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Seven Layers of Design



The Seven Layers of Design became the bible to not only the do-it-your-selfer but to many interior designers as well.  Perhaps it’s because it deals with the emotional side of feathering one’s nest not just the aesthetics. Often we get locked in step as the hundreds of decisions (that all seem critical) bombard us as we go through the process.  On the Seven Layers Of Design page I’ve given you the sequence to building a room from the shell of the room (the walls) to its center.  Be sure to watch those videos.  Below are a few more tips on each layer that address some of the mistakes people often make when thinking about the design process. 

On my Viewer Mail Page you can find even more answers to many of your often asked questions 

Christopher Lowell's 7 Layers Of Design

Tips ON Layer # 1 paint and architectural  embellishments: 


The number one fear of the do-it-yourselfer is choosing room color. While I'll do all that for you, you still have to get the actual paint color chips and tell the dude behind the counter what you want. Once the paint is mixed (and have THEM do it) the guy will pop off the top and the color you see will look different from the paint swatch. Don't panic! It's supposed to. It will be much darker and even vary a bit in color tone because it's not up on your walls and dry. Have a dab of paint put on the lid of the can and have the paint guy blow it dry. It will look closer to the color on the chip and now your paint can is color coded too. Now get home and brace yourself for your next freak-out.


This happens when you roll the first swath of paint on those all-white walls you've been living with. (medium nap roller) Trust me; everyone get's nervous, and they start second guessing the color. However, make NO judgments until everything is painted. Then go to bed. When you wake up with fresh eyes and the paint is dry, you'll be happy. Once you have furniture and wall art up you'll be thrilled even more because the color is chosen as a background to make everything you own look better. A note about wallpaper: unless it's organic and texture only, don't go there if you're ever thinking about resale. In fact, I never use it because I can get the same effect with a sponge which means it's just paintable paint. Last note on wallpaper for the tight budgeted; yes you can paint over existing wallpaper after priming it first. If the paper stays up, it should be fine.

Christopher Lowell's seven layers of design


Tips ON Layer # 2 installed flooring:


Here the key is to keep it simple. No "art" tiles that you love, (and will pay more for) but the person thinking about buying your home on down the line will hate. Think natural stone, solids, and very light texture. You can add a groovy area run for more visual punch later but don't build it into the shell of your structure. With wall-to-wall, remember that even the most expensive weaves, with normal wear and tear, will still have to be replaced in about 6-7 years, and that's if you're a Buddhist monk. With an active family even less time. So this manufacturer business about it lasting any longer isn't true so spend accordingly. You might want to consider the photo laminate wood floors with an area rug (you can take with you) instead.


Because of digital, the wood reproductions are amazing now, and the durability is excellent. Again keep it simple. No "special" tints or whitewash looks. For the very budget challenged, good ole peal-and-stick can cover many sins and can be laid down over just about any flat and even surface. Solid colors, the minimal texture, will work best. When installing, don't start at one side of the room but in the middle (as dead center as you can) since no wall is square, you'll have to special cut anyway so might as well make sure it looks the same on all edges. If you start by butting up the tile to the length of any wall, the tiles will begin to drift off center. So the first tile is centered in the room, then work out from all four sides.

Christopher Lowell's 7 layers of design

Tips ON Layer # 3 high-ticket upholstery items: 

Remember a sofa is not a throw pillow. Since prints are the first thing to date a room, building them into an entire sofa is like putting cash into a Cuisinart. The "cover" is a background, just like wall paint is a background. I know after solid walls, and solid floors you're craving pattern but that comes in the next layer, confined to things that can be pitched when the pattern starts driving you crazy. Think texture or solid. If you find a fabric that you like but aren't sure if it's right for an entire sofa, here's a trick. Drape the fabric on the frame, step back five feet then squint your eyes. If the fabric looks more texture then print, you're good to go! Make sure you purchase a sofa with removable pillows. So if Fido takes a pee on it, you still have another side.


