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Reviewing the basics: reverb

At one time or another, you’ve probably walked down a large hallway with a polished marble floor and stone walls. Each step you take is followed by an echo that seems to hang in the air for awhile. The echo is not a clear repeat of each footfall, but a smear of sound that dies away slowly.

That lingering sound is called reverberation, or reverb, and it is a vital part of virtually every sound you hear. Your brain uses it to determine the size, shape, and other characteristics of the space in which the sound was produced. It occurs naturally almost everywhere, and it is artificially simulated in the recording studio. In fact, reverb is probably the most common signal-processing effect of them all.

ACOUSTIC ORIGINS

Almost all enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces exhibit some reverberation. The process starts with a sound wave that emanates in a more or less spherical pattern from a sound source and expands toward any listeners in the room, as well as nearby surfaces: walls, ceilings, windows, furniture, etc. (Speakers don’t necessarily radiate sound in a spherical pattern; the radiation pattern depends on the design of the speaker.)

Once the sound wave reaches a surface, it is reflected back into the room, where it’s reflected again and again by various surfaces. These multiple reflections also reach the listener. However, the initial sound waves almost always reach the listener first because the path between the source sound and the listener is shorter than the path taken by any of the sound’s reflections.

Each reflection is generally lower in amplitude than the preceding one, because the sound wave loses some energy each time it is reflected. Most materials absorb some of the sound wave’s energy and reflect the rest. As a result, the reverberation dies away over time.

Normally, you can’t hear these reflections individually because they happen in such quick succession. Most rooms are no more than a few dozen feet long in any direction, and sound travels at about 1,130 feet per second in air. Therefore, the sound waves are reflected many times per second in every direction (up/down, right/left, front/back). Our brain tends to smear all these rapid reflections into a continuous sound, which we call reverberation. This sound has a haunting, ringing quality that lingers for some period of time after the original sound stops.

Several factors contribute to the specific reverberation of a particular space. For example, the larger the space, the longer it takes sound waves to reach the walls and reflect back to your ears. Heavy drapes and thick-pile carpeting absorb much more sound than marble walls and hardwood floors. In addition, people tend to absorb a fair amount of sound energy (unless they’re wearing suits of armor), so an empty room has different reverb characteristics than the same space when it’s crowded with people.

The phenomenon of reverb can be distilled into several distinct parts. The most obvious component is the time it takes the reverberation to become inaudible. This decay time depends primarily on the reflective properties of the room–as determined by the texture of the walls, ceiling, floor, and furnishings–and the amplitude of the original sound. Also, high frequencies tend to fade away more quickly than low frequencies. In very large spaces, such as enclosed stadiums, there could be a perceptible delay between the original sound and the onset of reverberation.

REVERB PARAMETERS

One problem with acoustic reverberation is that you can’t easily control it. The physical size of the space limits what you can do, so studio recordings normally rely on artificial reverb. For maximum flexibility and creativity in signal processing, acoustic musicians are often recorded in a relatively “dead” (that is, non reverberant) environment, and their signal is passed through a reverb unit that digitally simulates various acoustic environments. Electronic sound sources also benefit from passing through a reverb unit.

Best reverb units are actually multi-effects processors that perform reverb, modulation effects, and several other signal processing chores, which I’ll discuss later in this part of the book. Many synthesizers also include onboard multi-effects processors that apply reverb in addition to other effects.

To program a reverb unit effectively, you need to know the basic parameters you will encounter. The most fundamental parameter is reverb type. Most units offer several types of reverb, generally based on different acoustic environments. As you might expect, a room reverb simulates a small to medium-size room, while a hall reverb simulates a large room or auditorium. Some units offer a stadium or cathedral reverb, as well. Select the reverb type that best suits the acoustic space you wish to simulate.

Many reverb units also include several digital simulations of early types of reverb processing. In the early days of recording, engineers sent a recorded signal to a speaker in a small, tile-lined chamber. A microphone placed in the chamber picked up the sound from the speaker along with the subsequent reflections inside the chamber. Reverb chambers are prized for their lush, blossoming quality and were a major component of the classic Phil Spector sound in the early 1960s.

Spring reverbs employ a physical spring with a microphone transducer attached to one end and a speaker transducer attached to the other end. The signal passes through the spring to create a reverb effect. Spring reverb stend to produce a boingy, chattery timbre with accentuated high end. Plate reverbs use a metal plate instead of a spring, with pickups placed at various locations on the plate. Plate reverbs typically produce a sharp timbre that greatly enhances the punch of drum and percussion tracks.

Many units also offer several reverb types that have little to do with acoustic reverb. These types are generally known as nonlinear reverb. For example, a reverse reverb starts from silence and grows to maximum level, after which it cuts off abruptly, which is opposite from the way natural reverb works. A gated reverb starts normally but suddenly is cut off after a user-definable gate time. Gated reverb is often applied to the snare drum in pop and rock music.

