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Decorating: Frank's Tips for the Critical Transition from Ikea to GrownUp

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


Justin Timberlake: Now an interior designer, via HomeMint.

Dear Home Decor Amateurs,

I'm a little new to this whole shopping-for-home thing. And, I have to say: I don't think I like it.

I know—how could I possibly dislike any single facet of shopping? It's all still shopping! And, traditionally, I'm a shopping pro!

Shopping for home is hard, though, isn't it?

Your great outfit go-tos don't necessarily work—scales are different, colors don't work in the same ways. I may have learned this the hard way—the patterns you love in a shirt? They don't always translate to a throw pillow.

Worse: Prices are much, much higher. I mean, most of us can swing a new designer something from Barneys every now and again. It's an amount of money we can process. And it's gorgeous and unique and Italian-made and has some swanky name stitched into it. It seems worth it. And it's still a lot cheaper than a not-that-nice, partially synthetic area rug (the small size) from CB2. A rug that you can't even envision in your home; that you're not sure you like; that you wouldn't even consider if the ones you really liked weren't even more expensive. A rug that, okay, maybe you can return—but not without figuring out a way of transporting an eight foot by ten foot carpet back to CB2.

Returning these home items isn't nearly as simple as returning a sweater. There is, of course, transport or shipping—to say nothing of time and space (you can't just throw an ottoman in your bag the way you might a tee—in case you find yourself near a Gap). Many home stores and e-commerce sites don't accept returns; as items are ordered to your specifications or one of a kind. Sometimes there's a restocking fee; and sometimes those fees are so high it's more economically sound to keep said item and just replace everything else to match it. Sometimes there's a super limited time window for returns. Sometimes it's for store credit only. Always, it's a hassle.

There's alway Ikea. If you can get there. If you can stomach the crowds. If you expect to settle. If having the same bookshelves as everyone you've ever met doesn't bother you. If the fact that they only really have three couches doesn't make you want to scream (I cannot wait to not own an Ikea couch; every time there's a spill I'm one step closer).

Sometimes it seems there's only Ikea. There's no single step up price and quality-wise. There's no tier between Ikea-cheap and West Elm-expensive in terms of design-conscious home furnishings. But I can tell you that there's a surprising array of serviceable—even cute—couches at places like Jennifer Convertibles and Pier 1. Of course, you could never tell anyone you bought what they're sitting on at Jennifer Convertibles or Pier 1.

Another hint: The bedding at Ikea kinda sucks—unless you like paying more for papery sheets that seem only to come in hot orange and lime green. Try Marshall's or Home Goods for a reliable selection of better-than-anything-else-for-the-price sheets and towels by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kate Spade (plus other labels I don't care about because they don't make apparel).

On the e-commerce front, there are two sites that can help. HomeMint just launched with Justin Timberlake as its celebrity decor expert (I'd happily explain this development in JT's career trajectory to you if I understood it but, alas, I think it's as bizarre as you probably do). The site—another members-only situation—asks you what you like and what you don't like. Based on that, a personal shop is created for you each month featuring everything from private label throw pillows to artist's prints to one of a kind furnishings from all over the world (Timberlake is sourcing these himself, I’m sure). There are, apparently, steep discounts to boot (which may or may not be the result of some Kohl's-style inflated retail pricing).

Another site, Fab.com, has been around a bit longer and lately seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues. They feature design at a discount. It’s Gilt for glassware, rugs, vintage objets, molded plastic patio furniture with a pedigree and assorted kitchen gadgets. Many items—ABC Carpet & Home or Safavieh carpets for instance—come with very tangible discounts (at least 30 percent, sometimes 60 or 70). Other items—tag sale finds that someone deemed vintage, like ‘70s steamer trunks and odd bits of maybe mid-century crockery—are priced at whim and discounted for sake of it. You just have to be savvy—it’s not all good but bits are great. And a lot of it you won’t even find elsewhere—WPA poster prints, terrariums, Lucite table lamps. Beware, though, a lot of it isn’t returnable. Also: The colors you see on screen might not be the colors that show up at your door.

Some final hints: A can of paint is the cheapest way to transform a room and put your stamp on it. What’s your favorite color in clothing? Buy a can of that at Home Depot and start by painting a single accent wall. It’ll change your life. Frame your shit—you’re not 19 and you shouldn’t be decorating with thumbtacks. Get a couple of houseplants; put them in some lovely terra cotta pots—it’ll make you look like you care enough about life to keep something alive. Trawl thrift shops and flea markets for fun serving bowls or dishware, vintage luggage or cute side tables; but beware of anything upholstered. Bedbugs are not a chic decorating accessory. A lacquered tray or a cashmere throw in a pop color is a fun touch and makes you look expensive. Find a friend who sews—make them make you curtains, napkins and pillow covers from fabric intended for apparel (it’s cheaper, and more fun). Return the favor with bottles of nice booze or a fabulous dinner. Finally: Overstock.com (sorry, the O) will ship you furniture for $2 and they’re liberal with returns. A lot of it is crap but some of it isn’t.

· Love, Frank [Racked]