In ‘Be Your Own Decorator,' Susanna Salk shares a wide array of imaginative tips from professional designers to inspire you to you cultivate your own particular style. Here's an excerpt.
This is not a how-to design book, but a why not book. Why not finally create the kitchen that feeds both your appetite and soul? Why not finally fix that living room layout that hasn’t felt right since you moved in? It’s not about having enough time or money or the right phone numbers to call. It’s about understanding that taking stuff out of a room (even if it was a wedding gift!) is sometimes as important as what you put in it. That the eye delights in seeing multiples and gets bored when things look too matched. That character beats price in the beauty department hands down every time. That the biggest rule of all is that there really are no rules, except to be confident about your choices.
I’m not a designer. But people often compliment me on the unusual color of my walls or an arrangement along my fireplace mantel. The credit shouldn’t be paid to me, but rather to the dozens of designers who give me confidence, to the ones who put stylish rooms together that feel grounded yet never take themselves too seriously. If I do anything well, it’s that I’m not afraid to try their ideas and configure them into my own space. I think of them as indispensable style sherpas, helping me find my way and then leaving me to enjoy the view.
Designing our homes is one of the few creative ventures where we can—and should—draw ideas from the pros without fear we’ll be branded a plagiarist. A room that borrows its balance from design dean Billy Baldwin’s uncanny sense of proportion is original: the room’s owner has plucked and inserted borrowed ideas into her nest like an inspired magpie.
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Translation is never literal in interior design, but rather lyrical, with new notes being added to each incarnation, a gift that keeps giving ad infinitum, always ripe for reinterpretation. The soothing color of Martha Stewart’s hens’ eggs inspired her to build a whole paint collection around them (Mother Nature being the original creator). I, in turn, copied those very same shades Stewart featured in her magazine for my son’s bedroom. My painter liked the effect so much he lifted the same combination for his kitchen, but added a darker ceiling. And so on. Often I have used the images in these pages when verbal descriptions proved insufficient: when it came time to build a fireplace in our new house, I showed a picture of Washington, D.C. designer Darryl Carter’s kitchen fireplace to my mason and he immediately understood what I wanted when I said “modern traditionalism.” Whenever it’s time to choose a new color, I lean on the genius daring of Miles Redd for moral support. (If Miles can pair pink with red in his living room then I can paint my mudroom tangerine!) Even when I get dressed, the designers are cheering me on: one look at the work (and wardrobes) of Los Angeles-based uber designers Kelly Wearstler and Mary McDonald reminds me that glamorous accessories are as key to a room as they are to an outfit, so choose a lamp with the same witty reverence as a bangle.
And now it’s your turn. This book is about emboldening you so you can embolden your rooms. I want you to be inspired rather than intimidated by my most favorite rooms from some of the best designers and tastemakers around. While many of them already showcase their work in their own wonderful books, I wanted to gather a unique compilation under one roof and categorize them by what they do best: whether by breaking rules or being whimsical. Consider this book and my determination your own personal design guide. It doesn’t matter if you don’t live in a Hollywood bungalow or a Connecticut colonial. The idea here is that it’s about echoing a spirit rather than a swatch. When I breathlessly relayed the title of this book over the phone to American design master Albert Hadley, I feared he might find it disrespectful. There was a long pause after I finished, then he replied: “Well, I think that idea’s just marvelous!” (His inspiring house is on page 234.)
Hadley’s genuine enthusiasm for educating those not fortunate enough to hire his services was shared by every designer I spoke with. Unlike many artists in other mediums, interior designers never hoard their secrets. They are a gloriously generous bunch, much more concerned with making the world a more beautiful and livable place than worrying about whose idea it was to put that vase over there. So be inspired not only by their work, but also the spirit in which it was conceived. Stop worrying that you won’t get it right and realize that perfect rooms are boring. Rooms that resonate with personality—not rules—are the ones you’ll want to linger in and savor. I hope Be Your Own Decorator will help you decorate your home with your own personality. Whenever you do this, you can’t go wrong. Because in the timeless words of innovative designer Dorothy Draper: “I believe in doing the thing you feel is right. If it looks right, it is right.”
Excerpted from Be Your Own Decorator by Susanna Salk. Copyright © 2011 by Susanna Salk. Excerpted by permission of Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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