A few readers have asked me over the last months to put together a guide on how to create an eclectic mix of style in your home. Because I have access the absolute expert on this topic, my mom, I felt it was high time to write this post. You may know my mom Judy Aldridge as @atlantishome on Instagram, where her house has undergone many different looks over the years. She’s a fearless decorator and bold, eclectic looks are her speciality. We had a long chat about how to build those layers of juxtaposition and art to create a room with one-of-a-kind look and big personality. The people who asked for this post have told me that pulling together an eclectic, layered style within a room can feel intimidating at first brush, and they wanted some tips on how to build a great interior style mix that clashes in just the right way. Here’s how Judy Aldridge breaks it down.
1. Go with your instinct, and buy what truly speaks to you. Even if it feels a little crazy, you’ll find a way to make it work. Don’t be afraid to go for something big, for something bold and let your personality shine through. For example, my mom’s signature in her home design is her penchant for gigantic animals, be they represented through painting, sculpture, or textile. Her upstairs loft has a giant plaster zebra sitting on a brass coffee table, random sheep figurines are tucked into hallways and corners, and wooden Tonola animals adorn shelves. Those are some examples of bold signature pieces, but yours could be a giant pop-art painting, a pair of oversized graphic vases, or a sculptural chair. “I’ve been told my signature is in-your-face whimsy.”says my mom, Judy. She is right, and while some people might balk at putting a two foot tall statue of a dancing horse in a teal dress in their dining room, she knows that bold moves have big pay-off.
2. Skip all the new stuff, unless you absolutely must. New furniture costs too much, and like a new car, it loses its value the minute it leaves the showroom floor. Part of creating a truly eclectic mix is accumulating great pieces over time, and letting them find you. Hit thrift stores, flea markets, consignment stores, and estate sales. To check for estate sales near you, go to estatesales.net and put in your zip code. Another great idea and a fun way to make fast progress on a room is to plan a weekend road trip with a friend just for junking and hitting antique malls.
Make sure you come back to estate sales on say, the third day of the sale, when things are 75% off. You may find things that didn’t stand out to you before, but are now super cheap and will fit perfectly into the puzzle that is your home decor.
3. Scale is an important factor in building a great interior mix. Start a room with a few big bold pieces that speak to your heart (a major painting, a great sofa, a statement chandelier) and always be scavenging for small pieces along the way (brass figurines, Italian ceramic pottery, trinket boxes, book ends, small lamps). If you’re hitting estate sales and thrift stores all the time, you’re sure to find lots of these little “extras” as you go. Keep an eye out for small side tables, as these always come in handy when arranging a room and layering different heights. Always check your thrift store for little trinket boxes, be they stone, bisque, brass, or ceramic. They create depth and interest on coffee tables or credenzas.
4. Go for a bold sofa to start a color conversation in a space. “You can never go wrong with a green sofa, it will go with everything.”, Judy says. If you see a sofa you like at a thrift store, but aren’t sold on the print or color, it’s worth getting it reupholstered. If you truly love the sofa, it can live with you for the next twenty, thirty years, so don’t be afraid to make it yours. Visit fabric stores and pick something bold to reupholster it in, it will still be cheaper than buying a brand new sofa from Pottery Barn and will probably last a lot longer.
Want to upgrade your sofa but aren’t up to a whole reupholstery job? Find a great textile and drape your sofa in it. I had been hemming-and-hawing over whether I should reupholster or rehome a loveseat this year, when my mom suggested draping it in an Indian fabric. It gave the loveseat a totally new lease on life and made the loveseat work in a space where it wasn’t making sense before. It was a great cheap face-lift and I didn’t have to shell out for new upholstery.
5. Art is a huge factor in getting a beautiful eclectic mix going in a room, and this is where your personality and taste will get to shine the most. Judy says, “Be really fluid in your buying of art. If you find a painting you’re kind of on the fence about, and it’s twenty bucks, just get it. Get a collection of art going so you can get these pieces out and layer them together.” Always check your thrift stores and estate sales for paintings, and don’t mind the ugly frames the paintings may have. Old paintings can get a whole new lease on life with a clean modern frame. Or, you could pop a painting out of it’s frame and hang it on its own. A great cheap fix for crappy frames: get a can of black glossy spray paint out and give an ugly cherrywood frame a whole new look. Having a great mix of paintings of different sizes and different styles of frames will make a wall 100x more interesting.
Don’t get hung up on finding a piece you feel is 100% perfect. Very often you’ll find the humdrum little landscape painting you picked up at Salvation Army for $25 will really start to sing when you bring in another painting that compliments it. As my mom says, “You may not completely love something you bought for a room at first, but you when you find a great piece that can act as it’s foil, that is when it will really start to come together.” Part of what intimidates some people about putting together an eclectic room is focusing on finding the “perfect” pieces, when it’s actually much easier to let the pieces of a room come together naturally like a puzzle. More than half of the art in my living room came from the thrift store or the side of the road, and a lot of the paintings didn’t really come to life until they were hung with other ones. Then they start to form a cool eclectic collection.
