Hunkering Down

On the chilliest fall day, we can still find warmth in the blazing autumn foliage. But when that dazzling display draws to a close, we face declining temps, fewer hours of daylight and many a gray-tinged day. Winter is our time to go inward—literally and figuratively. It is the time to shift our focus from the outdoors to the warmth and light inside, and embrace new opportunities. There are the practical tasks that will ready the house for the colder weather, and then there are ways to soothe senses and bring peacefulness and fulfillment to spirit. This five-step ritual to prepare homes for winter will send warmth and comfort in different ways to rooms and to daily lives.

Your windows’ winter wardrobe
Investing in a set of window treatments for the colder months will not only give your rooms great style for the season, but will also provide insulation, privacy and light control. This can be done quite easily by keeping it simple and classic. Switch out the summer sheers or breezy linen panels to plush velvet or lined silk drapes. Moving toward a deeper tone such as mocha, loden or merlot will transform the space, enveloping the room in richness.

Sue Muratori, Project Manager at Robert Allen, a design trade showroom and “Soft Home” workroom in Woodbury, teamed up with Holly Brand Interiors on just such a window project. “We actually left the summer sheers in place and added another layer of panels that we lined and interlined for softness, soundproofing and warmth. By choosing a vibrant ikat print in autumnal tones we were able to transition the home for fall and winter. And to give the homeowner a one-of-a-kind, custom look, we added a three-inch band to the edge of the draperies with a different, brick-colored print fabric.”

imageOther Robert Allen fabrics perfect for winter window treatments are the Larry Laslo “Wool Suit” collection, available in eight handsome colors, and also a “Plaid Wool” fabric in bright jewel tones. Robert Allen also features sumptuous Beacon Hill fabrics, offering beautiful velvets and silks from the Old World Silk collection or the sophisticated Animal Skins collection. “These luxurious fabrics can be used in unique combinations such as an animal print cornice with velvet or wool draperies,” says Muratori. Dawn Oliveira, owner and Creative Director of Oliveira Textiles based in Bristol, RI, is always creating new patterns for new types of cloth. “Warm colors in fabrics—printed or solid—can really help create an inviting space. We like mixing the rich colors of the season with our signature eco-greens,” says Oliveira. “Don’t be afraid to dress up your windows in some pattern, especially a tone on-tone color combination of marigold and deep cream or wild plum and taupe.”

Prep your closets
The winter season brings with it a mountain of coats, a slew of accessories and a barrage of boots. And bedroom closets blazers. Custom closet design has become an essential way to take the often inadequate space allotments of homes built 40-plus years ago and create new configurations tailor-made to the individual’s or family’s needs and wants. Bonnie Reich, founder of Huntington-based Symmetry Closets says, “We can incorporate shelves for folded sweaters and special spaces for boots in a bedroom closet. Drawers work well for gloves and hats in a coat closet, and hooks are very desirable for families as they make it easy for children to hang up their jackets—no hanger required!” Even without a closet renovation, there are countless new storage options to help keep things orderly. “You can find all types of storage bins made out of many different materials in every size and shape imaginable. Using clear containers or open wire baskets are great because you can see what’s inside,” adds Reich, who is often asked to install shelving to accommodate a particular basket or bin the homeowner wants to use.

Taking the coat closet to the next level, the mudroom has become one of the most coveted spaces in a home. “Many times I’ve walked through a customer’s front door to find the floor littered with shoes, even sport cleats,” says Reich. “Very few people have enough room in their coat closet for all these things.” If you don’t have a place inside your home that can serve this purpose, Reich says to look at the garage for an area to house all the gear. “It’s a great location for an active family. I’ve built cubbies and cabinets for sports equipment and have installed ‘slatwall,’ which is a heavy duty wall panel system with horizontal grooves for flexible, open storage.” Available accessories for slatwall include hooks for jackets, baskets for scarves and hats, and open wire shelves for shoes and boots, “a great solution for muddy shoes because the dirt will just fall through.”

