When you think of romantic decor, you may think of dizzying displays of floral prints, miles of lace and potpourri so overpowering it sends you screaming -- or sneezing -- out the door.
But on this day before Valentine's Day, let us remind you that a romantic look in your home is not limited to feminine frills and girly garnishes.
Sure, there are elements that appear frequently. Four-poster beds; soft fabrics (chenille, velvet, silk, matelasse and chintz are some favorites); needlepoint pillows; antiques; tufting; tassels; flowers on the nightstand, those sorts of things.
But whether you're a hopeless romantic at heart or simply find pleasure in sipping tea from a pretty porcelain cup, there's more to it.
"I think of things that make you cozy and comfortable -- like throw blankets, lush fabrics and lighting. Lighting is something a lot of people don't think about," says local interior decorator Susan Cherry Redino, who runs Cherry Tree Design.
A romantic home appeals to the senses. It's a retreat you enjoy coming home to. It's more about emotions, less about trends. It's furnished and accessorized with things you -- and the other people who live there -- truly love and are comforted by.
This is especially true when you are decorating for someone besides yourself.
You want to "create a space that reflects both you and your paramour," says Jacqueline M. deMontravel, editor of Romantic Homes magazine, via e-mail.
"The first impulse is that candles, an abundance of textures such as pillows and lots of feminine details create a romantic environment. While pretty and comfortable, a room has to be comfortable for those inhabiting it," she says.
The key: You need to involve your partner in the decorating.
"For instance if he has a passion for books, stack his best sellers throughout the room, perhaps add a vase on top with your preferred flower. This combination of two loves brings a couple together, and then the romance will take off," deMontravel says.
Romantic decor also has been pared down to reflect today's tastes and lifestyles.
Barbara Timlin, who lives in a 19th-century home in Allentown, describes the look of her master bedroom as romantic -- with its antique washstand night tables, Oriental carpet and four-poster bed.
But the bed has a modern feel to it.
"The bed has an elegant look but it's very simple -- with plain finials at the top. My parents had a big, ornate antique four-poster bed. It was very dark. Ours is more scaled down," she said.
Want to add a little romance to your home decor without going overboard -- and not just for Valentine's Day?
Here are a few ideas:
* Don't save your good china, table cloths and candles for special occasions only. Use them often.
* Display dishes, pottery or other things you love so you see them everyday.
* Group together family photos -- old and new -- in pretty frames on a skirted table.
* Hang a crystal chandelier in a bathroom, bedroom or over a kitchen island. Buy new or scour antique shops, estate sales, secondhand stores (it may have to be rewired or repaired.)
* Add a splash of floral -- on a chair, ottoman, pillow, serving tray.
* Upgrade the items you use everyday. Use cloth napkins instead of paper. A beautiful pen instead of whatever you find in the junk drawer.
* Hang a pretty wreath on a door, above a bed, in a guest bathroom. It doesn't have to be heart-shaped -- but it can be!
* Place big flowers with short stems in low vases on nightstands or next to the sink.
* Use beautiful soaps.
* Add romance to your garden -- and begin planning what you might do now. Think arbors, big hanging baskets, window boxes, porch swings, wicker furniture.
* Add some pink or red to your decor (see accompanying story for ideas).
* Put lights on dimmers.
* Fill the air with music you love -- one of the elements that lifestyle writer Lucia van der Post calls an essential, along with a few others.
Her words: "I've often thought that the things that really matter in a house (apart from it being filled with people one loves -- the one true necessity) are books, flowers, music, food and wine, none of which have to be expensive," she writes.
Talk about romantic.