In our conversation about art, my mom made a point to say that one kind of art she always looks for and uses in almost every space she designs are woodcut prints. The bold, graphic nature of this medium brings big impact to a gallery wall and makes a great foil to softer landscape/floral paintings. These prints are very are easy to come by. Keep an eye out for woodcut prints or buy some on Etsy.
6. Stock up on beautiful hardcover coffee table books. My mom is a lifelong book collector and says that her book collection serves as a meditation for her, a place where she can go to always get inspired. Additionally, they look fantastic shelved or piled up on a coffee table, or side tables. This need not be an expensive endeavor, as estate sales often unload huge collections of beautiful interesting books for very cheap. I pick up great cheap hardcover art books at Half Price Books all the time. Try to start by buying 10-15 coffee table books a year and keep building on your collection. They will inspire you for years to come and will always make a room look better. Keep an eye out for books with bright colored spines for pops of color.
7. When it comes to lighting, think of layering different heights. You don’t want all your lamps to be at the same height, it’s much prettier and more interesting to have lighting at different heights. Think mid-level, low-level, and high-level lightings. Go for tall floor lights as well as pair of table lamps, and a light fixture. Says Judy, “I love the tiny chrome desk lamps you can pick up at West Elm for under $100.” Layered lighting has the added benefit of softening a room and giving off flattering light.
One thing about my mom’s interior style is that she rarely ever does a room without a chandelier. You can go major, as with my mom’s beloved Tom Green chandelier, or you can go classic, as with a granny-ish crystal chandelier in my old house that I picked up for 80 dollars at a thrift store. Vintage chandeliers are cornerstones. “Never question the use of a good old-fashioned crystal chandelier.” There are an abundance of crystal chandeliers to be found second-hand cheaply, and they never fail to make a room look great.
8. Make a habit of collecting textiles. Look for blankets, throws, and quilts to stock up on, and scour eBay and Etsy for more. My mom has been buying tartan stadium blankets for years, so now when Christmas rolls around, she gets them out and transforms her space for the holidays. In years past she’s had the tartan blankets made into pillows, and this year she strung them up in her backyard for a cozy outdoor nook. A few years ago she bought tons of super-durable woven Guatemalan fabric and had her furniture redone in it. Remember the anecdote about my loveseat that I wanted to upgrade without committing to reupholstering? That loveseat got a huge makeover just by draping it in a big swath of Indian blockprint fabric. A collection of textiles will always come in handy. Folded textiles also look great stacked in shelves or loaded up in baskets around your living room.
Speaking of textiles, always check your thriftstore for vintage drapes, you may hit a goldmine. Bold drapes can make a room.
9. Don’t underestimate the power of a graphic black and white piece, no matter how big or small. High-contrast items call the eye around the room, so be sure to look for black and white Italian ceramics, black and white paintings, small or large vessels and boxes in graphic prints. High contrast black and white photography prints or black and white abstract paintings will always look great in any space.
10. Investing in a collection of something that speaks to your heart is a great and fun way to create an eclectic home. It could be anything, from vintage ginger jars, to painted portraits, tea pots, primitive wooden figurines, mounted antlers, brass figurines, or American quilts. Jeff and I collect bird dog art and sculptures. My mom collects plastic dinosaurs and naive art. Get out design books for myriad ideas of collections you can start if you haven’t already. Check out @notaminimalist on Instagram…Daniel Mathis is an obsessive collector and his gigantic collections are the basis for his amazing interior decor. It’s a fun hobby, it’s something you can build on over your lifetime, and it can be your personal signature in your space.
11. One of the best ways to get a layered, storied look in your home is to add vintage/antique rugs. If you want to bring in an eccentric vibe, there is no better way to accomplish it than with adding rugs. The three best places to get rugs second-hand are thrift stores, consignment, or estate sales. They’re almost always guaranteed to be there and you can get great prices. A word of caution: before bringing a vintage rug into your home, always have it professionally cleaned. Vintage rugs can often bring in moths which can spread undetected before you even realize it’s happening. There are such a huge variety of rugs, it’s too much to touch on in one little blog post, but you can layer up Persian rugs, you can go for a bold faux zebra hide, or a gorgeous flat-weave kilim rugs.
If you want a low-maintenance, low-commitment rug situation, go for something cheap and new, because if it gets destroyed you won’t have a meltdown about it. I was a little worried about buying a nice rug because of my older dogs, so I decided to go for a $125 rug from Home Depot. It looks pretty great and I don’t have to live in dire fear of stains if my senior chihuahua tee-tees on it. If there’s a will, there’s a way!
That’s all the basics covered for now, but if there is anything else you want to know or if you would like for us to write about in a future blog post, please do let us know in the comments! I will bring all your questions to Judy, who is here and happy to help in your interior design journey. Hope you guys enjoyed!
You will notice the many beautiful photos in this blog post by our friend Carley Summers Page. She is a talented photographer as well an interior stylist and I highly recommend you give her a follow on Instagram, her new home is to die for and has been giving me so many ideas for my place this year!