Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to read a Decorating Magazine Part 2

Don't you love decorating magazines like Elle Decor or even the home interest magazines like Better Homes and Gardens? The articles and even the advertisements always look so gorgeous. Do you look at the pictures and think that your home can never look like that and flip through to the articles on something more approachable? By reading the magazines thoughtfully you can learn some tips and tricks to help you decorate your home like a professional.

This is Part 2 of an article on How to Read a Decorating Magazine by Glenna Morton @ Here is Part 1 in case you missed it. We are discussing techniques on how to get the most out of decorating photos.

This week we'll learn about scale and pattern mixing.

Photo from Point 2

Use magazines (and catalogs) to search for examples of scale and balance. If your home has a huge 18 foot ceiling in the living room, look through magazines for rooms with similar dimensions. What scale furniture did the designer use in the room? How do the scale of the furnishings work together? What size lamps, tables, rugs, and draperies were used? How is the room balanced from side to side and end to end? If a massive fireplace dominates one wall, what has been placed on an opposing wall for balance? Are the accessories large or small? Answering these questions can teach you more about scale and design, and will assist you in looking critically at a room.

 Pattern mixing is another room element that is interesting to study in many photographs. How many fabric patterns can you count in a room? Which pattern is dominant, which is secondary, and which are accents? What qualities are present in each pattern (color, style, background)? How are the patterns distributed around the room? (Look at patterns of accessories too, not just fabric).

Tape the photograph onto white paper and make a list of each pattern you see. Now, make a list of the furniture and every pattern used in the room, noting the attributes of each (plain color, narrow stripe, large floral, mini check, etc.) Study the list to see how fabrics have been distributed and estimate how much of the room is done in each pattern. Why do this? See how the designer has chosen fabrics that compliment one another, noting the attributes that make it work (such as a beige background in each, red accents, or casual textural fabrics).

Photo from

Learning about space planning can be very informative. Beware of photos showing very tight furniture arrangements, however. Magazine photo shoots often take liberties with furniture, perhaps moving a sofa so close to a coffee table that no one could possibly walk between the two. This is generally done to tighten up a camera angle, and may not represent how the furniture is actually arranged. Other photos, especially those taken showing a long view across a space, will more accurately represent the furniture arrangement in a room. Study these wide-angle photos for clues on space planning. Notice any architectural features (windows, molding, fireplaces, niches, and the like).

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Identify the focal point of the room. Look at the natural pathways through the room (the walking lines from doorway to doorway, to a fireplace, to closets, windows, etc.) Next, notice how major pieces of furniture have been placed. Are they centered around the focal point? Do they intrude into the natural pathways of the room?

Picture by

Now look at accent pieces of furniture -- corner desks, plants, bookcases, etc. How do these serve to add function to the room? How are they placed to enhance balance and scale ? How is flooring used in this room... are there area rugs defining conversational groupings? Have the architectural features been played up, or played down? If this room were yours what would you do differently?

What can you gain from this exercise? You'll begin to see how furniture groupings are constructed, how they are placed, and what accessories are used with each piece.

I thought this article had such great information I wanted to share it with you. I definitely couldn't have written such a detailed piece. I hope you enjoyed both parts and got something useful out of it. I know I've been reading my Elle Decor differently. I've never worked so hard at reading a magazine before! And are you looking at your home differently? I caught myself counting patterns in the living room while drinking my morning coffee! This article is from Glenna Morton at The photos are my addition.

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