Decorate Your Apartment, Avoid Havoc

House of Havoc decorating apartmentsBeing a renter should never stop you from decorating your place like it's the palace you deserve to live in. The key is to keep your decorating plans on a budget and make sure most everything is portable, says author, columnist and serial home remodeler Marni Jameson.

Following the success of her first dwelling ditty "The House Always Wins" comes the self-deprecating and biting "House of Havoc: How to Make--and Keep--a Beautiful Home Despite Cheap Spouses, Messy Kids, and Other Difficult Roommates," a decorating guide that schools us humorously on how to keep our home looking neat and chic vs. cheap and cluttered.

RentedSpaces' Shira Levine chatted with Jameson about how to live well in your temporary space.

RentedSpaces: In addition to your genius tip that white towels are the only color towels that belong in the bathroom, and your advice on how to buy wine glasses, what are some of the shelter gems you are most proud of?
Marni Jameson: I have had some decorating epiphanies. I say it is not about decluttering. It's about not cluttering in the first place. Research first so you don't buy the wrong stuff, like the first set of sheets in Bed Bath & Beyond that suits your fancy. Get it right the first time.

RS: Can you talk to me about how to deal with space?

MJ: We tend to do what we think we are supposed to do with space, but you need to ask your house what you want it to do for you. Why are you supposed to have a dining room if you never use it? Use that space as a home office, TV room or study. You want to make sure your space services you and that you're not putting up a front for someone else, like your mother-in-law who says you should have certain things. You home should flow and function and serve you -- not make you a slave to it.

RS: How do you stop yourself from being a slave to your home?

MJ: Think about what you need. Ask yourself: "Who am I and what am I doing here?" You want to get a little philosophical. A bachelor pad is going to look and feel a lot different than [a place for] three female roommates with four cats, or a family. You want to design your space around who you are.

RS: Where do you notice people majorly messing up in their homes most?
MJ: I see it in the "things getting out of place" vs. 'things not having a place.' You need to distinguish between the two. The reality is things do get out of place, but when things don't have a place to begin with, that's when havoc happens. Your screwdriver doesn't belong in a drawer with your toothbrush!

RS: What advice do you have to renters who hesitate to decorate because it's not permanent?
MJ: Don't not decorate because you're renting. You really need to enjoy where you are living today. Just don't decorate with permanent things. Don't do things like build your bookcase into the wall or [set] your TV into the wall. Keep it all portable. You don't need wall-to-wall carpeting -- just an area rug.

RS: Doesn't all this get expensive?
MJ: It doesn't have to. Believe me, I live with a very cheap husband so I know how to make things work. You don't have to live with things like dreadful drapes or ugly blinds. In my book I talk about how fun and easy it is to put up glue gun drapes. There are inexpensive ones you can buy for $10 and you just put the old ones under your bed until you move out. The same goes for light fixtures. Replace them. You can find cool ones for $40 and it will update a space like that. Brass is out, so either paint it or replace it. You can spray paint it or bush on distress and faux-finish varnishes.

How to Avoid a House of Havoc
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Decorate Your Apartment, Avoid Havoc
Author of "House of Havoc: How to Make--and Keep--a Beautiful Home Despite Cheap Spouses, Messy Kids, and Other Difficult Roommates"
In the author's mudroom, everything has it's place.
Jameson decorated her living room around one main focal point - an artwork she commissioned that is placed over the fireplace.
The artist of the artwork in Jameson's living room created a color palate for her to use when shopping for decor.

RS: What about painting?

MJ: You should definitely paint your walls. But ask your landlord first and don't do anything permanent or expensive like wallpaper or faux finishes. I find white and off-white huge mistakes. You want to punch up the color so that it sets the tone for your place and doesn't suck the life out of your furniture. Easy colors to work with are mochas and caramels, butterscotches and wheats and latte colors. But you want to think about the undertones of your fabrics. Are they cool colors or warm colors?

I've never been disappointed by going darker with color, but lighter can often end up a big mistake.

RS: Any hard fast rules about painting your place? How many walls, etc?
MJ: You don't want to chop up the place with different colored rooms. If you live in an open space when you walk into it you should see the same color from every vantage point. If you want to paint a room another color, paint the wall that is hidden from the outside so that when you enter you can have a whole new experience.

RS: What are your rules for artwork?

MJ: Artwork is tough. You should definitely keep things on the wall, but you don't want to just buy something expensive and stick it on your wall. Also don't put up art that is too small. I'd rather see something too big than too small. Take photos and stretch them over canvas.

I like to buy a piece of artwork and then decorate the room around that piece. I did that with a painting over my fireplace. I commissioned the piece from an artist and he created a small palette board of all the colors he used in the painting and I carried it around with me when I shopped to match it with carpet swatches and sofa fabrics. The painting is what leads the room and then the fabrics, ceramics and area rug then help pull it all together.

Fewer pieces on the coffee table or mantle instead of 50 -- or even 10 -- things. I like to say art objects should be no smaller than a cantaloupe. Mix high- and low-end pieces. Even the experts will be fooled. I have nice, expensive pieces that are lovely next to cheap Chinese knockoffs that work, too.

RS: What is your advice for roommates and newlyweds with different tastes?
MJ: You have different styles and they may clash. It's important to respect each person's taste. My daughter told me she wants her room to look nothing like the rest of the house so she chose street-walker purples and it looks like a bordello. But it's better to let her have the color she wants then have her in therapy for years. On a serious note, most spaces allow for privacy and for coming together. With roommates, in the private space you can go for it and do whatever you want with it. In the common space you have to come to an agreement. It takes discussion and compromise. You have to make your home [a place] you want to come home to and live in.

RS: What are your honest feelings about Ikea?
MJ: Ikea has it's place for transitional and temporary housing situations where renters know it will only be for a couple years of their life. If you know you're living somewhere only for a couple of years, you don't invest in the high quality furniture that will one day be heirloom for your future grandchildren. These are purchases you have no attachment to. They're like a seasonal T-shirt.

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