Local design consultant shares interior decorating tips
For those of us who are completely lost when it comes to interior design, there are folks like Diane Kolak, design consultant and owner of Dwelement Home Design, who can help make our spaces more than just “livable.”
The Grand Traverse resident shares her tips on several common interior design topics in this year’s Home & Furnishings issue.
Northern Express: What is your background in design?
Diane Kolak: I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, and I’ve been practicing full time since 1995, now working as a freelance designer specializing in print. Basic design principles like line, form, color and rhythm transcend the medium, so I’ve always loved applying my expertise to my own home. It seemed to me that there might be a demand in Traverse City and online for a design consulting service that gives DIY homeowners design guidance without the expense and commitment of a full-fledged interior design service. So I started Dwelement Home Design (dwelement.com) to fill that niche as a hired design eye – someone who can help homeowners figure out their personal style and then show them how to apply it to their spaces in ways they can afford.
NE: What is the simplest (and most affordable) way to make an old space look new?
Kolak: Sometimes old spaces look better old, if they have interesting architectural features or a desirable rustic patina. In those cases, emphasizing the unique features with color or furniture arrangement is a good thing. In cases where a refreshing design is needed, paint goes a very long way. Successful color selection can give a room a whole different feel. Another high-impact change is updated lighting. Not just the fixtures, but the type and placement of lights to create a better mood or function in the room.
NE: What type of home decor is really in at the moment?
Kolak: Developing a look that’s unique and expressive is always in. In other words, don’t follow trends but choose pieces that express your personal style. There are always trends, of course. Right now the colors gray, white, and bright yellow are big. Mixing contrasting styles for an eclectic look is popular, but tricky to pull off successfully. Natural materials and motifs are everywhere, including stone, wood, natural fabrics, and organic patterns. Wallpaper is enjoying a comeback, with large-scaled patterns being used in small doses to add interest to a room.
NE: Feng shui. Do you think it exists?
Kolak: Many of the principles of feng shui are simply good design standards. For example, the concept of chi, or energy that flows throughout a space, is really a reflection of spatial balance and unity within a home’s floor plan and furniture arrangement. Following the tenets of feng shui will usually result in a room that feels balanced and “happy.” It helps to make the intangible qualities of a pleasant space easier to execute, and for that reason I think it’s worth understanding. But I wouldn’t count on a fountain in your foyer to make you win the lottery.
NE: For those who are pretty open to what their space will look like, how do you peg their style ... or rather, lead them in the right direction?
Kolak: I have a detailed questionnaire that I use to first nail down the necessary functions of a space, then identify a person’s style. I ask questions about color preferences, what they like and dislike about their current home, what their dream home looks like in their imagination, whether they prefer formal or casual entertaining. Then my process is very open and collaborative, giving the client plenty of opportunity to steer me in a different direction before the final design is established. Once a design plan is developed, clients can take their time implementing it with the reassurance that each step they take works within the larger plan. Giving the client control over the execution allows for measured spending, as opposed to a large bill all at once.
NE: For those who are terrified of bold colors, what’s your advice?
Kolak: If you’re terrified of bold colors, then maybe you should avoid bold colors. I believe that every person has an innate, personal color palette, and this changes very little throughout one’s lifetime. Discovering that palette and staying true to it will result in rooms where the client is comfortable and happy. I start by identifying preferences for warm or cool colors (reds & golds or blues & greens), then determine a level of saturation that the person prefers (bright, pastel, neutral, or a mix?). After the client’s preferences are clear, a color that suits the light and the space can be pinpointed. When couples disagree on color, it’s usually possible to develop a palette for walls, finishes, and fabrics that satisfies them both.
NE: What’s the biggest “mistake” people tend to make when it comes to their space?
Kolak: I think the biggest mistake in terms of dollars is buying the wrong furniture. It’s so important to understand the flow of a space and its dimensions before spending money on the important pieces. Over-sized furniture is very common now, and it looks much different in a spacious showroom than it will in a modest living room. A professional assessment of the space before you invest in furniture can prevent expensive mistakes and result in a more comfortable room.
NE: Let’s say I have a $100 budget to spend on redecorating my bedroom. How can I get the biggest bang for my buck?
Kolak: $100 … that’s pretty tight. Paint will be your most powerful design tool. Choose colors you love for the walls and ceiling, and a beautiful white with some dimension (like Sherwin-Williams Alabaster) for furniture, if you’re dealing with outdated or mismatched pieces. Clear the room and paint everything. Then be very choosy about what goes back in. If it isn’t useful or beautiful, it doesn’t belong in your space. Be ruthless with clutter. Invest in a closet system to allow for more storage, if needed. A simple and serene bedroom is good for your health and spirit.
NE: How should someone starting out in their first house or apartment prioritize their furniture budget?
Kolak: Buy quality used furniture. Shop frequently at thrift stores, consignment shops, and online classifieds. Be picky and wait around for the right piece at the right price. Don’t be put off by an ugly finish or fabric – these things can be changed, often on your own with a little research and work. Look for signs of quality like dovetailed drawers, solid wood frames, solid metal hardware, matched grain, and coil springs on upholstered pieces.
Read more about Diane Kolak's design consulting services at dwelement.com or call 231-649-2184 to schedule an appointment.