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A Design Guru Answers Our Burning Questions

Maxwell Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, shares how he’d fix these five common conundrums

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Apartment Therapy, Maxwell Ryan’s wildly successful home design site, inspires readers all over the world to get creative with their interior décorThere simply isn’t a design challenge that he can’t unravel. So, in honor of the just-released Apartment Therapy: Complete + Happy HomeDuJour put Ryan to the test. Below, he solves our top five house and home questions.

How can one create a modern kitchen with a unique edge?

Only put in lower cabinets. Don’t put in upper cabinets. They are very traditional.  Just put open shelving instead. Paint the wall behind the shelves in a dark color, so you get this great contrast. Then, the things on the shelves will really stand out against it. 

What details can one add to a rental to make it feel more like home?

Honestly, I am a fan of putting curtains in. I put them up by myself and I find they make it feel super homey. And the curtains can go anywhere. Sometimes you have to get a new rod length for a different window, but the curtains keep coming with me.  I think artwork is the most important thing in any home, but most importantly a rental. I find that when I move, everything is replaceable except the artwork. As every year goes by, I have another something lovely that makes it feel like home. If you have great art, it should really just be framed. Just frame it and hang it on the wall. 

What makes a vast space feel cozier?

When people say homey or cozy, what they really mean is they want it to be warm and comfortable—and that means to the eye, to the touch and to the ear. For the eye, you need to have good lighting; that means using three points of light in every room.  For touch, I use natural fibers—textiles, upholstered sofa, rugs or curtains—those things make a difference. And for sound, hard surfaces echo, so it’s sort of a similar thing where textiles are concerned.  Rugs or curtains of any kind will help dampen sound. When you add a lot of soft surfaces, that will make it feel homey as well. 

What’s the trick to picking the perfect area rug?

You don’t need to play it safe with a rug. You can play it safe with a sofa. You may not want to paint bright colors on your wall, but a rug you can go a lot further with. As far as what’s practical, if it is inside your house, a good wool rug will last years. And when I say a good wool rug, I mean hand-knotted, not machine-made. Machine-made wool rugs don’t last long at all. The fibers are so stripped of the natural lament that they tend to absorb any stain and you can’t clean them. And the bigger, the better. The rug is always going to be in the center of the room. Meaning whatever table, sofa, or chair that you are going to put on it, it’s going to center on that rug. So, it either defines the inside or the outside. You’ll get a much more luxurious, softer feeling all around with a big rug.

And a trick for picking window treatments?

Ideally, you would always have a roller shade and curtains. The roller shade is more for the light, and the curtains are more for extra light and also for sound, coziness and warmth. I like to do a translucent or solar shade, so the light comes through and you can filter the light. The curtains are always open and you pull them only if you really want to just block out all the light.

Main image by Melanie Acevedo. Reprinted from Apartment Therapy Complete and Happy Home. Copyright © 2015 by Apartment Therapy, LLC

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