Once you have selected the basic reverb type, there are several parameters you can play with. The first and most obvious parameter is reverb or decay time. This parameter determines how long the reverb effect remains audible, and it lets you control the apparent size and reflectivity of the simulated acoustical space. For example, a room reverb might have a decay time of one or two seconds, whereas a hall reverb might last three to five seconds. A cathedral reverb might last as long as eight to ten seconds. If the environment is highly reflective, the reverb time is longer.

Sometimes, you can actually discern the first few reflections separately before the reverberation starts to smear together, particularly in large acoustical spaces. These early reflections have a strong influence on how you perceive reverb in a large space. In a digital reverb unit, the time between the original sound and the very first reflection is controlled by the predelay parameter. As the predelay time gets longer, the apparent size of the space increases and your apparent location within the space gets closer to the “center” of the room. Predelay is generally no more than 500 milliseconds and typically in the 10 to 50 ms range.

Another parameter that relates to early reflections is called, reasonably enough, early reflections (in some units, it’s called density). This parameter controls the time between the first few reflections, which is generally just a few milliseconds. This might seem insignificant, but it determines the “opacity,” or density, of the reverb sound during the first few moments. Like reverb time, density helps simulate different room sizes; higher density values simulate larger spaces, because it takes longer for the early reflections to reach your ears in a large space.

The diffusion parameter controls the separation of the reflections within the main body of the reverb sound, which determines its “thickness.” Reducing the diffusion value produces a thinner sound because the reflections are more widely spaced in time. This parameter lets you determine the complexity of the simulated acoustical space. Keep in mind that many reflective surfaces in a room result in a thicker, denser reverb.

One of the characteristics of acoustic reverberation is that high frequencies typically die away faster than low frequencies. As a result, many reverb units include a high-frequency damping parameter, which lets you control the decay rate of high frequencies separately from the main reverb decay. Some reverb units even include a low-frequency damping parameter. Both of these parameters provide additional control over the apparent size and reflective characteristics of the simulated acoustical space. For example, softer surfaces cause high frequencies to decay more rapidly, while smaller rooms cause low frequencies to decay more rapidly.

APPLICATIONS

As mentioned earlier, one of the primary applications of artificial reverb is to Simulate an acoustical space within which your recorded ensemble “performs.” To accomplish this, send the entire mix through the same reverb unit programmed to re-create the type of space you wish to simulate.

You can also apply different reverbs to individual instruments for special effects. In many pop drum mixes, for example, the snare is heavily processed (often with a gated and/or reverse reverb), while the kick drum is relatively dry. This approach lends an air of drama to the snare backbeat without washing the kick drum in confusing reflections that would diminish its cohesiveness with the bass. Many guitar players like to apply liberal amounts ofreverb to enhance their solo sounds.

Another interesting application is playing in a highly reverberant environment a la Paul Horn’s Inside the Taj Mahal. Use a hall or cathedral reverb type with a long decay time and high aux-send and aux-return levels.

In many synthesizers with onboard multi-effects units, the effects are an integral part of each patch. Unfortunately, most of these kinds of synths can produce only one combination of effects at a time. If the synthesizer is multitimbral, all parts are passed through the same effects. If you’re not careful, this overall effect will be the one assigned to the last patch you called up, which might or might not serve the other parts well. Instead, you should set the synth’s effect mode to “master,” which lets you select the effects you want for all the parts from that synth. (Fortunately, some synths now include several separate effects processors; some effects are global and others are applied as “insert” effects to individual patches.)

Reverb is inescapable. You hear it everywhere, and rightly so. Almost all music sounds better with reverb, which is why church choirs generally sound better than one would expect from the singing skills of their members. Your music will sound better with reverb, too. All you need to do is experiment a bit with a digital reverb unit to discover just how much better.

20 ways to host a star

Don’t let the thought of playing hostess to a blow-you-away bash scare the party girl out of you. With these entertaining tricks, you’ll impress your guests and yourself!

[1] “Miniature picture frames make the perfect place-card holders–and they double as adorable favors.”

[2] “To keep my house smelling great, I simmer a homemade potpourri mix–apple slices, vanilla beans, ginger root, and peppermint oil–in a pot of water on the stove.”

[3] “I glam up store-bought cakes by decorating them with gorgeous edible flowers, like nasturtiums and pansies. Get them at select stores or online at www.virtualvegetable.com.”

[4] “I slice off the bottoms of lemons and limes (so they can sit on a flat surface), hollow them out, and stick white votive candles inside.”

[5] “For a quickie dessert, dip strawberries in warm Nutella, a chocolate-and-hazelnut spread available at grocery stores. After the treats cool on waxed paper, serve them with a scoop of ice cream.”

[6] “For a wintertime bash, I cover the tables with dark blue cloths and sprinkle lots of white confetti on them to look like snow. I also have my kids cut out paper snowflakes to hang from the ceilings.”

