Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Intelligent Design

I’m new at this. Design throws me. But with my new interest in art history, I realize that my eyes are being opened to the beauty that surrounds me. And that’s getting troublesome.

Now I’m becoming obsessed with interior decoration. I mean, I know what I like when I see it. But why do I like it? And how come I can’t do that? I figured that interior design/decoration would sort of springboard from my ability to put together the elements of my wardrobe in a tasteful way. Why can I get away with combining five patterns when dressing but have no idea where to start with decor?

So, being a good William and Mary graduate, I’ve decided to do some research. There are many wonderful blogs out there (Peak of Chic, Brilliant Asylum, {this is glamorous}, All the Best, Style Court, Habitually Chic, Things that Inspire, The House of Beauty and Culture and Pigtown*Design to name a few on my reading list) whose authors not only know good taste, but can comment intelligently on why something is great design. Wow!

After a few weeks of reading, I figured I’d pick up some books at Barnes and Noble to help me out.

I have a sort of design hangover at the moment. Too much time spent staring at the shelves. Too many names, too many styles, too, too, too much information for the neophyte to absorb.

So I’m throwing the question to the experts in the audience. Dear readers: where would you start your education? Dorothy Draper? Kelly Werstler? Nancy Lancaster? John Fowler? Or a time period? Pompeii? Lascaux? Publishers? Taschen? Assouline? Elle Decor?

If you had to pick the textbook for Great Interior Design 101, what would it be?

14 thoughts on “Intelligent Design

  1. Thanks for mentioning me in that elite group! I say read everything you can. Go to local house museums and see what historic interiors look like. Read the blogs that have the same sense of design that you have. Attend high-end antique shows and even watch Antiques Road Show. All of this will contribute to your education. I wouldn’t stick to a certain period, as one thing leads to another.

  2. I agree with fairfax on all points, with the addition of people. Interesting, worldly, open minded, imaginative, daring people that’s where I believe it all really begins. That said, knowing the rules (if only in order to break them) is important. The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr is a good place to start; with a minimum amount of images it allows the imagination free reign.

  3. Thanks HOBAC. I have to agree, my Art History teacher is very worldly and well-traveled. She has opened my eyes to many intricacies that I would have otherwise glossed over. And I have you all! A full glass.

    Funny you mention that book as it was one that I pulled from the stacks and leafed through. I enjoyed the voice of the authors. As one who works primarily with words, I like people who can paint a picture with them.

  4. I am honored and flattered to be on your list of people with a good eye! However, I am not a designer, it is just a strong interest of mine. Usually my interest in design comes and goes, as my decorating budget waxes and wanes, but the blog has kept my interest in design quite high. I think it is because there are so many wonderful design blogs out there.

    I will say, though, that I feel much more secure in my design interests and direction than I have at any other point in the past. My blog has helped me clarify what I truly like, and being exposed to so much good design on a daily basis has helped me appreciate styles that are different than mine.

    There is a book that I am very interested in reading, and from what I have heard, it is not only informative about design, but also about teaching a person how to refine their own sense of design. It is Bunny Williams’ new book Point of View. One tip (of hers) is to expose yourself to the best of antiques, art, and furniture, so you have a good foundation. It sounds like you are doing this!

  5. TIC- I’m looking up “Point of View” now, thanks for the tip! And I agree, writing a blog does sort of force one to clarify one’s own views on a number of subjects.

    Off to The Renaissance.

  6. I agree with the others. One book that you might enjoy is “Styles: Compendium of Interior” b/c this will give you a good overview of the various styles through the ages, their historical context, etc. It’s a book I’m always consulting. Then you could pursue areas that are of real interest to you (Regency, Louis XVI, etc.). Although to be honest, I concentrated on designers first and then worked my way backwards towards general styles/periods. (PS- When you want to read something light, check out Draper’s books- they’re so fun and upbeat. I’m constantly rereading them!)

  7. Just ordered “Styles” and “The Decoration of Houses” through ABE. “POV” and a Draper or two will have to wait until the next freelance job.

    Thanks to everyone for the suggestions and keep those cards and letters coming.

  8. I have another (very budget friendly) recommendation. This month’s Architectural Digest is a treasure trove of tips and recommendations from some of the leading designers. The whole issue is made up of mini interviews; the designers are all asked the same questions about design. And, there are mini segments on what the designers have to say about specific topics like lighting, kitchens, etc.

  9. Excellent and most welcome suggestion during the budget crisis that is Christmas with small children… Now if I can just get out of B&N with only one item….

    I can resist anything but temptation.

  10. One book only?
    That would be Mark Hampton’s Legendary Decorators of the 20th Century.
    Each chapter, headed with a charming watercolour by Mark himself, contains a brisk, sharply observed portrait, so to speak, of those famous Names. As an analysis of “Style” it cannot be improved upon. Mark Hampton died in 1998 and he is simply irreplaceable as the “conscience” of that often frivolous profession.

    Note: “Mark Hampton on Decorating” is another great book for beginners, and one that is presently available on amazon.com for a modest sum. Astringent essays on colour, arrangement, etc , and same format as Legendary Decorators. Buy it.

  11. Another post referred to the Roger Banks-Pye book, Inspirational Interiors.
    The work that he did for Colefax and Fowler in the 80s and 90s was the very definition of flair. I was introduced to Roger( by my London friend the Tailor)
    and though our acquaintanceship was fleeting, I can assure you that he would never, ever have used the term “Draperies” to signify “Curtains” as one reads in the American editions of that book– “draperies” being a bogus kind of genteelism used by insecure American designers.( Worse still, referring to curtains as “drapes”, which is a verb not a noun, unless applied to those exaggeratedly full trousers worn in the 1920s.)

  12. Hi TW, I’m trying very hard to resist the urge to pun “It’s curtains for you, pal.” Ah well, never had much self-control. And just by way of conversation, the trousers were called “Oxford bags.” Drape would have referred to the way the coat was cut, with Scholte of Anderson and Sheppard doing the best work (think Fred Astaire), borrowing a few tricks from those producing military uniforms. Characterized by a fullness in the chest and across the shoulder blades, to give the waist a nipped look. I think.

    I’ve got the Pye-Banks book and am enjoying it.

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