Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To Plan or Not To Plan

I've been thinking about something a lot lately (and yes, that may come as a shock to some of you...). The look that I gravitate to is the undecorated look. I'm not crazy about rooms that are too perfect and too pristine. That's not to say that I'm a fan of rooms that seem a jumble. But I prefer rooms that look as though they evolved over time. They just seem a lot richer and well, much more interesting.

I've also noticed that some of my favorite homes are those of designers. I believe that some of their best work can be found in their own domiciles. Of course, designers use their homes as laboratories, and sometimes it's easier to take risks in one's own home. But here's what I'm wondering: do designers really have a master plan when it comes to their own homes? You know the old adage "the shoemaker's children are often shoeless". Well, I know that many decorators are so busy that sometimes it's hard for them to tackle the design of their own homes, and this might force them to take a more organic approach.

So where am I going with all of this? I wonder if design schemes might sometimes get in the way of great decorating? Obviously if you're a designer, you can't just wing it with a client. You have to have a plan so that the customer knows what he or she will be getting. And, there are certain things that absolutely have to be planned for. I'm not saying that plans and schemes should be abandoned. Hardly. But, do you think that the best design happens when the process evolves over a longer period of time and when it lacks a firm game plan, something that might at times prove to be a constraint?

Who isn't inspired by Albert Hadley's apartment? Do we ever tire of seeing it? No, we don't. (This version is c. 1990)

We're in the midst of another Rose Cumming revival- and I think that's a good thing. Was there ever a more unique- and eccentric- home than that of Cumming?

I think Miles Redd's home is the most blogged about home in the last few years- and with good reason.

Frances Elkins decorated some very grand homes, but I find her homes, especially her Monterey, CA home, to be some of her best work.

In "Keith Irvine: A Life in Decoration", some of the prettiest photos are those of the ballroom wing of Irvine's country home.

Image at top: Do you think William Pahlmann took his sweet time decorating his home?


  1. I think we amass items over time. I have several things that were meant for client's, but didn't work so I kept them. We do so much shopping, I'm always seeing something I must have...either for myself or a client in the future. My house was planned to a certain extent, but it morphs continually. I'm still not sure if I love my bedroom. For some reason, my own bedroom is always the most difficult.

  2. I think an interior designed room is only the start - it is the ready canvas, if you like, to make yours over time. That is how the personality of a room evolves - the wall colour, floor coverings and soft furnishings are only a beginning. The paintings, mirrors and objects are another layer and the way in which a room achieves individuality. Designer's homes have the advantage of many layers and much talent and that is probably why they are so enviable. What a wonderful post and such a showcase of beautiful rooms, thank you. xv.

  3. So true. I would add the Sills Huniford residence in Bedford (it's in their book Dwellings). I don't think any of their work ever quite matched that house.

  4. Do any of them have industrial minimalist homes? I love that design choice.

  5. Jennifer - I like designers' own homes best as well. Wonder if it's the confidence to mix which may not play as well with clients.

  6. Anonymous11:45 AM

    I am in complete agreement with you - I find a perfectly decorated room to be soulless - rather 'Stepford'. Perfection is not interesting (nor attainable) Personality is. The designer's own home is excellent because it expresses his/her self.

  7. Anonymous12:00 PM

    My theory: Decorators are more relaxed when not working for a client, less nervous about making mistakes, and that translates into a more livable home.

    A lot of the houses I see in shelter magazines are technically well-done but make me a little anxious; maybe I'm responding to the anxiety the decorator felt as he put them together, worrying whether his client would like them, or whether they would photograph well or whatever.

    In any case, I like rooms where all the worry is gone.


  8. Good question, Peak.
    I just went through my scrapbooks and found that the majority of photographs were of the apartments of David Easton, Mrs Parish, Mark Hampton, Mario Buatta, John Fowler (his Hunting Lodge) Madeleine Castaing's own houses, etc...and it wasn't a conscious decision to gather exclusively the dwellings of decorators in that scrapbook, I assure you. If the decorator is really good, the private dwelling can reflect the essence of their style. Of all the fine rooms done by Mr Buatta, none can match his very own~and why isn't he in the mix here?

