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More Than Meets The Eye

Some people have "the eye" - that knack for looking at a room and instantly knowing how to decorate it.

If you're challenged to coordinate pillows to go with your sectional sofa, these fashionistas of fabrics can make you green with envy. But there's hope, even if you weren't given a subscription to decorating magazines at birth.

You can learn techniques that will save you from making the wrong purchases or from creating a cookie-cutter look in your home, say the décor divas.

"Everyone can learn," says Mary Ann Young, a freelance designer and stylist who, with her sister Kathleen Hackett, co-authored "The Salvage Sisters' Guide to Finding Style in the Street and Inspiration in the Attic" (Artisan, 2005).

"The key is to keep your mind open to the possibility or potential of things," Hackett says.

"If you start with that, you begin to see things in a different way," says Hackett, who writes about lifestyle and décor.

Knowing how to begin is often the greatest challenge. "A lot of people who are otherwise confident in their lives lose it when it comes to decorating," says Young. "You have to have the confidence you can create a new look."

Start with the furnishings you already have. Perhaps it's not your possessions, but how they're arranged that should be improved. "The biggest mistake we make is with layout," says Catherine Wei, an architect, interior designer and DIY maven.

"Sometimes the way people arrange furniture doesn't make sense. People should ask themselves, 'what are the needs of the room?' It could be the layout that makes the furnishings less appealing," says Wei.

She recommends placing furniture in a way that invites people into a room. For example, don't make the back of a sofa the first thing someone sees.

"It's not inviting," Wei explains.

While you're going through a taste transformation you're probably eliminating what you don't like. It's tempting to toss out everything that reflects the old you. Resist, says Matt Falcone, of ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan, N.Y.

"Edit, don't purge," says Falcone. "You feel good for an hour, but then you have nothing."

Stripping down to the bare essentials for the minimalist look is one way to handle style anxiety, but it probably won't result in a comfortable environment, Falcone says.

"Minimal can be stressful. My goal is to find a balance between minimal and warmth," he says. He suggests adding items made from natural materials, such as wood, to take the edge off stark rooms. Also, "add pieces with texture to bring warmth to a space."

That takes you to shopping, which may make you question your taste. Starting small will help, say the experts. Satisfy your urges with inexpensive purchases. Going to a flea market is a fun way to find bargains and expand your shopping horizons.

"I do my impulse shopping in flea markets, not expensive stores," says Wei. "In a flea market impulse shopping is OK because I'm getting a bargain or a timeless piece, such as a Danish coffee table that works anywhere."

Hackett picks up abandoned bureau drawers she stands vertically and uses as shelves.

"See the potential of things people leave behind," says Hackett.

The rules for the smaller pieces don't hold true for big-ticket expenses, however. When you're shopping for a sofa or armoire, do your homework. Choose a color scheme, measure the room and decide how you want the space to function.

You're always safe with a combination of neutral and bold colors, such as a neutral sofa with a chair that pops out, say the experts.

More Than Meets The Eye