Southwestern or country? Tuscan or contemporary? Figuring out your design style is one of the most fundamental — and most difficult...
Southwestern or country? Tuscan or contemporary?
Figuring out your design style is one of the most fundamental — and most difficult — aspects of home decorating.
Most of us stumble into a style, keeping a jumble of furniture bought or handed down through the years. We surround the furniture we don’t love with accessories that don’t clash. The result is a home that corresponds only vaguely to our personal sense of style — or worse, a mishmash of stuff that looks awful together. “Sometimes you walk in, and it’s clear that they have no idea what they like,” says Jodi Zippo, owner and principal designer for BellaLu Design & Interiors in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I think their budget and their family get them there.
“[They say] ‘When I graduated from college, my parents gave me this and that. And my grandma gave me this dresser, and I can’t possibly give it away.’ There’s so much emotion attached to things … and obligation.”
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How do we take control of home decorating and learn to express ourselves through our belongings?
The truth is that many people know what they like. They just don’t know what to call it. Professional designers have a vocabulary to translate the vagaries of taste into distinct categories and products.
“You have to help them find what their style is, because the majority of buyers don’t know,” says Leigh Barrington, vice president of design studio operations for Keller Homes, who spends her days helping strangers outfit their new homes.
“We get them talking. We find out who they are and how they live. Do they have kids? Do they have pets? Are they more casual or formal? What happens on a day-to-day basis in the home?”
If you have the money to hire a professional designer-cum-psychologist, that might be the way to go. If you don’t, or just like to do things yourself, here are some steps to take to define your style.
My life in pictures
If you don’t have the vocabulary, use pictures.
Flip through the enormous pile of home-decorating magazines on newsstands. Buy a few of the best and start cutting out the rooms that appeal to you. See whether a pattern emerges — perhaps all the homey rooms you pick are described as “country,” or maybe you’re a clutter-hater who loves the minimalist appeal of contemporary spaces.
Zippo tries this trick with her clients — she “plunks down a big bin of magazines for them to look through,” and before long it’s clear to her what her client favors.
Barrington confirms it: “Our buyers don’t really know what they’re looking for, but they can find a picture in Better Homes & Gardens and say, ‘I love this.’ “
One of the more entertaining ways to determine your style is to take quizzes that abound in magazines and books and online. Like the love quizzes in Cosmo, they might not unlock the secrets of the universe, but they sure are fun.
One of the best is at HGTV’s Web site (www.hgtv.com; put “style quiz” in the search box), where you click on your favorite hat or cookie or even dog to reveal the inner workings of your style psyche. (Apparently, I’m an “eccentric” who should try eclectic, Southwestern or Mediterranean styles.)
By the looks of things, the denizens of singles bars will soon ditch the “what’s your sign” hoohah and start asking, “What’s your style?”
“Oh, you’re a French country? I’m a rustic lodge. We’d never work out.”
or just look good?
The American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org) suggests you ask yourself a few questions before you hire a designer or embark on a project:
• For whom is the space being designed?
• What activities will take place there?
• How long do you plan to occupy the space?
• What is your time frame for the project?
• What is your budget?
• Are you relocating or remodeling?
• What image do you want to project?
The goal is for your home to reflect you and your family, so you must begin with a touch of self-reflection.
If you have a toddler, Zippo says, you might consider French country cabinets because they can get banged around. Barrington finds out about kids, pets and level of formality as soon as a client walks through the door.
These questions should get your mind spinning about the function of a room as well as the form. Hopefully, you can find a way for the two to complement each other.
Ditch the old stuff
Once you determine what you like and what you need, you must be ruthless in tossing out the stuff that doesn’t fit. Otherwise, your new insights will forever fall victim to the errors of your past.
“Too many tchotchkes in one place can choke you,” Zippo says. “Less can be more.”
The push to clear clutter from our lives is bleeding into style preferences.
“Cleaner lines is really what people are after,” Zippo says. “They want a clean, less cluttered lifestyle.”
“Eclectic” can go
only so far
“Nowadays, people really are becoming more eclectic, and I think it’s about the mix,” Barrington says. “It’s odd to find somebody who is 100 percent French country or 100 percent contemporary.”
That trend is easily misconstrued. Some hapless homeowners try to use this as a loophole to avoid tossing that old dresser and the piles of clutter. They keep their clashing pieces of furniture and call it “eclectic.”
Well, my friend, eclectic can only cover so many sins.
“There is a fine line,” Zippo says. “A client could focus on a theme of Asian style, and then they go and have the antique oak chest. It is very much about hoarding and not being willing to let go.”
The “eclectic excuse” is also used as a way to shoehorn misguided themed rooms into a home.
“One mistake people make is to put themes in rooms — the cowboy room, the Oriental-style room, the trip to Italy. All of that is too much.”