The more I looked, the more I realized; there are tons of great design ideas you can copy from a lovely hotel. Hotels use the same good design principles that we've all read about and try to ape, just on a very big level. The same ideas, redone small, work for any home decorator, too.
Take this vignette in a corner of the lobby (I've included my blue shoulder bag, on the tabletop, so you can see the huge scale of these pieces). Basically, it's just an overgrown console table, a picture, and two wall sconces:
And the takeaway, here? I see two:
Takeaway #1: Symmetry is good. A picture exactly centered over a table, a couple of wall sconces symmetrically flanking an alcove: Well, anybody can copy that. This arrangement would work at the end of a hallway, or along an otherwise neglected wall in your living room, or in your entryway, if you're lucky enough to have one.
Takeaway #2: Use big, eye-catching artwork. This is easy to do:
Thisart is just a series of smaller canvases, hung cheek-by-jowl. Anybody can do this! Go to Michael's or Hobby Lobby or whatever craft or art store is in your area. Buy four or six or eight square, prestretched canvases. Maybe yours won't be this big. Maybe you only have room on your wall for four; That's okay. Grab a bunch of acrylic paints and some cheap brushes, and let your imagination run wild. (If your imagination is too timid to run wild just yet, then copy the patterns above, in your own color scheme. I promise not to tell!)
Be sure to wrap the paint around the edges of the canvas, because the color will be visible from the sides.
Then hang them up so they butt together and voila! You've got unique, eye-catching artwork.
Here's another lesson you can copy easily:
Takeaway #3: Cover the dirt in potted plants with something attractive. Here's a very pretty plant:
Around the base of the plant, where the bare dirt would otherwise show, a few very inexpensive shell necklaces have been draped:
A totally copy-able idea! You have my permission.
Here's a second dirt-cover-upper. Simple, tumbled river rocks. (I uncovered the pot a little so you can see how it's tucked into the larger, ornamental pot:
Well, heck. Your local building-supply store has these, and in many colors and textures. Go get 'em:
I love this little grouping of chairs and tables at the end of a huge, long loggia (below). I love anything blue, of course; but what I'm loving here is how copy-able this idea is. Place seating for two or three opposite seating for two or three more (and it could be two chairs opposite a loveseat, or two chairs opposite two chairs). In between, in place of the expected, static coffee table, scatter three small tables.
Takeaway #4: Break up static arrangements of furniture with pieces that throw the arrangement "off" a little.
Three round tables like these might be too much for the average living room. But think three tiny cocktail tables instead. Or three of those ceramic garden stools. Extra bonus points if you can find them with storage, like drawers, or lids that lift off!
Takeaway #5: When in doubt about what color to do next, look for a multi-hued thing in the room (in this case, the rug, below) and lift a less-used hue out of it (in this case, the rug's skinny blue stripe). Use that same color in a larger application (in this case, the cabana-striped chair cushions).
The effect is very pulled-together:
On the wall near this seating group, I noticed several lessons in this piece of art:
Takeaway #6: Add gravitas and importance to a piece of art by surrounding it with lots of matting and a simple, understated frame.
This may or may not be some fancy-shmancy woodblock print by an important artist; I don't know. What I DO know, though, is you can replicate this look with a couple of pieces of hand-made paper from your local good artists'-supply store, a bottle of ink, a tapered watercolor brush, and plenty of white space. There's white space around the outer third of the art, itself.
And there's more white space behind the art in the generous-sized matting.
Directly below the art, above, I admired this console table, and two more takeaway lessons popped up.
Takeaway #7: Intriguing details support your room's overall "theme." My eyes were drawn first to the table's legs, which look like stylized pineapples--perfect for a Hawaiian hotel.
Say you desire a cowboy-country kitchen; Look for wormy wood, worked leather, aged metal fittings--things that look like chicken-coop mesh or horse tack or old barbed wire. If you're trying to recreate Paris in your powder room, look for mirrored or gilded items that sparkle like the City of Lights, or aged metals that evoke its ancient roots. If you yen for Zen in your bedroom, find things that have a bamboo accent, or rope or raffia details, or that incorporate worn river rocks, like these nifty bathroom "rugs," below:
photo credit: webellion
Anyhoo, back to the console table. Embedded in it--literally!--was...
Takeaway #8: Use materials that hark back to Nature, like the tabletop on the console:
I couldn't tell if this was legit stone with thousands of tiny shell fossils in it, or a facsimile made of concrete and shell shapes. But if I can't tell, chances are your guests can't, either.
Then I wandered out to the garden area. You can't go far in Hawaii without seeing beautiful flowers, like this orchid:
Which was part of a huge branch of orchids:
Which was in turn part of a gigantic pot of orchids:
Which was, in turn, one of a number of identical pots planted with the identical orchid, marching down the length of the lobby. The effect was smashing! Aaaand, the lesson is:
Takeaway #9: Repeat the same plants for maximum effect in a garden. (Too many different things going on in a garden can end up looking like what Christopher Lowell calls "visual dandruff.")
Also while outside, I came across a vignette that reminded me of my high-school art teacher, Jerry Dunphe.
Mr. Dunphe was the first person to teach me that a small spot of vivid color counterbalances a large swath of another, duller color. It works in the garden, too:
Takeaway #10: Small spots of intense color in a garden can counterbalance a whole lotta green. And it's easy to do if you have a plant this vivid:
Right across the drive from the crazy magenta plant (above), I ran into another design lesson, done in plants.
Takeaway #11: When decorating in all white, be sure to vary the textures to maintain visual interest. Here, the bougainvillea is doing the job. Because it's thorny, leafy...
And while on the subject of white, here's yet another design lesson rendered in flowers:
Takeaway #12: When confronted with a shady or low-light spot, put something white.
In this dark area under a border of native greens, it's done with Impatiens. In a dark landing or hallway at home, it might be accomplished with a bright-white painted piece of furniture:
Across the parking lot, my eye was drawn to this gorgeous variegated bougainvillea:
Underneath the bougainvillea grows this fantastical flower that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book:
The effect of the two very different flowers, in the same shade, is stunning. And so...
Takeaway #13: Maintain a tight color palette in the garden, repeating the same one or two colors in different shapes and forms.
And finally I rounded back to the lobby of the hotel, where I came up with my final design tip.
Takeaway #14: If you have a large expanse of floors, rent a Zamboni: