Seasonal Decorating for Dummies

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Everything I know about decorating I learned from living in a 250-square-foot studio, my first New York apartment. Just figuring out how to sleep, cook, dress, shower, and entertain within the same 15’x15’ space required creativity (although I admit I never achieved the same degree of resourcefulness as my neighbor—the one who used his iron to press his clothes and make grilled-cheese sandwiches). But learning to keep the place looking good was an even tougher challenge.


My cramped digs weren’t the only decorating problem I faced. I also had to contend with my new home city’s four distinct seasons—which left me needing both a boot rack for drying my snowy winter footwear and curtains that wouldn’t occlude my window air-conditioning unit. There was also my state of perpetual broke-ness—which meant I couldn’t just breeze over to Crate & Barrel for window treatments.


So, I experimented. And—if I may say so myself—I came up with some seasonal decorating strategies that weren’t half-bad. In fact, even though I have square footage in the four digits now, and can swing a trip to a nice shelter shop every once in a while, I still use the same few tricks to spruce up my apartment when the weather starts heating up or cooling down. Maybe you’ll want to try them, too.


When the days get colder, make your fabrics warmer. I’m talking about aesthetics as well as insulation here. Swapping your cotton blanket for a down comforter when the temperature plummets is definitely practical, but it can also make your bed look like a pile of lumpy potatoes. Warming up the colors and textures of your bedding, though—for example, throwing an inexpensive, jewel-toned velvet duvet cover over that comforter—can make your bed look like an inviting, cozy nest (and give you an extra layer of warmth, too). You can winterize your couch or chairs in the same way; if those moss-green loose-fit slipcovers from Pottery Barn are out of your price range, there are cheaper knockoffs available online. Draping your sofa with a pretty chenille blanket works, too. And never underestimate the power of pillows: if you’re crafty, stitching up some cushion covers in rich-colored satin, paisley or faux fur is a snap. (If you’re not, do like me and make for Urban Outfitters, where there are lots of cute throw-pillow choices for around twenty bucks.)


If you like the temporary-covering thing enough to carry it into the warm-weather months, just substitute light, gauzy fabrics for the warmer, richer ones. Remember those Indian-print cotton “tapestries” that the stoners in college always hung on their dorm-room walls? Well, they just happen to make pretty, breathable, and easily washable summer “upholstery.” If you can’t bring yourself to search for them at your local head shop, look online for some upmarket versions.


Get your knickknacks from nature. Seasonal decorating is all about the seasons, right? And the seasons have to do with what’s going on outside. So even if you aspire to adorn your tabletops with silver reindeer candelabras and hand-painted Ukrainian Easter eggs, don’t feel you have to go that route to make your place look festive. In autumn, a big bowl of pinecones or shiny red apples makes a surprisingly elegant centerpiece; so does a glass vase of pussywillows, red-berry boughs or even branches of autumn leaves. In summer, try lining your bookshelves or mantel with seashells or stones you’ve collected at the beach. And no matter what the season, find a way to add flowers—real ones—to your space. One pot of paperwhite narcissus bulbs (which bloom in winter) packs enough gorgeousness, and perfume, for an entire room. And choosing springtime flowers that dry well, like hydrangeas, means you can keep them around for months after you buy them. (For growing tips and supplies—not to mention adorable “Garden Hoe” t-shirts, check out yougrowgirl.com.)


Rotate your wall art. It sounds dumb: nobody changes the pictures on their walls, right? But it’s actually a fun, cheap, and very effective way to harmonize your décor with the season. Start with a set of six or eight matching wooden wall frames—ones where you can pop off the backs to easily slip your pictures inside. (Martha Stewart, naturally, has plenty of these available). Now, the pictures. You know those shoeboxes of old Christmas and holiday cards you’ve been hanging on to because you’re too sentimental (or guilt-ridden) to throw them out? Well, why not choose some of your favorites and put them up? You actually don’t even need pen pals to try this—you can always use blank holiday cards that you buy yourself at the stationery store. Greeting cards in general are a terrific, cheap way to get decent art on your walls…and you can have a rotating seasonal gallery. When winter’s done, just replace all those Ansel Adams snowscapes with Georgia O’ Keeffe’s flowers. Then recycle last season’s cards by sending them to your friends—perhaps with instructions: “Write, dammit!”

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