Unsung to Undeniable: How to Mix High and Low Decor
Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Explains How to Mix High and Low Decor for an Authentic Feel
Recently, I was asked how my Austin interior design team and I make the spaces we design feel so “real.” This realness or authenticity comes from making a room feel less like a product or showpiece and more like a living, breathing room. So much goes into designing an authentic space — experience, discipline, thoughtfulness — as well as a client who trusts and contributes to the process. Crediting authenticity to a single element would not be fair or honest. However, one of the most important factors, I think, is creating a space that reflects life in all its highs and lows. You do this by learning how to mix high and low decor.
Mixing design highs and lows is an unsung practice that holds an undeniable force over the genuineness of a space. Life is not a single note. In order to have joyous highs, you must experience grounding lows. You need darkness to have light. You need sadness to have happiness. The same goes for creating a living interior. You must bring that mix of contrasting elements to give the space authenticity, interest, and personality. Otherwise, you are left with something flat, dull, or stuffy.
Let’s ride the design highs and lows together as I give this unsung design element the spotlight it deserves.
The Unsung Design Elements We Should Be Paying Attention To
In the Unsung to Undeniable series, Interior Designer Amity Worrel examines underrated design elements that have the power to make or break your interior. Pay attention because these underdogs have an undeniable force soon-to-be recognized!
What Do Interior Designers Mean by High and Low Decor?
To start, let’s define what design highs and lows are…
Highs are expensive or noteworthy pieces that give weight to the room, lending seriousness and style. A design high might have a high-end feel and a high price tag to match. Typically highs ground the space and could be pieces like a stately headboard, a chandelier, or an antique armoire.
Lows are inexpensive or found selections considered less weighty or “impressive.” Although, sometimes, the lows become the most exciting conversation pieces. These items are a bit more whimsical and less serious than the highs. They could be a piece of furniture found on the curb, a vase passed down from grandma, or portraits from your college photography class.
Mixing High and Low Decor
When you think of it, life is made up of highs and lows. You might experience the grandeur of a wedding or the once-in-a-lifetime European vacation contrasted with simpler moments like running through the sprinkler or just shopping for groceries. These moments are all lovely in their own way, and their contrast makes life interesting. Similarly, an interior room needs contrasting moments to come alive.
Creating a Room That Feels Authentic and Alive
Creating a room that feels “real” comes down to three main practices.
Avoid Making an Inhabitable Showplace
We’ve all walked into rooms that feel “store bought” or “hands off.” These dead spaces hardly get used (or used well) because they don’t welcome the vibrancy of life. So, avoid creating a catalog showpiece full of one-note, matching furniture sets. Instead, embrace items from different styles and eras that reflect you.
Trust the Professionals to Curate on Your Behalf
Once you’ve given your interior designer a complete vision of your style and needs, you need to trust them to make the right selections on your behalf. It’s our job to design around you while honoring the space. Some pieces might not make sense on their own at first, but they will come together in a beautiful melody.
Mix in Highs and Lows
Most importantly, mix highs and lows! There’s no reason why your child’s finger paintings can’t hang next to a piece purchased from a gallery. Layering in elements tells a story. Be open to reflecting your history as well as your aspirations in your space.
Examples of High and Low Decor Pairings
Here are a few examples of high and low decor pairings:
- A marble dining table paired with thrifted chairs
- Zuber scenic wallpaper lit with salvaged sconces
- IKEA BILLY bookcases stocked with Tiffany tableware
My Experience Mixing Highs and Lows
I worked on a project once where we curated this beautifully layered room with a wide range of pieces. We added custom upholstery and brought in this stunning $30,000 cabinet. However, we also installed some inexpensive shelving for the homeowner’s art collection, which included contributions from their children and grandchildren (none of whom were professional artists). We layered the floor with a custom wool rug and tossed some antique throw rugs on top for a bit of character. The home made it into Architectural Digest and received lots of attention for its classic and “timeless” feel. I think this home resonated with people because even though it was high-end, items like the family’s art made it feel relatable. It was an elegant design, but it didn’t feel stuffy. Instead, it invited you in to sit and be comfortable. Designing extravagant spaces with “low” additions allows anyone to see themselves in the room, whether with a familiar book title or framed napkin doodle. It’s these little elements that make a room come alive.
Embrace the Highs and Lows
Authentic interiors are spaces we can live in and feel at home. It’s impossible to relate to a one-note life no matter how glamorous it looks from the outside. To feel alive, we must embrace all of the highs and lows — from life to decor.
Move with all of your design’s ebbs and flows.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.