Feather the nest
Think soft stuff. Down-filled pillows, sumptuous throws and layers-upon layers
of bedding can add loads of style and inviting warmth to every room. Choose highly textured fabrics that are incredibly tactile and luxurious so staying indoors will be a pleasure. Deep crochets or sweater-knit blankets, the latest faux-fabulous fur, cut velvet pillows, a sheepskin-look or shag area rug, a small ottoman with colorful pattern on it—scattered about the house, these items must accept a much bulkier wardrobe of sweaters, slacks and infuse warmth by adding visual interest to a space. Even prints can be wintry. Cover a goose down comforter with a duvet designed with a nature-inspired pattern such as bare branches with lively red cardinals.

Nancy Ganzekaufer, owner of Expressive Living, an art and accessories business in Wantagh, thinks simple accessories “can add instant ‘cozy’ to the home. Invite cuddling with a cushy fur throw draped over a chair,” she suggests. Faux fur, in endless incarnations, is an explosive and enduring trend. Last year, Oliveira Textiles introduced a very earth-friendly hemp fur that remains totally “on trend.” Oliveira made up a stylish pair of beanbag chairs with the fur for one of her clients. “Try introducing some new pillows or other soft accessories this time of year—for simple, economical ‘eye candy,’” she says. Robert Allen also offers a selection of faux fur with the Larry Laslo “Faux Fox” in grey and “Fun Fur” in chocolate. “These furs are perfect for a cozy throw,” says Muratori.

imageFor those who prefer genuine fur, consider adopting a cat or dog in need this winter. There is no home accessory more striking—not to mention rewarding—or one that will provide nearly as much warmth through the winter.

Creature comforts
Filling our rooms with those things we personally enjoy—a piece of sculpture or pottery, leather-bound books, a prized collection that is properly displayed—can bring a sense of pride and satisfaction to our homes. Hang shelves or add accent furniture such as a glass curio cabinet or end table with an open compartment. Something as simple as a new set of wine glasses or that high-end stock pot you’ve always wanted can, for example, inspire a new interest in fine wine or French cooking.

“Plan an intimate dinner over flickering candlesticks,” adds Ganzekaufer, “or sip steaming cocoa that you serve on a decorative handled serving tray.” A beautiful serving tray is hands-down the most useful accessory to have. Choose a tray that contributes to your décor and leave it out on a cocktail table or ottoman. There are earthy, wood trays with leather handles, antique trays in beautiful shapes made of open-work brass or exquisite etched pewter and stainless steel trays that are great for the bar. The latest modern melamine trays come in vivid colors that will add a pop of brightness on a dismal day.

But few things can mesmerize like the soft glow of candles. “If you are worried about using real candles, try the battery operated ones that flicker. They add the same beautiful ambiance, but are safe,” says Ganzekaufer.

Carve out your niche
Now is finally the time to stake your claim on some space of your very own, however limited, for that activity you’ve been denying yourself for too long. Often a room’s furnishings can be rearranged. Maybe the exterior doors to the backyard won’t be used through the winter or a corner can be cleared to accommodate a new grouping. The ideas of how you can “gift” yourself a special new place in your home are infinite: Set up a game table with swivel chairs for family and friends; place an art easel by the window to catch the bright winter sunlight; haul the treadmill out of the garage and add a small flat-screen and mini water cooler; create a reading niche with leather wing chair and brass swing-arm lamp; designate a crafting space with ample storage and a display area; dust off that guitar, lay down a small area rug and add a stool and music stand; set up an attractive desk, ergonomic chair and laptop to work on writing projects; organize digital photography or catch up with old friends.

Whatever it may be—own your zone, and keep it neat, organized and clutter free. This is the key to feeling calm and grounded, and maintaining a functional, stress-free environment. Utilize the many new products and types of furnishings designed for this purpose and then feel free to move forward and do those things in life you most enjoy.

The colder season is typically marked by harried holidays followed by the long, quiet blanket of winter. Start strategizing now to “stage” your home and create personal spaces in which to relax and feel inspired. Be proactive in warding away some of the hardship and greet these next few months with open arms and an open mind for a wonderful and well-spent season at home.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.