Tricks of the Trade

Anthony Baratta’s 12 Tips For Fearless Decorating

February 25, 2020
For Anthony Baratta, decorating boils down to just one question: “Where is the fun?” In his new book, Decorate Happy: Bold, Colorful Interiors (Rizzoli), the exuberant New York-based designer and current designer-in-residence at Colonial Williamsburg shares his inspirations (Henri Matisse, for example) and oodles of tips and tricks for making a room sing with unbridled joy.
“Being fearless is invigorating!” he writes. “I hereby give you permission to break out of the boring and to surround yourself with happiness. I want you to live in rooms that smile.”
Below, a few of our favorite words of wisdom from the book.

Be Bold and Think Big

There is strength in the scale of the forms you choose. An oversize brown-and-white checkerboard wardrobe commands attention in the entryway. A large chandelier in the dining room has strong lines that give it as much presence as the table under it. Simple Italian cane chairs in a hallway take on new interest when the proportions are elongated and the backs are high. You add a little touch of Alice in Wonderland whimsy to the mix when you play with size.

Paint Your Floors

A wooden staircase under a runner needn’t be plain. Let it shine with personality by giving it a coat of paint. If color is good, more color is even better! Painting your floors adds warmth and brings a sense of fun to a room.

Use One Color Throughout to Make a Space Look Bigger

When you use the same shade over and over in one room, something interesting happens. The eye is tricked into thinking the space is bigger than it is. Of course, you must feel strongly about a color to take this giant step. Be sure you’re fully committed. A one-color room envelops you in a positive way, creating a buffer from the outside world. It’s a little like being in our own personal bubble.

Find One Thing That Becomes Your Signature Style...

…whether it’s a red wing chair or a needlepoint chair. These are things to be treasured. When creating…[a] home, look for those objects and furnishings. Is there something in your decorating that will always be associated with you?
In this Fort Lauderdale, Florida, living room a bright red Eero Saarinen Womb chair—a Baratta signature—pops against a feature wall covered in a blue linen.Kris Tamburello

Go As Big As You Can

I hate twee, little things. They are not fearless. Go as big and bold as what will fit through the door. An eight-foot tall dresser in the right room will look like nothing! [In my Colonial Williamsburg residence] I used a great big butter churn as a base for a lamp in one room and a tall antique 19th-century seeing box for the base of a lamp in another room. The shades are oversize too. Let the objects fill the space. Proportion is everything.
Baratta looked to Brazilian style when designing the giant tile mural in the lanai kitchen of a Florida ranch.Kris Tamburello

Defy Convention

Who says that high-style antique furniture can’t coexist with braided rugs and country quilts? Regency-era dining chairs lose some of their stuffiness and get a fresh update with kicky plaid seat cushions. Sure, [a] chandelier above [a] dining table is formal and glamorous, but the entire room doesn’t have to march to the same beat. What’s interesting is the mix. That’s when a room transforms from ordinary to special.

Blue-and-White Pottery Makes Great Lamps

If you look at my work, you’ll see lots of Chinese vases and Delftware being used as table lamps. You can’t go wrong with big blue-and-white pottery as lighting. I’m not interested in teensy-weensy lamps; lamps should be done on a big scale. My preference is always for a pleated lampshade. And while I am on the subject, lamps are highly preferable to canned lighting in the ceiling. Poking holes in your ceiling every few feet makes it look like Swiss cheese…Instead, surround yourself with the warm lighting from gorgeous decorative lamps. You can thank me later.

Put Fabric On Your Walls

What can I say? I have an aversion to Sheetrock. It doesn’t speak to quality in a room, and it leaves me cold. I’m a big fan of linen on walls because it’s warm and cozy. It adds texture and interest in a way that mere paint cannot always do. Also, fabric has an added benefit because it can hide flaws. Architectural problems? Cover them with fabric. Using fabric on your walls is an excellent way to add another pattern to the room…There’s so much more room to play when you open yourself up to the idea of captivating wall coverings.
A houndstooth wallcovering in a muted hue adds a quiet boldness to this nautical-themed bedroom.Kris Tamburello

Remember: Crewel Rules

Crewelwork is a type of embroidery, and it can lend so much unique personality and life to a room. The technique has been around forever and widely use for centuries in India and Greece. Seventeenth-century British royalty loved it in their bedrooms. And it’s still irresistible today! The embroidery is done on using woolen yards on a cotton, linen, jute, silk or velvet fabric. The yarn is how crewel differs from regular embroidery, which is done with thread. Crewel is junkier and fuller, and it has a very textural appearance and feel. The embroidered motifs are often flowers or wildlife. The great thing is that you can use crewelwork anywhere, from window treatments to upholstery for chairs.

When In Doubt, Keep It

I put things I can’t use right now in storage. I don’t throw things out. There are things I collected when I was much younger that you can’t find anymore. They would be very hard to replace. I don’t like to part with anything because you never know when it’s going to appeal to you again. You might find a new ay to make it shine in a different space or a different house. If it’s valuable, keep it. If it’s re-coverable, re-cover it. These things have character. They are part of your life. Keep them close by. Hopefully you have a big attic or basement!


In the open plan dining room of a Vermont ski cabin, Baratta framed a Jeffersons-esque Sputnik chandelier in a glass box creating an art piece.Keith Scott Morton

Collect! Collect! Collect!

Everything old is eventually new again. Start building your history today by keeping the pieces that are important to you and adding to that collection with more items from yesteryear. Time flies by, and modern furniture becomes retro very quickly. Think about it: something from the 1920s is already 100 years old. I may start collecting ’90s pieces next. It’s nice to see old furniture repurposed and reproduced. It becomes part of the never-ending cycle of design.

And Remember: Even Designers Need Designers

With all my knowledge of design, when it comes to my own home, I like to have another designer’s eye on it. There are so many decorating decisions to be made when designing a house, and countless ways that it can all come together. When you are doing design work for someone else, you have more emotional distance and it’s easy. When it’s your own space, it’s harder. If you’re trying to do your home alone, get help—even if it’s from a friend with good taste.


In the words of Anthony Baratta, crewel rules! Check out a few of these charming Schumacher favorites.



Anthony Baratta, the first designer-in-residence at Colonial Williamsburg, takes us on a tour of his favorite spots around the magical Virginia town.