A well-designed room often begins with what’s on your walls and floors. By carefully selecting contemporary artwork and rugs, you too can set the perfect tone for your home

I’ve always told workshop students and clients that a very easy jumping-off point for a room is an area rug or a piece of art. These are pieces that generally have a number of colors and a definite sense of style that can set the tone for a space.

So look at an area rug or a piece of art that you love, and start from there. If your art collection is non-existent or your rug is worn and blah, go shopping.


Area rugs come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Before you head out the door, though, know what size you need. A rug to go under a dining room table will need at least six to eight inches between the rug and the wall so your rug won’t look like carpeting. Make sure the rug is large enough so that when the dining chairs are pushed back, they don’t fall off of it.

Also, what color of flooring is underneath? If you have a cream-colored tile, there’s really no point in putting a solid cream or beige rug on top, unless you’re going for a monochromatic texturized space. Look for dominant colors in the rug that will pop off the floor and the dining set while complementing their colors.

Now let’s head into the living room. Many homeowners in Hawaii with island-style furnishings are trying for a more modern look. An easy way to do this without redoing everything and breaking the bank is to find a contemporary rug.

It makes sense to pair a solid-color, neutral sofa with a multi-colored area rug. If there’s a little bit of beige or tan or gold in the sofa, make sure your area rug’s dominant color is not the same, or it won’t work. But repeating one of the sofa’s secondary colors in the rug will really make it pop.


The starting point for this Diamond Head living room (see photos) was this four-colored area rug. Knowing that I wanted to create a warm, modern feel with a hint of island inspiration, I thought this rug, with its essence of wave, would work. The colors ran from cream and tan to chocolate brown, which made it very easy to tie in coordinating furniture.

Notice the chocolate in the sofa? And in the accent wall color? The cream in the rug ties in with the upholstered chairs, the flooring and the lamp shade. (The room still needed a pop of color. Enter the table’s red bromeliads, which work well with the splash of red in the artwork.)

The area rug was the starting point, foundation and inspiration for the space. It made all the subsequent choices that much easier. First, it was the jumping off-point for style. The modern rug set the style for most of the pieces that followed: the modern mirror, the modern bench and many of the accents.

Second, the colors of the rug tied together the color scheme for the furniture and accessory selections. All I had to do was repeat some of the colors throughout the room using different textures, and it seamlessly came together.

Whether you have an area rug you can already tie into, or you’re looking for an area rug for inspiration, look at the style it evokes as well as the colors that you can work into your space. If you have an amazing piece of art, treat it the same way. (Now fine art collectors, don’t start emailing me! I’m talking about affordable decorative art that can carry a room.)


Next time you’re in a room that feels put-together, look down at your feet or up on the wall. It’s a good bet the key to the room’s style and color choices will be right there!

Cathy Lee is president and designer of Cathy Lee Style and Cathy’s Marketplace, a furniture and accessories showroom with design services at 1110 University Ave. in Moiliili. Lee’s interior design work has been featured in local and national publications, on HGTV and in her DIY design workshops that teach homeowners the basics of style. To find out more, go to www.cathyleestyle.com.