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Let There Be Light: Tips to Brighten Up Your Home

Christine Conte Interiors, photo by Nicole Larsen Photography

On dreary winter days, you’ll want to bring as much light as possible into your home.

To add light, consider all the elements, from walls to windows, that can enhance it, advises Liz Kohart, an interior designer at Liz Kohart Interiors of Garden City.

LIGHTER WALLS AND FLOORS

Use light colors to cover your walls, Kohart advises..  

“Soft shades of white and taupe will make a space feel brighter,” she says.

Wall paint with a satin finish, which is a little more shiny than matte, adds sheen and will help reflect more light, adds Kohart.

For a very high sheen and higher-end look, consider a lacquer finish, but take note that lacquer shows imperfections.

“You’d have to have perfectly smooth walls for lacquer,” explains Kohart.

Light-colored floors such as oak and light-colored carpets, or natural fiber rugs such as sisal can help brighten spaces, notes Kohart, adding that a higher-sheen finish on a wood floor will also reflect more light.

Liz Kohart Interiors, photo by Andrea Giarraputo

A LIGHT TOUCH

To brighten a room, upholster in light-colored fabrics and select light-colored woods for furnishings, including end tables, cocktail tables, cabinetry and built-ins, says Kohart, adding that a decorative mirror helps reflect and add light.

For window treatments, Kohart advises avoiding dark colors or velvet or other heavy fabrics. 

Opt instead for linen or cotton.

“Natural blinds, such as woven woods, will seem less heavy and more airy, and can be used as a window treatment in lieu of fabric drapery,” she says. 

Liz Kohart Interiors, photo by Andrea Giarraputo

BRING IN NATURAL LIGHT

In designing a new home or renovating an existing one, there are a few techniques that can bring in as much natural light as possible, says interior designer Christine Conte of Christine Conte Interiors of Huntington.

Start with larger windows and, if possible, add a floor-to-ceiling window at the end of a hallway to flood the whole house with light. 

An open-concept plan does a lot for light, notes Conte. 

“You can really move light from one side of the house to the other,” she says.

Clerestory windows – smaller windows that are positioned higher up on the wall – can go along the top of a room and add abundant light. 

“And you don’t have to worry about putting any kind of window treatments on them,” notes Conte.

For low-light rooms, a light tube – a metal pipe that gets reflected from the roof –  is a great way to get natural light into a bathroom or kitchen. 

If your house is set back and privacy is not an issue, add a transom above the front door or even consider a front door made entirely of glass, Conte says.

Fewer mullions on windows create the illusion of more light and adding black casement to your windows frames and accentuates the outside light.

Adding glass panels to doors of rooms where privacy is not an issue, such as offices, allows light to move through the house and backlighting a stained-glass window will give the appearance that there’s an actual window behind it.

ADD LIGHTING

Utilize artificial light by adding sconces and some overhead lighting and enhance natural light with table and floor lamps, advises Kohart.

Overhead lighting, such as a few high hats in the corner, significantly increases the amount of light in a room, says Kohart, adding, “Always put overhead and sconce lighting on a dimmer, so you can control the amount of light.”

 

Renovating Your House Without Any Demolition

Christine Conte Interiors. Photo by Nicole Larson

Renovating your house doesn’t have to mean taking it down to its studs. It does, however, entail some big decisions.

First establish why you want to renovate, says Micah Finkel, owner of the Brooklyn-based Sons & Co., a custom millwork company. Are you looking to create your dream house or improve its value at resale, or, perhaps, to accomplish both?

Also, consider whether you’re renovating for aesthetic or functional reasons and convey your intentions to the designer and contractor, says Christine Conte, of Christine Conte Interiors of Huntington.

Before you begin, interview three interior designers, three contractors, and, if required, three architects, advises Wendy Lepkoff, of Wendy Interiors of Bethpage.

“That will educate you and help you realize possibilities that you did not think of,” Lepkoff explains. “Then hire the ones that you connect with.” 

Look for quality and experience by avoiding new people in the field and the lowest bidders, adds Lepkoff. 

Christine Conte Interiors. Photo by Nicole Larson

BUDGET

Think about how much money you’re willing to put into the project, says Finkel, adding that designers usually will want to push the budget with their somewhat lofty ideas.

