Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An Exercise: Designing "undesigned" spaces

There are many different types of rooms to love.  The types of rooms I'm thinking of today however, are "undecorated" decorated rooms.  The "undecorated" rooms feel as if they were created effortlessly & naturally.  They're very personal, just as a decorated room can be.  They can be done in any design style- be it traditional, modern, cottage, etc.- but they just feel as if they've been created over time, without a ton of thought, and if they've come to be almost by way of  chance.  They work, but at first glance we don't necessarily know why.   But when you see them, you just want to be there. 

(image above, Atlanta Bartlett)  Although these rooms look effortless, it often takes great thought to create these "undesigned" spaces on a schedule.  Often these rooms develop naturally over time...  Things get added in, others are removed.  Sometimes function trumps beauty.  I personally find it much more challenging to create a room that looks as if it's been created without much effort.  When I'm hired by a client, I'm on a timeline.  I can't just say, "Well, let's do this and that and let's let the rest develop over time."  I have to create a space that looks as if it's been created effortlessly & naturally over time.  It's a very fine line to walk.  On one side you have beauty & perfection and on the other side you have mismashed & junky & odd/cluttered or unfinished.  (The room below is a location offered by Beach Studios...  not finished)  I want to create rooms that are beautiful yes, but that also feel extremely personal & a bit "off"/ not perfectly done.

There's something intrinsically beautiful & interesting about imperfection or the not-so-pretty to me.  I don't mean worn finishes or chips, but something "off." Aspects of a room that just shouldn't quite work, yet do. In my wall of Leonardo Da Vinci sketches, I couldn't help being drawn to the "grotesque" drawings of people that Da Vinci did. (He believed that to truly appreciate & create beauty, we had to first understand the grotesque. Hmm.... Deep thoughts. But I see that. ) But something about the ugly drawings & purposefully hideous & gnarled faces is interesting and somehow beautiful to me. I can't quite explain it... Dave kept asking me why I was putting up all of the ugly pictures. Can't help it!

 Don't get me wrong, it takes a a ton of skill/ talent & an amazing eye to create a space where the room is coordinated beautifully and is perfectly "designed..."  I'm in love with plenty of rooms that look carefully coordinated, with the right blend of new & old, high & low, color & texture and creativity.  I ooooh and aaaaah at rooms with tight matching color schemes.  Some of my favorite designers often create these types of spaces.  I know I do.  But right now I really want to delve into the "undecorated" rooms.  When I do a client's home, for the most part, I want it to look as if I haven't been there.  I don't want it to look as if a designer did the space...  more as if they're just a homeowner with an amazing eye & style.  (Now of course, some clients do want the "designed" look & if so, we go for that.)  But in general, my goal is to tread softly while still creating something unique & beautiful & stylish & real.  It has to be "perfectly imperfect." (below pic of our LR as it was this past fall with paintings that aren't perfectly balanced.)

 I've been noticing lately that a lot of photographers have this look in their homes.  Check out photos of Victoria Pearson's home featured in House Beautiful a while back.  (One of my favorites, the photos are taken by Victoria herself):   

 A lot of the other rooms I've noticed with this look also belong to designers themselves.  I guess it's beacause they have more time, more freedom to create these amazing spaces.  They can throw things in without knowing they "why" and do it "just because."  Or maybe we're just more fearless in our own homes...   I think this also comes when there is a high level of trust between designer and client...  when the client is willing to take risks with the designer.  Design blogger Alek of From the Right Bank totally has it nailed down:

In these types of rooms, things seem to be almost thrown together by a truly stylish person, although I'm sure in reality, the {stylish} person doing the room took great care & put lots of thought into the process.   It seems like a lot of beautiful rooms come about through a long process of tweaking & editing & rearranging.  Color combinations are often a bit more complex or even extremely simple.  They're often unexpected or layered.  (image below from Downtown Chic)

For example, in my aqua family room (below) when deciding on a fabric for my white to-be-slipcovered ottoman, I was deciding between 2 fabrics: 

The first was a pretty linen damask in aqua & brown  (the colors are off in the pic but the aqua pretty much perfectly matched the walls)

and the second was an orange & golden geometric print with tiny spots of aqua.:

As you can see, I went with the geometric print in golden hues, even after my husband told me he thought it was ugly.  I knew it was the less obvious choice but it was the one that gave the space more character & a sense of age & I just loved it.  (Also knowing that it's a slipcover that can be easily removed made me feel better...  although we haven't taken it off yet ;)

Creating "decorated" or "designed" rooms vs. creating rooms that feel as if their creation was effortless, unplanned, and happened over time & possibly on a whim takes both thought and planning, especially when doing it for others.  (The space below is photographer Amy Neunsinger's home featured in House Beautiful, photo by Amy herself)

Since this is a learning process for me and I haven't quite figured out what element it is exactly that created this type of room vs. a perfectly designed room, I just wanted to jot some notes down.  I've included some pics but mostly random thoughts.  (And of course the characteristics I've listed aren't present in every "undecorated" space but they're trends I've noticed.)