Having said that, still buy at least four more yards of the fabric from the same dye lot, so you know, should Freddy Kroger or Edward Sizzorhands spend the night, repairs are still possible. With embellishments, keep it clean. No ultra contrasting piping, doodads or even skirts which could look too boudoir. Ask yourself, "Will this fit into any room of my NEXT house?" If it won't , then don't! Leather is nice but hard to snuggle in to. Think about leather throw pillows instead. Or even better faux suede. That way he and she are happy. Loveseats: I'm not a fan since they take up too much space and only one person can sit comfortably on them. You're better with side-by-side club chairs where folks get their own space and arm rests. If you move, the club chairs are far more versatile when integrating into your new rooms

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Christopher Lowell's 7 layers of design

Tips ON Layer # 4 accent Fabrics: 

I could write a book just on these. But if you've kept everything in the room solid and textural up to no, you can add the big, the bold and the beutiful with abandon. If, after time you hate the giant daisy motif pillow who cares. Toss it. When coordinating three patterns, make sure the scale of the different prints are visibly distinguishable, so it looks intentional. Best formula: A petite print, an oversized (graphic) print plus a texture with a classic geometric thrown in works every time. You can check out my Room Recipes for a perfect example of this. 


The key to introducing a print or bold pattern into a room is "balance." Make sure since the eye always goes to these, that when it surveys the room the prints are evenly dispersed throughout the space. Meaning: not all the pattern is clumped on a furniture grouping at the end of the room. If you do a pattern on drapes, make sure that pattern ( or something like it) is duplicated somewhere in the middle of the room too, so the eye travels from the shell of the room to the midst of it.


Window treatments: Today, the look is clean. So the "festooning" treatment of the past (even in the most traditional of homes) is out. Even tie-backs are marginal now. If you must…then a fixed (simple) rosette that you casually drape the curtain behind. It's a cleaner look as long as you just make sure you have enough fabric for it. That's code for "puddle." When installing your rods, place them as high to the ceiling as you can if you what to create the illusion that the room has taller ceilings. Also, extend the rod at least six inches past the window casements on both sides so when the drapes are open, the view through the window is maximized. If the view stinks, then add a sheer under the drapes that stay closed all the time but lets filtered light into the room. 

Christopher Lowell's 7 layers of design

Tips ON Layer # 5 non-upholstered furniture


 Without these, rooms can be magazine front-cover amazing but in person they are unlivable. Surfaces and storage are the workhorses of any space and the less square feet one has, the more vital they become. However, it's in smaller rooms where people make the most mistakes. Worried about size, they pare everything down to elf size, thinking that it will make the room look bigger when exactly the opposite is true. Tiny stuff makes people look like giants, and they can't relax in a dolls house. Fewer, but larger scaled things actually make a room look larger because the eye sees the stuff instead of the room dimensions (especially after the rich wall color I choose for you). So, when in doubt, go bigger. Remember the human form only needs 18 inches to slide comfortably past a coffee table to sit on a couch. Even the most "padded" of persons are far thinner from the knees down.


For those with larger spaces, the mistake I see most is the long sofa and the small (usually oval) coffee table that only services the two people who happen to land in the middle. A good length is at least to where the inside arm of the sofa begins. It doesn't have to be wide but if narrow, 86 the art books, the potpourri, the nut dish et all. If you can't put something down, it's useless. One last hint. Bookcases are fine but taking a small wall, and building shelves floor to ceiling is a better use of valuable wall space. There shouldn't be a surface in the room (that one uses constantly) that should be beyond arms reach. If you have to lurch forward or twist in half, it's not in the right place. Decorative containers: Today they come in so many groovy styles and done en-mass become their own design statement. However, this is no excuse to just mindlessly dump anything you don't want to deal with into them, thus creating your own landfill. When you're looking for something, if they're all full of junk then what's the point?

Christopher Lowell's 7 layers of design

Tips ON Layer # 6 accessories:


The first question should be, "Is it art or just clutter?" It's perfectly okay to tell your story, but you don't have to tell your unedited biography in one place. Just because you own it, doesn't make it worthy of display. Besides, your new space should bring forward the things you want to take into the future while leaving space for that next collection. Learn to curate. Separate that which has been baggage you've clung to from icons that tell your story more clearly now. With accessories, there are no placeholders. Meaning; don't put something there just because the space is empty. Rooms need to breathe, and the eye needs a rest too. Encoded in everything you own is the emotional reason why you have it. If you can't remember the reason, then you no longer need it. Today more than ever, getting down to your key essentials is what will give you the freedom to live a better quality of life. That's what my whole RightSIZE UP site is all about. Still it's nice to have artful things to look at. On a tight budget, they can come from anywhere because it's not what you pay it's how you group them.