[7] “To keep my bathroom smelling fabulous, I pull back the shower curtain and fill the bathtub with scented floating candles and flower heads, such as gerbera daisies and roses.”

[8] “I freeze cranberry juice in a Bundt pan. About an hour before company arrives, I empty ginger ale into a large bowl and add the frozen ring.”

[9] “I ask friends to take candid shots throughout the festivities with my Polaroid camera. They make instant (and practically free) party favors.”

[10] “I always do themed goody bags for my guests. For a bonfire party, I gave out bags filled with marshmallows, wooden skewers, and matches so friends could roast marshmallows at home,”

[11] “I hire my babysitter to help me in the kitchen. The extra set of hands makes guests feel less obligated to take on tasks, like carrying of food back and forth.”

[12] “I make copies of how to get from my house to major intersections and highways. Then I just point people to the printed directions by the door instead of repeating myself every time a guest leaves.”

[13] “I tie colorful pieces of red-licorice laces around white napkins. Kids and kids at heart always `ooh’ and `ahh’ over these edible rings.”

[14] “I freeze raspberries and use them as ice cubes in glasses of white wine. They add taste, color, and class.”

[15] “I dig up 70s- and 80s-music CDs and encourage each guest to act as the DJ. There’s something about hearing music from your younger years that puts everyone in the mood to party.”

[16] “Tape sheets of tinted vellum paper into four-inch-round cylinders, and then place the paper tubes over lighted votive candles. These luminarias make a room glow with color.”

[17] “I set up a kids-only room with three or four activity tables in it, I put coloring books and crayons on one table, building blocks on another, and so on. This way my guests can bring their little ones along.”

[18] “To make more areas of conversation, I limit the number of chairs around the house. This also prevents people who are already close friends from plunking down in one spot together the entire night.”

[19] “An easy, but elegant, bar shortcut: Only serve champagne and Guinness beer. They can be combined to make a Black Velvet or drunk separately.”

[20] “I buy colorful Chinese take-out containers (from www.oriental.com) and fill them with leftover treats to give to guests as doggy bags.”

50 ways to spruce up your place

[1] Tired of your museum-print posters of Monet? Pick up a few yards of pretty-patterned fabric (a big, bold flower print, perhaps?) and stretch it over a 24-inch-square wooden frame that you create with stretcher bars. Tightly secure the fabric to the back of the frame with thumbtacks, trim excess material, and hang your masterpiece.

[2] Prop an aluminum stepladder against a wall and use its steps as sleek, stylish bookshelves.

[3] Reshuffle your wall art. Take paintings or framed photos from your bedroom and see how they look in the dining room, kitchen, or entryway.

[4] What kitchen wall wouldn’t look better with the Container Clock (at right) on it? Fill it with a bunch of jelly beans, pistachio nuts, seashells–you choose.

[5] Do the words “those old things” best describe your living-room curtains? For a superfast, no-sew fix, buy fabric and “hem” it with invisible hemming tape (find it at fabric stores); then fasten Clip Rings to the material and drape it from any curtain rod.

[6] Funky knobs may be all that nightstand or dresser needs to shine like new. Try blue Gem Pulls or blue ’30s Glass Knobs or pewter Pressed Flower Pulls.

[7] Who says a couch has to be against a wall? Try floating your sofa in front of your fireplace or angling it in a corner.

[8] Transform dime-a-dozen water glasses (above) into creative vases by wrapping each in a sheet of handmade paper, then a piece of decorating mesh. Secure paper and mesh with clear-drying craft glue. If you like, knot colorful pieces of raffia around the middle of the vase for a finishing touch.

[9] Gussy up your guest bathroom by wrapping half a dozen ordinary bar soaps (above, center) in colorful gift wrap or origami paper (available at stationery or craft stores), the same way you would a small present. Tie ribbons around the soaps’ centers and display them in a bowl.

[10] Let’s say your sofa is the most blah shade of beige. Bubble Silk pink pillows (above) will perk it up.

[11] Adding a touch of Arabian Nights is a sexy way to restyle your bedroom–and you can do it in just a few simple steps. Screw a large eye hook in your ceiling directly above the center of your bed. Thread about ten yards of lightweight material through the hook (we suggest using tulle or lace). Arrange the fabric so it falls on both sides of the bed, letting each end puddle onto the floor.

[12] Groovy, baby! These Rave Tumblers make retro-cool kitchen displays. Plus, they’ll score big with guests at your next swanky soiree.

[13] Redesign ho-hum tea towels, throw pillows, and pillowcases with fabric paint and dummy-proof stencil sets from Delta Crafts (www.deltacrafts.com).

[14] Paint the back of your bookshelves an energetic red, orange, or teal to liven up a dull library look.

[15] Get your bathroom in full bloom: Hot-glue plastic flowers, found at craft stores, to your shower-curtain hooks.

[16] Admit it: Your towering CD collection isn’t doing much to liven up your living room. Pack disks and liner notes in a sleeved album that blends in on a bookshelf, then chuck those space-sapping plastic CD containers. The Container Store Nylon CD Wallets hold 128 disks.

[17] Make a nothing-special nightstand look like something you scored at an antique shop: Sand it, then paint it any color with latex paint. After it dries, drag a large set of keys back and forth across the surface and down the sides, stopping when you think it looks sufficiently distressed. Make more scratches and dents with coins nails, or knives, and sand away some of the paint along the edges and corners to imitate wear.

[18] Scour a flea market for vintage postcards, like the ones at right, then frame them in black 8-x-10-inch frames. Use construction paper for the background.

[19] Your holiday ornaments don’t have to collect dust all year. Arrange the most lustrous balls you own in a large clear glass bowl and use it as a striking centerpiece.

[20] Nowhere is it written that kitchen counter appliances must be white, black, or silver. So pick up the crayon-red Diner Toaster from Crate & Barrel.

[21] Arrange several small mirrors (any shape will do) behind and underneath short flower arrangements on your mantel or along a bookshelf and–presto, change-o!–you’ve got beaucoup de blooms in view.

[22] Nothing brightens up a bathroom better than accessories in sunshine orange. Try a waffle-weave fabric curtain and …

[23] … the funky DayDreamer floral wastebasket.

[24] This whimsical woven basket (right) in every color of the rainbow is ideal for stashing newspapers, magazines, and anything else that piles up in your family room.

[25] If your bedroom walls are plain vanilla, paint just the closet doors or the ceiling a new, springlike shade, such as lilac, peach, or a buttery yellow.

[26] Just try to find a more fun and colorful floor mat. The lively checkered Index Throw Rug adds spunk to any room.

[27] Nab some designer ceramic tiles at a home-furnishing store. Glue same-size squares of felt to the bottoms and you’ve got a new set of eye-catching coasters.

[28] Oranges, potpourri, and more can be put on display (at left) in these pink and green lacquered bamboo bowls.

[29] Purchase a few yards of extra-wide ribbon at a fabric store and roll it across your table for a runner.

[30] Pick up a wallpaper border with an easy-to-cut pattern, for example flowers, and then adhere it to your painted bathroom or bedroom walls. Try arranging the borders around a hanging mirror or doorway.

[31] Ditch the standard-issue light switch plates your house came with and opt for ones with floral designs and hot hues; head to www.wallplatesonline.com. Our favorite? It’s a toss-up between the Red and Dusty Rose Gloss Steel plates and the Blue Flower and Victorian Rose Porcelain plates.

[32] Find a gorgeous faux orchid (three cheers for no watering!) that can fool even the pickiest petal lovers.

[33] Add a warm ambience to your porch with do-it-yourself lanterns that can be hung with wire. Pour colored sand (available at craft stores) into canning jars; then position a small votive candle in the sand.

[34] Hang a wicker bicycle basket on your kitchen wall for a creative way to store fresh fruit or dried flowers.

[35] Give your plain-Jane lampshades some personality: Write inspiring words, such as “Happy Home” or “Sweet Dreams,” on them with fabric marker (available at craft stores).

[36] How adorable is this wine rack? Paint it any shade.

[37] Replace your ceiling fan chains with a pretty gingham ribbon; also, hot-glue ribbon to the front of window blind cords.

[38] Bundle up dried lavender and tie together at the center with some purple ribbon. Cut the ends of the stems with scissors so they’re even, then stand the aromatic bouquet on a mantel or windowsill.

[39] Keep your fireplace glowing even during warm months. Pile up fresh logs and wrap them in white twinkly electric lights.

[40] Scout thrift stores for shawls and scarves with attractive patterns, such as an Indian sari print, and toss them over your solid chairs and sofas for instant flair.

[41] Give your fridge a makeover with homemade magnets (below). Superglue snips of magnetic tape, available at craft stores, to the backs of bright buttons.

[42] Cheer up kitchen cabinets: Purchase sheets of funky-patterned paper and cut them so they’re slightly smaller than the cabinet doors. Paint a layer of Mod Podge (a clear-drying, nontoxic glue available at craft stores) over the paper to keep it in place.

[43] Jazz up humdrum dinner plates by adding polka dots and curlicues around the rims with ceramic paint (available at art stores).

[44] New pillow shams are enough to give your bed an instant makeover. Search for fun floral-print ones at www.garnethill.com or www.thecompanystore.com.

[45] Punch up any room with gerbera daisies in color-coordinated terracotta pots. Paint one pot orange and plant red daisies in it; paint another pot red and plant orange daisies in it; and so on.

[46] Make great scents in your clothes closets and drawers with Hand-Embroidered 100-percent Cotton Pillow Sachets with lavender inserts.

