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There's always room for richness

A challenge for home decorators with a small budget is how to achieve a feeling of richness in a room that is all but characterless. New York decorator Teri Seidman says use the good stuff, sparingly but dramatically _ antique furnishings, luxury fabrics and accessories.

A few expensive needlepoint pillows, a small item of antique furniture, a collection of porcelain or crystal or a paisley shawl made from a yard of fabric and some trimming contribute far more than their cost to the overall effect of a room, she says.

Seidman put some of her best ideas to work in a nursery at Kinkora, a Westhampton, N.Y., mansion that was decorated as a charity showhouse. The room earned her an award from the American Society of Interior Designers.

A novel theme is one of the best ways to give a room distinction, Seidman says. For example, she chose a vivid black and white scheme for the nursery, then subordinated most of the other details to this theme. The ceiling is tented in black and white striped fabric; $3-a-yard white lining fabric is shirred on rods on the walls, and the rug is white with a black and white print border.

"Black and white is actually more appropriate than the typical pastel schemes for children's room because high color contrasts are more stimulating," she says.

To soften the strong color contrast somewhat, Seidman used peach as a secondary color, and the furniture is in bleached woods.

In general, says Seidman, co-author of the book, Decorating Rich (Villard Books, 1988), "a few rich details give the room a rich feeling, like good pearls on a plain black dress."

For example, in the nursery, she uses an expensive tassel on a cord used to hang artwork. Two French chairs and a framed architectural print also provide a feeling of luxury.

Within the boundaries of the general theme, rooms are more interesting when they hold a few surprises. An ornate Venetian console with a pale peach marble top is her unorthodox choice for a changing table. If this strikes some mothers as impractical for a wriggling infant, she suggests using a reproduction or antique base with a padded foam top added or a wicker reproduction or antique piece.

Any nursery needs shelves and drawers to hold toys and clothes, so a wall of the room is devoted to storage. The existing cupboards were painted white and fitted with new particle board shelves by a closet installer.

Seidman says there are many products on the market that can be used to add interest to dull rooms. Fabric _ and lots of it _ is one. She favors shirred fabric walls. It's also possible to staple fabric flat to the walls, thus eliminating the sewing.

Ready-made moldings can be added to featureless walls and painted a contrasting color. Screens covered in antique or reproduction fabric or wallpaper also create interesting surfaces.

Wallpaper borders in unexpected places, such as along the top of the baseboards, around a door frame or around the window frame, work well too. Paint the baseboard a different color from the wall, or give it a special finish such as marbleizing.

Wood floors can be given luxury treatment with paint _ a faux border of marquetry and a medallion in the center. Coat the floor with polyurethane to make it durable. Copy designs from old books and antique furniture.

A handmade or antique accessory such as a rug or lacquered box lends distinction. "Handwork has a labor-intensive quality that adds something important," Seidman says. In museum shops, she sometimes finds authentic reproductions that retain the handmade feeling but are less costly than originals.

One of the most luxurious details in decorating is interesting lighting. All lighting should be on dimmers so lighting levels can be varied, she says. This change alone often transforms a room for the better.

Another secret is the degree of care that goes into selecting the finishes. It is important to see paint and fabric together in the room in which they will be used. Invest in a quart of paint and a yard of fabric to try them together in the room before proceeding further.

A small expenditure early on will minimize the chance of expensive failures later.