Design Exercise: What's Your Personal Style?

I’ve been doing a lot of design-soul-searching lately, trying to really get a handle on my personal style.

(Image from Carlton Varney's Wisconsin lakehouse featured in House Beautiful)

While always evolving, I think it’s really important to hone your personal style or design philosophy into something you can wrap your head around & define. It makes us better designers/ decorators/ homeowners & more equipped to make decisions. When you really know who you are (or who your client is)and what you’re trying to achieve, it’s much easier to look at an object, a color or any other type of design-decision & know if it’s right for a space or not. Check out my first apartment (Ah! I can't believe I'm showing you this!!! haha I found lots of cool Asian objects & just decorated the room around the objects instead of what I actually loved. I used lots of bold colors because they created that "wow" effect I was after.) But looking back I really can barely stand this picture because it's just so not me & I've really found my style since then:

Now compare it to my townhome (below) & you'll see how much I changed & was able to sort of find myself (That was a summer pic of my townhome & even looking back at it I can see how I leaned towards a cottage feel. I still wouldn't say it's "totally me."):

Once you know your design style or philosophy, you can ask yourself some really important questions: Do I love it? Even if I think it's amazing, does it fit with my design philosophy? (Which was my problem with all the Asian objects- they were really cool & interesting, but they didn't strike any notes within me & as a result, the design rang hollow.) What’s the overall impact it’ll have on the space? Will it add or detract from what I’m trying to do? (For example, "If I want an uncluttered space, even though I love this set of antique prints, I know putting them in the room will make it feel too busy.")
(By Carleton Varney featured in House Beautiful)

But how do you figure out your personal design style/ design philosophy? Well, most of us crazy bloggers are doing it daily- writing posts about rooms we love, objects we think are beautiful, designers we admire… Scrolling down any blogger’s posts, it’s really cool to see how the collection of images (even from separate posts) creates this really telling ‘whole’ that gives us a peak into the writer’s style. Many of these bloggers have an amazing handle on their personal design styles. --- But I think it can be helpful to go further than that & really try to get our design philosophies into words.

(Philosopher from

As I’ve written in the ‘About Me’ section on the blog page, “My design philosophy, "pure style," is based on keeping things simple, beautiful & fun. “ But I’m in need of breaking it down & defining it further. I’m talking something deeper here. (And I don’t mean “Early American” or “Modern Asian” or “British Colonial” …. I mean something that can be translated across styles… Something more core, more innate.)

I think it’s really cool to see yourself begin to have a signature look that can be translated across many homes & styles. If you really get down & dissect what it is you love about rooms & what your recipe for a great room is, your personal style can translate across other design styles & I think that makes you a stronger designer. For example, what designers personally do in their homes is usually not exactly what clients want in their own homes, but there’s something about the designer’s style that clients see & love. – a signature look, a design philosophy, a personal style that comes across in every room. (Think Darryl Carter, below)

I think the more rooms you do, the more experience you have, the more your signature look will become apparent. I’m noticing this in my own work & it’s a really cool discovery. But it takes a lot of time & I’m SO not even close to where I hope to be one day. Blogging really helps you get a jumpstart because people start to say “Oh that’s so you” or “your style” and you start to realize that you actually are developing a concrete style. (Just scroll down blogger’s entire pages, quickly through all the posts & see how cool it is to get a glimpse of that blogger’s style!) -- Like Eddie Ross's signature style very apparent in his gorgeous living room below:

There have been some elements I’d never thought about until I started blogging. Here’s what I’ve got (SO FAR) for my ingredients in the recipe for a perfect “pure style” room: sculptural elements (such as spheres, large lamps, branches in a vase, certain furnishings that are just beautiful on their own like this table (below)from a Belgian-style home in House Beautiful:

A green element (such as plants/ flowers or moss) Here's a gorgeous fern in Carlton Varney's home:

A natural element (such as raw wood or coral or seashells or animal or nature prints,) like weathered wood & olive branch in this photo from House Beautiful:

White (& lots of it!) or another neutral or “huetral” (remember that article from House Beautiful?) like the white bowl (made by one of my best friends, Lindsey Augustine) combined with the white sofa & table:

A touch of pretty or maybe even something a tad fussy (such as an antique compote or a vintage plate, a fabric or a luxurious throw) to add some interest, like this pitcher in a room I did for my in-laws:

A hint of a Neoclassical/ Garden feel (I love topiaries, busts, urns & putting them in unexpected places or having fun with them). I love the feeling in the conservatory at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown (we were supposed to take our wedding pics there but it rained-- no poured!! )

A raw or rough element (such as weathered wood, linen, burlap), a feeling of age (architectural details in a home, an antique table, etc.,) like the table below and weathered finishes below from House Beautiful:

Style contrasts (a modern painting hanging over an antique console) like this modern stainless oven paired with the antique linen dishtowel & botanical prints in my dad's kitchen:

