Digital Decorating 101

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nby Gareth Branwyn for Digital Living Todayn

Let’s face it, some of us have the “decorating gene” and some of us don’t. Luckily, as in many areas of design and art, the computer and the Internet can be immensely helpful to the décor-impaired. If you want to liven up your living space, but are afraid the results may look like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (wait, that might not be such a bad thing), the computer can help.

One of the most useful decorating tools available for the timid designer is what’s sometimes called an “interior collage” program. These software packages let you import digitized pictures of your actual living spaces as background images and then overlay 3D furniture models, paints, flooring, wallpaper, etc. from libraries of these elements contained within the program. One of the best such consumer programs is Sierra Home’s Photo Home Interiors (one of the programs included in their amazing Complete Home 3D Design Collection, $69.95, www.sierrahome.com). The program is easy to use and lets you go wild with your imagination (you can even edit the colors of the furniture woods and fabrics, and scan in your own textures), without ever touching your actual home. Once you have something that looks great, you can translate it into the real world.

While these design programs are great, they are usually limited to the styles of furniture available in the included libraries (i.e. importing furniture is not possible). If you want to know what your living room would look like in “organic industrial” or “50s ultra-modern,” you won’t find many 3D model components available. There is still is a way, albeit more labor intensive and not as flexible, to conduct some virtual planning on your desktop. Take a picture of your room with a digital camera, and then import it into Photoshop (or other graphics program). As you see furniture you like in stores, take pictures of it with your camera, or if you see images of furniture online, download them to your hard drive. Remove the backgrounds from the images and import them into your graphics program, placing them in layers over the room background. You’ll obviously need to resize the images, and unlike the commercial programs, the images won’t be in perspective, but this can still be a surprisingly helpful way of seeing whether paint colors, woods, furniture pieces, etc. will look good together.

A digital camera is another great interior decorator’s tool. Take it with you when you go to furniture stores, fabric shops, flea markets, and other home furnishing haunts. Print out the photos you take and hold them up in the room you might want them to go in. You’ll be surprised how much information they offer. You can also benefit from other people’s digital camera work. Go to online furniture stores, auction sites, collector’s sites, etc. and print out those pics to see if the furniture you fancy would work in your living space.

To keep all of the pictures you print out, room plans from the collaging software, and articles you find online and off (like this one!), get yourself an accordion file box from an office supply store. Label each section a room in your house and toss all of the material you collect into the appropriate sections. You can also make file folders for each room component (e.g. couch, dining set, etc.) and further organize your materials that way. This may seem like a lot of fuss, but it’s amazing how gathering the images and ideas together like this will help you to organize your own thoughts about what you want and don’t want, and help you develop a confident “design philosophy.”

Armed with these tools, and with a little bit of patience and trust in your own creativity, you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish. One important word of advice: Surround yourself with furnishings you really love, not just what’s trendy, or what fits into the period you’re decorating around. As our lives become more hectic, our work lives often more stressful, the refuge of home is as important as ever. Being actively involved in designing your living space, and making something that’s an outward expression of you, can do wonders for your soul.

***DLT Tip: Even if you don’t have a digital camera, you can still take pics and digitize them for interior collaging. Use a regular analog camera, a disposable, or one of the new disposable insta-cams, like the Polaroid JoyCam, and then scan the prints with your desktop scanner. You can also glue the prints into the inside covers of the file folders in your decorating files so you can see all of your couch candidates (for instance) at a glance.

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