Home & Garden

Refreshing the Look of Your Favorite Spaces

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Sometimes, even our favorite rooms need a little sprucing up, and now is a perfect time to hit refresh. Here’s what you need to know about furniture, paint colors and upholstery patterns before planning your next room makeover.

The new B&O Railroad style, from Simply Amish in Rockford, combines traditional elements with modern features in a darkly stained character wood.

There’s no place like home, but sometimes our favorite spaces need refreshing. Maybe it’s time to part with that long-outdated bedroom set, or the mattress that hurts your back. Maybe you’re tired of literally sinking into your living room sofa. Perhaps your fireplace looks dated, or lacks energy efficiency. Maybe the dining room no longer accommodates your growing family or new empty-nest lifestyle. Here, local furniture and design experts offer some ideas for making your home more comfortable, functional and attractive.

The Cozy Bedroom

We see this room every day and every night, but it’s probably the last place we think of updating – we just don’t replace our bedroom sets very often. John Reisenbigler, co-owner of Simply Amish, 2684 Sandhutton Ave., Rockford, and wife Linda, recently parted with their first bedroom set after 46 years. Even though selling Amish furniture is his profession, Reisenbigler says they asked themselves the same questions he tells customers to ask.

“Ask yourself, ‘What do I want it to do, and how much space do I have to play with?’” he advises. “Those are the two main things. Then ask yourself, ‘What do I want it to look like? What kind of style? What kind of wood goes well with that style? Then, you narrow it down to color.”

A bedroom’s size is an important factor. If you have spacious walk-in closets, you may not want to devote bedroom floor space to freestanding dressers. If your bedroom and closet sizes are small, you might consider a compact “mule chest” style dresser, which maximizes storage within a smaller footprint than a typical dresser.

Deep drawers mounted below the mattress are another good storage solution. “In the right setting, the drawer bed is an easy way to pick up some extra storage without adding a piece of furniture,” says Reisenbigler.

Simply Amish offers 28 styles of bedroom furniture. Each piece is customizable, down to the wood, stain and hardware, and is handmade by Midwestern Amish craftsmen.

On the more traditional side, the Shaker and Mission designs have straight lines and simple decoration; they look best in lighter, quarter-sawn oaks. On the more contemporary side, Simply Amish’s Braden and Sophia styles have curves, and are most popular in darker stains.

The new B&O Railroad style is more of a tradition-meets-vintage, with dark stain and an imposing appearance that looks best in a bright, spacious bedroom. B&O comes in two patterns.

“It looks like an old trestle bridge, with the metal splice at the top of the arch,” says Reisenbigler. “It’s usually done in character cherry, which has knotholes. It has an authentic aged look.”

To be sure, these pieces are built to last – no staples or particle board here. If you’re seeking a long-lasting bedroom set, pay attention to construction and terminology. A cherry-colored stain is no substitute for solid cherry wood. Watch out for keywords that indicate a dubious origin, such as “Amish-quality” or “cherry finish on select hardwoods.”

“What that means is that it’s veneered or particle board,” says Reisenbigler. “If it’s not real cherry, then it’s a cherry finish. We use real cherry wood, and stain it different colors to achieve different tones.”

Simply Amish pieces are built by real Amish families who use high-quality, durable materials, including extra water- and fade-resistant varnish. These pieces feature dovetail joints, a separate drawer face and a smooth interior. Drawers come standard with the soft-close glides popular in kitchen cabinets.

Just because Amish furniture is built to last doesn’t mean you can’t replace it, sometime down the road.
“Eventually, you or your wife may get tired of looking at it, but you’re not going to wear it out,” Reisenbigler says. “So that piece someday gets moved to the guest room. Now you can do something fresh in the master bedroom, with a new design and a new color to get things up-to-date.”

A Better Night’s Rest

Tossing and turning all night is no fun, and neither is waking up with aches and pains caused by your mattress.

“Consumer Reports says that the average lifespan of a mattress today is about seven to 10 years,” says Mitchell Johnson, store manager at Gustafson’s Furniture & Mattress, 808 W. Riverside Blvd., in Rockford. “So, if your mattress is 10 years old, it’s probably a good time to start looking for a new one. Or, if you’re waking up with a lower backache and it goes away in a few hours, it’s probably a good indication that your mattress is no longer supporting you properly.”

