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Eclectic doesn't mean just thrown together

(ran HL edition)

It seems that Mom was right after all, just a little ahead of her time.

Mom comes from the old "set" school of decorating: living room set, bedroom set, dining room set. You know what I mean. Everything matches.

She also has vision. It popped up years ago when she decided to antique a small bookcase in her bedroom. I'm no fan of antiquing, but back then antiquing was a trend. Kits were on the market. Everyone was doing it. Mom decided to join in.

She chose a green to ivory finish and worked on that bookcase for hours in the basement. Really, the results weren't that bad at all, and it did offer an appealing contrast to the "set" look of the bedroom.

Although she didn't know it, Mom had gotten into the eclectic look of decorating. She was expressing a touch of personal style, allowing her imagination and personal taste to guide her.

Today, eclectic style dominates decorating. Sets, for most of us, are past tense _ way past tense. We're more independent. We're confident, not afraid to experiment with mixing styles and periods of furnishings and accessories, everything from Louis the something-or-other and Shaker to African masks or a shock absorber from a truck. It's what moves us.

Decorating in an eclectic style, if you do it correctly, is a process. It takes time to accumulate the right stuff. Unlike sets, it's not a matter of simply going out and buying a bunch of things, putting them in place, then saying "Gee, isn't that nice." Gee, it isn't.

True, you can mix almost anything you like _ that's the fun part of all of this _ but there are a few ground rules. Follow them, and you'll end up with a look that you will love, a look that reflects you.

No matter what you decide to use, there should be one single factor that unites the look, that ties it all together. Color is one option.

For instance, you might take a bunch of different kinds of dining chairs (that's the eclectic part) and paint them a single color. The color is up to you and might be drawn from another piece in the room _ a print on the wall perhaps.

Wall-to-wall carpeting or a large, dynamite area rug would serve the same purpose. They will act as a background, drawing everything together. The colors in what you choose for the room can be drawn from the floor coverings.

Incorporating white or cream-tone walls is another way to create a neutral background for an eclectic setting. They serve as a sort of artist's canvas. You do the creating.

Eclectic can reach as far down the decorating chain as you like, and it can go mighty deep.

Throw pillows, for example. Go ahead and mix pillows in mismatched fabrics and textures. Pull them together with color _ say, red striped pillows with others in red and white patchwork-quilt fabrics.

While you're doing all this _ and remember that it doesn't happen all at once; you've got collecting to do _ keep balance and proportion in mind.

Pick what you love but know that the real secret to eclectic is to come up with objects that play off one another in an interesting and unexpected way with contrasting textures, shapes and design origins.