In his new book, “The Designer Within: A Professional Guide to a Well-Styled Home,” interior designer John McClain suggests we ask ourselves, “What would make me happiest when I would come to my house?
Reviewing an advance copy (Gibbs-Smith, $45), I agree. That may be THE question.
What would make me happiest? Coming home with loved ones and pets, of course, somewhere clean and tidy – and pretty. I want to see objects and decals that I love, pieces that my husband and I have collected over time that tell stories.
“I want readers – whether they’re homeowners about to embark on their first renovation or seasoned design professionals looking for new ideas – to leave feeling confident and inspired,” he writes.
Readers will want to give their entire home a makeover after perusing this inspiring 114-page tome, illustrated with photos of McClain’s own home, a “Modern Loft Bungalow,” and his other design projects, ranging from traditional to contemporary.
“I didn’t want it to be just another pretty coffee table book,” McClain told me over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “What I really want this book to do is start a conversation, a discussion inside your own home that triggers change.”
I was eager to know more.
Q Every designer, including you, says to gather inspirational images from magazines or on a Pinterest board to form the basis of your design. How do you go from this hodgepodge to a design plan?
A. You are looking for inspiration. When you find something you respond positively to, whether it’s a photo of a room, a rug, a piece of art, or a piece of furniture, dig deeper. Analyze why you like it. Is it because it reminds you of a favorite place or makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. The objects in your home should awaken something in you. They must be more than pretty.
Q You tell readers to “be bold”. This is loaded advice. Please advise.
A. I’m done with people copying what they see in Crate & Barrel or Restoration Hardware. Owners need to express themselves. My favorite way to be bold is through wallpaper, but it can also be through a statement piece of furniture, perhaps an oversized light fixture that acts like a sculpture, or through an unexpected color.
Q Your book has a lot of painted cabinets, but the idea of painting wooden cabinets terrifies me. Isn’t that sacrilege?
A. Now I will raise you one who cares. Wood is just wood. People say they can’t change that golden oak tree, and I say, “Are you kidding me? Wood cabinets are no more special than painted cabinets. However, when painting cabinets, choose colors that will stand the test of time.
Q Share your secrets to creating a great “shelfie” or tablescape.
A. When styling a bookshelf or coffee table, must-haves include stacks of books with some sort of “book top,” such as a brass object or any small accent piece on top of the stack to punctuate the table. Then add one to two tall objects and a round object, like a bowl. Mix sizes, shapes, colors and finishes.
Q You argue for a “comfortably chic” home design. How to reconcile these opposing ideas?
A.Chic and comfortable is my favorite design aesthetic. You can choose a chic sofa with beautiful and sophisticated lines and cover it with a fabric so resistant that children can wipe their dirty hands on it. Fill it up to make it more comfortable than expected, while maintaining the same sleek silhouette.
Q How do you make a small space seem bigger?
A.Use chairs and sofas with legs that allow for air space. Clear acrylic chairs take up less visual space, and curtains that start at the ceiling will make rooms appear higher. Don’t be afraid to use large pieces in small rooms. A few large pieces are better than several small ones. A monochromatic color scheme also helps.
Q You talk about a top-down philosophy when discussing how to afford a great look. Where are the best places to save money and where should you invest?
A. Spend money on items that get a lot of use: couches, coffee tables, dining chairs, beds, appliances, and storage items like dressers. Save on items you use less like lamps, mirrors, accessories, side tables, sometimes area rugs and artwork. Even when I’m working on a multi-million dollar house, I’ll put an expensive, well-made dining table next to a $50 mirror.
Marni Jameson has written six books on home and lifestyle, including “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One”. Join her at www.marnijameson.com.