signed Elvis Presley photographs, a 3/4-size cello floor lamp, antique church doors, a butcher block island and a green Indonesian planter covered with monkeys.
Customers arrive from Barrington, Chicago and even Lake Geneva. Open from Thursday through Saturday, the store routinely has throngs of customers gather early Thursday morning, eager to see the latest acquisitions.
“These customers look for exciting and eclectic objects that speak to them, or invite them outside of their decorating comfort zone,” says Smith. “They’re thrilled to find an art object from South Africa that a consignor bought while living abroad.”
The owners of the store like to shop, too. Cumming has a passion for mid-century modern or anything “wacky and wonderful.” Smith loves ironstone pottery and painted furniture. Van Fossan’s preference is a bird print or hunting scene.
Whatever catches your eye, Cumming has some advice. “We all know what we like,” she says. “Just follow your heart.”