Lately I have had many interior design clients asking for help in selecting an accent wall color in order to make a particular wall “pop.” While I am all for accent walls “of color,” I find the rebel in me looking for more unusual ways to give that one special wall some drama. Paint is, by far, the least expensive method, but being creative about texture is also something to consider. We are all very comfortable using tile, glass, metal, any number of materials as kitchen back splashes, but when it comes to a living room, entry or two story staircase wall, the default seems to be paint. Hmmmm. How to break the mold and think outside the box? Perhaps the most “wow! wall” I’ve seen recently, and one I desperately wish I had come up with, is one that goes up a staircase wall. It is gold leafed in brick size units that are arranged in a parquet style of quarter turns. They are not perfectly uniform in size nor shape, and they have a slight random feel to how they were laid. The effect is an amazing combination of rich, warm, elegant beauty with just a dash of wild serendipity thrown in. And, you’ve never experienced the grandeur of how light can play off a wall until you’ve experienced this wall. Lately, I have used horizontal wood planking applied in several different ways as wall treatments. Sometimes the planks will be deeply stained and highly polished, laid very tightly together to minimize seams, and wrapped around a corner to run the length of an adjoining wall to give the treatment even more drama and a sleek, three dimensional effect. I have also bolted iron rods vertically on a wall from floor to ceiling and then affixed horizontal planks to them, leaving fairly thin spaces in between. The planks are offset from the wall, lending depth, and the wall behind it is painted an accent color that peeps through the spaces. The planks I selected were more weathered and in keeping with the industrial chic style that is so popular lately, but in truth, there could be a sleek, sophisticated, and polished way to apply this wall treatment depending on materials selected. One last example…I have bought salvaged old tin ceiling tiles and white washed and weathered those that weren’t already in that condition, and tiled the wall instead of the ceiling. They can be used to create a headboard effect in a bedroom, a living or dining room cottage style accent wall, one can add a frame around them or not depending on the effect you desire. So, before you choose paint, a perfectly lovely choice, let your imagination run wild about materials and what dramatic effect you would like to achieve. Find the rebel inside yourself.
My daughter goes to a classical core knowledge school which would definitely frown on how I am about to co-opt a sacred concept. THE GREAT CONVERSATION is the name given to the exchange of ideas that has been going on for thousands of years now. The ideas are the BIG IDEAS like God, our world, relationships, truth, knowledge, existence, hope, despair, purpose – in short, who we are and why we live. Never unwilling to be utterly shallow, I am going to pretend that the “how we live” portion of it refers to interior design.
Like many of you, I cherish a great conversation. Whether participant or listener, I just find it exhilarating. If I could transport myself back to any time period, I might have to choose the Algonquin Round Table or French Salon Society. I can only imagine that the exchange of ideas was heady, witty, fast, furious and challenging, As an interior designer, I think it is important to design great spaces conducive to great conversation. So, here are a few of the questions to ask yourself when you are imagining or re-imagining your space. Does it have a focal point around which it is set up…a fireplace, a picture window, a great piece of art, an amazing view, a wonderful colored accent wall…something that invites people into the space and helps define it? (Hopefully not a 50 inch television screen.) Are the chairs and/or couches comfortable and within close enough proximity to each other that conversation can feel intimate? The need to shout is usually a conversation stopper. Are there tables handy for putting down one’s cup of tea, martini glass, shot of anisette, or any visual aids that might be part of a great conversation? Does the color scheme, whether calming or provocative, seem thought out and deliberately chosen? Is the lighting flattering and easy on the eyes? Does the space reflect a little bit of who you are as a person, i.e. you like to travel and you collect cultural artifacts, you are a book lover and a couple of your favorites are artfully displayed on the coffee table? If you can answer yes to these questions then you are ready to invite guests over and start a great conversation…or even a mundane one. You never know where either of them will lead.
And, of course, my fond hope is “if I build it, they will come.” I may never get Dorothy Parker, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau or Salvador Dali, but if I can picture them comfortably hanging out in any of the many conversation areas of my home until the wee hours, who knows what amazing people will wind up in my salon.
A blind person could not live in my house. Memorizing where the furniture and accessories are in order to avoid bodily injury is useless. I rearrange them like other people rearrange Scrabble tiles. When I pick my daughter up from school, I ask her the highly unoriginal question, “How was your day today?” She answers equally unoriginally and monosyllabically with “fine,” or some such synonym…and then she asks me her habitual question, “Did you rearrange today?” The usual answer, I’m abashed to admit, is “just a little.” I love the idea of space and how objects best fit into it. Every time I am convinced I have thought of the new “best” and most aesthetically pleasing way to arrange a room, I have to immediately try it. I have been known to move huge pieces of furniture to other rooms, single-handedly, and then back again, in order to satisfy my itch to try a new configuration. Some changes are actually a revelation! Others…not so much. But, I am always amazed at how a table in one corner can make a room look smaller and then, when moved to another corner, or under a window, can suddenly open things up in such a way that the room seems bigger, or cozier, or more inviting. A lamp moved next to a chair can suddenly illuminate it so that all one wants to do is plop down there with a cup of tea and a book just to be able to hang there longer. A mirror moved to just the right wall at just the right height can make a room feel larger or brighter. This week, I was about to go on the hunt for a new end table needed next to a lounge chair in my bedroom, and possibly a new nightstand for one side of the bed. Before deciding what sizes and styles I wanted, I decided to rearrange…just a little…to make sure that what I bought was what I really needed. By the end of my frenzy, I had carted in an old silver leafed altar table stored in the garage and moved everything, and I mean everything, around. A bench moved downstairs, the altar table stayed and became the new nightstand I now didn’t need to buy. One of the other nightstands wound up next to the chair and has never looked better. One lamp moved to the garage and another lamp from downstairs switched places with a floor lamp from my bedroom. They are all happier with their new spots (well maybe not the poor lamp that wound up in the garage) and so am I. And, most importantly, the only new thing I needed to acquire to make this room perfect was a new perspective. Talk about a bargain! So, the moral is to take what you have that you still like, and try every possible configuration to see what makes a room most inviting before you invest in new things. Things, new or old, though they may be beautiful, will only look great if they are arranged in the best possible way. Who knows, you might already own exactly what you need to spruce up a room. Or, at the very least, the process will help you target just what is missing from the room you are trying to create. You know what? Next time my daughter asks me if I rearranged again, I am going to answer proudly that I did and can’t wait to show her.
If you need advice for your own space, please contact me via my website www.mystylereboot.com/.
My name is Lisa and I am an addict. I can hear all of you now greeting me in unison, very sympathetically as I type. My addiction does not have a support group. I am addicted to white vases. I am currently approaching owning 75 of them. There is not a room in my house that does not have a grouping of them. It wasn’t always that way. When I remodeled my first house in Los Angeles, I added a fireplace with a mantel and built in display shelves above it in the family room. The shelves were not deep and could only accommodate vases or picture frames because of the living room fireplace chimney on the other side of the wall. I started buying vases of all colors and materials and placing them there. Then, I would sit down in the room and look at them and immediately and obsessively get up to rearrange. I could never feel satisfied. They were pretty but they did not make a statement. One day, I bought a beautiful small but voluptuous, creamy white Jonathan Adler vase and decided to start over with my vase arrangement. I took everything off and put the Adler vase back on the shelf first. And suddenly, when it was the only vase on the shelf, I had a vision of all white vases on all the shelves against a deep taupe/gray. I quickly painted the built in shelves, and now you will understand the extent of my obsessive nature, I drew and cut out various shapes and heights of vases in white construction paper and taped them to my shelves to get an idea if my vision actually translated. Even with only one real vase and a lot of inexpertly drawn and cut out companions filling the shelves, my fireplace wall finally “popped!” I was on to something. Slowly, I filled the shelves with the real thing. A few were pricey but most were not…Ikea, West Elm, CB2, flea markets, local boutique stores. In my current home, there is no single wall against which to display them all together, but they are in groupings in every room and whenever anyone comes to my house for the first time, they get noticed. I am almost always asked when I began collecting white vases, and how I came up with the idea to unify the rooms with groups of them. They are a noticeable detail that speaks to people about decorating with intent and a vision. They say something about my personality (hopefully not that I am addictive, though you know the truth.) I am constantly amazed at the wide variety of looks in a single color. Shades of white, texture, height, round shapes, angular shapes, squat shapes, elongated shapes, handmade, wheel thrown, mold made, asymmetrical…there is nothing uniform about white vases. But, a word of caution, they come with no warning label and are extremely addictive.
I have not always been smart enough to avoid long distance affairs in my personal life, but till recently, I definitely applied what I had learned the hard way to my professional design life. How could I “deliver the goods” of great design in a space I could not stand in physically, over an internet that is many things but definitely not tactile? But, just as I got seduced into those romances, I finally got seduced into designing via picture, email, texting and phone. Two different friends in LA and one cousin in DC all “hit on me” in a period of a few weeks with questions about interior wall colors, exterior stain tones, room rearrangement, old accessories that needed to stay or to go, new accessories that needed to pull a room together, and lighting. I patiently explained my reservations about long distance “affairs,” but like all good suitors, they cajoled me into it. “How hurt could any of us get if we just casually exchanged ideas and we took full responsibility for experimenting a little?” they asked. Well, we went from exploration to implementation pretty quickly, and the results were way more satisfying for all of us than I could have imagined…in fact, they were staggeringly good. So, I am about to throw caution to the winds, let go of what I thought I knew, and begin to offer this service to those that want to stick a toe or an entire leg in the water of design advice in the virtual world. And, you know what really was the strongest argument for overcoming my professional worry? Remembering that I have the privilege of knowing and loving two couples who are solid, deeply in love, and weathered a large part of their early courtships from a distance. What better incentive to let go and believe that all things are possible? So, any takers who want to flirt?
With all due respect to Jackie O, I have never been a fan of twin sets. I am a more mix than match girl when it comes to clothes and to room design. Though I probably have faulty logic, from my earliest days, I remember thinking that buying things in sets showed a lack of imagination and a rigidity that I couldn’t relate to. Even when buying silverware, I buy partial sets to mix and match at the table with other partial sets that I like together. As a poor college student, I inherited a 5 piece walnut veneer bedroom set. Dresser, mirror, nightstands and headboard. I should have been thrilled but instead I spent the next several years trying desperately to disguise the fact that my “perfectly matching” room felt designed to show off some anonymous mass market furniture designer’s personality. When I bought my first house, I finally sold the set, determined to live without (read clothes in cardboard moving cartons for a long time to come) rather than let the set become an unwelcome fixture in my life a second time. Thus began a series of mix-not-match adventures that allowed me to spread my wings and find a look that suited me. An antique Japanese Tansu chest eventually held my clothes (it came with an ancient yellowed scribbled note in calligraphy quality Japanese that was taped to the door of a secret compartment. To this day, whenever I decide to have it translated, I change my mind. I want to believe it is magical and spiritual and I don’t want to know if it was someone’s reminder to bring home a quart of milk.) A Ralph Lauren rattan headboard and footboard, that I scrimped and saved for, surrounded my bed. A nightstand with iron legs, fruitwood drawers and a poured concrete top that a furniture designer friend and I designed and he made became my nightstand on one side; a Pier 1 double tray stand serviced the other side, and an ultra modern cowhide swivel chair with a beautiful old, threadbare Persian rug in front of it faced my bed from the corner. Nothing in the room was made to go together. None of the materials really echoed each other. But, the look was warm, inviting, intriguing, designed and…well…ME.
I came across this chair in Wendy Goodman’s always amazing NY magazine column about design. A pair of them were designed by Studio Dror to flank the pulpit or “bima” of the newly refurbished Soho synagogue. In addition to their eye popping beauty, their obvious inspiration, the peacock, is perfect for those who want something a little more spiritual served up with their design. What the peacock is meant to represent is open to many, many interpretations but here are a few I came up with from a cursory Google search…
- An ancient Greek belief was that a peacock’s flesh did not decay; hence it is a particularly potent symbol of eternal life.
- A peacock grows new feathers each year, thus they are symbolic of rebirth and the cycle of the seasons.
- The many eyes of the peacock’s tail are taken to symbolize the all-seeing vision of God.
Now, for those lucky enough to see them in person, or even sit in them, they may just be things of beauty to covet. For others, their symbolism may enhance the spiritual experience of prayer. One way or the other, they are inspired by a very old image in art and religion and add perfectly to the new design of a very old space. I call that full circle.
I’ve been thinking about polka dots a lot. The world is in trouble and I daydream about polka dots. Crazy! My daughter is past the Dr. Seuss phase so I can’t chalk it up to a stupor induced by repetitive reading of “Put me in the Zoo.” What is it about polka dots that I find so alluring and reassuring? Last night I went to a fashion show called Wearable Art…non professional models of all ages and body types modeling the offerings of young designers…some avant garde, some not so. The look that caught my eye was not the truly, insanely creative gowns made of spun and sculptured felt that were the highlight of the show, but a young girl in the audience, probably about nine years old who was wearing a red party dress with white polka dots and white mary janes with a big red bow in her hair. Her’s was a look that was both ageless and fresh.
I’ve been obsessing about a polka dot bathroom and I think I’ve talked my truly adventurous friend Arleen into letting me design one for her that is also fresh and ageless, but sophisticated. It won’t be red and white, but it will be simple, uncluttered and a statement like I always find polka dots to be. In fact, they are the dot on the bottom of the exclamation point.