“Cozifications” is one of the more idiosyncratic chapter headings in Deborah Needleman’s new book The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate & Live Well (Clarkson Potter). Invented by Needleman, the founding editor of Domino magazine and currently the editor-in-chief of WSJ. Magazine, this term encompasses all the things that add warmth to a room — rugs, printed fabrics, throws, cushions, and the like. We’re completely taken with it, because, well, who’s not looking for a little warmth in their world?
The cozified look reached its pinnacle in postwar England: Think country houses brimming with flower-y chintz and enveloping armchairs and cashmere throws in front of roaring fires. And, while that sort of room may look casual, it actually takes a bit of forethought to make it the kind of place where you want to sink back and relax. To that end, here are Needleman’s tips for going to the softer side:
Bigger’s better. When in doubt about pillow size, go bigger than you think you need. 20 inches is a nice ample size for square pillows. Even larger ones can double as floor pillows when everyone is lounging in your living room — which they will do, because it’s so. darn. comfy!
Mix it up. When putting a pillow on a chair, go for contrast in terms of color, pattern, and texture, Needleman says. Examples she gives: “Silk on velvet, needlepoint on linen, pattern on solid, faux leopard on shiny chintz.”
Invest in a few good throws. “Throws simply need to be soft and not too small to be useful,” she says. “And they should move from room to room where you need them.” Her recipe for an “Insta-Cozy Couch” has a throw centered over the sofa back, two matching square pillows in the corners and one rectangular pillow in the center.
Get ticking. Ticking stripes are a winner on simple, unfussy pillows, Needleman says. As popularized by famed decorator Sister Parish in the ‘40s as a money-saving measure, it was considered super daring (sort of like Madonna onstage in her undies). Needleman likes ticking best when it contrasts with something really fine, like her velvet-covered armchair. “It’s simple,” she says. “It's like dressing—you don’t want everything to look all perfect. You want to set off the shiny with the matte, or the smooth with the textured.” Checks are similarly humble-yet-charming.
Rediscover florals. Florals are a breath of fresh air in a room, and Needleman’s favorite is chintz. “I love ones that look old and faded,” she says. One hallmark of English country style is to combine a floral, a check, and a stripe on one room. How do you keep them from looking clash-y? “Each fabric should have one color in common with one of the other fabrics,” she says.
Don’t forget the candles. "Scent is crucial to creating a sense of home,” says Needleman. “It affects our mood, remains in our memory, and is instantly perceived by guests.” Scented candles are a good way to introduce fragrance into the home. “I like to keep an unlit one on my bedside table, because its subtle fragrance reaches me in bed.”
Anchor your bedroom. “Upholstered headboards are the quickest, chic-est way to achieve a well-dressed bedroom without a decorator,” Needleman says. Soft fabric there “instantly transforms your bed into a luxurious event, a place you want to be. Plus it provides a focal point for the whole room. And it’s so nice for reading in bed.”
Make friends with ottomans. “Ottomans are among the cleverest pieces of furniture out there,” Needleman says. “First of all, they're footrests, of course. But they also make perfect coffee tables with trays and books perched on them.” And they can also function as extra seating for guests. “Now that is a useful, versatile, and comfortable piece of furniture!”
Score a trifecta. Adding pillows to armchairs and sofas is crucial for a cozy look, says Needleman. To keep things harmonious when adding a new pillow color into a room, Needleman suggests following the “law of threes”: repeat a color from the pillow in at least two other things around the room—like a vase, throw, lamp, or object. “This will tie your new additions into your existing room palette,” she says.
Pillows must be more than just pretty. “They make a room look comfortable and be comfortable — as long as they're not stiff and overly firm,” she says. They can be embellished (mirrors, embroidery), but they must be cushy when you lean in. “As long as pillows are there for using, and not just for decoration, then all is good.” Down-filled are the softest, and, to keep them fluffed, “just beat on them a bit.”
Pad your nest. Upholstered furniture is the epitome of comfort. Armchairs should have, according to Needleman, “ample butt room” and padding, a sloping back, and comfortable armrests. You may want to mix in a more upright chair, but it should still be a pleasant perch. Her idea of a cozy furniture scheme: two armchairs and one upright chair (good for older people who don’t want to sink down). A more formal look: two upright chairs and one armchair.
Lighting is key. “You cannot create warmth and cozification without good lighting,” says Needleman. “Light should glow, not glare at you from overhead. Try to stay away from what I call the ‘dread overhead’ as much as possible and instead rely on a mix of lights from different sources such as table lamps, hanging lamps, sconces, and reading lamps.” And position them all around the room to illuminate dark corners.
Go ahead, get a little ugly. Yes, you heard it right: When it comes to being cozy, Needleman says, it’s integral to add “a bit of ugly.” For example: olive drab among the pastels, a hit of “dreary brown wood” furniture in a room, or a piece with a dull finish. Chez Needleman, it’s the hard edge of black paint in a home full of pale grey, cream, and ivory.
Watch the clutter. Cozification isn’t carte blanche for clutter. “You need to add layers to cozify — rugs, pillows, lamps, textiles, objects — but you can't just keep adding, or your house will veer into crazy-lady land,” Needleman says. “Think about the Victorians; they didn’t know when to stop — more was more to them. We want to combat minimalism, but without going that far. Editing is always a good thing.”