Is Pretty Enough?

Don’t get me wrong, I like a pretty room.  In fact, given my northeastern urban locale,  I often feel like I’m the one waving the “pretty” rally towel amidst my clients’ calls for cool, stark modernism.  I think pretty rooms tend to get a bad rap, with people viewing them as old-fashioned, unsophisticated or, even worse, just plain old boring.

I think these pretty naysayers have a point.  As much as I like pretty things (see my earlier post about Gracie wallpaper!), every room needs something a little unexpected, a little jarring, a little (dare I say) ugly to make it truly interesting.  This little extra thing, be it an unexpected paint color, a piece of furniture that doesn’t quite belong,or a piece of art that’s just a little off, can transform a room from pretty nice to spectacular.

Example one:  Bunny Williams’ living room at the 2009 Kips Bay Decorator Show House

4594114923 d49501a148 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Maria Quiroga

The room is classic Bunny Williams, beautifully layered and scaled, with just the right amount of color and texture.  And it is certainly pretty.  But it is the very unexpected red egg chair (unexpected both in terms of color and era) that makes it a truly interesting, tingle-inspiring room.

Example two:

4594115023 cb587dc622 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Fritz von der Schulenburg

Another beautiful Bunny Williams room with lots and lots to consider and marvel.  But to me, it is the painting with its unexpected subject (some type of little gnome-like man??) and its jolt of bright green that transforms this room.  Imagine the difference if this painting were replaced with a more expected landscape.  The room just wouldn’t be as cool.

The moral of today’s story?  Don’t be afraid to put something you love into a room.  That quirky flea market find, the oversized bright pink vase, the funky pillow — go ahead and put them in your perfectly pretty room and watch what happens.

Why This Room Works: Design Secrets 101

In praise of the “just right” room

Pictured above is a living room designed by Lynn Morgan and featured in the April issue of House Beautiful.  It is undeniably fresh and pretty with its crisp white walls and pastel blues. Perhaps a tad too traditional for my preferred taste, I am highlighting it because it exemplifies what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of successful design.  Yes it is functional, yes it is aesthetically pleasing, yes it appears to feature a nice mix of old and new — all important elements of good design.

But I’m focusing on this room because of what it isn’t — over-designed.  There is something very pleasing about its simplicity. It’s a little breath of fresh air.  No window treatments, a simple sisal on the floor,  there’s a minimum of pattern and even color.  But this room isn’t cold or sterile.  Indeed, it strikes me as someplace that I’d like to spend an afternoon.

Not over-designed, not under-designed, it is a “just right” room.

Given my love of graphic patterns and layers of color, it’s refreshing to take a step back and admire the charms of a lovely, simple room.

Why this room works: Design Secrets 101

What are the secrets of good interior design?  Why do some rooms work while others just don’t?  As I often say (I’m sure frequently to the groans of my friends, family and clients), good design is just like a good drink — it’s all about the mix.  Whether you are talking about fabrics, furnishings, colors or styles, it’s always about how you put it together.

A well-designed room needs both hard and soft, clean-lines and curves, feminine and masculine, the expected juxtaposed with the completely unexpected.  You need some graphic to spice up the neutral, you need the symmetry that pairs bring to a room but also the glory that comes from a single unique piece.  When combining fabrics, you need the large mixed with the small, the loud mixed with the whisper, and the over-the-top, want-to-slap-your-mama-because-it’s-so-beautiful mixed with the neutral and subtle.  The same is true of wood tones.  Don’t fall into the trap of having your furniture look like you bought it all at the same time… from the same line……at the same store!  Mix your woods.

I know that when you are alone staring at an empty room, achieving  this successful mix can seem like a hard nut to crack.  And while it’s true that creating this mix is easier for some of us than for others, it’s really just a matter of learning the secrets.  And the best way to learn these secrets is to study rooms that have mastered the mix. Thus, the birth of what is sure to become a regular feature, “Why this rooms works:  Design Secrets 101.”

And now on to our first victim……. this beautiful living room designed by Claiborne Frank and featured in Elle Decor November 2011.

Why this room works:

Symmetry:  the pair of sofa side tables and lamps; the matching cheetah ottomans on either side of the coffee table; the club chairs in the foreground; even the windows at the rear of the room.  There is a lot going on in this room but all the potential chaos is kept in check by symmetry.  What would happen if there were different tables and lamps on each side of the sofa — maybe one larger than the other, perhaps in different colors and finishes?  The room would be too much for the eye to take in.  Same goes for the ottomans and the club chairs……which brings me to my next point

Neutrals:  another important reason that this room doesn’t feel chaotic is the predominance of neutrals.  The sofa and the club chairs are covered in a neutral and the curtains are neutral as well.  I know that the impulse would be (and perhaps I’m projecting here) to use a more vibrant or graphic fabric for the curtains.  But I think that might have been a mistake paired with accessories like these fantastic Madeline Weinrib pillows on the sofa and the animal skin ottomans.  So what if you really wanted a more graphic or colorful fabric for the drapes……I say go ahead and go for it, but remember to tone down your other fabrics and accessories because  (let’s say it all together now)…..it’s all about the mix!  So if you decide to make the curtains a little more attention-getting, just make sure that the other pieces demand a little less.

A little taste of Graphic:  of course all of those neutrals would be boring if it weren’t for our friends the graphic punches.  The pillows, the ottomans, the red vases, the blue lamps, all add interest, color and design.  Also at work in this room, is one of my favorite pieces to add to any space — a graphic rug.  Here it works as both a neutral and a graphic, adding  subtle (but important) interest to the overall design but not overpowering the space.

Why do you think this room works?