GIMME SHELTER-Get set up: How to arrange your rooms

Caroline Macdonell Minsky, the Artful Lodger

Q: We just moved into our new place, and I'm exhausted. Plus, I dont know the first thing about decorating. Any good tips?

A: Your first question should be what is the function of the room? Ideally, your room should be both functional and attractive, but its important to decide who will be using the space. Family members? Kids? Pets? This will help you in deciding what fabrics to use in designing the room.

First, start with the largest pieces. When youve just moved in, you need a good place to sit and look at all those boxes! Of course, the largest pieces in the room will be your walls and floor. If youve already painted the walls and are happy with the floor, then youre ready to move on to the furniture.

Generally, I like to start with a sofa or a pair of chairs. Again, when trying to decide what sofa to choose, think about who's going to be using the space. This will probably be the hardest decision, but once youve made it, the room will come together much more easily.

Is this a room where youll be watching TV? Looking at your mountain views? Or both? Generally, I dont recommend designing your room around a TV or electronics, but to each his own. Most people will put their sofa against the longest wall, but dont be afraid to move it around to find out if theres another place where it might look better.

Next, youll want to put your feet up. That means getting a cocktail table or a cocktail ottoman. Now, sit back at look at all those beautiful boxes!

Now, you can create what I call a conversation circle. Across from the sofa and ottoman, put a great pair of chairs. Chairs really ground a room, and you can always move them around. Now you have your conversation circle!

"Filling in" follows. At this point, I recommend decorating like youre going to have a party by trying to imagine where everyone would put their drinks. A bookshelf there, an end table here, a chair over there, etc. How could you make everyone in the room comfortable? Also, youll want to dot lamps around the room. Overhead lighting doesnt provide the intimacy of lamplight. Although lamps work well in pairs, its fine to use one at a time. Try flanking your sofa with lamps and end tables.

Of course, you could do all this and still have a boring room. Thats when its time to accent with books, art, pillows, a colorful throw on the sofa, or anything else that makes your house personal. Ideally, your accents should reflect your personality, whether it's a collection of sea shells, old bottles, or Civil War memorabilia.

Caroline Macdonell Minsky