Look for guidelines for remodeling a kitchen or bathroom and you’ll discover an embarrassment of riches, from books and magazines to hundreds of websites. You’ll find everything from decor suggestions and layout tips to technical expertise for tackling the hands-on work. That’s no surprise, as those two rooms are the most popular candidates for renovation. But we all have other kinds of spaces in our homes, and some are equally important when it comes to determining the quality of life under the roof.
Bedrooms are one of those mostly unsung spaces. They aren’t “functional” in the same sense as a bath or kitchen, so they involve fewer goodies when it comes to fixtures and built-ins. And for much of the time we spend in them, we are asleep — so how critical can they be, right? Why not just get a good mattress, a nice bedspread and some pillow shams and be done with it?
Well, it turns out bedrooms have at least one champion who thinks they should get some respect. Designer Candice Olson, who has transformed many kitchens and bathrooms through her Divine Design TV series and in previous books, explains that bedrooms are the most intimate and personal spaces in our homes. At their best they serve as private sanctuaries where we can go to be ourselves, recharge our life batteries and hold our worldly cares at bay until we’re rested enough to take them on again.
This role is what captures Olson’s focus. A bedroom that offers both physical and visual comfort, she insists, simplifies and amplifies the senses and creates an experience of genuine restfulness and renewal. Good paint colors and nice linens are certainly part of the package, but other key elements figure just as prominently, whether they are big and bold gestures or smaller, more nuanced touches. Olson’s recent book, Candice Olson Bedrooms, features more than two dozen bedroom projects and breaks down the strategies she used to make them happen.
Given Olson’s premise that bedrooms are highly personal spaces, it makes sense that the solutions she finds for these homeowners are tailored to their specific life circumstances and design preferences. That said, there are some common themes that emerge in many of the examples, and they form a kind of basic toolbox:
• Create zones: It’s common for many newer homes to be generous with square footage but not necessarily with good detail work. In bedrooms, the result is often a generic cube of a space with nothing but a door, window and closet. And when it’s a large room, things can get shapeless and sprawling, pushing the eye to meander but never settle on any real focal points. Olson fixes those spaces by designating a sleeping zone distinct from a sitting/reading area for informal relaxing. Some separation of zones can be achieved with furniture placement, area rugs, and other simple elements, while other projects require structural changes in the room. Which leads us to ...
• Enhance or create architectural features: Paint colors and nice fabrics can go only so far toward transforming a bland, boxy space. More effective elements include moldings, ceiling beams, wall niches or bump-outs, window seats, and other details that can break up monotonous walls. One favorite of Olson’s is a feature wall that includes a fireplace and some built-in display storage for artwork or favorite items.
• Add built-in storage: Built-in storage features improve the practical function of most bedrooms, but they also add visual interest and an opportunity to showcase a little custom woodwork or even just different paint colors and some decorative hardware. Built-ins are especially useful when angled rooflines, dormers, alcoves or odd subspaces in a room limit the use of freestanding furniture.
• Use window treatments to maximum effect: This is a key tool in Olson’s arsenal. The basic function of window treatments is to provide privacy and control daylight levels, but she gets a lot more design mileage out of her choices. She chooses drapery fabrics to bring more colors and textures into the mix, and often uses floor-length drapes for greater impact, especially if the windows they cover are small and ordinary.
• Create key focal points: The bed itself is a natural for this role, but fireplaces, small seating groups or prominent windows will also work. Visual environments are more soothing when the eye has distinct opportunities to rest and soak in the view. Reinforce these features with small accent touches of color, texture or artwork to make the look richer or more layered.
Underlying all of these separate strategies is Olson’s emphasis on keeping the space comfortable, so furniture choices, bedding, pillows and other accessories still leave plenty of options for individual preferences. But she recognizes, rightly, that the underlying framework comes first, then the decor.