 "Real" home vs. Gorgeous "Showhouse" or "Pottery Barn"

1) Color schemes & Depth: 
          -Their color schemes aren't perfectly coordinated or "matchy"...  (I know 'matchy' is regarded almost negatively these days, but I'm not referring to it negatively...  just stating that it doesn't really work for this "undecorated" look.)
          -They sometimes have unexpected color combinations:  often an "off" color added in can do it. 
          -It seems to be harder to get this "undecorated" look with bolder color combinations (which can feel "plastic" or flat to me if there's not enough of a range or depth) but it can be done & when it is, it's awesome.  ...I think it seems to work when lots of texture and/ or older furnishings/ finished are added into the mix 
          -There are often colors that are subdued or fairly neutral with hits of color.   (room below by Nate Berkus & Assoc)


2) Formality:
         -It seems more difficult to create this feeling in more formal rooms because formal rooms often feel decorated/ designed because of their very nature..  yet it's still possible.  Think of a large formal dining room with the goal of getting it to feel "undecorated."  It much more difficult than it would be to do this in a small intimate dining room with doors flung open to a patio.. (image below, Southern Accents)

3.  Age/ Patina
        - Even in a modern space, there needs to be some items with age/ patina:  possibly in furniture, rugs or fabrics..  This creates a sense of history & makes the room look as if it wasn't done in a day (or 3-6 month period, etc.)  (See Nate Berkus room below)

4.  A mix of finishes in both woods & metals
          -"Perfect" rooms (which I do love) often have all of the same metal finish, but "perfectly imperfect" rooms do not. Check out {the insanely talented} Brooke Giannetti's gorgeous powder room with varied finishes for example:

5.  The Personal Aspect
           -When a room feels extremely personal it feels "real"
           - Decorators should draw out a client's passions & create spaces that embody them
           - Truly personal style is much more interesting & beautiful than a beautiful "everyman's" (or "everywoman's) room     (As seen in the totally personal child's room done by the super-creative & fresh Anna Spiro of Absolutely Beautiful Things.) 

6.  Fabrics:  Patterns vs. Solid
             - Sometimes it's a mix of patterns and/ or artwork that come together uniquely and could possibly be perceived as "too much" but somehow isn't and is instead "just right."  (See master of "undecorated" rooms Celerie Kemble's room below)

     -Sometimes there's not much pattern at all, but rather a combination of solid, textural materials:  (room below by Atlanta Bartlett)

   -And sometimes it's a natural-looking  (vs. perfectly coordinated looking) combination of patterns & solids  (See room below by Steven Gambrel)

7.  When art/ prints are personal vs. mass-produced:  Again, this goes along the lines of personal.  But it does make a difference.  For example, think of flea market oil paintings vs. beautiful glicee reproductions...  (I do use glicees but try to limit them to unique works that I've never seen before.)

8.  How the room is accessorized:  is it "perfect" or "lived in?"  Not overstyled, not overedited yet not cluttered.    In magazines & online, I also think the way the room is photographed & styled has something to do with it...  All photographers & stylists & magazines have their own unique styles and  as I learned through the BHG shoot:  If your house was shot by 3 different magazines, it would have 3 totally different looks/feelings depending upon what they wanted to focus on & the look they're going for.   In 'real life' the way  you style a room can really change its mood/ feeling and turn it from looking perfectly decorated to "undecorated."  (Think about informal balance.)

...  Ok, I could go on & on...  But in the end it all comes down to creating a room that's loved.  Include lots of things that the homeowner truly loves in the space and create a mood with color & pattern & texture that sings to the homeowner's very soul.  (yeah , I know I'm getting cheesy ;)  Use  items full of memories, fabrics that really speak to them & show who they are, furnishings that will be the comfortable backdrop for life.  Personal choices...   include items "just because they're loved" rather than because they "go."  This is often really a challenge when working with clients (many of them younger) because not everyone really has "stuff."  If people haven't really collected or acquired things over the years, it's the designer's job to help find things the client loves & that speaks to them without forcing it.    It's why the designer must be insanely perceptive & able to draw people out of themselves. 

One of the best classes I ever took in college that's prepared me more for design work than almost ant other was Nonverbal Communication.  I find that it's not so much what people say they like, but it's how they react to suggestions or pictures or ideas that shows me what they really like.   What excites them?  What deters them?

So how to design the undesigned room??  Again, I think that these spaces need to be & look "loved."  I know that might sound like a cop-out because it's not a tangible thing you can just do, but I think I'm really coming to the conclusion that all of the spaces I'm talking about are deeply personal & loved & used.  These are the spaces I want to create for people.  They can be beautiful, they can be interesting, they can be spare or cluttered, but they must be loved. 

Your thoughts?


ps- Happy birthday to my mother-in-law Sharon!!   She was probably one of the first people who truly believed in me when I first started out decorating.  She trusted me & let me experiment on her house and gave me confidence when I wasn't so sure.  She's supportive of all we do even when our crazy ideas scare her.  She reads every single comment on this blog because she cares that much & feels she knows so many of you.   Not only is she incredibly good to Dave & our kids, but she's good to me & I love her.  Happy birthday Sharon, because I KNOW you're reading!! ;) ;)