[47] A redwood window box makes a creative container for spices, vinegars, and olive oils on your kitchen countertop.

[48] Funny how everyday cooking utensils look so much better when kept in a porcelain pitcher. Try Le Creuset Poterie 2-Quart Pitcher in citrus, cherry red, or jade.

[49] Cut gift wrap into 13x-18-inch sheets and have them laminated at a copy center to create unique–and stainproof!–place mats.

[50] Swap dark-colored throw rugs with superdurable, more summery sea-grass ones. We like Color-Bound Seagrass Rugs in sage.

101 bright ideas for your home: wan’t little changes with big impact?

Here, the easiest ways to turn so-so space into your dream home. Plus: under $25 ideas from top designers.

1 Make wall space your showplace. Instead of paintings or prints, hang shelves to display keepsakes and collectibles.

2 Do bamboo. Turning up in everything from place mats to pieces of furniture, it’s an accent that’s hotter than the tropics.

3 Hide the home gym. All it takes to conceal your treadmill is a beautiful screen.

4 Dine with dishtowels. A great napkin substitute, they’ll bring fun and color to your table.

5 Rethink faux flowers. Artificial blooms have gone upscale. For a chic arrangement, pack them in a tight mound and hide their stems in an opaque vase.

6 Streamline your computer cords. Tidy the growing tangle of cables under your desk with the Wiresnake, a nifty rubber casing that bundles up to eight cords into one neat unit.

7 Try a new deck stain. Banish the dark reds and browns; go all out with a more cheerful choice like green or bright red.

8 Dress up your chandelier. To give new life to the old fixture, add candle shades, strings of glass beads, or a coat of surprising color (may we suggest copper?).

9 Custom-design your carpet. The latest innovation in do-it-yourself flooring: modular pieces (think big squares with adhesive backs) from companies Flor and Milliken. With just two complementary colors, you can create a border or a checkerboard pattern.

10 Turn your kids’ curtains into a treasure trove. Fashion little pockets out of colorful napkins, bandannas, or spare swatches of fabric and sew them onto the drapes. Fill the pouches with small dolls and other toys.

11 Use mirrors to increase the feeling of intimacy. In a large living room, angle a wall mirror downward so it reflects the seats–not just the tops–of furniture. (To create that outward tip, hang the mirror from a slack wire that’s attached to the frame at its midsection.) Cozier now? That’s because the reflection gives you the sense of a lot more furniture in the room.

12 Add dimension to a wall with a chair rail. New synthetics make it easy–just glue or nail them on.

13 Fake a new fridge. Freshen its front with appliance epoxy paint. For a chic facade, try Rustoleum’s appliance epoxy in Stainless Steel.

14 Replace your ceiling fans (especially if they look like helicopter propellers!). New models have blades shaped like everything from boat oars to palm leaves.

15 Plant whimsy at your children’s feet with colorful scatter rugs from the Majestic Rug Company in designs such as butterflies, stars, fish, and more.

16 Neaten your nightstand. Remove reading lamps and mount swing-arm lights on the wall.

17 Accent your garden with decorative stakes. Whether topped with ceramic teacups or pretty glass prisms, they’re all the outdoor rage.

18 Pack an old steamer trunk with new punch. Change the hardware and line the inside with patterned paper. Use the trunk for storage or as a table.

19 Heat up your patio with an outdoor fireplace. (If you select one that’s a wood burner, be sure it has spark guards.)

20 Break away from solid-color sofas. Borrow the fresh style of La-Z-Boy’s new line and put print slipcovers over your cushions.

21 Find a new place for plates. Hang an assortment above the kitchen sink for a unique backsplash.

22 Take a novel approach to bookshelves. Lose the library look by stacking some books horizontally, some vertically, then accenting the shelves with interesting collectibles.

23 Trash the can. Retire the metal wastepaper basket and use a pretty hamper as a rubbish bin instead.

24 Modernize your faucets. In terms of time and money, this is a minor project, but it will have major impact.

25 Single out a wall. In a big space, finish just one wall with something unusual, like a Venetian plaster.

26 Hide your heater. The Wooden Radiator Cabinet Company custom-makes attractive units to match any decor.

27 Make over your mantel. Remove small objects and hang a painting or ornamental mirror above it.

28 Theme your child’s room. Using cast-resin wall appliques from Bombay Kids, create a jungle scene (with giraffes and trees–each four to five feet high) or a sky (with sun and clouds).

29 Cluster candles. On a sideboard or hall table, place candlesticks that are varied in size and style but united in substance (brass, silver, glass, etc.).

30 Reface your kitchen cabinets. Cheaper than installing new ones, this service is available from Sears at www.sears.com.

31 Give your master bathroom the spa treatment using such luxury touches as plush terrycloth towels, a heated bar to dry them, and scroll-style or wire-basket shelves.

