5 Dirty Little Design Secrets

FrankFontanaDirtySecretsCoverInterior design on a budget? Don’t let your clients stress. Design expert Frank Fontana, a specialist in low-cost, high-style design, shares his techniques room-by-room and project-by-project in his new book Dirty Little Secrets of Design (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; November 2010).

In the book, Fontana analyzes several beautiful homes, dissects the individual design components of each room, and applies his “Look for Less” principle to help readers build their own look on a budget. The book also includes more than 40 DIY projects that are accessible and doable for readers of various skill levels, such as a multipurpose ottoman, a custom display case, unique artwork make from reclaimed items, and more. Plus, he gives advice on how to be a savvy shopper when looking for home decor items or furniture, leaving readers with practical decorating and fabricating techniques.


Here are five of Fontana’s Dirty Little Secrets of Design:

1. Work with one small space at a time. Advise your clients to create vignettes and groupings of seating furniture that provide additional conversation areas and help break up a room. Don’t just throw a comfy sofa in a room next to a hand-me-down coffee table and call it a day; it will feel empty.

2. There’s no need to fumigate. Try using low-VOC paint (VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds, and paints low in them are better for the environment and less harsh on your nose.) For a cheaper, homegrown solution, drop a few squirts of vanilla extract into the paint can, and breathe easier. (Note: The fumes are only masked, not eliminated.) It won’t affect the color.

3. Exit courtesy. There is one piece of furniture that Fontana considers essential to an entryway — a chair. People need a place to sit down while they put their shoes on, he says. Other seating, like a bench or a window seat, is preferable, but if you’re dealing with a small space, then a chair is 10 times as good as letting your guests hop around on one foot pulling on their shoes. Another great thing to keep in tan entryway – a shoehorn. If guests have an easy place to tie their shoes before they leave, it will make their memory of your home that much better.

4. Let your work inspire you. The office is one of the best spaces for DIY projects and a personal touch. Think about it: Would you rather work around some anonymous store-bought set of furniture, or with something that was made with your own hands? Imaging having the undeniable evidence of the things you can achieve surrounding you as you work… it’s a great way to throw self-doubt to the curb, Fontana writes.

5. Measure twice. The kitchen, because of cabinetry, makes vertical space more precious than usual. When your clients purchase countertop appliances, advise them to pay attention to all their dimensions — height especially. For tall items like a mixer, home owners will want to be careful and make sure they can stow it deep in the counter, under the cabinets, when it’s not in use. It’s a good rule-of-thumb not to own any appliances that are taller than the height between the counter and the lowest cabinet.

About the author: Frank Fontana is the host and lead designer for one of HGTV’s longest-running, top-rated design shows, Design on a Dime, and is regularly featured on NBC’s Today show. Fornana is a contributing writer for Oprah.com’s “home 4 design” section. He is also a contributing expert to design-related publications and media outlets nationwide. Fontana lives in Chicago.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Breaking up conversation spaces is my favorite suggestion in this post! Having variety in seating lets buyers see potential that they may not have the experience to recognize otherwise.

    Great ideas on creating a user friendly entryway!