  9. I've fallen in love with Frances Elkins Monterey, CA home! Beautiful!

  10. Anonymous2:18 PM

    Loved your question today, Jennifer. I almost always find myself in the camp that LOVES designers' homes the best. I've thought about it probably as long as you have and I think we like them the best because they're really distillations of that designer's style. Not something twice removed - aka that designer's style in an interpretation to please the client. As a designer I also agree that our homes do morph since we basically are always looking at EVERYTHING. We're constantly reinterpreting how our presentation really represents us (and let's face it, we spend alot of time doing it). Much does depend on the client, too. Sometimes people collect, other times people have no interest and just want it "done". I do enjoying hearing that many designers work with people over a long period of time. I think it's good for both parties. And as you yourself often say, good design, no matter what form it takes, is timeless.

  11. Ah...Hadley....Cummings....Miles...thanks for the afternoon pick me up!

  12. I agree Peak of Chic! We (foundsanfrancisco) love the collected feel to rooms that have evolved over time. We are attracted to rooms and objects that resonate a sense of nostalgia and romance.

  13. I feel designers own homes are less of a laboratory of sorts and more a curated space which lacks an overall plan. Many designers have been in the business for decades and have lived through many periods of styles from the 1980s French Country look to the eclectic look going on now. The designers I look up to are able to pull the best from many of these periods and seamlessly join them in harmonious interiors full of interest and intrigue.

    PS- Love the photos on this post, I just wish Keith Irvine was a little less heavy handed with all the small artworks and chochka in his country house.

  14. I am with you. I love to add to my room piece by piece. I do usually have somewhat of a plan, but when I see a unique piece I just have to have, I make room. I never buy sets of furniture! My rooms are always evolving.

  15. I confess I have never heard of William Pahlmann. Do say it's because I'm the wrong side of 'the pond'! But there you go, constantly surprising, delighting and educating me, Jennifer. His is my favourite room for its unstudied haute boho-ness.

  16. For myself interior decoration is always a "work in progress". There's a good structure to start, but then things evolve, and there are variations, and indeed sometimes quite noticeable changes. Obviously you can't do that with a client, otherwise you'd be on a retainer, but you give them the benefit of your own evolution, and then they either develop it to their own tastes, or leave it as you did. Sometimes the latter is better! Interesting point you make.

  17. You are just the best bunch of people...........gosh.
    Re: A Life in Decorating.........

    You understand it all. Keith Irvine......Lordy! I got his book ; after being a total complete fan for thirty plus years.....and took it to the Pacific Design Center...during Westweek.........(usually avoid it)....and stood in line for his autograph.....on my book.

    You would all be completely horrified........(I think!)!!

    I wrote notes in ink all over it.....I had yellow.....and red and green sticky notes.......(not the ones you can write on.......just those tab ones.......at least a hundred......on the top......on the sides.......and on the bottom!

    all different colors.........and all kinds of big stars and writing all over the place.

    I stood in line.......he was seated.........(two years ago at Pdc...Kneedler?

    I have my turn......and he looks at it........and he thumbs through it.....sees my total desecration.......and says.........

    "Oh! You have got so much out of it!!" And he just beamed the biggest smile to me! He was truly so flattered and complimented!!! He LOVED all my stars and writing and underlining.........he really did!And beamed the most beautiful smile!

    Boy.....have I loved that book......and every page!
    I still go at it with my magnifying glass! every single detail..........astonishing.

    I read it again once a week!

    I copy him shamelessly.......I even ordered 20 of the pillows......that say........"What a Dump!" I give them as gifts to clients..at the end! Keith did that !!
    for present clients....my own house.....and
    for my future ones! (a gift at the end of the job!)
    It is a line from a very famous Bette Davis movie.......and Bette was a great friend of my mother-in-law......so it has been a very fun family humorous story!
    thanks for your wonderful blog! Hope I haven''t repeated!



    ps I've been a decorator for 40 years.......(can't believe it.....) I have truly loved damn near....every minute......

    I won't volunteer any advice......(there have been 4 , I think recessions during my long career........)

    If anyone wants advice........or impressions........or observations..........just ask me!

    We do have the most fun job in the world......IF we love it......and we love our clients.....and they love us! And trust us!


  18. I think it's best to plan the biggest parts (the larger furniture, the basic layout) then wing it with the accessories, the art, the random side chair or foot stool. The layers are what give the room personality and change over time. Designers can't always add that part to their clients' homes, but can successfully do it for their own.