First says Marjorie Marcellus, an interior design instructor at The Art Institute of California - San Francisco, forget about the cost of a piece. "A successful interior is not determined by the cost of its components. For a space to work, it needs to have balance and harmony," says Marcellus. Finishes and home furnishings, even kitchen rugs should relate to each other as part of an overall design scheme, but "that doesn't mean they have to match, be of the same era, same price or quality," she explains.
For example, says Marcellus, "I placed an expensive slab of marble onto a salvage-yard industrial black metal stand and then added four black bargain stools from Pottery Barn." The similar finishes of the materials made it work. The result? "A custom kitchen table for my client's urban loft. Topped with a delicate antique vase, fresh wild flowers and colorful cloth napkins from IKEA, the outcome was unexpected and delightful," says Marcellus.
Suzanne Wilkins, an interior design instructor at The Art Institute of New York City, is another proponent of mixing both high and low design elements. A basic rule of thumb, says Wilkins, is to avoid having a less expensive item next to a more expensive similar item.
"Too many similarities invite comparison, and may make the less expensive things look cheap," she says. Instead, pair precious things with inexpensive finds by following two rules of thumb: keep it simple and clean lined, or keep it funky. According to Wilkins, simple clean lines naturally look expensive, and we associate clean lines with a more modern and expensive look.
On the other hand, she says, funky items can often stand alone and speak for themselves. But use them sparingly. For example, a nice grouping of African masks can add a lot of texture and color and can be found inexpensively in flea markets. To make it work, don't use more than three or four or in more than one location, says Wilkins.
Dan Noyes, chairman of the Interior Design department at The Art Institutes International, Minnesota, loves to combine modern pieces with weathered antiques, "to create a wonderful gypsy chic look." Whether high end or low end, an antique's patina and unique character flaws can set it apart from a great, modern piece of furniture, he says.
Furniture pieces themselves can combine the best of both high and low end design features says John Gambell, chairman of the Interior Design department of The Art Institute of New England. For a stylish-looking dining or end table, Gambell suggests taking a simple and inexpensive parsons-styled table (Ikea is a good source) and add a made-to-order stone top of either slate or marble. " A small 'reveal' between the base and the top wood appear to make the top float," says Gambell.
A few final words of wisdom about mixing high and low end design from the experts: When shopping at stores like Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn, pick a few pieces from each instead of outfitting an entire room with one look. "Mix it up," says Wilkins. And remember, be patient and shop around. What makes a room look rich and expensive, no matter what the budget, is time.
Courtesy of ARA Content