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Stop Seeing Your Furniture as a One-Trick Pony

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Design books can be many things: Oversized and hardbound, the most visually compelling beg to be browsed page by page by page—the kind of aimless dream-life ogling that's reserved for Saturday mornings and Sunday eves. And while plenty of monographs are worth reading cover to cover, even smart and poetic words can feel tedious when you're trying to figure out how to hold a huge book in your hands without creasing its gorgeous pictures.

Rarely, it feels, does a design book achieve both heady, gobsmacking photography and stories that drive the ideas home without belittling them. But in Barb Blair's new book, Furniture Makes the Room, you get it all—aspirational images, clear and sound design advice, anecdotes that bring it to life, and tutorials you could follow should you want to truly get the look. Whether you want a design book for dreaming or for doing, this one will do the trick.

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And speaking of tips, we found a ton of them: Here are ten of our favorite decorating ideas that we're stealing from the photography in Furniture Makes the Room. (If you're interested in making your furniture look like hers, she shares step-by-steps in the book!)

Fear not the bright area rug.

Whites, neutrals, greys, and browns are all the rage right now—especially in the world of underfoot decor (think lime-stained wood floors, jute rugs, etc.). But a brighter rug can provide just the dose of friendliness your black and brown furniture is calling for, without feeling like a random "pop."

Crates and drawers can be shelves.

Our Managing Editor Kenzi soft-sold you on this idea a few weeks ago with an IKEA hack of her own. But should you need further convincing, just note how nicely a whole cluster of rummaged ones shows off stacks of plates and teacups.

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Use a leaning ladder for hanging storage.

Whether you loop plants or dishtowels over the rungs, a simple leaning ladder (like the one pictured in the book, made by Lostine, which we, by very happy coincidence, sell in our Shop) takes up nominal square footage while looking very nice.

A desk lamp can become a floor lamp.

A small stool, a stump, or even a true plaster pedestal can literally give a lamp legs: If you need more light in the middle of a room but don't have a floor lamp, simply prop up a smaller one on a steady base.

Use a console as a side table.

In a small space especially, every inch counts. Double your gain by nudging a comfy chair right up beside a console table against the wall: You can add decorations to the table, and also set your mug there (on a coaster, of course!).

Use a coffee table as a bookshelf (or T.V. stand).

Proper television consoles tend to look more technical than stylish, but a coffee table will do the same job with ease. If you're not a T.V. person, use your wall-adjacent coffee table for books—the fact that it's close to the floor will feel cozy and nook-ish, so much so that you might even sit down at it to jot a note.

Replace some dining room chairs with a long bench.

Whether or not you can get your hands on a well-worn church pew is your business; standard benches are a little easier to come by. But the effect of swapping in either is a little more casual and communal than a traditional 12-top (and you'll be able to squeeze in another person at the dinner party without worrying about seating).

Put a dresser in the dining room.

Besides giving this traditionally formal room a more casual edge, this move will offer storage space (for linens! plates! centerpiece odds and ends!).

Set up a desk wherever you have space.

The IRS defines a home office as a part of your home that you regularly and exclusively use to conduct business—there's some fine print involved, but nowhere does it say that this office can't be part of your living room. If you're short on space, a desk in the living room can be an attractive, multifunctional addition to the room.

Clear shelves out of a dresser to turn it into a bookshelf.

A dresser with a few damaged drawers doesn't have to be a throwaway: Paint the inside with a lighter tone of paint than the exterior, as Barb did, or paint the whole thing one color. Then stock it up with books and knick-knacks for display.

Images by Paige French from Furniture Makes the Room by Barb Blair, save for the photo of the Lostine ladder, by James Ransom.

Tags: Furniture Makes the Room, furniture design, room design