When it comes to figuring out personal style, savvy interior designer Oscar Zuniga takes a customized approach. He realizes that people want to update their spaces, without necessarily doing a huge overhaul. To help them, he likes to start in their closets.
"If you show me your closet, I can see what styles you love," says Zuniga, of Houston-based Oscar Zuniga Interiors. "Maybe you love color or a certain look. People often dress like their homes."
He wants his clients to feel comfortable in their living spaces — after all, a home should feel welcoming to its occupants. When it comes to quick updates on a home, Zuniga has a few tricks up his sleeve that he uses to bring out the personalities of his clients and create a unique space they'll love.
A splash of color
"Paint is the easiest, most practical, effective way to see change [in a space] right away," says the designer, who founded his firm four years ago. "But it's not just about painting the walls. You can paint the furniture. Once, I got this huge canvas for a client and painted it and set it against a wall with two chairs and a table in front of it." The latter option, he says, is a great idea for someone who may like a pop of color, but doesn't quite want to go all-in and paint four walls some wild blue or red.
By changing out the color on a coffee table or a bookcase, he says, a room gets an instant upgrade and a fresh look. Spot painting like that also helps people see how they can gradually make other, larger changes to their homes. In the interim, it's a low-commitment way to give a space a fresher feel.
A new shift
When Zuniga meets with his clients, he likes to walk through their homes with them, not just walking into a room and standing in it, talking to them about the space, but following them on a mock daily routine. It helps him understand the way people use their homes, and knowing that kind of traffic flow can help home dwellers consider how if they're using the furniture in their rooms to maximum effect.
"Not everyone likes the look of two couches facing each other," he says, noting that that look is often a design default. But moving on from those couches to another space in the same room — or out of it altogether gives the room a whole new feel. "You have to adjust things to how you live," he says. That means a pedestal table that's been hiding in an attic might now become a perfect accent piece in the corner of a room. Moving where the dressers are in the bedroom can create space and make the room flow better.
Love your layers
As with clothes, layering allows for easy updates to a home look. "To me, the idea of laying is to bring objects you love into the look of the room," he says. He might add a stack of a client's beloved books to a coffee table or put trinkets with special meaning next to a vase to create a multi-layered visual. Perhaps there's a chair in the corner of a room that gets layered by the addition of a throw or a pillow, and then the entire look of the corner is augmented by a screen or table with funky art pieces on it.
Or, a shelf can be put up that serves as the foundation for a series of family heirlooms and photos. "Sometimes, you just know that certain objects are attracted to each other," he says. "When you follow your gut, these kinds of favorite pieces find their right home."
Let there be light
Like layering, lighting make a room pop. And switching up the lighting game, Zuniga says, is a quick way to give a space a reboot. "Even just changing light bulbs from regular soft white to led lighting can make a brighter impact and a cooler feel to the room," he says. "You can also change the lamp shades in your living space to create a more eccentric feel."
He also recommends adding additional upper or lower recess lighting to art pieces, which helps create a more uplifting feel to those pieces. Lamps can offer a pop of personality to a nightstand or a coffee table that overhead lighting might not. And lighting different parts of a room in different ways can also achieve a new look.
"Art is definitely a way to express your style and personality and does well on any space vibe," says Zuniga. But that doesn't have to mean going out and buying an expensive painting. People can hang their own creations, he says, which gives an instant personal feel to a space.
Clustering family photos or images of beloved places offers a focal point in a space and also showcases the homeowner's personality. "One way to create art on a budget is to buy fabric to add color and pattern to a room," he says. "Plus, varying the textures in a gallery wall will add interest and depth to the space."
Zuniga understands that home is a personal space and a deeply individualized concept.
"When your house doesn't feel like your home, call a professional," he says. "I had a client who had this beautiful home, by anyone's definition, but she felt no connection to the space. Once I understood who she was and what she wanted in a home, we were able to give her a look that was hers."
Zuniga also understands that people may not have the vocabulary to say what they want in a space or what design trend speaks to them. Designers, he notes, can interpret the right ideas to give clients what they need. Most of all, he adds, updating a home's look doesn't have to mean gigantic changes. Sometimes, it's the smallest details and touches that have the biggest impact.