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The Dark Side of Decorating: The Danger of Impulse Purposes

“If proportion is the good breeding of architecture, symmetry, or the answering of one part to another, may be defined as the sanity of decoration.” 

--Edith Wharton 

Every  dedicated shopper knows the feeling: the strange rush you feel when you are about to make what is known as an “impulse purchase”--an item you’ve just seen for the first time, but suddenly set your heart on--rather like having sex in an elevator with some impossibly handsome guy you only just met. Except that the elevator tryst doesn’t (usually) involve installing the stranger in your home.


If the impulse purchase we are talking about is an expensive piece of clothing, at least you have the chance to try it on in the dressing room to see if it looks good on  you. But if it is an item of home decor--whether it is something as major as a sofa, or a smaller accessory, such as a vase--a rushed purchase, no matter how passionate, is ill-advised.  Adding something new to your interior involves measurement and visualization, and there is no dressing room for sofas and vases.  

Of course, impulse is not all bad. If you have an instantaneous positive reaction to an  item  you see in a store, it might be rather like what we call love at first sight: a lightning-speed recognition that someone--or something--is meant for us. Your first, overwhelming desire to possess the object may well be the beginning of an abiding relationship with it, a purchase you will never regret, a glad feeling that you made it part of your home. 

Here is a guide to implementing your desires in a practical way, to deciding--before you plunk down your cash or credit card--whether a dream discovery is appropriate for your interior. And remember, there’s always another bus--or settee, or lamp, or painting--coming along, so don’t be rash with a big investment unless you have, as we suggest here, measured and visualized its suitability for your home. 


Measure twice, purchase once. If it is a really large item such as a sofa, credenza, or dining table, or even a smaller item, like a bedside or coffee table,  you should carry with you at all a times a drawing of the your apartment’s floor plan, complete with measurements of every nook and cranny of wall space, doorways, windows, and alcoves. 

You must also bear in mind, that beyond bare measurement, there is the much subtler question of proportion: the harmonious relationship between the new piece of furniture and those you have already, a relationship you really can’t always figure out in advance. Sometimes  you need to actually bring the new piece into your apartment to see how it interacts with your existing furniture.  


If you are a confirmed impulse shopper, try to limit your decorating impulse purchases to accent objects. But even these can be treacherous. If, for example,  you have a collection of Scandinavian ceramics, and you want to introduce a new one, the relative color, size and shape of each member of the whole group is relevant. The best thing to do before buying the ceramic is to take a photograph of it and bring it home to compare it to your existing collection, for color, surface pattern, etc.  Also, you should measure the vessel/object in the store and compare these measurements when you get home.  

If you know the dealer of the ceramic (or whatever type of object it is), they may be willing to let you take it home for a trial installation. You will likely be required to leave a credit card imprint for the value of the object, and the “loan” will typically be for just a few days. But this arrangement is well worth the trouble, enabling you to see the item in situ before making final payment for it. This sort of arrangement might apply to lamps, pillows, small sculptures, and even works of art. 


There is no better opportunity to find truly unusual, one-of-a-kind treasures for your home than when you are traveling. From the flea markets of Paris and Portobello Road in London, to the tiny, dusty vendors of antiquities in Rome, and the exciting souks of Morocco, you will be tempted as never before to make impulse purchases. And when you travel, staying perhaps only a day or two in one place, a snap decision regarding an item is necessary and even appropriate. The impulse shopper does not want to be mourning for the rest of the trip over the one that got away. 

Your first criterion should be portability, which, if you are a true impulse shopper, you will balk at, wanting somehow to ship home the antique armoire, dining table, or settee  you found. Shipping or sending by air a single large-scale item is prohibitively expensive. And the same rules of measurement and visualization apply as discussed above. 

You are far better off finding small ornaments in your travels which you can bring home in your suitcase. Choose  something--a beautifully engraved ancient coin; a Tibetan hanging--which speaks to you of the place you have visited. But remember, you can’t return it! 


4. ART 

Art must inhabit its architectural and decorative context gracefully. We are accustomed to viewing contemporary art in the proverbial “white box” of an art gallery, but if we are going to situate it in our home, entirely different rules apply. Art for art’s sake people don’t want to admit that a painting needs to look good above your sofa, or that a sculpture has to fit on your mantelpiece, but such rules simply defer to the contextual reality of  having art in the home rather than a neutral gallery space.  


A rug is an unwise thing to buy on impulse, period. You should consider a rug, particularly a large area rug, as a part of the architecture of your apartment, not an easily detached ornament. Buying a rug is integral to the planning of your entire interior scheme. 


A rug, ideally, should be the very first piece of furnishing you consider buying, even before a sofa and chairs. As with everything, measure carefully. Draw your ideal rug size into the furniture plan we mentioned above.  

Then think about colors and pattern, material and weave, knowing that whatever you choose must coordinate well with your later design decisions.  

And, we advocate a further step: if possible, take the rug home on approval and see how it influences your space. Does it create a serene mood? Are its color or colors ones you really want to live with?  


Paint is one of the very easiest impulse purchases to avoid. The truly rampaging shopper will see all those endless samples in the paint store and be beguiled by all of them, knowing that a color scheme permits only a few at most.  

Bring home all the sample cards you want and look at them in your apartment, in the light at various times of day and in whatever artificial light you use (we hope it’s beautiful LED or incandescent indirect lighting from lamps). 


This rule is self-explanatory, but bears comment. The wonder and difficulty of decorating is that its rules are made to broken, but only with inspiration, verve, and, of course, a good eye. If your impulse purchase is fueled by passionate love, go for it!

Artfully mixed and matched, Shop Decorator’s wide selection of rugs, drapes and pillows are available in thirty subtle shades and myriad textures and patterns. At Shop Decorator, home is not only a place, but an experience, the setting most central to our families, friendships and visual adventures. Sign up to receive our newsletter with special offers!

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