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Interior Design Lesson with "Sophisticated Global" Style

If you follow my Facebook Page, you already know I'm a big fan of the WSJ's Design and Decoration column.   I enjoy reading this column every Saturday and learn something new each week.  Last Saturday, WSJ highlighted designer, Jeffrey Bilhuber, who is considered one the greatest designers of our time.  

In this article, there were two quotes that really resonated with me ..."his rooms are reflections of personal histories and family life, not grand gestures of presentation.  In other words, decorating with soul."  The other quote was by one of his clients "Good decorators know how to assert their vision, but great ones know how to assert their clients".  I love this quote...a great goal to strive for!  In Mr. Bilhuber's new book, "The Way Home", every home has it's own personality.

I get asked all the time by potential clients what is my style...hmmm...I wonder, should I really tell them...will it scare them away because it's not what they like?   I'm still perfecting my answer, but it goes something like this...I love lots of different styles (the very eclectic look in my home is proof) but I try to have the client's personality, style, house and existing treasures reveal the style.  What a designer should do is apply good design principles and elements.  For instance, a designer should ensure their design follows these five (abstract) principles:  scale (i.e. your sofa isn't too large for your room), proportions (i.e. the valance is not too long for your window), balance (i.e. furniture and accessories are arranged in a way that makes sense), rhythm (i.e. there is some repetition but with an element of surprise so you don't get bored),  emphasis (i.e. every great room needs a great focal point), and harmony (combination of items in a room are pleasing).  The more specific elements of a design ensure that these principles are met.  The elements include space, shape, form, mass, line, texture, pattern, light, and color.  These principles and elements are applied universally and should be considered for every style!

Below are some rooms with a "sophisticated global" style.   This style just happens to be one of my favorites which I'll use to show how these universal design principles and elements are applied...

Katie Leede

Would this space look as good if you took away the three square pillows on the settee? I don't think so.  It would make the large painting look out of scale with the settee.  But by adding the three large pillows, it changes the overall scale of the settee so it works with the painting.  Also, the designer could have included a settee without exposed legs and fully upholstered to the floor to give the it more mass.  I'm guessing this is an entry or stair landing, so a smaller space.  The open, or negative, space below the settee keeps the space feeling more open.

Katie Leede
I would say that the emphasis, or focal point, of this room is the outside view through the window.  In other rooms, it can be a fireplace, a piece of art, or entertainment center.  I'm guessing the designer selected a more neutral color scheme so your eye would be drawn to this outdoors and not distracted by the interiors.  Even the lamp's shape and form, the side table's shape and texture, and chair fabric's pattern remind you of the outdoors, making this space harmonious.

Katie Leede
In this room there are lots of square shapes...artwork, table, chairs.  So we definitely have rhythm with repetition of the square shape.  However, the rug's irregular shape adds some variety so we don't get bored.

Katie Leede
Here's another good example of scale.  If the white chair was shorter and without arms it would look too small next to the large armoire.  The chair's white color even makes the chair appear larger.

Kristen Buckingham
Above is a good sample of balance that is achieved with the symmetrical arrangement of the beds, lamps, and artwork.   This symmetrical balance feels more formal and orderly. If you want a more informal room then use asymmetrical balance.

Peter Dunham
Here's another room with symmetrical balance.  This room also has a monochromatic color scheme for the most part.  I know the pillows bring a little color and pattern but basically the room has mostly browns.  Why does it work?  Texture.  The natural fiber shades, the wood chairs,  the upholstered bench setting, even the tufted seats add texture.  If the bench seats had not been tufted, the room would probably look dull.  If the chairs had been upholstered, there wouldn't be enough variety of materials.  Having the contrast of wood color between the chairs and table add interest too but notice the chair's wood color still tie back to the shades, providing harmony.

Katie Leede
Above, the room reminds of the land and the sea due to its colors and textures.  It's hard to go wrong when we draw inspiration for our natural surroundings.  The orchid in the clam pot is the punctuation mark for the look!

Daniel Sachs
This room has more pattern and color then I usually care for in a room.  However, the designer offsets all the pattern and color with simple white walls and artwork that visually gives your eyes a rest with the repetition of the artwork's arrangement and subdued colors used.  Masterful!

I hope I've given you some tips you can take away for designing your own spaces!  


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post. I really appreciate having the conceptual framework for assessing design issues. It is so helpful to illustrate a design element with a photo and discussion. Keep up the good work!


Josh said...

A really great post. Its a really nice way to break down design aesthetics in a concrete and manageable way. Great job!