Have you ever wanted to have your home redecorated on a television show? Several years ago, I was cast as an on-camera designer for a cable home makeover series.
It was fun being on the show, and I enjoyed the challenge. In addition to the demands of decorating a room and keeping to a strict budget and a tight timeline — all while smiling for the camera and making sure I didn’t have lettuce from lunch stuck in my teeth — I also had to please the producers and the homeowner. The experience helped me to be better at thinking of solutions on the spot, at making fast purchasing decisions and at holding clients’ hands to assuage their fears.
The makeover show also taught me some valuable lessons about design that have greatly influenced how I approach decorating.
Color transforms a room
I’ve always loved color. But for makeover shows, a paint job is the most important ingredient of a good “before and after” video montage. Without a pop of color, there is simply not a big enough change. And we’re not talking a nice shade of tan here. The more vibrant the color, the more dramatic the reveal.
But I also learned from filming the show that people can respond very negatively to color, especially when they’re used to white or off-white walls. On one episode, I painted a room a rich shade of green that I thought felt very “Zen.” However, the homeowner stole a peek at the room before it was ready, and she freaked out over the new color. To help get her “green light,” if you will, to continue with the makeover, I showed her other color swatches from which she could choose. She eventually chose another green hue that, in truth, was really quite similar to the one I had first chosen. The homeowner loved this new green, but I think that one of the reasons she did was that she’d had time to get used to the room not being white anymore.
Now, when I work with design clients, I warn them that there is a chance they may hate a color when it first goes on the wall, because they aren’t used to it. With that warning, they usually end up loving it.
Clutter ruins the shot
Nothing looks worse on camera than clutter. The first time I was ever on television, my home was featured on HGTV, and the host took me under her wing to show me how things looked through the lens. She pointed to one of my bookshelves on the playback monitor and said, “Look how busy that looks. The camera picks up everything.” I never forgot that. We get used to the clutter in our lives and don’t even notice it anymore. But the camera sees it and accentuates it.
When I started doing television makeovers, I was keen to make sure clutter disappeared. I didn’t accomplish this by putting everything in the driveway while we filmed. That would be cheating. Instead, I purchased bookcases and cabinets so everything would have its place. In fact, all of my on-screen clients were short on storage spaces. They actually piled up things on the floor rather than stashing them away. I have a saying: “If there’s room for junk, there’s room for bookcases.” Organizing clutter and hiding it in cabinets resulted in some spectacular before-and-afters.
The same goes for my “real-life” decorating clients. I find that a trip to Ikea — or a similar furniture store — for a storage shopping spree is often the first step in decluttering and beautifying a home.
Good design solves a problem
Perhaps for dramatic purposes, there was always a decorating dilemma I had to solve in each of the television makeovers I did. One person wanted her “girly” bedroom to become more adult. One needed a garage converted into a home office. Another person who worked out of his home needed his living room to be a comfortable meeting space for clients.
But even though these challenges were put into the script to create a more interesting show, they reminded me that good design isn’t about making things pretty, it’s about making things better. Having concrete goals in mind during these home makeovers actually made the task easier, because it narrowed the possibilities. I knew exactly what the problem was, so I was able to create a solution.
When redecorating a space, we need to think of how it fits into one’s lifestyle. What is working about it, and what isn’t? How can the design help with the space’s intended use?
I recently designed an office space for a therapist who specializes in working with teens. My objective was to create a welcoming space that would be calming for the young clients, but also reassuring for their parents. Everything I chose, from the wall colors to the style of furniture to the accessories, had those intentions in mind. The challenge of making the space suitable for teens resulted in a much better design than if I had been simply designing an attractive, but generic, office.
Personality is everything
When casting for homeowners who needed makeovers, the producers looked for people with big personalities. It made for more interesting television. And you know what? It made for more interesting design. I had one on-screen client who was a poet who exuded warmth and positivity. She was one of those people who made you feel good just by talking with her. So even though my initial assignment was to create an office space for her, I gave the space a dual purpose as a meditation room, decorating the walls with life-affirming lines from her poetry so she would be surrounded by positive insights as she worked. It captured who she was.
I’ve seen a lot of home makeover shows on which they create beautiful rooms, but the spaces end up looking alike in every episode, because they don’t reflect the homeowners’ unique personalities. That’s why I encourage people not to decorate their home so they look like a page from a furniture catalog. I encourage people to create a space that shows off who they are — quirks and all. You are not generic; your home shouldn’t be, either.
You can get it done
On television, with the magic of editing, we tried to make it look as if it was easy for me to redo someone’s space in a matter of hours — by myself. But the reality was there was an entire team of people behind the scenes doing all of the work, from painting to carpentry to moving furniture. In fact, I didn’t do any of those things. For example, the painter would paint the entire wall, and then they’d film me holding the paintbrush doing the finishing touches.
The lesson here that I try to impart to do-it-yourself decorators is to give yourself a break. If you can’t finish your home project in a weekend, don’t worry about it. You’ll finish it when you finish it. When I’m decorating in my own home or for a client, I don’t have the resources of a television construction crew doing all of the work for me. You probably don’t, either. So feel good knowing that, considering that you’re doing it on your own, you’re very much a design star.
Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at
Home: Tips for buying furniture online
Would you buy a major piece of furniture, like a sofa, online? Apparently, a lot of people would.
The research firm IBISWorld reports that online furniture sales have grown at an annual rate of 9.6 percent over the last five years. And according to Furniture Today, the online furniture store Wayfair has even seen year-to-year gains of 50 percent. Clearly, furniture shoppers have caught the online shopping bug.
But unlike buying a book from an e-commerce site, online furniture shopping comes with unique challenges for consumers. The price points are higher. Shipping charges can add hundreds of dollars to the bill. And you can’t touch, feel or interact with a piece of furniture through your computer monitor.
Much of my online furniture shopping is for research. It saves me from driving all over town looking to see what different stores carry. For “brick and click” (or “click and mortar”) stores such as Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel, which have both online and physical presences, I can investigate their offerings on their websites before going into the stores to actually see the pieces.
There have been plenty of times, though, that I bought furniture items online without seeing them in person. Most e-tailers — Houzz, Hayneedle, Wayfair, Amazon, Ballard Designs, etc. — don’t have brick-and-mortar stores. And even when they do, I’m often just too lazy to get in my car, go there and deal with a salesperson. Just this week I bought a lamp at lampsplus.com so I wouldn’t have to go into the store.
With all the online shopping I’ve done, I’ve learned a lot and made quite a few mistakes. So to help you on your own online shopping expeditions, here’s a handy guide to furnishing your home via the web.
Research the website
If you come across a site that you aren’t familiar with, do some homework on it. Start by reading the “About Us” page. A legitimate company will provide information about when it was founded, where it is located, and contact information such as a phone number or address. I get wary of sites that are nonspecific in the About Us page. And if the page has spelling or grammatical errors, a red flag immediately goes up. There’s a good chance it’s an overseas company, which means little to no customer service, longer delivery times and fewer guarantees of quality. Besides reading the About Us page, I also do an online search of the company name, often with the keywords “scam,” “legitimate” and “review,” to see if there are any complaints about the company.
Read the reviews
Everybody’s a critic, and that’s a good thing when buying furniture online. When you find a piece you like, check out what other buyers think of it. You’ll get an honest assessment of how comfortable the furniture is, how durable the materials are, and if the colors are true to how they look on the computer screen. And if assembly is involved, reviewers will often give advice about putting together the piece.
Make sure it fits the room
It’s difficult to determine the true scale of furniture from a photograph alone. Find out the dimensions of the piece and use masking tape to map it out in the room where you intend to put it. (This is a good thing to do before you buy any piece, even when you aren’t buying online.) Even smaller items need to be checked for size. For example, a coffee table might look perfect next to your sofa. But take out a ruler to measure if it would be too high or too low. Double-checking measurements now will save you a lot of inconvenience in returns later.
Make sure it fits through the door
Don’t assume everything is going to fit through your front door — or narrow hallways and staircases. If items are disassembled and in separate boxes, that’s usually not a problem. But if a large furniture piece comes fully assembled, take note of the dimensions and then measure your front door and the pathway to its eventual room. I once bought a desk for a client from roomandboard.com (this was before there was a local store), and, to my horror, it would not fit through the door. Ultimately, I had to rent a crane to lift the desk to the second floor and through the French doors. Wow, that was expensive.
You can usually find the same furniture piece on several websites, so it’s a good idea to do some comparison shopping for the best combination of item price and shipping cost. An online search of the name of the piece will bring you to all the websites where it is sold. Sometimes I’ll jump straight to Amazon to check if it’s stocked there, and if free two-day shipping is available. And if the piece does not have a specific brand name to type into a search engine, copy a photo of it onto your desktop and conduct a Google image search of it. You may be able to find the exact piece on other websites, or at least items that look similar.
It’s very difficult to see true colors and finishes on your computer screen. Many furniture e-tailers will happily send you fabric or wood finish swatches so you know exactly what you’re getting. That way, you can look at the samples in the context of actual wall colors and other pieces in the room before making a decision.
Check the return policy
Know what the e-tailer’s return policy is before purchasing. (There is usually a link at the bottom of the home page.) Although they might allow returns, you may have to pay for return shipping. On smaller items, the cost may be negligible, but the return shipping on larger pieces can be prohibitive. For websites that have local brick-and-mortar retail stores, you may be able to return the item to the store. And check to see if you’ll need a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA), whether you’re making a return via a shipping company or directly to the store.
Consider the type of delivery
Online furniture stores offer various levels of delivery, ranging from curbside drop-off to white-glove in-home service. If you’re purchasing a heavy item, curbside drop-off can be a real inconvenience, as you have to recruit someone to help you lug it inside your home. However, in-home delivery can come with hefty surcharges; still I find it’s worth the money, because they typically provide simple assembly and remove all the packing material for you. Just be prepared for whichever type of delivery service to expect when ordering.
Beware of back orders
When you find a piece marked as “on back order,” it does not necessarily mean that the item is so popular that there is a waiting list to purchase it. That may be the case, but in my experience, it has frequently meant that there are hiccups in manufacturing, and the company is not ready to ship the item. I once ordered some wrought-iron candleholders from ” target=”_blank”> jonathanfongstyle.com.
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