DIY interior design tips from the decor doctor

Story highlights

  • Start simple: Hanging artwork lower on the wall will improve any room
  • More DIY decor tips: Don't ignore the door, paint it!
  • Turn it down -- bright light is the enemy
Want to elevate your home without taking on a complete overhaul? Interior decorator Nick Olsen -- DIY whisperer and master of the cheap trick -- reveals the little tweaks that make the biggest impact.
Real Simple: How did you get started in this field?
Nick Olsen: Right after getting my architecture degree, I read about the designer Miles Redd in a magazine. I was so blown away by his bold aesthetic and everything he'd accomplished by the age of 35 that I wrote him a letter asking for a meeting. Two weeks later, I had my first full-time job, as his assistant. It was fate!
Real Simple: What's one quick change that will improve any room?
Olsen: Lower the artwork. People tend to hang it too high; it should be at eye level. And don't worry about having something on each wall. It's better to cluster art in one or two spots than to spread it out.
Real Simple: Decorating a huge room can be intimidating. How do you deal with soaring spaces?
Olsen: My philosophy is to fill them with large-scale furniture and art. If you're a less-is-more type, go for one massive piece, like an amazing painting over the sofa.
Real Simple: Suppose you can't afford art that big?
Olsen: Buy a blank canvas and paint it yourself. Pick the most interesting color in the room (as long as it's not already the dominant color) and just cover the canvas in that shade, using the same paint you'd use for walls. There's no way to mess this up, and it costs next to nothing. Google [famed abstract artist] Ellsworth Kelly for inspiration. He has pieces like this hanging in the Whitney Museum.
Real Simple: Any tips for jazzing up a minuscule space?
Olsen: Nearly every room has a door. Work it. Paint it a glossy black: It takes only two hours and gives a room instant sass but won't eat up any valuable real estate.
Real Simple: Say you can revamp only one room. How do you keep the rest of the place from looking shabby?
Olsen: Fiercely edit the undone rooms. Get rid of the junk; keep only essentials. You'll be poised to redecorate when the time comes—and until then your rooms will feel calmer. Tell visitors you're experimenting with minimalism.
Real Simple: What do you always want to fix when you go into someone's living room?
Olsen: The floor plan and lighting!
Real Simple: Break that down for us.
Olsen: A good living room needs a comfortable place to sit, a place to rest your drink, and a place to read a book. But people default to the school-dance arrangement, where everything is pushed back against the walls. So I start by moving the furniture closer together, toward the center of the room. Then I fill out the arrangement with occasional chairs and tables to create functional seating areas. It makes the space feel so much more intimate and conversational.
Real Simple: And for the lighting?
Olsen: If we've learned anything from the movie Gremlins, it's that bright light is the enemy. Install dimmers, or change your bulbs to extra-soft white 40-watt bulbs. That $30 investment makes a huge difference.
Real Simple: What if you have a room that just feels blah?
Olsen: A common feature of boring rooms is a lack of color. Start there, and think from the ground up. Buy a patterned rug you love: here's your palette. Go for a geometric dhurrie if you like modern, or multicolored stripes if you're more tr