Decorating Secrets from Boutique Owners | Midwest Living

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Decorating Secrets from Boutique Owners

Three Midwest boutique owners share their must-haves, must-dos and can't-live-without decorating tricks.
  • Mix styles and fabrics for a relaxed classic look

    In this living room (left), informal buffalo-check fabric on the ottomans tones down the formality of the ornate French chair. That kind of juxtaposition puts pizzazz in a room's decor, and follows one of the first rules of decorating espoused by Nathan Nichols, whose New England style showcases refinement-- but not stuffiness--with a Midwestern viewpoint.

    Nathan, a third-generation New Englander, moved to Wisconsin in 1990 and now runs Nathan Nichols & Company, a furniture and interior design store in Door County. His interpretation of classic American decor is relaxed, and his home exemplifies the idea of using a variety of styles and fabrics to get a comfortable, created-over-time look.

    In addition to the interesting formal-informal fabric combinations, Nathan's living room uses a Williamsburg reproduction mirror with a tortoiseshell finish to jazz up the white Victorian mantel.

    Nathan Nichols and Company

  • Get a stylish look without pricey antiques

    Your rooms will have one-of-a-kind personality when you accessorize with unusual finds that speak to you. They don't have to be expensive antiques. In fact, Nathan's shop sells only reproductions, such as Chinese chairs and pond sailboats (left). Nathan says the key to making new pieces work is not to purchase two identical items.

    "My pieces are very eclectic, so they don't look like a store-bought collection," he says. For furniture, he turns to Baker's classic-inspired Milling Road collection, which he feels rounds out his casual--yet sophisticated--style.

  • Spotlight shapes and accessories

    Nathan keeps patterns and colors in his home to a minimum so the spotlight stays on interesting shapes and accessories. White paint creates a fresh backdrop for focal points such as his collection of 12 illustrated pages from an 1810 book, framed and hung in a dramatic row (left).

  • Keep vintage touches

    Nathan's 1940s majolica earthenware adds color to the vintage-style kitchen (left). He advises taking a new look at hand-me-downs you might be thinking of ditching. Grandma's cookie jar or Dad's armchair might be just the right touch for a room. "It gives history to your interior and family," Nathan says.

  • Keep it simple

    Don't overload on accessories, Nathan advises. A few carefully chosen grouped items make a more artful display than a room that's jam-packed. Here, pairing a simple figurine with a classic bouquet lets the great shapes in this vignette take center stage.

  • Brighten your home with farmhouse chic

    Shirley Comeau marries a love of riotous color with her fondness for the traditions of the Midwest prairie. Her C.S. Post and Co. general store in Hays, Kansas, (about 200 miles west of Topeka) is a something-for-everyone shop, packed with a colorful, ever-changing mix of goods (left). She describes her quirky, upbeat style as "the mixing of the unusual."

    C.S. Post and Co.

  • Pile on the color-and comfort

    Bright, cheerful pillows, quilts, rugs and accessories add whimsy and fun to this living and dining room (left). It's the central gathering place in a white clapboard farmhouse built by Shirley and her husband, Chuck.

    New and old cohabit happily in the room. Colorful sand pails sidle up next to vintage rockers; comfy, overstuffed new couches are topped with antique quilts; and a modern steel-and-glass dining table from Shirley's store is surrounded by old, mismatched chairs picked up at farm sales.

    "We just kind of did things we remember from childhood--fun, comfortable things," Shirley says.

  • Choose what you love

    Shirley's retro, multicolor kitchen (left) was inspired by wild-pattern 1940s tablecloths, which she collected "before it got to be vogue." Stools from a 1950s soda shop complement her multicolor Fiestaware collection.

    Shirley's shopping mantra? Buy first, think later. "We buy stuff just because we think it's a beautiful color," she says. "We don't always know what we're going to do with it."

  • Use light walls to unite color

    In the open loft (left), striped quilts welcome overnight guests. The loft, like the rest of the house, has white walls. Shirley says that using white or neutral walls is a trick that many retail gurus use to unite a riot of multihued merchandise without making anything seem out of place.

  • Reuse and recycle materials

    Shirley likes items that have been reworked from scrap materials. She even resisted using ho-hum closet doors; instead, she hung vintage painted screen doors in varying styles and colors. In the master bedroom (left), you can see the recycled screen door to the left of the bed.

  • Decorate with European flair

    In the dining room (left), lush textiles, quiet colors, antiques and decoratively painted furniture all give a sophisticated European look.

    The room reflects the elegant style of Diane Young, who has been an interior designer for 20-plus years. Customers at Trieste--her West Des Moines, Iowa, home furnishings store--know to expect colors, fabrics and furnishings that whisper rather than shout.

    One technique Diane loves is decorative painting-- when it's subtle. Many of her pieces show off a crackle finish, as on the base of the dining room table.

    Plenty of do-it-yourself products can help you achieve decorative paint effects, even if you're a novice. Check out your local paint store or the paint department at a home center.


  • Play up tone-on-tone

    Neutral colors glow in the sophisticated living room (left), with its tall modern wingbacks, chest made of reclaimed woods and unique accessories. Though Diane's color palette mixes several hues, all are muted or neutral, like soft tans and greens. "I think muted colors are richer," she says.

  • Tap into texture

    Without bright colors competing for the spotlight, lush textures in silks, velvets and even carved woods can shine. You can incorporate them in your home in big ways, such as in large-scale furniture like this table (left) or in accessories like the tabletop box.

    This hallway reflects not only Diane's love of texture, but also her fondness for murals. The hand-painted scene evokes the grand homes of Europe--plus it's a way to visually elongate a hallway.

    (A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2007.)

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