32 Reclaim the laundry room. Whether it’s on the main floor or in the basement, decorate the space by putting up wallpaper and shelves.

33-35 Learn the art of arranging a throw. It’s easy with these three elegant looks: Neatly fold the throw in half and lay it flat over the back of the couch; loosely fold the throw in thirds and drape it over a sofa arm, and cover the end spilling onto the seat with a pillow; or cascade a throw (gathered lengthwise) over the sofa back and seat, parallel to the arm.

36 Be creative with silk roses. Make an impromptu table runner by scattering a layer of petals over a console or a dining-room table.

37 Have designs on your ceiling? Mount a decorative medallion over the base of your ceiling light or fan. Style Solutions offers two-piece medallions that fit around the light fixture for simple installation.

38 Paint a faux kitchen rug. The braided look is warm (but, in this version, not fuzzy). Bonus benefits: It won’t stain or slip.

39 Make a room more feminine. Hang photos and other art with pretty ribbons to soften the hard lines of frames.

40 Rearrange the furniture in your living room. Some ideas: Split one conversation group into two cozier ones. If your couch is parallel to the wall, reposition it so it’s at an angle. Spin a rectangular area rug 90 degrees to make the room seem longer or shorter.

41 Change your kids’ view. On their bedroom windows, paint the mullions (the thin strips that divide the panes) a bright hue.

42 Give your floral arrangements a new bottom line. For an artful composition, fill the base of a clear vase with a layer of smooth black stones.

43-44 Boost your bed’s appeal. With New England Classic’s kit, you can create the illusion of a polished headboard by paneling the wall behind the bed in the desired height and width. Or, for an upholstered look, slip a fabric cover over your existing headboard; Spiegel offers styles that coordinate with their quilted slipcovers.

45 Accessorize your cabinets. Replace plain knobs with decorative drawer pulls. In styles from ceramic to leather, they’re a fast fixer-upper for old woodwork.

46 Add a mantel to a hearthless wall. Install a decorative one–or simply place a long shelf atop ornate brackets at mantel height. Then decorate the surface with candles.

47 Stick on some style: Decorate your bathroom tiles with decals.

48 Have fun with finials. Cap curtain rods with whimsical hardware for a fanciful effect.

49 Wallpaper the easy way. With Paperez from Eisenhart, you apply a special paste to a primed wall and then hang the paper. No soaking, no shrinking, no stretching–no problem!

50 Freshen up your shower curtain. Buy rings that have clips and hang two terrycloth bath sheets. Sew a grosgrain-ribbon trim a quarter inch from the bottom to complete the designer look.

51 Bring on the baskets. They’re the secret to containing shelf clutter, says interior designer Mary Gilliatt.

52 Support your artist-in-residence. Have three or four of your child’s drawings or paintings professionally matted and framed. Arrange them on one wall. As a collection, they’ll look striking and surprisingly mature.

53 Deliver your mailbox from boredom. Drop the standard-issue version for one with a built-in planter. Or, better yet, ask a local artisan to custom-build a box that’s a mini replica of your home.

54 Outfit a walk-in closet as you would a room. Put up wallpaper and hang a small, pretty mirror.

55 Fabric-ate closet and cabinet doors, Hang curtains to conceal storage shelves or a washer and dryer. To avoid clashing with the window drapes, choose a solid-color material.

56 Give your address some dash. Replace the plain (and probably faded) numbers on the front of your house with a distinctive ceramic plaque from Santa Barbara Ceramic Design. You can grout the number tiles yourself, or they can be mortared-to-order.

57 Frame your door with color: Using a glue gun, make a graphic border out of vintage photos or antique valentines.

58 Enjoy some firelight–even before the temperature drops. To get the warm glow without the roaring heat, arrange pillar candles inside the hearth.

59 Celebrate your kids’ creativity: Customize a wall calendar with their artwork.

60 Bring blooms into unexpected places–like the bathroom. Place flowers in Oxo’s suction-cup bud vase–it sticks to tiles.

61 Stripe it rich. Blinds.com offers colorful designer blinds that match hues in most of Sherwin-Williams’s paints.

62 Deck out your patio chairs with colorful new cushions.

63 Transform an old table. For a rustic farmhouse feel, strip the dark finish from a flea market find to reveal the natural planks underneath. Rub a paste-wax sealer on top so the wood won’t dry out.

64 Express yourself. Personalize a room by posting your favorite quote or saying on a wall, using press-on sets from Wall Words.

65 Renew your outdoor furniture. Go to rustoleum.com for step-by-step instructions.

66 Make a wall arrangement out of your children’s baseball caps. In addition to boosting the family’s favorite teams, it’s also a colorful way to keep clutter under control.

67 Fake a crown molding. Apply stamped-metal appliques in a classic motif like fleur-de-lis or stars, from Architectural Products by Outwater.

