10 Must-Read Decorating Tips from Design Professionals

Put the extra into ordinary with these trade secrets

Photography: Paolo Feliciano and Dairy Darilag (Main Photos)

With tons of pegs to view online and hundreds of magazines to read—you might be wondering how you can best decorate the home. To help you ease into the process and make it easier for you to turn a space into a welcoming haven, here are 10 tips from design professionals to keep in mind. You don't have to heed these must-dos all at once! Do things at your own pace and don't be afraid to try something bold and new from time to time:

1. Go for color.

“One of the most inexpensive ways to change the look of a room is to use color. If you don’t want to paint all the walls, you can have an accent wall, which becomes the room’s focal point. So it will really stand out, paint the accent wall very dark or very bright. For added effect, you can use a feather, a sponge, or a rag.

"The color can be based on an artwork, like a painting; or a pattern from a piece of fabric or from your carpet. For example, if you have a Persian carpet in maroon and blue, and a painting of a blue sky with the yellow undertones of the sun, you can choose yellow for your accent wall. There has to be one dominant color; the rest should complement it.”

—Leo Almeria, Interior Designer

2. Hang it.

“Think of a wall. Think of it as a blank canvas. There are three techniques to using artworks to give that wall a polished designer look. One is to hang three or five paintings, because odd-numbered arrangements look more balanced; or you can hang just a single big one. Second, the works should be in the same size and the same frame. This way they look clean, give a strong impact, and won’t grab attention away from your furniture pieces. Third, it will look better if the artworks have one theme. If one is black-and- white, then everything should be black-and- white. If you like abstracts or pastels, then it should all be abstracts or pastels. The artworks stand out this way.

"Mirrors give a room the illusion of elegance and space. It illuminates when it reflects light from the outside. You can hang up to five mirrors, depending on the size of your wall. If it’s big and framed, the mirror can lean against a wall. Just make sure that the weight of the mirror doesn’t have it sliding down."

—Nina Santamaria, Principal Designer of Grupo Santamaria

3. Reuse & Recycle

“It’s quite expensive for young people who are into condominiums to buy new furniture, so they can look for pieces that they can recycle in the storage areas of their parents, lolos, and lolas. A table in our office is from my father’s office; the seats are old and were retouched. When I worked on a unit in Makati, the owners didn’t like wooden floors. So I removed them and put them somewhere else.

"You can paint a varnished chair any color you like. Have other pieces reupholstered. Doors are normally up to seven feet long; have it refinished, put a glass top, and make it into a dining table. An old jar can be converted into a lamp; you can even change the shade from round to square. You can clean some old metal or brass piece, and use it for a table setting or for accent.

"Or if you’re renovating the house, check out the details, like baseboards and moldings. If you don’t want them there, you can recycle them into something else. My son Franco collects wine bottles in different colors. These can be very good accessories for your room or office. Just clean them and put them on a windowsill where the sun hits them. I think that would be a good start, and it’s inexpensive."

—Johnny Hubilla, Interior Designer, Hubilla Design Group

4. Think cubic.

“Work with a form. A cube is flexible and you can do more things with it. It can be expanded into a box or a slab. Be aware of the things you normally discard. For instance, we always have newspapers. You can stack and then glue them together. It becomes a square or rectilinear base, and you can just put a glass top. You can also do this with loose tiles. If you have cans of Coke, go ahead and put them together. If you’re inventive enough, you can use tetra packs to make a divider or something for your window. This way, you don’t need new furniture; you create your own.

"You already have so much junk but still accumulate anyway. Rather than just throwing them away or continue buying furniture, live with what you have. By establishing order with them, you will end up with something that will serve you.”

—Joey Yupangco, Design Architect

5. Get moving.

“Many rooms have possibilities, it’s just that some become so cluttered with the things we use everyday. A matter of regrouping or repositioning can change the look. So minimize if you have too much clutter, or rearrange so that you have a point of interest. Try to see which items you would like to keep, and which ones can be repositioned so that you create a focus. If you collect things, arrange them in such a way that they become decorative. Shells can be placed in your beautiful basket or tray, or arranged on a shelf. If you collect bottles, group them based on color or shape.

"Also determine the traffic of activity in the room. What is the best way to rearrange the furniture so that they do not become obstacles? They should help create niches or nooks where you can do your activities. In the living room, for example, the pieces go in a corner where there will be socializing and entertaining. You can also position the sofa at an angle. The best place for it would be against a wall, but if not it can be against a window. The dining table need not be in the center of the room. If it’s a small space, it can be against the wall.”

