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INTERIOR DESIGN : Do-It-Yourself Decorators Learn Some Tricks From an Expert : 'Virtuoso pieces'--an armoire and a bed--became 'the architecture of the room' that took shape during a department store seminar.


COSTA MESA — To many do-it-yourself decorators, creating the kinds of perfect rooms seen in the slick pictures of home magazines remains a mystery known only to interior designers.

At Bullock's in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, home decorators recently had a chance to observe an interior design project from bare walls to a picture-perfect finish at the "Start With an Empty Room" decorating seminar presented by Metropolitan Home magazine and Cotton Inc.

Watching a room in the making offered observers insight into the rationale behind the design, a glimpse into how designers make seemingly incompatible objects look great together.

Ben Lloyd, interior design and architecture editor for Metropolitan Home, cleared away a 16-by-16 foot space in the store's home furnishings department, surrounded it with white fabric-covered "walls" and turned it into an inviting bedroom.

Admittedly, he cheated. He moved in a few of the heavier pieces before the show so "you wouldn't see us break our backs." A pine armoire and an antique oak bed with intricate carving already occupied his room.

"We like the idea that they're not matched," Lloyd said, explaining his choice of furniture. The golden tone of the different wood brought harmony to the mismatched pieces.

Lloyd called the armoire and bed his "virtuoso pieces."

They're "the big nice pieces that you like," and set the foundation for the rest of the furnishings.

"They become the architecture of the room," he said.

The full-sized feather bed was then piled high with an over-stuffed comforter and big square pillows, all made of white cotton with blue eyelet trim.

"Talk about comfort and sumptuousness," said Lloyd, sinking his hands into the bedding while his audience looked ready to pounce upon the fluffy white mound.

"It looks like a giant marshmallow," a woman in the front row said.

Lloyd deliberately chose natural materials such as wood and cotton for his room.

"They have more charm to them," he said. "We've gone from high-tech to high-touch."

For his next "big piece of architecture," he added a classical screen painted with Corinthian columns, romantic arches and florals.

A wicker love seat followed, its golden hue helping it to blend in with the rest of the wooden furniture. Lloyd paired it with a coffee table of rough hewn pine to create a comfortable sitting area.

With space at a premium for most homeowners, he suggests finding multiple uses for a room. A bedroom, he said, should be more than just a place for sleeping.

"You're not just putting a lot of stuff in a room. You should ask what that room's going to do for you."

Most of the eclectic furnishings and knickknacks that followed were united by color--greens and yellows, blues and pinks.

He placed pink and mint green throw pillows on the love seat, floral tapestry pillows on a wicker rocking chair, an easel with a picture of a rose, a green quilt stand with pale green and ivory afghans tossed over it "to soften the look," and an emerald green bird cage.

"The cage is a craft. You might keep a bird, you might not," Lloyd said. "It's the structure of the thing." He thought a moment longer and added:

"You're probably just as well without a bird."

Accessories work best when they contrast with each other, he said. When everything looks the same, a room can look dull. To demonstrate, he brought out a modern black torchere (a free-standing floor lamp) to contrast with the romance of the classical screen.

One customer, noting that the blue eyelet trim on the bed's dust ruffle matched the blue trellis pattern of a woven area rug, asked if the coordinating patterns had been intentional.

"No, it's just a glorious piece of luck," Lloyd said. Such "happy coincidences" often occur when one chooses eclectic furnishings.

Changing the look of the room proved as easy as changing the bed. Lloyd replaced the white cotton on the antique bed with a comforter and sheets by Esprit done in a green and gold geometric print, proving a contemporary design could pair well with old-fashioned furnishings. Again it was color--in this case green--that pulled the look together.

When he finished rearranging the room, one practical observer noticed that something was missing.

"If there were a window, what would you do?" she asked.

Lloyd advised putting up a pleated shade for a clean look or taking a related fabric or sheet and draping it over a pole to frame the window.

"Make your window into a picture," he said.

With its wicker and wood, cotton and down, Lloyd's room reflected a "glitzing down" from the '80s.

"All that glitz is less appealing than the beauty of natural products. People want something that's authentic."

They're filling their homes with granite, marble, wood and cotton instead of synthetics.

He showed off a heavy glass goblet made in Mexico.

"It's stylish but relaxed," he said, admiring the imperfections of the glass. He finds the handmade quality and natural material preferable to "high-tech, anti-charm" furnishings.

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