68 Go to the mat. Step up the look of your stoop with a great pattern (like the one shown above, from Tag)–lots of color for not much money.

69 Get into mood lighting. Dimmers are easy to install, and they help you set the scene for your space–a cozy conversation in the living room or a quiet meal for two in the dining room.

70-71 Spruce up mismatched wooden chairs. Paint each one a different bright color, or–as an alternative–unify them by using a single hue.

72 Inspire the chef by changing the kitchen scenery. If there’s no window over your sink, brighten the space by putting up trompe l’oeil designs from York Wallcoverings to create the illusion of a view.

73 Let your kids paint a mural on canvas, then hang it. It’s easy to remove later on.

74 Soften the walls with upholstery. Fabric creates a luxurious look that also helps soundproof your room.

75 Dress up the details. Trim your curtains and pillows with fringe or tassels.

76 Give your house a front-lift. Paint the door a striking red (or another bold color you love). Or, replace the door with one that has panes or paneling (the one shown above is from Jeld-Wen). Complete the look by installing side- and toplights to create a grand entrance.

25 UNDER $25

America’s top designers reveal easy and affordable ways to revive any room in your home

77 Play with pillows: Instead of matching the colors to your sofa, go for shades that are striking.

78 For a long-lasting bouquet, gather sprays of lemon leaves in a vase. A big bunch costs about $15 and will stay fresh for weeks.

79 Paint the floor with two coats of shiny deck enamel. If you have light walls, try a rich shade like French blue or apple green.

80 Switch to pink lightbulbs in the bedroom to give it (and you) a rosy glow.

81 Stencil a border around the door frame of your living room or bedroom. Pick a pattern with personality and paint with a bold color.

82 Group botanical prints or photos as a collection for big impact.

83 Update an old wooden table or bureau by spray-painting it with white high-gloss enamel.

84 Give your kitchen table a lift–it’s easy with a new set of place mats.

85 Cover dining-room chair seats with fabric remnants. Vary the patterns, but stick to just one color.

86 Find art in unexpected places: Frame antique fabrics, a series of postcards, or pretty seed packets.

87 Stack a neat pile of books on a wooden chair or on an ottoman.

88 Hang paper lanterns in a family room or a hallway; unusual colors and sizes will cheer up the space.

89 Give a cozy room a touch of grandeur with extralong window treatments. Place curtain rods near the ceiling, or buy sheer panels that puddle on the floor.

90 Stir up some romance in your bedroom: Drape mosquito netting from the ceiling to craft an instant canopy above the headboard.

91 Use liquid dye to renew old sheets. Be sure to wash them separately.

92 To give a room more drama: Stick a small lamp under an indoor tree to cast shadows on the ceiling.

93 Scour flea markets for pitchers and vases of different shapes and sizes; display them together.

94 Place a row of small pictures above a door.

95 Paint your ceiling lavender or sky blue to make the room look bigger.

96 Table trick of the trade: Fill a wooden or metal bowl with fresh lemons or green apples.

97 Make your own wallpaper from old magazine covers, vintage sheet music, gift wrap, maps (road or nautical), or even a stash of beautiful wine labels. See instructions, page 220.

98 Dress up an end table by topping a long cloth with beveled glass (about $20 at most glass cutters).

99 Using blackboard paint, create a graffiti-friendly zone–a whole wall that your kids can draw on.

100 Lean a large print against the wall on a console table.

101 Brighten a bookshelf or a china cabinet by lining the inside with mirrored tiles.

Books: Home Decorating

The most daunting aspect of home decorating is where to begin. Do you rethink a room from top to bottom, or just repaint? Should you stick with your color scheme? Buy new furniture? This season’s decorating books give you a creative boost to make the first move and underscore the fact that the simplest touches can make your home more appealing. Here’s our Top 10 list:

If you’re a detail-oriented person, making a mental note of what to buy at the wallpaper store just won’t do. The Decorator’s Fact File by Anoop Parikh (Soma, $25) is a compact, hands-on decorator’s journal-with plenty of pages to log in room dimensions, paint colon, and to-do tasks. You’ll bring your renovation in on budget and on time with this useful guide.

One of the busiest rooms in your house need not fall short on style. Consult The Bathroom Idea Book by Andrew Wormer (Taunton Press, $29.95, out in October) for smart tips catering to a wide variety of tastes and budgets. Useful pointers on layout, materials, and costs are accompanied by inspiring photos.

Want to bring a little spunk to your drab kitchen? In Kitchen Junk (Viking Studio, $29.95, out in September), Mary Randolph Carter gives advice on transforming your home with flea-market finds. This imaginative stylist-known/ as the Queen of Junk-shows how treasures such as graniteware pitchers and Day-Glo Tupperware sets can bring charm to any kitchen. Savvy vintage-shopping tips and some 400 color photos make the transformation simple.