“A lot of times what ends up happening, clients will end up spending just a little more because they end up falling in love with what the house can be,” says Finkel. 

Jobs can frequently go over budget, as contractors invariably end up doing more extensive work than previously planned, notes Finkel.

Start with a wish list and consider your budget, advises Conte. Next, plan out the space, which often involves a designer’s computer-aided drawings. Then select and order the pieces to fit your style, from tile to carpets, wallpaper to cabinetry, to actual furnishings. The final phase is installation.

“Form has to follow function,” says Conte.“The layout has to be functional. It has to serve the space and it has to be in the style that the clients want.”

Christine Conte Interiors. Photo by Nicole Larson

DESIGNING A DREAM HOME

Decide how far you want to go with the renovation. A good start, Finkel advises, is the kitchen, where new cabinets and counters add a lot of value to the home and don’t require any changes to  the plumbing or electrical work. Rehabbed closets and bathrooms in master bedrooms also get a lot of bang for your buck.

Built-ins in libraries, dens and mud rooms are very versatile, adding both utility and beauty to the home, notes Finkel. New windows, doors and embellishments, such as exposed wood beams, wainscoting and trim, can add a lot of character to a house.

Once you’ve started the renovation, you’ll have to determine what’s salvageable in the house, particularly in older homes, which touches on everything from mechanical to electrical to plumbing systems, notes Finkel.

“Every single element of the house has to get looked at, along the lines of the design, the budget, and also the dream,” she says.

Go on Pinterest and Houzz.com to get more ideas that represent what exactly you’re looking for, says Lepkoff. 

“Be very open-minded and you will have a dream come true,” she adds. 

GET AWAY

In some instances you’ll need to temporarily move out of the house, notes Conte.

“You just never imagine how much dust is involved in this and the noise and the disruption,” she says. “It’s a very stressful time.” 

Be realistic about the time frame of the project, adds Conte. One room, like a kitchen or master bedroom, can take about three months; a full house renovation could last up to eight.

A Few Little Tips for Decorating in Small Spaces

Photo by Donna Sheehan, Inner Sense Interiors

As more and more people downsize or move into ever smaller homes, co-ops and condos, they’re faced with the challenge of fitting all their possessions into a more limited space.

The first thing to do in tackling a smaller space is to assess what you plan to put in it and take a closer look at your things, says Donna Sheehan, interior designer and owner of Inner Sense Interiors of Bellport.

“Letting go of some things can lead to gaining others, such as a workable albeit small closet,” she explains.

Keep only the things that you love, advises Ellen Miller, an interior decorator and owner of ElbowrooM: Small Space Solutions, formerly based in Long Beach.

Miller often does an exercise with her clients who live in smaller spaces, asking them to write a love letter to an item they really love, such as a special lamp or vase, and explain exactly why they love it.

“After that, when I say, ‘Every item in your home should give you the same feeling,’ it’s amazing how much they will get rid of,” says Miller. 

FUNCTION OVER FORM

Choose furniture that has a multipurpose use, advises Sheehan.

“An ottoman with storage instead of a coffee table, a bed with storage below, or a table with built-in leaves are all space-saving ideas with function in mind,” Sheehan explains.

When you have limited living space, it’s important that you love your things and that they all have functions, concurs Miller. A table should double as a workspace and a mirror on a wall should not just be decorative but cover a cabinet or pantry as well. 

Create a focal point for your space, advises Miller. 

A brightly colored couch or a bold piece of artwork allows the eye to focus somewhere in the room, rather than notice the size of the space itself, she explains.

Photo by Donna Sheehan, Inner Sense Interiors.

VERTICAL SPACE

Utilize wall space right up to the ceiling for vertical storage, advises Miller, explaining that seasonal items can be stored on shelves or cabinets placed over doorways. 

Furnishings, such as bookcases and etageres, can both provide storage and serve to bring the eye upward, which creates a sense of a larger space, says Sheehan. If possible, adds Sheehan, open the ceiling with a skylight or vault it, to “create a sense of increasing your square footage.” 

LIGHTING

To open up a room, allow as much natural light as possible and avoid heavy drapery, advises Sheehan. 

“Window treatments, such as blinds and Roman shades, allow light exposure, while also providing privacy when needed,” she says.