The best formula for display is in groups of three in various heights and shapes with at least one thing in common (theme or color). A good rule of thumb is that fewer, larger scaled things are better then lots is tiny "scatter." The second rule of thumb with collections is; don't spread them all over the place. Group, them together all in one place, so it's obvious they ARE a collection. Scattered they just make what I call make room dandruff. Together they become a statement and monument. If you can stand at the threshold of the room and squint your eyes and NOT make out what an item is, it's too small.


This layer also includes wall art. When hanging pictures think museum style in straight rows either horizontally or vertically. No stair stepping unless they're actually in a stairwell. If good reproduction art is beyond the budget or the household can't agree on the subject matter, mirrors are a great solution both he and she can agree on. I'm a huge fan of mirrors if kept simple and straightforward. Mirrors help stretch the visual size of a room, double the things you own and help bring light from windows into dark corners.


Christopher Lowell's 7 layers of design

Tips ON Layer # 7 plants and lighting:


Okay, think steakhouses: mood wise what's the difference between Sizzler and Ruth Chris or Mortons?, Ambiance. Sure furnishings is part of it, but in the end, it's the lighting! One establishment want's you to get it and get the hell out. The other wants you to mingle and linger. And you want to because the lighting is designed to make everyone look swell. Good lighting can make the most utilitarian space feel inviting. Today, there are many "plug-in" accent lighting fixtures available. So you can create and control mood without ever calling an electrician. Even room dimmers are easy as ever to install now so those harsh overheads can be softened. Even for you renters, the best way around an ugly overhead is to dim it for far less than replacing it. Tabletop dimmers let you control lamps.


This is especially nice with two bedside fixtures. Controlling them from one side without having to get up is very pampering and something I wish more hotels would do! When I travel, I even take two soft light bulbs and a dimmer with me to get rid of the monster blue "efficient' ones that make me look ten years older a suddenly sadder. Great lighting can make okay stuff look really important, and turn nothing special stuff into silhouettes that are dynamic and poetic. This is easily done with little tabletop pin spots placed behind objects shining a pool of light on the wall behind. The best mood lighting is when as much light is shining up from the floor, as down from overheads and lamps. That's where those twelve dollar uplights (or can light) work so well. It's where plants come into the picture too. By plants, I mean trees real or faux.


A can/uplight placed on the floor or in the pot below is what furnishes those expansive overhead ceilings with soft shadow and pattern, so one feels umbrellaed in more intimate and romantic surroundings. Today the fake plants, because of digital, look believable now. They also suggest that something is living and growing as part of the environment, and that's a rejuvenating icon any space can use. The days of dried flower "arangments" are over, but single varites (like lavender) hanging in bunches over a dressing table or from a great farm room beam is romantic.. Wicker baskets with five kinds of ivys are dated too. With faux plants choose one variety like you'd see in a nursery. With faux flowers pick one kind (all the same length) and do them en mass for a chicer look in the colors nature intended. Just as the old bridal bouquet has been replaced by the single bundled of one-kind flowers so has this same approach translated into the home as well.

Christopher Lowell's free Room Recipe Downloads

My Pre-coordinated Room Recipes:


Don't forget about my fully pre-coordinated Room Recipes.  I've chosen all the colors and fabrics for you, which you can download onto your smart phone so they travel with you where ever you shop.  They're foolproof and absolutely free so no excuses.   It's time to get busy and jump start that personal creativity of yours! 



 We Are How We Live 

My hope is that you can make whatever space you call home as nice as you can if for no one else but yourself. The truth is we are how we live not regarding what we have but the habits we get into. When we don't take time to care enough about our own wellbeing thinking "eh it's just junk and all I can afford so the hell with it," this indifference follows us out into the rest of the world too. There have been times as a struggling artist when all I had was a mattress and boxes for end tables and whatever used lamps and chairs I could find. Still I got a little fabric and a little spray paint and did the best I could. It was my way of telling myself I was worth the effort and that I was worthy of my dreams. We may well be how we live but the great news is by changing our surroundings, no matter how modest, we begin to change too. It's up to us to add the ceremony to our own lives. It's up to us to put tangible proof around us that we're doing the very best we can and are grateful. It's to a greatful heart that all good things come and that starts with personal pride under one's own roof.

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