NATE BERKUS–DESIGNER OF HOMES LARGE AND SMALL, FRIEND OF OPRAH, AND HOST OF THE NATE BERKUS SHOW (CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS)–ON HOW TO BUY A ROOMFUL OF COMFORTABLE FURNITURE THAT REFLECTS YOUR SENSE OF STYLE
YOUR STYLE IS MODERN
KEY WORDS: Streamlined, minimalist, steel
COUCH: Look for a well-made L-shaped couch from one of the big furniture-design houses in Italy. Tufty-Time from B&B Italia is a comfortable, really stylish exampie. Tufty-Time sofa ($14,167) by B&B Italia.
CHAIRS: Go for a pair of mid-century chairs from a legendary designer like Milo Baughman. You can find them on eBay, 1stdibs.com, or at one of the high-end reproduction shops. Lounge chairs ($1,800 for the pair) at wright-now.com.
COFFEE TABLE: I’d opt for something a little bit more rustic, like a raw piece of wood on an iron base, that will add some contrast to the other furniture in the room. Slab coffee table (prices vary) by BDDW.
LIGHTING: Forget about side tables and table lamps; instead, a good standing floor lamp, like the Arco, a sixties classic, is just what you want. Arco floor lamp ($2,696) by Design Within Reach.
THE EXTRA 10 PERCENT:
Place a chest of drawers against one wail in the room, and then hang a framed black-and-white photograph above it.
YOUR STYLE IS TRADITIONAL
KEYWORDS: Wood, patterns, textures
COUCH: An English roll-arm sofa in natural linen will never go out of style. I have one in my apartment in Chicago, and I’ve had it for fifteen years. No matter what changes around it, it always looks good. English roll-arm sofa (from $2,415) by Restoration Hardware.
CHAIRS: Look for a pair of vintage French club chairs. I’d start on eBay or 1stdibs.com, and if you can’t find something in your price range, everyone from Ralph Lauren Home to Pottery Barn makes new (but vintage-looking) ones. Prices vary.
COFFEE TABLE: Just as you’re mixing up styles and genres with the modern coffee table, this is where you can lighten things up with a glass (or glass-covered) coffee table. Jonathan cocktail table ($2,195) by Jayson Home & Garden.
LIGHTING: The key to this style is to line your walls with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. So for lighting, I like brass articulated-arm sconces that can be built into the shelves. Chelsea swing-arm sconce (from $79) by Pottery Barn.
THE EXTRA 10 PERCENT:
For the shelves, paint them either a semigloss black, a British racing green, or even a dark navy.
YOUR STYLE IS …
KEYWORDS: Contemporary, comfortable, eclectic
COUCH: I’d go with a tuxedo-style couch–that means the arms and the back are all the same height. It’s classic and contemporary, masculine and sophisticated. Maddox sofa ($1,399) by Room & Board.
CHAIRS: Pick up some traditional upholstered club chairs in chocolate velvet. The soft hand of the material is extremely comfortable, and they’re timeless. Knoles chair ($1,495) by Jayson Home & Garden.
COFFEE TABLE: Try contrasting the traditional items with a contemporary item like a Mies van der Rohe coffee table. Barcelona table (from $1,433) by Knoll.
This style is all about the idea of a well-traveled room. That means draping some textiles from different places you’ve visited over the back of your couch. Or you can make pillows out of the things you’ve collected on your travels. That’s how you add personality.
WHAT TO DO WITH AN ODDLY SIZED ROOM
Forget about buying a whole bunch of small furniture, which tends to just make things look more cluttered. Instead, you should buy the largest couch you can fit against the longest wall, and then the largest, most comfortable chair to go across (or diagonal) from it. You can then opt for a smaller coffee table or go without one altogether. This fills the space and might actually make it look bigger rather than smaller.
Get creative and divide the room into zones based on purpose. You can use a dining-room table piled with books and one chair as a desk; you can have multiple seating areas; you can have a dedicated bar area. Try checking out books of European castles and English country houses to see how they divvied up their enormous rooms.
THE QUICK TIP
Your couch should be either all the way on your rug or three quarters off of it (i.e., just the first quarter of the couch on the rug).
THE (COUCH) UPGRADES
THAT COUCH YOU’RE SITTING ON–THE ONE WITH THE STAINS AND CRA TERED CUSHIONS? TIME FOR AN UPGRADE. NATE BERKUS BREAKS DOWN YOUR OPTIONS.
YOU HAVE: AN OLU UPHOLSTERED, OVERSTUFFED COUCH
The upgrade: A roll-arm natural-linen couch. I like this one from Restoration Hardware, but you can look for other options. English roll-arm sofa (from $2,415) by Restoration Hardware.
YOU HAVE: A BEAT-UP LEATHER COUCH
The upgrade: A vintage English Chesterfield tufted leather couch transcends trends, but you can also find new versions of the style, too. Triple Old Fashioned sofa ($4,795) by the Esquire Home Collection.
YOU HAVE: A FAVORITE FUTON
The upgrade: Since it’s not really possible to have a nice futon–sorry–I would upgrade to a couch bed. Avery Boardman makes the best ones–the quality of the mattress is like sleeping on a regular bed. Sofa (from $6,000) by Avery Boardman.
AND REMEMBER: Buy the best-made couch you can afford in the simplest possible fabric. You might like some strong pattern today, but after a few years, you’ll get tired of it. And while you’re shopping around, ask if the couch has eight-way hand-tied springs and whether the wood in the frame has been kiln dried. If the answer to both questions is yes, that is a well-made couch.–N. B.
THE ONLY RUG YOU REALLY NEED Unless you’re lucky enough to have inherited some amazing Persian carpets, the best thing you can buy is a rug woven from a natural fiber like jute, sea grass, or coir. A neutral color–something the color of a brown paper lunch bag–will work with any of the above styles and hide all kinds of wear and tear. Sea-grass rug ($29 to $349) by Pottery Barn.–N. B.
WHERE TO LAY IT ALL OUT
FIRST, BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF ABOUT HOW YOU’RE GOING TO USE THE SPACE: IS THIS WHERE YOU’RE WATCHING TV, OR IS IT A PLACE WHERE YOU WANT TO SIT AROUND AND TALK? PROCEED ACCORDINGLY.
GOOD FOR TV: Couch faces the television, coffee table in front of it, chairs facing each other on either side. You don’t make any bones about the TV as the organizing principle of the room, with the couch front and center and both chairs positioned near the screen.
GOOD FOR CONVERSATION: Couch is perpendicular to the television, chairs positioned next to each other and directly across from the couch. The people sitting in the chairs can speak easily, and the whole setup feels more intimate.–N.B.
THE QUICK TIP
If you’re looking to fill an empty wall, Exhibition A is a new “members-only” Web site that sells limited-edition works by serious contemporary artists for a few hundred bucks. It’s great art at a great price.
(Consider Asian style? Click here)