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12 Designers on the One Item That Makes Every Space Look Better

Photo: New York Magazine

With cold-weather months setting in and work-from-home life trending, you’re likely spending more time at home. We reached out to up-and-coming interior designers and artists to find out what one next-level item can elevate any space, whether it’s your first apartment or a rental that needs a cozy (and cheap) update. Ahead, find expert suggestions for lighting, artwork, plants, and more.

An Architectural Lamp

“The right lamp always makes a room feel better. The combination of a unique, handcrafted base with a handsome tailored lamp shade adds a touch of personality and refinement to a room and of course, most importantly, light. I favor crisp linen shades or stiff textured cotton paper with a leather whip stitch. For bases, I love an architectural wood form or a vintage glazed ceramic piece. My go-to source for lamp shades is Blanche P. Field or Just Shades, and for lamps I often source through 1stdibs and Circa Lighting. Currently I am collaborating with my husband, a potter, on a limited line of table lamps and sconces.” —Kevin Dumais, principal at Dumais

Pop Art

“As designers, we often talk about how art can ‘make or break’ a room and it’s true. Art has the ability to elevate a space, create interest or a focal point. We use art to transpose clients and their personality into their spaces; from an old Art Deco living room decorated with a gallery wall of oil paintings and sketches, to a sterile white bathroom in a new development layered with a bright Pop Art print. I also think about how to frame a piece; is it a chunky neon lucite frame, a traditional hand-gilt detailed ornamental frame, or a simple white gallery frame?” —Tamara Eaton, Tamara Eaton Design

An Orb Light

“If I had to pick one specific item, I’d say the IC Pendant designed by Michael Anastassiades. It’s such a simplistic design, but so captivating in person. The perfectly shaped orb looks like it’s just floating in thin air. It becomes the focal point in any room but not in an obtrusive way. I have one myself at home in my living room and I often find myself just staring at it. Otherwise, more generically, I’d say a large floor plant is an essential. Most rooms can benefit from the organic, sculptural shapes that plants provide, and the height adds a sense of grandeur, even to a small room.” —Tariq Dixon, co-founder of TRNK

A Friend’s Artwork

A Good Chair

“Beautiful people can definitely make a space feel better, but if I had to choose a furniture piece, I’d choose a good chair. A chair can be sculptural and add dimension and interest to a simple space. A chair can add texture and color. A chair can be a piece of functional art. A chair is also a great way to mix periods and styles. A chair can be a comfy place to relax and read. And if you find the right chair, it can be all of those things. Chairs are everywhere but some of my favorite places to look are Republic of Fritz Hansen because their chairs are as comfortable as they are beautiful and ABC Carpet & Home because they have a little of every style.” —Delia Kenza, interior designer at Home Polish

Throw Pillows

“As small of an item it may at first appear, decorative throw pillows can add wonder to any space. A simple neutral sofa is brightened up, an oversized bergere feels more cozy. Pillows add detail to a pair of chairs in an entry foyer and add the finishing touch to a well-made bed. While we may not change the furniture very often in a home, we can drastically alter the aesthetic with new pillows. Sometimes I use different combinations of pillows from season to season. I always use down/feather inserts for a luxurious feel, and try to combine various materials from linen to silk.” —Tamara Stephenson, Tamara Stephenson Interior Design

A (Fake) Tree

“A big, beautiful tree in a big basket is always a happy addition to a room. Homenature has a beautiful ficus right now or Lexington Gardens on the Upper East Side will make you a beautiful fake tree that you do not have to water. They do a perfect job!” —Lilly Bunn, Lilly Bunn, Inc.

A Sleek Bookshelf

Photo: Arkitekturfotograf Rasmus Norlan/All rights reserved by photographer

“A well-styled bookshelf makes any space look better, adding depth, dimension, and functionality. It can also be used as a room divider for your home or office. I love the sleek and minimal design of the New Order bookshelf by Hay. It’s completely modular, which means you can change its width and height easily. This feature is important because a space needs to function well and look amazing. I also like how its light aesthetic adds visual interest without looking too busy, allowing the owner to personalize it with books, plants, and artwork without having to worry about clashing with the furniture piece. The MoMA Design Store, Cooper Hewitt, and ABC Carpet & Home all carry Hay furniture in the U.S.” —Danielle Arps, Dani Arps

Something Alive

“I think having a living thing, whether a pet or a plant, brings a room to life. So much about ourselves is revealed in the things we care for, why we chose to care for it, and the manner in which we do it. For example, I have a funny looking cactus that sits on my window sill. Its trunk is narrow in some parts and wide in others, reflecting periods of uneven growth. It’s not a very pretty cactus, but I like it because it reflects the transitions in my own life as I moved from one apartment to another.” —Hansley Yunez and Lulu Li, founders of Akron Street

A Dimmable Light

“We recommend the Flos Glo-Ball. Its warm light elevates every space and its shape (a slightly flattened globe) magically fits into any room style effortlessly. We used it in the guest rooms at Hotel Tivoli because it’s smart, a little quirky, and affordable. It’s amazing what an impact the small cost of changing your overhead ceiling light makes on a space, but it’s one of the things you see the most and the light it throws impacts how everything else looks. The Glo-Ball comes in a handful of sizes, but when selecting lighting, our rule is always err on the side of Too Big.” —Laura Flam, principal at Reunion Goods & Services

“Always use a dimmer, too. I’d say it’s a must-have.” —Dana Jaasund, principal at Reunion Goods & Services

A Lush Houseplant

“My item would be a houseplant. It’s the most versatile home item — you can buy them anywhere, in a huge array of sizes and variety of species, and at an affordable cost. Besides being a beautiful and lush item to soften a space, they also make you feel better and sleep better. Plants are proven to relax your mood and boost your immunity.” —Samuel Amoia, AMOIA Studio

An Artist Book

“Often times, we cannot afford the art we want, but we can enter into the world of an artist through their books. I find beauty there, and the sense of possibility elevates any room. My favorite place for this is from Karma Books on the Lower East Eide.” —Billy Cotton, creative director at Billy Cotton

12 Designers on What Makes Every Space Look Better