Decorating mags' style secrets.

Making rooms ready for their gloss-up

Posted: September 07, 2007

In the real world, kitchen counters are catch-alls for the detritus that life dishes out: food, keys, Tupperware, handbags, sunglasses, newspapers, and so on. In decorating magazines, kitchen counters are blissfully uncluttered.

In ordinary houses, people don't always know how to display seashell collections or drape throws over sofas. Not so in magazine homes, where artfully arranged accessories pop up everywhere.

We all know magazines have secret ways of staging the homes they feature. Wouldn't it be nice if, just once, we were in on the secret and could make our homes magazine-worthy?

Susanna Showers Moldawer, a freelance photo stylist, knows all the tricks.

"Rarely can you walk into a home that's absolutely ready for a shoot. Usually a stylist has cleared away piles of papers on countertops, moved phones and sometimes computers to make the shot look cleaner," Moldawer says.

"It's always nice to see books on bookshelves rather than too many frames or small accessories. For most houses, editing some items from tabletops can change the look."

A few people whose homes have been featured in national magazines shared with us what they learned.

Cottage Living. Cynthia Davis and Issac Preminger have three 100-pound sheepdogs and not much square footage. So their home has a lot of neutral, heavy furniture, "things that don't get knocked down in stampedes," says Davis, who owns a housewares shop.

To make a house picture-perfect, she suggests introducing color with flowers, fruit, and accessories. "A lot of people are buying more neutral bedding and couches," she says. "But sometimes you wake up and say, 'I need color in my life!' So go out and buy some gorgeous hydrangeas, if they're in season. Or buy a beautiful throw to put on the end of the bed."

Look outside for unexpected accents. When the magazine came to shoot for its April issue, the loquat tree in Davis' driveway was in bloom. The crew cut down branches and arranged them on a cocktail table.

Better Homes & Gardens. Paula Murphy's kitchen redo appeared in the July issue. A partner in a public-relations firm, Murphy had some help creating the space from a friend, decorator Joetta Moulden. The magazine crew didn't accessorize the kitchen (all the dishes and stemware used were Murphy's), but they did a little rejiggering and she learned a few things.

Like concealing electrical outlets. Murphy has them on both sides of her kitchen sink. One is now masked by an antique black scale, a dinner plate, and a shapely tea canister; the other is covered by a plate and a vase. "It really does look better," she says.

Murphy recently had an 8-foot fence installed, and it was the only thing you could see from the kitchen window. The magazine folks wanted a green view, so Murphy and Moulden cut bamboo plants from Moulden's yard and spiked them into the ground behind the window. Voila! Green scene.

Domino. The magazine featured the home of interior designer Margaret Ann McEver in April. Domino didn't mess too much with her styling. She layered textures: chairs with linen covers with a silver metallic sheen; under the chairs, a zebra rug; under that, a custom room-sized seagrass rug; and under that, hardwood floors.

McEver also consolidated her collections, grouping like things on bookshelves. Sometimes, the accessories corresponded to the books' topics.

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