—Alice Erfe, Architect, Erfe & Associates

6. Mix it up.

“If you lean towards one style all the time, it can be monotonous. Go to the opposite end of the spectrum; always have a foil. Try to achieve balance by using contrast.

"It can be about color, texture, or material. If you have sleek, modern wood furniture, go for something softer. Since the pieces are angular, you can complement with things that don’t have edges, like round pillows or a sculpture with no angles. Plants also soften the feel, they’re definitely not straight, and you can’t control the curvature and outline. An antique flea-market find, like a vase, can be a bit gaudy, but it makes for an interesting play for the eyes.

“If you have bulky upholstered pieces, get its opposite, picking several small accessories. It’s nice to do variety. The pieces that provide the contrast set themselves apart, but they also humanize the space.”

—Carlo Tanseco, Design Consultant

7. Add on.

“Add pieces as you see fit. Decorating is an ongoing process. Something might pop up in a month or two that will look good for the theme you’re working on. You can be in a different country and see something that can change the look or be a great addition to the room, like a lamp or table. Or maybe a vase of fresh flowers, which can also change the mood.

“Many times we make decisions in a rush and get something just to complete or change the look; the attitude of ‘Pwede na ‘to.’ I don’t like that. It’s important to have excellent pieces because you mature with your interiors.

“So take the time to work on an environmental or architectural concept, and you’ll get good pieces. Personally, I don’t like the matching look. Each piece should be able to speak for itself."

—Antonio Garcia, Owner of Mabolo Flower Shop

8. Think!

“The first step is to get a very clear picture in your mind of what your intention is, and how you will use that part of the house. Then follow it all the way.

“If you see a room as an entertainment area where you’ll be watching TV, then you don’t want it incredibly bright. If it’s a library, you ask: How would you like to read? While sitting on a chair, maybe? Some like reading books in the dark, with very focused light.

“With this main idea of how you want the space used, reinforce it with the art that you choose; with the way the furniture is arranged; how it looks. Otherwise you’ll just be moving things around, and the room might end up looking confused.”

—Andy Locsin, Design Consultant, Leandro V. Locsin Partners

9. Delight in light.

“Lighting is integral to a room, no matter what color it is, or if you have plenty or no windows. It affects the overall look.

“The easiest way is to get a dimmer, but then that also involves getting the right lighting fixture. If you don’t have that, you can always change the wattage of your bulbs, lower or higher depending on your needs. Bulbs come in many different shades, and there are the white and yellow tones. I prefer yellow because it creates a warmer ambiance.

“We’re so used to the conventional way of lighting, on the ceiling or a nice fixture on top of a desk. But to distribute light in a much softer manner, get lamps in different forms and shapes. You have table lamps, floor lamps, and desk lamps. I would also include candles because these are a source of illumination.

“There’s a strategic way to position lamps. There’s a certain height for a reading lamp if it will go beside your bed. If beside a chair, get the traditional floor lamp that extends back and forth. The shade should be a little bigger and the bulb brighter. With indirect lighting, the common practice is to put four lights in each corner, which will ensure that your lighting is even all around. You can enhance it with lighting fixtures on the table and the floor.

“Limit lights if it’s just too bright. Nobody wants it too bright, because all the imperfections will be seen, but it really depends on the mood you want to achieve, and you’ll know when to stop. Candles give off a lot of heat, so you don’t want it all over the area, but I like lighting candles because it soothes me. It’s nice to look at all those lights flickering. Through lighting, you can enhance your space and achieve different moods.”

—Antonio Barretto, Owner of Cereo and Pineapple

10. Be artsy.

“Use art to enhance the space. It can be a sculptural piece in metal, glass, or wood made by a Filipino artist; or any free-form item, like stone or shell from the beach. It can even be as simple as putting an art book on your coffee table, or getting an interesting chair. It should be something that is unique and suits your personality.

“If it is a tiny piece, it can be placed on your coffee table so it will draw attention. A tall freestanding piece on the floor can go with your living room set. As long as it doesn’t look cluttered, you can add as many pieces as you like.”

—Ann Pamintuan, Furniture and Accessories Designer

Read the original article ("Top 10 Tips") in the June 2004 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

PHOTOS: Marc Jao | Paolo Feliciano (2, 4, and 5) | Vincent Coscolluela | Ocs Alvarez/ACME Visual Productions | Miguel Nacianceno | Dairy Darilag (8, 9, and 10)

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