5 design dilemmas and how to solve them

Designing your home need not be a tiring process. These tips will help you improve your space minus the fuss.


You’ve always loved vintage pieces but you’re not sure if your choice of furniture will fit into your modern home. You have collected a lot of photos but you don’t know how to properly display them. These are just simple concerns that you need to face when improving your home or deciding what will look best for your space. Read on and be on your way to home improvement success!


Catherine Cena is the principal interior designer of Urban Upgrade , a Manila-based design firm that specializes in residential design and small spaces. 

Dilemma: Creating a well-distributed lighting scheme with minimal construction Lighting creates such a big impact on interiors, on its usability and setting the mood as well. A designer would typically address lighting by creating different sources of light. Indirect lighting creates a good mood without being too harsh on the eyes. Cove lighting is the most typical solution to this but this requires at least two ceiling levels and some construction work.

Solution: Use ceiling mounted track lights in place of your typical center light. Turn the individual lighting fixtures to face different walls, shelves, paintings and avoid facing it directly down. This makes the light bounce on the walls and creates a more balanced and distributed lighting scheme.

No-fail trick: Mix in a few cool white bulbs with the yellow light bulbs to create a balanced color that isn’t too dim or too harsh.
Dilemma: Organizing a gallery wall Organizing frames on a wall can be quite daunting especially if you don’t know where to start.

Solution: Determine two or three large pieces that you will use as focal points to draw the eye and scatter different sizes around them to create an interesting mix and balance. The center of the whole assembly should be placed at eye level, which is typically 1.5 meters from the floor. You can start with this measurement to be able to place your first frame on the wall. If you are unsure of how your arrangement is going to look, try making paper cutouts of the frames and putting them on the wall first.

No-fail trick: Align the horizontal lines of the frames to keep them looking neat despite being of different sizes.
Dilemma: Accessory Overload Too many accessories can make your trinkets look cluttered. An important tip when accessorizing is to edit, edit, edit! Pick and choose what accessories you really want to feature and stick with those. Avoid the urge to hoard.

Solution: A little goes a long way. A general rule I use is to stick to odd numbers – three or five items of different sizes, colors and textures to mix and match them on a single shelf or table. Also, layer your accessories and don’t just line them up. You’ll create more interest this way.

No-fail trick: Create “groupings” or mini-vignettes for your shelves and put them together. You’ll be surprised at how interesting your accessories would look when properly edited, mixed and matched together.
Dilemma: Using patterns in a small space Love patterns but you’re afraid it might be overwhelming in a small space? Don’t sweat it. There are ways that you can use patterns without it being too much for the eyes, and some can in fact, help make your space look bigger.

Solution: Pick an accent wall and put the pattern there and only there. If you want to mix patterns, pick one main pattern and one or two secondary patterns and use them in significantly less proportions. For example, your main pattern can be a floral curtain while your throw pillows can be paisley or stripes. Make sure you use patterns in a similar or coordinating color palette to keep the interior harmonious.

No-fail trick: Use horizontal stripes along the wall to create the illusion of a wider space in a narrow room.
Dilemma: Using vintage furniture in a modern space Let’s face it, a lot of people have things or furniture pieces that have too much sentimental value to throw away but don’t necessarily match the modern vibe of your new interior.

Solution: Revamp and upcycle. Each piece can be updated to fit your new interior – a new paint job can do wonders, as well as new upholstery. That old china cabinet can be used as an interesting focal point in the living room as the new entertainment center – or that chair will look good beside that modern sofa in the living room. Don’t be afraid to mix styles up, and when in doubt, consult a professional!

No-fail trick: Update both the use and the function of vintage pieces. Try and think of new ways to use old furniture to be able to get the most use out of them. After all, these old things make the best conversation pieces!

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