12 Tips for Creating Lovely, Livable Spaces

By Tory Cooney, Southwest News Media

Whether fill- ing an empty model home, redoing a well- loved living room or picking out the right bedding for a guest room, many of the same design principles apply, according to home stager and interior designer Laurie Mattson.

“It’s all about proper placement,” she said. “It’s creating a space that’s livable, comfortable, creates a traffic flow, doesn’t look overcrowded or overstuffed. It’s balancing color.”

Mattson, owner of Rooms with Impact, has been decorating homes in the Twin Cities for more than a decade, bringing home several national awards for her work.

That ranges from model homes in Plymouth and Maple Grove to transformations — large and small — throughout Minnesota, Maine, Florida, California and even Baja California in Mexico, she said.

When “staging to sell” the focus is usually on paring down the personalization that could make a buyer feel like they’re walking into someone else’s home, or else filling out an empty house in a way that lets people envision themselves in that space.

“Staging to dwell,” focuses on blending a person’s personal taste and needs with the space and decor items they already have, Mattson said. And there are a lot of ways that homeowners can bring that same magic into their homes for a fresh start to the season.


To make the biggest impact, work on one room at a time, starting in the areas that get the most traffic. Usually, this includes living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens. “Clear your bedroom when you can,” Mattson said.


Refresh the walls with a crisp coat of paint for an easy, affordable facelift. Small rooms look better with lighter colors, because dark colors can make a room seem smaller, said Mattson. And don’t forget kitchen cabinets while you have your brushes out. Enameling is particularly popular treatment that involves an oil-based paint that is sticky when first applied, but hardens to become more durable than a typical eggshell paint. “Dated cabinets look so much better with a coat of paint them. Doors and trim, all of that,” Mattson said.


If you’re craving an update, but not a dramatic remodel, homeowners and renters alike can easily reinvigorate bedrooms and living areas with new pillows and curtains. “It will freshen the look of your room,” Mattson said.


If you feel like your house is missing something, pause before adding any more art or accent pieces. Sometimes, it’s better to reign in your efforts and pare down the decorations. This will let individual items pop and keep the eye from getting overwhelmed.


“I don’t think people need to spend a lot of money unless they want to,” said Mattson. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.” By shopping carefully, look- ing for sales, and thinking about what each item contributes to a room, people can find inexpensive, high-quality artwork, bedding, accessories, curtains and throw pillows without exorbitant price tags.


When you know what you want or need, keep an eye out for those items and don’t be afraid of making returns or hitting up four branches of a single store. Once, when in search of matching fluffy blue accent pillows for a bedroom, Mattson bought (and returned) nearly 30 pillows before finding the perfect set.

“We had some 50 shades of blue going on,” Mattson joked. “If you’re in doubt, buy it now, because it most likely won’t be there later. You can just return it.”


Hanging a piece of art that’s only two feet wide smack over your sofa is not going to add anything to the space. “That’s way too small,” Mattson said.

For a large, open wall, you need a big piece of art or several smaller pieces that go well together. Very small pieces should be hung on small walls, like over the towel rack in a bathroom.


“I always see people hang artwork too high,” Mattson said. “Eye level is not always eye level for everyone.”

As a general rule of thumb, Mattson recommends you hang artwork about 5 feet 2 inches off the ground. Narrow pieces of artwork might need to go even lower.

Hanging pieces lower on the wall also makes the completed look of a room more cohesive, as the eye will make a connection between it and lower pieces of furniture, like sofas.

“A couple inches off of the sofa is good, though you don’t want it to look weirdly low,” she said.


Whether you’re starting from scratch or refreshing a room with new pillows and drapes, keep a single color scheme in mind as you plan and shop. This is especially important on the main level of a home where you can easily see from one room into the next.

You don’t have to match colors exactly or obsessively, though. For model homes, Mattson will select a single accent color to weave through the entire main floor, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be the exact same shade of buttercup yellow.

“People can overdo it. A theme that’s overdone is still overdone. Maybe you like Hawaiian stuff, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be Hawaiian,” she said.


Use art to bring color into a neutral-hued space. If you can paint (and are willing to do some additional painting before you move out), consider covering one wall in your bedroom with an accent color, like deep blue.


Make sure that the pictures posted online are updated.

“To get people into your home, the photos have to look really good on the internet,” and all the bathroom updates and kitchen refreshes in the world won’t make a difference unless people can see that online, Mattson said.


Start your wedding registry or Christmas list with items that you need, like drinking glasses and plates. Request gift cards in lieu of décor and be willing to build your collection slowly, over time.

“Don’t let someone else select your art or your pillows,” Mattson said.