“My rule of thumb is to never use any treatments on your windows if you don’t need them,” says Miller, adding that if nobody can see into your home when you have the lights on at night, then you really don’t need any window covering.”

“I think it’s great to not have any, to allow the outside to extend into the inside,” she says. “And, it will make your space also feel much bigger.”

VISUAL CONTINUITY 

Small spaces appear larger when connecting rooms have the same flooring and similar color palettes, especially on the walls, notes Sheehan. 

“Avoid chopping up the space and consider how rooms flow, rather than how one room ends and the other begins,” she explains. 

Try to have your space tell a story, says Miller. If you love the color blue or Asian art, for example, have at least one Asian art or blue object in each room, which will also create continuity from room to room.

How to Make The Most of Your Closet Storage Space

Marder Imagery for Marlaina Teich Designs/Symmetry Closets

Today’s closet is not simply a place to stash your clothes. Rather, with the proper design, a closet virtually becomes a room within a room, a showcase to proudly display your wardrobe.

The first thing to address in designing a closet are the hanging clothes, because there’s really nowhere else for these clothes to go, says Bonnie Reich, president of Symmetry Closets, a storage design company based in Holbrook. 

“When you walk into a closet, it’s not just about packing it in,” says Reich.“It’s also creating the right flow of space,” she says, adding that accessibility is key.

A good trick to creating more space is to double hang shorter clothing items, advises Reich.

Next, consider shoes, handbags, folded clothes, and sweaters, which can all go into drawers or on shelves. Lastly, look at where accessories such as jewelry and watches will go. 

The two goals of good closet design, explains Reich, are finding space that’s not used properly, to which you can add more hanging rods, hampers and shelves, and providing great organization and flow. 

An often overlooked part of the closet are the corners, which, Reich says, should be used for hanging clothes.

Valet rods, which can be either waterfall style, with multiple cascading hooks, or a pull-out version that retracts when not in use, are a handy way to hang clothes you’ll wear the next day. 

Adam Cassino Design for Symmetry Closets

CONFIGURING THE SPACE

First a designer needs to look at the space and assess the client’s individual needs and preferences for how to store clothing.

“Some people just want great organization; other people want a really great sanctuary,” says Reich. “And then there’s all that space in between.”

To begin renovation, measure the space, then work up CAD (computer-aided design) drawings, explains  Marlaina Teich, owner of Marlaina Teich Designs in Merrick and New York City.

As a designer assesses the client’s needs, preliminary layouts will get tweaked to address any specific requirements.

To add extra space in the closet, you can knock down walls in a bedroom, but that adds significantly to the budget, warns Reich. 

“Once you start moving walls, it’s a much more complicated project,” Reich says. “It could mean changing air conditioning, floors. It just opens up a lot of issues that can come up.”

LIGHTING, FLOORING, AND MORE

High hats and chandeliers, often used for closet lighting, create a room-within-a-room effect, notes Teich.

Other lighting techniques include dropping down crown molding from the ceiling and adding LED lighting to create a glow on the ceiling, Teich says, adding that placing puck lights into built-ins and glass cabinetry will spotlight what’s contained within them when you turn on the lights.

A custom center island with a glass top allows you to both see watches, jewelry or sunglasses displayed below in a velvet lined drawer and also utilize the glass surface.

Whether you have carpeting or wood floors in the room, you typically continue the flooring into the closet or you can choose something completely different, explains Teich.

“We can do a whole inlay design,” Teich says. “We could do painted floors in a pattern.”

Beveled mirrors add beauty, utility, and make the space look larger, says Teich.

Another consideration are wardrobe doors, which, Teich says, look beautiful from the outside and can be utilitarian on the inside, with built-in shelves for shoes and boots.

“If you’re lucky enough to have a room that you can open the door and walk into and it’s your closet, you want to make it into an experience.” Teich says. 

How To Turn An Attic Into A Bonus Room

If you’re looking for a practical solution for adding more room to your house, consider turning that cluttered attic into usable, livable space, such as an extra bedroom, playroom, office, or personal yoga studio.

Provided the space has a high enough ceiling, a finished attic would be an easier and more economical renovation than adding an extension to the house, notes Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free platform that connects homeowners with vetted general contractors.

“A playroom for the kids or an office are best, because they don’t involve any plumbing,” remarks Brownhill. “Updating the space to include electricity and plumbing could be costly, depending on the current setup.”

