How to Decorate your Apartment

“I want you to know?that I will never want that wagon-wheel coffee table.” Carrie Fisher’s message to Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally truly exemplifies the challenges any couple is faced with when taking the big step to move in with each other. And once your boyfriend is finally ready to say goodbye to that Budweiser poster and you’re ready to shrink those dried bridesmaid bouquets into potpourri, you might have certain questions. To answer them, we’ve contacted renowned interior designer and Owner/President of Dorothy Draper & Co. – Carleton Varney.

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What are some bold and effective ways to make an apartment unique? Two words: Paint and Windows. Most (NYC) apartments are painted white. By painting the wall(s), whether a dramatic or subtle color, new life is breathed into a room and a mood is evoked. Carleton Varney, whose clients include Joan Crawford, former president Jimmy Carter, The Grand Hotel, The Greenbrier, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and many many others, believes “color is what defines a space, makes a statement and creates the total picture. It informs the other elements you put in the room”.

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He also advises his clients to paint the small spaces typical of NYC apartments, a dark color, like a tobacco black. It is a misperception that light colors make a room look larger. Once you have the color palette of the room, you can then begin to dress it with home accessories like bed linens and throw pillows. and can offer some inspiration. To find professional painters, referrals work best. However, a visit to or a chat with your doorman can also lead you in the right direction when finding the best person for the job.

For window treatments, head over to Janovic ( for a large selection of blinds, drapes, shades and shutters. Carleton uses drapes to create a sort of theatre. However, he advises anyone not able to extend the lavishness of ornate drapery indicative of a historical time frame to “keep things clean and simple.” He says to use window treatments to hide imperfections while allowing as much natural light in as possible. And of course, privacy should be achieved as well. Whether you choose wood blinds or a contemporary shade, window treatments are a surefire way to bring all the elements of a room together. Furthermore, by taking down those standard white horizontal mini-blinds, you’ve instantly made your home unique.

How will everything fit? No matter how hard you try to downsize, you still manage to accumulate an inordinate amount of Stuff with a capital S: Photo albums, beauty supplies, books, papers, and of course clothes. To this, Carleton says to “Edit. Don’t overbuy. Gone are the days of keeping 14 table settings of China in the kitchen cabinet.”

Chances are, you won’t have a lot of extra room in your beloved but small New York City abode, and since you probably won’t get 99% of the one bedroom closet all for yourself, the only logical solution is to build more! California Closets will not only redesign your reach-in closets to accommodate your personal clothing storage needs, but they can custom build a beautiful floor to ceiling wall unit of drawers and shelves (with a space for the television set) that is attractive, durable, and undeniably practical. And don’t throw away the Value Paks you get in the mail! Discounts for home renovators and closet builders are always included in those envelopes (it’s not just for car services to the airport and 1-800-Contacts, although those are helpful too!).

How can a balance of his-and-hers style be achieved? It wouldn’t be surprising to find your average bachelor living amongst overflowing garbage cans, party souvenirs and sports paraphernalia. To rectify this situation, try displaying items in stylish containers: baseballs emerging out of a basket, a glass fishbowl of poker chips, a chess set resting on a small corner table with a reading light and armchair. The rest of his kitschy things can be concealed in stylish canvas boxes ( conveniently kept on the bookshelves for your boyfriend’s easy accessibility.

Candles make for a wonderful unisex accessory. Indulge Beauty’s new Bistro collection features a selection of candles with wine-inspired scents that burn for over 60 hours. Choose from Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay and others.

Carleton Varney is a proponent of comfort in addition to functionality. No man can resist the soft texture of velvet, for instance. He also advises us to look at color as a reflection of one’s inner self, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, color sexism, if you will, is not dead. We’ve been programmed to think pink is for girls and blue is for boys. However, Carleton hopes the trend in clothing (a.k.a. the man’s pink dress shirt) will extend to interior design in the near future. And remember, a man wearing pink comes off sexy, confident and secure in his manhood – A man with pink walls should come off the same way!

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Another way to achieve an optimum balance is to head to your nearest professional frame shop and get photographs matted and framed to perfection. And if you can’t part with your college photo collage, then you can make it up to him with a framed autographed photo of his favorite sports figure ( or a certified cell from his favorite animated program (

Should old furniture be tossed? “NO!” Carlton says, “I’ve designed entire rooms around an old furniture piece. Many clients have a sentimental attachment to such pieces. It’s worth bringing it to a professional and getting it refurbished.”

Furthermore, if it’s furniture that’s been handed down through the generations, then chances are it is durable and better made than something you can buy new. But if you’re looking for new furniture, Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel offer beautiful pieces that can make any apartment look chic and contemporary. A trip to Home Depot, Anthropologie or Gracious Home can reap major rewards, as well. By changing knobs or staining wood a light pastel color, you can resurrect old pieces and give them a brand new look. Replacing an old lampshade is another way to make your designs unique to your environment.

Is television good for you? YES! With the advent of DVR, you can clock hours of design programming as seen on HGTV, Style, TLC and DIY (although, it should be noted that Carleton does not watch such programs and relies solely on the reputable design source, Architectural Digest). Whether you learn practical, tangible tricks to improve your dwellings or subconsciously develop your own sense of style and taste, these shows offer inspiration when you’re starting a design project from scratch or just feeling like a change. As Carleton Varney said, “Change symbolizes life continuing. Faye Wray was constantly changing her apartment’s décor. She would say, ‘Carlton, that’s how I know I’m alive’.”

Carleton Varney advises those attempting to decorate to ask themselves if everything in the room 1) serves a practical, functional purpose 2) expresses their taste and style and 3) is pretty and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. You can get more insider tips from this true master of design by reading one of Varney’s 23 published books (including one on Dorothy Draper called Kiss the Hibiscus Goodnight and another called The Decorator) or his syndicated column. In New York City, where spaces can be small, and where great views are hard to come by, it’s important to remember this advice. Varney quotes his client Joan Crawford as saying, “Just remember Carleton, I invented me.” With some creativity, compromise and the expert advice of someone like Carleton, you and your significant other can create a home and in turn, invent a ‘we’.

To learn more about Carleton Varney or to view more of his renowned client list, visit:

To find store locations, go to:

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