How To Make Your Place Look AWESOME

This article was originally published on June 18, 2014.

Revamping a smallish apartment is a challenge on its own. When you add a decorator’s need to satisfy his client’s very specific style points, the difficulty only multiplies. For this apartment makeover, Thomas Altamirano brought his client’s “witchy chic” fashion sense into the light to create a modern lair anyone could love.

My client Abby and I were set up by mutual friends who thought I could help Abby express her particular fashion sense throughout her apartment. I basically won the client lotto, because something just clicked with us — and we were able to make quick work of evolving her “modern macabre” style with a dash of retro femininity. From the building’s bones to Abby’s eclectic taste, there were a lot of details to uphold, but we kept an eye on staying sophisticated without sacrificing functionality. She does live in a New York apartment, after all. One has to maximize.

My concept was to frame and highlight existing architecture, which we did with dark-gray painted walls and graphic wallpaper. These elements would create a backdrop for all of the new and vintage modern furnishings and art. We had to consider the scale of the furniture, different finishes, and balancing statement paint choices with decorative accessories. It took a bit of chemistry, a lot of patience, and more know-how I’ll tell you all about ahead. In the end, Abby ended up with a customized Brooklyn dwelling that melds its historic roots with her creative aesthetic. Her cats like it, too.

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1.  Take cues from your personal style.

In this room, I was able to layer different elements of Abby’s style — modern with a dark, subcultural twist.
Dark-gray paint cozies up the place while the copper pendant modernizes it. The masks over the mirror and the art in the shelves are quirky bits that scream Abby. I mounted industrial library sconces over the bookshelves for that retro feel.

Tom Dixon Copper Shade Pendant, $425, available at Ylighting.

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2.  Always have a one-off.
This stool adds playful pattern and texture to the dining area. And, since it is backless, it maintains the open layout of the space.

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3.  Turn your bookshelf into a feature wall.
The built-in bookshelf was our one big construction detail of the project. It serves as the obvious storage solution and it’s a decorative showcase, too. Organizing your books by color creates a fun, patchwork wall — and it’s so easy. Also, by switching up your groups of tomes from rows to stacks you provide visual interest while creating small platforms for your random tchotchkes.

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4.  Creepy can be cool.
Abby is really into taxidermy. And, although it isn’t for everyone, it’s a decorative feature that works in any space. After passing on a wall-hung wild turkey, we settled on some colorful pheasants from Holler and Squall.

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5.  Define space, the decorative way.
Dividing a room into two functional spaces can be tricky. We used an oversized rug to delineate the living room space, while the large copper pendant anchors the dining area.

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6.  Create random groupings.
The client had a vast collection of small pieces of art varying in style and subject. It lent itself perfectly to being clustered on the wall — which also helped provide alignment for the sofa. We used a set of skeleton plates to tie the framed selections together.

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7.  Try a different coffee table.
Instead of one coffee table, we used two small bunching tables made of spaced-out wire and smoky glass to maintain visual openness without compromising size or function.

Restoration Hardware Savoy Upholstered Sofa, $1865, available at Restoration Hardware;Crate & Barrel Lucida Side Table, $229, available at Crate & Barrel; Blu Dot Scamp Medium Table, $399, available at Blu Dot.

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8.  Use see-through surfaces for maximum visibility.
The transparency of the table tops set the stage for interesting objets and allow the graphic rug to stand out. Plus, this lends an airy feel to even the most cramped of quarters.

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9.  Trade plain walls for lively wallpaper.

A strong pattern is a great substitute for filling your walls with art. I like going with high-contrast palates, as I do with paint. The two organic patterns I chose create a whimsical backdrop throughout the apartment.

Cavern Paleolith Wallpaper, $155, available atCavern.

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10.  Honor a meaningful piece.
Using an old portrait of Abby’s father, and a hand-me down cabinet, we were able to create a really interesting bar nook. We added a new drinks tray and floor lamp for height and shine.

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11. You can bleach your bathroom — go all white!
All-white tiles and bathroom fixtures are classic, and when you add natural light and greenery you have the essence of purity.

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12.  Try a bathroom garden.
Adding a variety of green plants to this light-filled room brings a touch of nature and freshness. Plus, the steam from the shower is like a self-watering system for not-so-thirsty succulents.

Urbio Big Happy Family, $175, available atUrbio.

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13.  Create mini scenes.
Abby’s pretty funny, so I matched that trait with whimsical accessories she could play around with to keep the humor going.

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14.  It’s okay to mix and match.
The bedroom holds the most traditional elements in the apartment: that molding and the stained-glass window. To bring a modern and organic twist I added two clean, white nightstands with patchwork wood drawers and topped them off with industrial-feeling brass sconces.

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15.  Personalize your bedside table.
A trio of personal photos in a mix of brass and painted-white frames seamlessly connect the old time-y sconces to the updated furniture.

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16.  Door space is fair game.
We used the back of Abby’s door as real estate for her many (but never too many) black bags.

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17.  Try small pieces with big impact.

The rough-hewn wood-slab side table and sliver jewelry tree keep Abby’s things organized, yet playful looking. Each one’s got an earthy vibe and together, with the potted cactus and crystal, the display is almost boutique-like.

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18.  Turn big pieces into stations.
A standing mirror is also a holding spot for final touches, so she can try, look, and go.

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19.  Clean lines, clean look.
To keep the look relaxed and sophisticated, we stuck to white, textured bedding.

20.  In a room of neutrals, go for one rich color.
I kept the palette basic but bold with high-contrasting neutrals, usually grays and whites. Neutrals are timeless and pack a lot of punch when applied strategically. This mustard sofa really adds dimension.

YLiving Masters Chair, $300, available atYLiving; Eskayel Akimbo 5, $275, available atEskayel; Rugs USA Moroccan Diamond Shag Grey Rug, $163, available at Rugs USA; CB2Geometry Nesting Tables, $329, available atCB2.

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21.  Add personality with pillows.
The patterns on the throw pillows compliment the graphic wallpaper while also helping the sofa blend into the rest of the gray-and-white decor.

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22.  Why can’t tables be pedestals?
These nesting marble tables are more playful than most due to the varying shapes and sizes of each top. Setting the tables in an overlapping arrangement adds depth and creates the perfect platform for a vignettes of plants and collectibles.

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23.  Happy client, ecstatic designer.
Abbey and I relax in her “new” place.

West Elm Linen Cotton Grommet Curtain, $59, available at West Elm.

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