START WITH A PLAN

Creating blueprints and plans for the new space is key.

“Whether you work with a designer or architect, someone should measure and create drawings that the general contractor and their crew can follow during construction,” advises Brownhill. “The project will likely need to be approved by your local building department, which may require plans to be submitted, especially if you are adding a bathroom.”  

The condition of the attic will determine exactly what renovations will be required.

“You might need to add everything from insulation to electricity and plumbing, in order to properly convert the space,” says Brownhill. “If the ceiling is low or there are no windows, creating a dormer or raising the ceiling could be an option.”

ACCESSING THE ROOM

Say goodbye to those pull-down stairs: You’ll want easier access to the new room.

“If it’s a two-story home, we usually have a staircase that can fit another one above it,” says John Petsco, owner of Miller Place-based Long Island Creative Contracting. “If not, we have to find a room where we can carve out an access to the attic.” 

Depending on the pitch of the roof, stairs can be placed in a closet, room corner or hallway, explains Petsco, adding that stairs take up an average of 60 square feet. “So we always look to maximize that space underneath it,” he says, noting that they’ll build closet space,  pull-outs and built-ins in that area.

CLIMATE CONTROL

As the highest point in the house, the attic can be the hottest in summer and, if uninsulated, the coldest in winter.

Aside from insulating the room, Brownhill suggests extending your ductwork to service the new space. 

“There are also wall mount options that are great for servicing single zones, meaning that it would operate independently of the system for the rest of the house and you’d be able to regulate that specific space,” she says.

SOUNDPROOFING

The noise levels from the new space at the top, particularly a playroom, can quickly become unbearable to those below.

Consider having your contractor use a soundproofing layer in the floor to go between the subfloor and the flooring material, advises Brownhill.

Soundproofing also includes insulation and soundproof drywall, adds Brownhill. “You can either use a special soundproof drywall, if you’re already down to the studs, or just add layers to existing walls.”

Living Al Fresco: Creating Outdoor Spaces

Photo courtesy of Hicks Landscapes.

Come summer, just about everyone naturally thinks of getting out in the fresh air. But with the growing popularity of fire pits, fireplaces, and an array of outdoor heaters, people are spending more and more time in their backyards and extending their living space outward.

To create a seamless interior-exterior transition, it’s important to incorporate the same furniture style, similar textures and color schemes for both spaces, says Jodi Dell, owner of Jodi Dell Designs, a Manhattan-based interior design firm.

“It will extend your design, bring the outdoors in, and the indoors out,” she says .

LATEST OUTDOOR TRENDS

Outdoor living has gone from traditional poolside, lounge, and recreation areas to spaces that reflect almost everything you have inside the home, from kitchens to dining, lounging, and sporting areas, says Matt Riccoboni, chief marketing officer for The Laurel Group Fine Landscapes, based in Huntington and Water Mill.

“Dinner parties have moved outside,” notes Riccoboni, adding that banquet-style tables and seating are very popular.. 

Trending this year, says Riccoboni, are furnishings made from multiple materials, such as seating with fabric roping, teak legs and aluminum accents, or tables with glass tops, rustic wooden legs and aluminum frames.

No longer monotone and utilitarian, an entertainment area can include an eye-catching fireplace with a TV above it, pergola, sectional sofa, and coffee table. Mirroring their indoor kitchen counterparts, barbecue areas now have six-burner stovetops, wall ovens, built-in sinks, and garbage disposals.

“We recommend product matching the decor to the design of the space,” notes Riccoboni, adding that ultramodern furniture looks right in an ultramodern space and resin wicker or teak goes well with traditional brick and bluestone.

The perfect design is realized when there’s no perceivable break between the interior and the exterior, Riccoboni explains.

“The hardscape, which continues directly out the door, is similar in scope and design to the tiling and/or flooring that sits right within that hearth,” he says.

CREATING THE SPACE

The key to building out exterior rooms is connecting the landscape (plantings and gardens) and hardscapes (patios, etc.) with the home’s architecture, concurs Craig Donley, a landscape designer at Hicks Nurseries of Westbury. 