A “WOW” element (like a huge hutch or tall ceiling or an insanely gorgeous mirror over a mantle, or beautiful furnishing or fabric or a striking color scheme) like this tub from Ina Garten's home:

Something quirky/fun or unexpected (like cute little porcelain busts on a dining room table or the flea market froggy) Check out this lady we've had in our family for years. She used to hold fake fruit (My Grandma Maestranzi was an old Italian lady who put plastic on the sofa) & I stuck her in my dad's bathroom to hold the soap as a joke but we actually ended up loving it:

A clean, well-edited look like this room by one of my FAVORITE DESIGNERS, Nate Berkus:

"Something off" like this surfboard in the picture below from Leslie Klotz's home featured in House Beautiful:

And, finally, enough room for change (I never want to be “finished” and our rooms are constantly evolving, be it seasonally or just when I feel like it… I love having a neutral base that I can inject punches of color or pattern into.)

Ok, so here goes my attempt at defining my personal style, or shall I say "pure style" haha. Pure Style is clean & simple, well-edited, natural, beautiful, sculptural, a blend of old & new, neutral with splashes of color/pattern & a little quirky & fun.

That was hard for me. Haha. It's a mouthful! I'm sure it'll evolve just like my rooms but it feels really good to define my style & really break it down. So, what I’m asking of you is that you tell me your personal style. Think hard & really dig deep. Whether you're a design enthusiast, do-it-yourselfer, designer or decorator, this can really help. If you’re reading & have never commented before, please do!! List your ingredients for YOUR perfect room recipe. If you can break your elements down into a philosophy, go for it!! (If you feel you need pics to explain like I did, you could always do a post on your blog & come link it up here in the comments section too!! :) I can't wait to hear everyone's!!!


Blueprint Bliss said...

great post. this is a hard one. i'll have to think about it!!

High-Heeled Foot in the door said...

I'm so happy you posted this! I'm going to think about this long and hard and come up an answer for how a see Effortless Style. Especially since I'm constantly changing my style year to year, but I think the bones of it remain the same. I need to give this some thought and then I'll get back to you.

I think you did a great job at analyzing your style and really defining what Pure Style is!

GrannySmithGreen said...

Go to:

Here's where you'll see a "fantasy" home tour of many of my favorite design images. I've combined them into one "show house" of sorts. I had fun combining them and just day dreaming. It defines my personal style only somewhat. It's not totally accurate because none of the images have my own personal family things. Hope you enjoy!

Sweet Nothings said...

I think I am a modern Hollywood regency..does that even make sense? well, i would like to have my home reflect that. I currently am living hand me down chic. Classic with a modern twist maybe? I dunno..i just fear that I am like too many trends exploding

Beautiful Living said...

I have a pretty strong sense of my style and signature look, but haven't broken it down into a philosophy. But now I just have to, don't I? :)

michelle said...

nature inspired...neutrals for me...but some of these spaces fit to a T!

Great Post.

alice said...

This IS a hard one!
It's much easier to pick out the acutal elements or pieces that I love, but to describe the philosophy is contemplation...
I'm looking forward to thinking this one out and writing back!
Thanks for sharing your philosophy and inspiring the rest of us to define ours!

LaurenFaythe said...

This is the very question I've been pondering lately! I've always gravitated towards deep colors, old world, warm, Tuscan. After seeing all these blogs on light, airy, Swedish, cottage, I want to paint EVERYTHING white! I know that's not possible, so I'm having to figure out the basics of my personal style and evolve from there. Thanks, this was a great post!

Christina said...

I am very much enjoying your blog. Love the guest bedroom that you did for your client.

I'm loving all of the neutral home pictures.

shi(f)t said...

i love the entry with the stripes...i have always wanted to paint stripes but am so afraid it would be difficult!

kay* said...

what a great post! so enlightening and well written! defining my design style is something i've felt is really important too and have done it a time or two on my own blog...though i've yet to break it down into particular elements. put into words i've come up with "eclectic chic with a touch of glamour."

eclectic because i love a variety of styles but none 100% like i like traditional but not ALL traditional, and i like modern but not ALL trad, and i like ethnic style but not ALL ethnic

chic because when i think 'eclectic' i think a bunch of different things in one and that can sound like a mess - chic to me means thought out, pulled together and clean looking.

and lastly glamour - something feminine, sparkly, shiny...mirrors, beautiful flowers, a wow chandelier...a little bit of bling.

and then i think there should always be a wood element - whether it's a table, branches or something...and also something unexpected! even if it's just a framed print in the bathroom....

and of course it should be comfortable! that is key!

so that's my style philosophy i guess. sorry for the loooooooooong comment :)

sandra/tx said...

I like so many styles that I have decorating ADD. I consider my style relaxed traditional, but that can encompass lots ot things. I love your dad's kitchen, by the way.

LindsB said...

