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Small decorating changes help revitalize the nest

Is "change" a decorating ingredient? "Yes," says Larry Peabody, a designer, "if you mean by 'change' what is opposed to the static, or stale."

Change, he explains, simply means that your house goes on evolving and growing and going through various periods just as you yourself change and go through various periods.

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A changing house, he contends, is always an exciting house, because you feel that something nice has just taken place, or is about to happen. Passive, unchanging settings don't spark much response, he finds. Active rooms, in which one senses movement, vital interests, and fresh thinking, invite personal involvement. They make guests want to read the book titles on the coffee tabel, touch the texture of the fabrics, closely admire the plants or works of art, or inquire about the hobbies that are often in evidence.

"I think being able to make changes often indicates the willingness to try new materials, new colors, and different arrangements. That aspect in itself often provides new insights into places and people," says Mr. Peabody, who has designed everything from chateaux to palaces, chairs to plumbing fixtures, carpets to corporate complexes.

"As for us," he says, "our houses are full of the kind of changes that make for little surprises. We like to light up dark corners, turn our bathroons into picture galleries, decorate our ceilings, and keep mixing and mingling our collections in new ways.

"The secret of interesting change, of course, may well be degree or moderation. Our granchildren would hate it if we changed too radically and destroyed the feel and general aspect of what is most familiar to them. Yet they are the first to notice new little groupings, a novel pillow, or an artistic table setting. So the kind of change we prefer is that which goes on against a rather settled background."

When is it time to change?

"When you stop seeing something," he replies, "and objects merely blur into the wall. Then you know that boredom has set in and you are in a rut. That is the time to recharge the visual batteries and introduce some change. Sometimes merely rearranging things in a new location will help you see them in a new way."

Peabody and his wife, Bette, live in a farmhouse in New Hampshire in summer and in a 19th-century Victorian house in Haiti in winter. They also spend a month or so each year at a tiny vacation cottage in Denmark. Wherever they are, they stir up the nest occasionally with interesting changes, and they offer these suggestions out of their own experience:

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* Arrange floor groupings that combine plants of several sizes with one or two pieces of sculpture.

* Try the instant change that comes from hanging a strip of interesting fabric on the wall. The simplest way is to hem each end, run curtain rods through top and bottom, stretch fabric tight, and secure it on the wall with a couple of nails.

* Pick up yardage of fabrics that interest you, whether native textiles in bazaars or shops abroad, or fashion fabrics in local department stores. Have a good selection on hand at all times to use for wall hangings, tablecloths, and pillow covers.

* If you have a stair landing, hang a very long painting or poster on it just four inches from the floor, so it can be enjoyed all the way up the steps from bottom to top.

* Don't feel you have to have all your treasures on display at once. You will keep rediscovering their charms if, from time to time, you put a few away and get a few out.

* Practice change in your table settings. The Peabodys never set a table the same way twice. They are constantly experimenting with new table mats and linens, new combinations of dishes, silver, and candles, and different centerpiece arrangements of plants, flowers, and vegetables.

* Change your dining place to keep variety in your settings, and keep a selection of trays and small tables on hand to help you do it. The Peabodys sometimes like to have dinner in their cozy library or on the veranda, or watch the sunset in their upstairs bedroom.

* Don't buy sets or suites of furniture. Although Mr. Peabody has designed groups of furnishings for furniture companies, he and his wife continue to buy one interesting piece at a time, mixing antiques with occasional new pieces, and switching furniture around to new locations from time to time.

* Introduce some things that are just for fun and that bring a smile to people's faces. A game, a favorite toy or doll, a Paddington bear, could do it.

* Put out a few collections that both adults and children can pick up and handle to their heart's content, such as small bells, rocks and stones, or miniatures of one sort or another. Then change the collections from time to time, particularly when grandchildren come to visit.

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