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A bit of free winter-decorating advice

SHARE A bit of free winter-decorating advice

Free advice seekers are the bane of every professional at cocktail parties. I'm bemused when I overhear someone ask a doctor about the pain in his ankle or when a tax attorney is questioned about loopholes by a partygoer, martini in hand.

But, however much I feel for others in such situations, as a design expert and inveterate enthusiast about all things design, I adore dispensing whatever advice I can about decorating dilemmas.

And, as a veteran advice-giver from my Home & Garden Television chat rooms, Bassett Furniture design seminars, appearances on "Oprah Winfrey" and "Today," and, of course, my weekly column in your newspaper, I love sharing with people the words of wisdom from the dean of decorators, Billy Baldwin, who professed there are no rules in decorating, only guidelines.

One thing I've learned about decorating problems is that they are not usually suffered in a vacuum. Anyone with a home (apartments or dorm rooms also suffice) and stuff and/or other people sharing the space is going to run into a problem or two occasionally, and others will relate.

So here are some of the questions I was confronted with during recent holiday fetes and the solutions I suggested:

Question: We just took down our tree, put away the lights and packed up the ornaments, Santa collectibles and mantle decorations and now my family complains that the house and the living room in particular seem cold and not very welcoming. What can I do to provide a little homey comfort and cheer and get us through the rest of the winter?

Answer: If you are like me and tend to decorate with soft, neutral colors, one element that often feels missing when the ornaments are put away is a touch of cheery red in your decor. Infusing red into your rooms adds warmth and color, especially necessary during the dark winter months.

You can add a splash of red by overlaying a sisal or neutral carpet with a red runner between furniture groupings or as a welcoming rug at the front door.

A solid red or paisley wool throw also will enliven sofas and chairs, as would red-striped or -checked pillows.

Other holiday touches that will be appreciated all winter are the inviting smells of fresh cedar, a log fire or mulled cider. You can keep these scents alive with fragrant candles, a simmering pot of cider on the stove and by keeping your fireplace active all winter.

At night, dine with candles; keep overhead lights low and ambient light glowing.

Remember, too, that Valentine's Day is coming up and dressing up the house for that holiday will re-create some of the Christmas cheer.

Question: My sons are both into music and have recently formed a band. Since my youngest son is the drummer and the drum set is the most difficult instrument to move, it makes sense that they practice at our house.

Unfortunately, the living room is the only room in the house that accommodates the drum set and is big enough for the band to set up for rehearsals. How can I still enjoy my living room, feel relaxed and entertain my friends when there is a drum set that dominates the room?

Answer: If the drum set is inevitable — or maybe the new Christmas pool table, electric train set or oversized doll house — make it look as though it were a deliberate decorating choice and not something stuck there for your inconvenience.

Don't line your furniture up around the walls with the drums (or whatever) in the middle of the room.

Divide and conquer. Rearrange the furniture to create a cozy seating arrangement in front of the hearth, surrounding a bay of windows, or at one end of the room that divides the room into two or more spaces and is separate from the drums.

If your room is large enough, you can further visually divide the space with a folding screen or other furniture barrier. If not, edit out some furniture and store those pieces until you have your living room back.

Your sons and their band instruments won't be there for long in the whole scheme of things.

Be patient and let them remember you as the best parents with the house that was always welcoming.

Chris Casson Madden, host of the Home & Garden Television show "Interiors by Design," is also author of 13 books, including the newly released "Bedrooms," Clarkson Potter Publishers.