Oh my gosh, this is a hard one because I am so all over the place. I don't think I could put a finger on what defines my style exactly; it has sure evolved over the years though. I have no formal training in interior design; I just a serious love for it and have for as long as I can remember. I was ALWAYS re-doing my room as a child and always wanting different fabrics, paintings, wall colors. I hated the wallpaper in the upstairs bathroom so much I started to rip it down one day so I could paint…man did my Dad have a fit!

I like neutral colors in a room when it comes to the big things like a couch, tables, etc. That way I can add color with the small stuff, stuff that I can change as my taste changes. I love to change pillows, fabrics, and small accessories... I swear I have a whole stock of accessories in storage. So, I'm blabbing but I think its really hard to put my finger on one style, I'm like you Lauren I have many words for what I like. I like elements of all styles, I love traditional, modern, cottage, eclectic, hollywood regency etc etc. Basically, I like a very comfortable living space surrounded by things that mean something to me and that I think are pretty and colorful. Some examples of must have elements are: my Grandmother was an artist so its very important to incorporate her work into my space, my Grandfather was a photographer so I love to have old photos of his around, I love old b&w family pics and have many of those framed, I have a ton of antiques from both sets of Grandparents, I love the trio of old postcards (from the lake I used to vacation at in Maine) I have framed, and I have my parents Persian rug in my family room. Those are all very eclectic and traditional elements I love. At the same time I also love my funky crocodile skin frame, the chunky Lucite frame I have with an antique photo in it, my new bright orange throw, the bright aqua pillows on my couch, my metal chairs in the kitchen, etc. I love to shop at stores like DWR and CB2, yet I also love a good antique store, flea market or my parents attic.

ok, that was really long and I still have no answer to put into words- but you sure made me think more about it and put it on my list of things to do :)

Great post BTW!

Cote de Texas said...

great post - I love what you say about looking at a blog quickly - the pictures all have a certain look or feel to them.

Mine isn't like that and I wish it was. I think about that alot -- should I post something that isn't my aesthetic? I guess I say yes to that, but sometimes I wish it was more cohesive, design wise. except my aesthetic changes daily.

loved this one!

thestamfordwife said...

Great post, Lauren!

I'm design ADHD - I adore so many different styles and if I were to post photos of the three homes we've lived in they would all be totally different (modern, transitional and now more traditional). This makes me think "what is my style?" - great thing to ponder on a Friday when I don't want to do anything! : )

Kathleen said...

Thought provoking post. Thanks.

niartist said...

Oh Lauren! You and me both! I love the rustic qualities, yet mixed with an elegant and more sophisticated blend of things. I've been getting lost lately, however - and need to take some time to find my vision again. Thanks for this thought provoking post!

Kimberlee said...

Lauren, gorgeous post. I always get stuck when I wonder what my style is - because just when I think I've got it sorted, I'm coveting something else, so it starts becoming a mish mash of everything. x

3 Peanuts said...

Beautiful. I like all these too and I think it is so important to find your style before you make a lot of decisions.


j u s t i m a g i n e said...

ahhhhhhhh how have I not been here before.....your blog is amazing !!!! You are fabulous!!

Southern Chateau said...

Love this post! I ask myself everyday. As someone said, I have decorating bi-polar syndrome. I can appreciate so many styles and motifs, but I am continually drawn to French, especially Louis XVI, and old crusty things. If you read my profile, I am into what I call a French/Southern aesthetic, since I live in the South. This is food for thought,for sure. Thanks for the inspiration.

Catherine said...

Great post Lauren! I love your style, and you have defined it well. I think it is good to be influenced by 'what's out there' and to continue to evolve your style, yet at the same time be confident enough to not be too influenced by fashion's whims. I will have a think and post about my own design philosphy soon.

MIMILEE said...

Great post, Lauren......I am loving all the neutrals these seems my sense of style is ever now I need to redecorate! That is not gonna be good news to my hubby! :(

milkandhoney said...

I struggle with my "style" too... in San Francisco it was more beach-y. Now it seems to be more organic and earthy (and not near the beach). Really good to read your musings...

Haven and Home said...

I am constantly trying to define my style, I just don't know yet. This is probably one of the best posts I have ever read, I love your style!

modernemama said...

Underfunded! Seriously though, warm and modern probably defines it best

pve design said...

My taste has evolved, but not my style. I too lean towards a calm environ, lots of light and easy to live and and keep ordered and clean. I love natural elements and a mix of materials.

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said...

Hmmm. Food for thought to be sure!
My style seems to change depending on the house we are in. An old Itallinate farmhouse was filled with lot's of useful furniture...some faded chintz curtains...Ironstone in weathered wood bookcases.Wicker on the sun porch.

An old redone barn had an interesting mix...but more modern and clean lined.

Then a house by the ocean. Simple whites and linen sheers...and shells lots of collected shells.

A spanish/med cottage evolved into more color with saltillo floors and white stucco walls.

This place...More ethnic pieces and even a bit of an industrial edge. I am realy confused!!

Love the post...and what great pics of your dad's kitchen!!

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