Many of Johnson’s customers have not only waited 16 to 18 years to replace a mattress, but also have forgotten a simple maintenance rule: flip the mattress 180 degrees at least four times a year.

The good news is that mattress technology has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. While manufacturers still make traditional mattresses, they’ve also developed models that enhance comfort. Gel-infused memory foam is one of the latest. This mattress utilizes foam that’s infused with little pieces of solid gel, a material that wicks away heat and conforms quickly as you shift. Johnson describes it as a step up from the Tempur-Pedic.

Pocketed coils are another innovation. Like a slinky in a sock, each coil offers support independent from neighboring coils. The double-pocketed coil takes it up a notch.

“In the center, there’s a firm coil, and on the outside, there’s a soft coil,” says Johnson. “A bigger person sinks down further, but still gets support. A lighter person lays down and doesn’t sink as much.”

Johnson sees more young customers opting for adjustable beds, because they enjoy angling their mattresses in ways that make it easier to read, work on laptops and tablets, or watch TV. Adjustable beds have always been popular with older customers, who tend to have more aches, pains and mobility issues.

What works best for you depends entirely on your personal preferences. Find the bed within your budget that’s most comfortable, says Johnson, and be sure to really test them out.

“You should take off your shoes, take off your coat, and lay down,” he says. “And don’t just lay down – lay down in your favorite position. If you’re a back or a side sleeper, lay on your back or your side.”

Modern mattresses are slimming down, from the 24-inch pillowtops of a few years ago to about 9 to 13 inches. Customers have no problem using standard sheets on these. As for kids’ beds, use a mattress protector, advises Johnson. And since Junior’s growing, know that his mattress won’t last forever.

“You don’t need an adjustable Tempur-Pedic for a four-year-old, but don’t buy the race car bed, either,” says Johnson. “It’s just not comfortable, and it doesn’t last.”

As for bedroom furniture, Johnson sees more clients with new homes foregoing dressers. The extra space provides an opportunity for a comfy chair, or nothing at all. When customers do buy dressers, they’re less likely to buy attached mirrors. They may instead hang artwork, a decorative mirror or a flat-screen TV. In his own bedroom, Johnson is planning a similar move.

“There’s a painting on the opposite wall that I’ve never liked,” he says. “I’m taking down that painting and I’m going to move the mirror from the dresser, and hang it up on the wall.”

The Living Room/Family Room

Comfort and durability are top concerns in this favorite gathering space. When updating, first consider your major focal points, says Coleen Carlson, furniture designer at Benson Stone Co., 1100 Eleventh St., in Rockford. Then, draw a layout of the room and consider your personal tastes.

“Find an inspiration piece, like a picture in a magazine,” says Carlson. “Do some homework before you arrive, so the designers have an idea of what turns you on, style- and color-wise. There are so many styles to consider – are you modern or transitional? Do you have children, meaning you need cleanable fabric? Do you have pets?”

Today’s furniture style is eclectic. Long gone are the days of matching sets – pieces are unique, yet coordinated. Medium-dark and black-rubbed woods are popular, as is the reclaimed wood look, made popular by Restoration Hardware.

“The palette is still soft neutral – the tans, grays and creams,” says Carlson. “And then the pop of color comes through accessories like artwork, lamps, vases and area rugs.”

Don’t underestimate the impact of small elements, such as rugs and pillows. Asian and South American-inspired medallions and colors are ever-more present within upholstery, as are bold prints and colors.
Formal living rooms are waning in American homes, but many families still enjoy keeping a stylish room that’s always ready for drop-in visitors and is conducive to conversation. Comfort is not top-of-mind here, says Larry Watts, furniture supervisor at Benson Stone.

“The casual living area is where you have the plush seating arrangements. That’s where you sink down or squish into pure comfort to unwind,” says Watts. “In contrast, formal areas typically have furniture with firmer cushions and straighter backs. This makes sense, because these are rooms where conversation, not watching TV, is the main activity.”

