Home & Garden

How to create a harmonious relationship between disparate design elements

Pale-colored mid-20th-century furniture is in high relief to the glossy ebony walls in this home built a century earlier in the 1850s.
Pale-colored mid-20th-century furniture is in high relief to the glossy ebony walls in this home built a century earlier in the 1850s. Alec Hemer

Exposed plumbing or ductwork, a worn wood-hewn floor and rustic metal tiles can all become the perfect imperfections in a home’s design.

Creating a cool warmth inside your home is about having a harmonious relationship between seemingly disparate elements, says Brent Ridge, co-owner with Josh Kilmer-Purcell of the Beekman 1802 brand, which was inspired by their 2007 purchase of the historic Beekman Mansion, a Federal-style farmhouse in Sharon Springs, New York.

The key to good design, Ridge says, is to rely on a counterbalance construct, which is detailed in the book Beekman 1802 Style: The Attraction of Opposites, (2015, Rodale Inc., $40). “Bring light to a dark room. Breathe new life into a tired space,” he says. “Bring a refinement to the rustic, or things will just look worn and outdated.”

Often, when people are combining households, downsizing or moving into a new home, design and style differences between couples can become readily apparent.

“Opposites attract — whether it’s in personal relationships or design sensibilities,” Ridge says. “Mid-century and modern pieces unexpectedly complement the clean Federal lines of our house that is more than two centuries old.”

Opposites attract — whether it’s in personal relationships or design sensibilities

Brent Ridge, Fabulous Beekman Boys

The drama of a design point — and counterpoint — is evident when you first walk into the Beekman Mansion. A 9-foot zinc-clad table is at home in the 17th-century house and brings reflective light to the center of a dark hallway.

But before digging into the design of a house, it may first be time to dig out and clear away the clutter.

“Most people can’t afford to hire a decorator, but, as an exercise, start by removing the items from a room and getting back to basics,” Ridge says. “Figure out the things you really love and resist the urge to have everything ‘matchy-matchy.’ 

Ridge says if you’re a collector of something, limit yourself to the best examples of a collection and use those pieces in unexpected ways.

“My grandparents collected Victorian pieces for an antique shop they had in North Carolina,” Ridge says. “When I inherited a number of gilded frames, we paired those with folk art pieces from the same Victorian era. The contrast between the showy frames and the simple artwork is a sentimental display that wasn’t an expensive design exercise.”

▪ Color and light. Style doesn’t have to be costly, but you need to have a plan to make a space come together. The introduction of color can be the easiest way to bring life into a space, but not every wall in a room requires the same treatment.

“Hang a boldly designed wallpaper or paint an accent color on one wall to create an instant focal point in the room,” Ridge says. “If a room is really light, a single dark element can ground it. The opposite is also true: if you have a dark room, lighten it up with pale-colored furniture, candles and reflective metals.”

A bright tip to set the mood in a space is to change out light fixtures. A Sputnik-style chandelier in a bedroom of the Beekman Mansion is an out-of-this-world design choice that works for the space. Also, shed light on the task at hand by considering lamps as sculptural elements in a room.

▪ Top to bottom. A layering effect can also begin on ground level with colorful or graphically dynamic rugs. A floor covering can unify a color theme and set the stage for what’s happening in a room.

A floor covering can unify a color theme and set the stage for what’s happening in a room.

Home design is looking up as people consider the impact of a room’s sixth wall: the ceiling. In many homes, ceilings are blank canvases that can be decoratively painted or papered, creating a unified design aesthetic — such as a recurring color — that is pleasing to the eye, from top to bottom.

▪ Upcycle on the down low. Only-have-what-you-use and use-what-you-have is a way to pare down and pair design aesthetics. “The Internet is filled with ideas about how to repurpose everything from industrial pieces to wooden pallets for use in the home,” Ridge says. “If you’re drawn to something, don’t be afraid to try it out in a space.”

A bedroom in the Beekman Mansion rests easy with a pair of outdoor tables as nightstands. The Brimstonia Turn Table ($599) utilizes an industrial iron crank as the post to a side table, while old barnwood beams become the wood of choice for Beekman’s Clausen line of furniture.

Ridge says for the ultimate enlivened accessory in a room, bring a bit of the outdoors inside. “Try to bring at least one living thing — such as a live plant or cut flowers — into every room,” he says. “That organic touch is what brings a room to life.”

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