Along the same lines, Cath Kidston–a London-based shop owner and decorator–captures the charm of redoing your home with old-fashioned touches in Vintage Style (Bulfinch Press, $29.95, out in October). Her philosophy: Mix and match what you have with what you pick up secondhand-soft, floralprinted linens, well-loved antiques, and faded photographs.

Crave a little color in your life? Shelter Now by Natalia Marshall (Universe Publishing, $25, out in October) emboldens the reader to use strong lines, dramatic hues, and funky fabrics in the home. Get creative–learn to make your own fauxfur throw, spice up the kitchen with fire-engine-red appliances, or mix kitsch with classic for a unique and fun decor.

A room should have an emotional connection to your life, says interior decorator Judith Wilson in Inspiration, Decoration (Simon & Schuster, $35). Her suggestion: Focus on what inspires you; it might be a piece of aqua sea glass from your last beach vacation that prompts you to paint your foyer in shimmering blues. Bright, detailed photographs of rooms–from formal to kid-friendly–illustrate how objects from nature or memorable colors can move you in imaginative ways.

Not for the faint of heart, Mexicolor (Chronicle Books, $24.95) captures the bold spirit of South-of-the-border design. Photographer Melba Levick, artist Masako Takahashi, and writer Tony Cohan dare you to splash brilliant fuchsia on conservative white walls and adorn a kitchen with handpainted pottery and turquoise tiles. From weavings to murals, doorways to patios, Mexicolor shows how the daring decorator can turn a plain home into a work of art.

Debbie Travis’ Decorating Solutions (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $29.95, out in September) proves there’s more to a painted wall than a flat or semigloss finish. The author and host of the television series Debbie Travis’ Painted House gives expert advice on decorating walls, ceilings, doors, floors, and staircases with more than 65 clever treatments.

Attention bookworms? Put down that novel, and check out Living with Books by Alan Powers (Soma, $35); it’s full of wonderful examples of how to display your Prousts and paperbacks. A chapter called “Practicalities” outlines the basics of building do-it-yourself bookcases, from wood to metal racks.

Tired of how-to books, but still yearning for inspiration? Terence Conran’s Easy Living (Soma, $35) offers up a clean-cut approach to maintaining simplicity in your surroundings. Chapters include “Sleep,” which features a sumptuous bed, draped with mosquito netting, in a white room–dreamy design at its purest.

Give your living room a face-lift

Just like your wardrobe, your home can look dated if nothing has changed for a decade. We took away what seemed “tired” and revived this room with quick, easy changes.

Too often, living rooms are static spaces, decorated once, and then never changed for decades. Dan and Alice Hurley, two writers who live in Montclair, NJ, had a living room that was stuck in the classic decorating doldrums. A beige damask sofa was covered with a red-and-white blanket to camouflage threadbare cushions and the juice stains made by the kids in their 3-year-old daughter Annie’s play group. An oversize plaid chair seemed better suited to a den. Wall-to-wall carpeting, inherited with the house, also showed its age. A big TV teetered atop a too-small table, and every surface was cluttered. White walls played it safe and did nothing to enhance the space.

New York interior designer Laura Bohn revived this living room in less than three weeks while spending little cash and recycling much of the original furniture.

* First, the walls were painted a soothing celadon green, a favorite of Bohn’s for its clean, calming effect. Cool colors such as green recede, helping a small room feel larger.

* Next, the wall-to-wall carpeting was removed, the wood floor was polished, and a neutral-hued, soft nylon sisal-look area rug (childproofed with Scotchgard) from Pottery Barn was put in place for a lighter, fresher look.

* The Hurleys’ existing furniture was slipcovered to help harmonize mismatched pieces: The sofa was covered in a plush but durable moss-colored velvet, with pillows in a mix of Waverly fabrics–lemon-yellow, bold blue, and the same airy leaf print that transformed the club chair. “Using an assortment of pillows, rather than the matching ones that usually come with sofas, is an instant way to make any couch look more interesting and inviting,” points out Kevin Fitzpatrick of City Workroom in New York City, which made the slipcovers.

* Bohn tried a novel storage idea: A wicker dresser from Pier 1 Imports, more typically ensconced in a bedroom, slides in neatly beneath the window to hold the television while concealing clutter–videos, magazines, extra table linens–in its drawers. Using one ample piece rather than a hodgepodge of small tables is an ideal way to streamline a space.

* Instead of a traditional coffee table, a textured leather ottoman from Ethan Allen offers extra seating, a great place to put your feet up, and a surface for serving (with the help of a tray).

* At the windows, fussy lace curtains with poufy valances were replaced with clean-lined wooden blinds that complement the strong architectural detail of the room.

“I can’t believe how much more serene this room feels now,” says Alice. “I look forward to coming home and relaxing in here with my family at the end of the day. Dan says it feels like we’re staying in a beautiful country inn!”