First, advises Donley, consider the exterior space’s adjacencies to the house, the location of doors and rooms which connect to the outside. Typically, the main outdoor entertaining and dining areas are positioned outside the kitchen and a terrace or patio off a living room or bedroom would call for a more intimate space, such as a small sitting area or reading nook.

“So you’re looking at the functionality of it first, the easiest and most functional from inside to outside the house,” explains Donley.

Another consideration is what views you have from inside the house.

“You’re always thinking about catching the eye and making a nice vignette or view outside of those major views,” Donley says.

Avoid any jarring contrast by matching paving materials, colors, textures and styles from the interior’s adjacent interior room to the outside setting. 

“If you have a home which has very contemporary materials on the inside and is very clean lined and sleek, you don’t want to walk outside and have a very rustic patio of natural irregular paving,” Donley says, adding, “You might want to use some sort of stone that blends clean lines from the inside to the outside.”

In lieu of actual outdoor walls, hedges, trellises or pergolas will help establish clearly defined  spaces, notes Donley. Potted plants, he advises, should be an integral part of your decorating scheme.

Refresh Your House With Paint or Wallpaper

Paint color brings the room into focus in a Long Island townhouse sitting room. (Photo by Philip Ennis Photography, courtesy of Wendy Interiors)

If you’re looking for a fairly easy and inexpensive way to redecorate your house, consider sprucing up your walls. Adding a fresh coat of paint or some eye-catching, textured wallpaper is a sure-fire way to brighten up any room.

You can achieve a whole new look by painting walls white and moldings black, says Wendy Lepkoff, owner of Bethpage-based Wendy Interiors, Inc. For a more modern look, Lepkoff suggests pairing gray walls with white moldings or wallpapering one wall and painting the rest of a room’s walls a color that’s prominent in that wallpaper.

“If there’s existing carpet or an area rug or wood flooring, that should be taken into account when selecting the wallpaper,” advises Lepkoff.

Accent walls — wallpapering just one or two walls in a room — are trending today and white ceilings are no longer de rigeur, says Lepkoff, adding that off-white, cream and shades of gray are popular options. Popular in bedrooms and dens, accent walls are typically created behind beds or sofas.

“Sometimes, a beautiful look with a high ceiling is to paint it one shade lighter than the walls,” she says.

VERSATILITY OF WALLPAPER

Ranging from basic vinyl to embellished with velvet overlay or beaded crystals, wallpaper comes in many varieties, notes Bari Seidon, an interior designer at Floor Decor & Design of Syosset and Rockville Centre. 

“Wallpaper is a definite upgrade to any wall,” says Seidon. “It can be textured, it can just be patterned, but you get the best bang for your buck with wallpaper.”

The most common use of wallpaper these days is in the powder room.

“Guests use your powder room and there’s not much to look at in a bathroom, so you’re giving them interest,” Seidon explains.

As with wallpapering powder rooms, dining rooms often are wallpapered since, Seidon says, “you entertain in the dining room and it’s giving your friends something to look at.”

Deep colors and damask wallpaper help remake a guest room into a reading room. (Photo by Philip Ennis Photography, courtesy of Wendy Interiors)

PICKING PAINT

Depending on which room and what section of it you’re working on, you’ll want to choose different paint finishes.

For trim –– door and moldings –– go with a semigloss finish, which is more durable, makes surfaces stand out and is easier to clean, advises Evan Kuby, manager of Aboff’s Paints in Huntington. 

To make your ceiling less prominent, use a flat finish that will recess the surface. For guest rooms, or other rooms that are used infrequently, Kuby recommends flat paint, because “it looks nicer and it doesn’t need to be cleaned often.” 

Kids’ rooms, conversely, require matte or eggshell paint, both of which have more durable and washable finishes.

Full bathrooms, which get hot and steamy, also require more heavy-duty, shiny paints, like Benjamin Moore’s mildew-resistant Aura Bath and Spa, or Kitchen and Bath lines.

Select a color based on lighting and what hues you already have in the room, says Kuby, who advises customers to bring in swatches whenever possible.

Darker colors look better in rooms with a lot of windows and higher ceilings, and shades of gray and gray/beige are hot right now, Kuby says.

“They’re neutral, they go with a lot,” he explains. “They’re not too cold or too warm and they kind of blend with a lot of other colors.”

In the living room or guest room, create the look of wallpaper with paint with a faux finish, which layers glaze with base colors, he says