Decorating your home should never be an exercise in futility. Follow these guidelines to keep your next shopping spree in focus and guarantee your abode the character it deserves

Does this sound familiar? You’re in a store, looking for a gift or browsing on your lunch hour, when you stumble across the most gorgeous lamp, painting, rug — you name it. Nothing could be more perfect for your home! Except once the purchase arrives, you realize that it’s too big. Or too formal. Or too red.


I’m all for retail therapy, but the fact is inspired purchases often end up right back at the sales counter as returns. How do we avoid the disappointment and waste of time? The answer is to shop with focus. Whether you’re furnishing and decorating from scratch or simply updating your space, here are some guidelines that will help you achieve the space you want with fewer missteps:

Style Tip No. 1: Find your inspiration photos. Look in magazines, in decor books and online. Search for styles, colors, lines and shapes that speak to you and work with the architectural style of your home. Then take those photos with you when shopping to keep you on track.

Style Tip No. 2: Determine your style or styles. Is your dominant decorating style urban? Island? Rustic Asian? You don’t have to choose just one, but you should determine your choices first, then stick to items within these choices.

Style Tip No. 3: Choose your colors. What colors do you want to play up — earth tones with splashes of gold? Charcoal and cream anchored by black accents? Be careful not to overdose on one color, though, unless you’re going for a highly stylized, monochromatic look. If you know you need a brown sofa, there’s no point in looking at beige. Rather, focus on the chocolates!

Style Tip No. 4: Contrast textures. Does your room have too much wood? Stone? Fabric? Your mix of texture can spell the difference between boring and dramatic, chaos and sophistication. Juxtaposing different textures makes each one pop, so find a wool or sisal rug to lay between wood floor and wooden furniture, and try glass or metal bowls on your wooden coffee table, or stone figurines for your glass shelves. And here and there, repeat some of these textures to tie the room together.

Style Tip No. 5: Lay out a furniture plan. Nothing stops irrational furniture purchases better than having a plan.

Style Tip No. 6: Measure! There’s a world of beautiful furniture, ceiling fans, mirrors, rugs and art out there. Knowing your sofa is seven feet long will tell you that painting for the wall above should be smaller. An 8-inch shelf will have a hard time holding a 10-inch bowl.

Style Tip No. 7: Vary heights. Does your room look incomplete, or overly imposing? Too many short or too many tall pieces create these effects. When you shop for furniture, lamps and accessories, keep in mind the goal of varying heights across a room — it will look more composed.

Style Tip No. 8: Consider the function of the space. You’ll need hard-wearing, resistant surfaces, fabrics and accessories for kid-friendly rooms. Save the antiques for grown-up spaces, where you can go more elegant and expensive.

Style Tip No. 9: Have enough pattern? Patterns are the accents of the texture world. Too often they are overlooked in decorating — rooms have too many clashing patterns, or none at all. One or two bold patterns should dominate, and if you want more, bring in a medium size or small pattern. My favorite showcases for pattern: throw pillows and area rugs.

Style Tip No. 10: Threesomes work. If you have room for a grouping of accessories, look for items that would work in a trio. They don’t all have to be the same thing — in fact, they should be of varying heights and sizes — but they do have to share at least one unifying element, such as color or shape.

These tips will help save you time, money and frustration. So get those credit cards out and have fun shopping!

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


Courtesy photos