Decor for formal rooms is returning to 1960s chic, with straight lines, bold colors and rigid furniture, says Watts.

While cheaper couches are made from lightweight chip board and foam, brands such as Flexsteel are built with a heavy furniture-grade plywood, durable steel seat supports and plush materials. High-quality sofas are expected to last a decade or longer.

“If you don’t use your sofa that often, a medium-quality brand will last a good long time,” says Watts. “But, if you use something day in and day out – say, in a main living area – you really need the better quality if you expect the piece to last over time.”

Along with new furniture, room updates may include painting walls, replacing floors and updating fireplaces. It’s easy for people to forget that even the latter is possible.

“Like everything else, a fireplace reflects the era in which it was built,” says Andy Benson, company president. “Some are still perfectly functional but very dated-looking. Many homeowners don’t realize that it’s pretty easy these days to update the look of a fireplace, thanks to some innovative materials. For example, Thin Stone and Thin Brick materials are an easy way to completely transform the look of your old fireplace. Both products are thin, lightweight and easily affixed to an existing wall. And they look exactly the same as real stone or brick.”

Some fireplaces can use a functional update, too. Newer fireplace units are completely self-contained, so they won’t pull heated air from other rooms of your home and send it out the chimney.

“With energy-efficient models, the majority of the fireplace heat is being captured and blown back out into the room,” Benson explains. “You just flip a switch and enjoy a really beautiful fire that contributes to heating your home, like a mini-furnace, rather than making your furnace work harder.”

Dining: The Other Family Room

Newer dining rooms are shrinking in size, or becoming part of an open living space that flows seamlessly to other rooms.

“A lot of people, if they’re entertaining, want everyone at one table,” says Sylvia Vehmeier, owner of The Mill Furnishings, 9416 Wagner Road, Lena, Ill. “They don’t want a second table, where someone else has to sit. They want everyone together, if they’re entertaining with family.”

This trend is causing designers to put clutter out of sight and out of mind. Many newer tables have leaves that fold in beneath the table; some sideboards are wired for electrical outlets.

“We’re getting away from hutches with big displays for china,” says Vehmeier. Styles are generally moving away from bulky formal dining sets toward simple lines with minimal decoration.

Better lighting never hurts, either. Especially for her Galena-area clients, Vehmeier eliminates heavy draperies in favor of wide-open window views, accented with side panel drapes and functional blinds. For evening dinners, two chandeliers above the table add welcome light.

“That centered chandelier is getting passé,” explains Vehmeier, who recently opened a second location, Maggie Black, in Galena. “It helps to spread the light out across the room. Because they’re getting rid of the lighted china, homeowners need other sources to brighten up the room.”

Although dining sets have cleaner lines and little decoration, today’s dining areas are not dull. Their visual interest instead comes from the bright colors and bold patterns showing up on upholstery, walls and drapes.

“Sometimes the new paint colors are punchy oranges, purples, teals,” says Vehmeier. “Or they could be quiet neutrals. In Chicago, they may be taupe and black.” The neutrals may be punctuated by a color such as this year’s Pantone favorite, Radiant Orchid, or last year’s bright Emerald.

Patterns, too, are big and brash. Ikat is a fabric style with bold diamond patterns; it’s popular in southeast Asian and South American designs.

Modern tabletops are incorporating glass, hammered copper and even reclaimed lumber. This offers more opportunity to mix and match complementary styles. How does one do this successfully? For Vehmeier, it’s a matter of finding symmetry.

“You might put a nice reclaimed lumber tabletop with a simple chair,” she says. “You could use upholstered chairs in a cream fabric, or if you prefer, all chairs would be painted gray to match the table. The sideboard would be made from reclaimed lumber, with a similar style, or you could pick up the cream color from your chairs, and add it into the sideboard.”

Some brands are joining the mix-and-match bandwagon by offering build-your-own table styles. Canadel, for example, has about 40 finishes, with options for legs, tops, seats and more.

Once your new space is complete, don’t forget about it. “It should be a place to gather with family and friends over dinner,” says Vehmeier. “Don’t always eat at the kitchen table – use your dining room.”

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