More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

When approaching the design of a space, I do believe that there are "wrong" ways to do things, but I also believe that there are multiple"right" ways to do the space.  In my mind, there really is no "right" way, but there is however, a "best" way.  ---a way that feels "right" for the person who lives there & is appropriate for the home.

{Design by Pheobe Howard, Photo by Luke White}

Often times clients show me a room and ask me what I would do- what colors I would use, what materials, etc.  For me, this isn't how it works.  I might know how I would want the space to evolve if it were for me, but until I've really grasped my client's style and their dreams for the space, I really can't answer that question.  I always need to know who my audience is.

{Design by David deMattei & Patrick Wade, Photo by Jose Picayo}

Once my clients & I have agreed to work together, it's all about me drawing out my clients' wants, needs, tastes, style, etc. to create a vision that I think will be "best" or "right" for them and will work in their home.    It isn't however, the only "right" way to do the space.  If 10 different designers came into that home, there would be 10 different "visions" for the space, all based upon the client's wants/needs and the designer's own aesthetic.  They might all be amazing to viewers like us, but I'm sure the client will have a favorite or "best."  It doesn't mean the others were wrong, however, just not "right" for the client.  The one that might look "best" to outside viewers might not be the homeowner's choice...

Design is personal.  It's one of the reasons when doing a room reveal, that I often explain what I or my client was going for in the space...  An overall mood, feeling, style...  Because there are many "right" ways to do a space, but I want you to know why I made the choices I did.  Coming from the point of view of the homeowner/ designer, a design is often much better understood.  And understanding is one of the first steps in liking.

{Design by Betsy Brown, Photo by Don Freeman}

Before we were married, I knew my husband was the one for me because I felt more understood by him than anyone else in the world.  I didn't have to explain the "whys" of everything, because he just knew why because he understood me & where I was coming from and liked me because of it. 


It's similar with a space...  If viewers or "judges" (like us blog readers! ;)  know where a client is coming from and what he/ she wants out of the space and how he/ she wants it to feel, we understand it better and appreciate it.  I'm not saying that we cannot judge a space if we don't know where the owner/designer is coming from, but that having that information helps us understand a space a bit more, and in turn, helps us appreciate it.  We may not like even one teensy element of it for our own homes, but we're able to see the beauty in it for someone else. 

{Cathy Kincaid, Photo by Reed Davis}

I don't do "one" style of decorating/ design.  I can't.  My clients all have their own unique styles and I go where their styles take me.  Yes, my own style/ aesthetic plays a major role in how a space will turn out, (which is why there's often a "look" to rooms a designer's done) but it's not limited to styles of furniture or decor...  it's present in the way the space is put together. 

{Darryl Carter, Photo by Simon Upton for Elle Decor}

When you love & appreciate a variety of different styles, you can recognize that there's no one style that's "right"  although you probably have a personal favorite or favorites that you want in your own home.  But when critiquing and evaluating others' interiors, to think that only one style is beautiful/ good is really limiting and elementary.  Trust me, I've been there!!

When I first really became interested in decorating & started experimenting with my first apartments, I began creating rooms that adhered to a "style."  My dining room felt a bit "cottage" and when you were in there you got this feeling.  My living room was kind of an "Eastern" mix full of things from my grandparents' extensive travels. There was another feeling in there.  (And it was right next to the dining room so it wasn't pretty! ;)  My bedroom had a mahogany 4 poster bed and felt a bit British Caribbean...  I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I began with pieces of furniture or accessories that I'd been given or bought & created rooms around them, collecting other items that "went with" others.  It was more "themey" however, because it wasn't authentic and wasn't personal to me. I was creating rooms around furniture/ things, not around and end goal/ mood/ atmosphere.   It should be the other way around:  "Things" are our tools for creating atmosphere. The rooms were great at that time for me in the sense that I was experimenting & using my place as a canvas & learning to put rooms together, but they were totally out of context all squeezed together room-by-room in an apartment.

So what I'm saying is, I could do a home for a client who lives in a cottage and who wants that "cottage" feeling throughout her whole house and we could use lots of cottage-type pieces and it would be appropriate. 

(Ginger Barber, Photo by Victoria Pearson}

What's inappropriate or inauthentic is when it's forced or out of context.  It's like the girl who shows up to the backyard barbeque in 4 inch heels and a short skirt:  she looks great but totally ridiculous for a bbq.  Had my apartment dining room actually been in a cottage, it would have been much better!  (And our girl would look so much better on a hot date than with her heels sinking in the grass at the bbq!)

There are people out there who say they hate neutral interiors or colorful rooms or "cottage style" for example.  Does that make it wrong or bad?  I don't think so.  (hahah only in the case of my dining room!!)  There's good and bad of everything and I think the important thing to ask yourself when judging a room is:  Do I maybe dislike this room because it's not done in a style I like or is it because it's not done well?  I believe we can learn to appreciate many different "styles," just as we can appreciate the value of a well-executed space. 

{Christina Rottman, Photo by Mikkel Vang}

Painting the Rat:  It's similar to art.  Show a photo of a rat to Monet, Van Gogh, and Da Vinci and have them paint it.  Each of the 3 paintings would be totally different yet all of the same rat.  Think of the rat as the "style" and the Painter as the "designer" with his/ her own aproach/ aesthetic.  If you have a problem with the photo of the rat in the first place (the style), then you might not like any of the paintings (the interiors) or even give them a chance because of their subject.  If you close yourself off to a room because of its design style, you won't be able to appreciate it or understand it and you lose the opportunities to grow/ learn/ hone your eye. 

Which Rat Do You Like Best?:  Once you have opened yourself up to the photo of the rat, acknowledging that maybe you don't like the subject matter of a "rat" but you can appreciate the value of a well-done rat, you can begin to evaluate & appreciate the artists' interpretations.  You don't even get to that stage if you shut out the paintings because their subject(style) is a rat (a design style you don't personally like.) Here's where the artist/ or designer's personal aesthetic/ style / approach to design comes into play.  Just as each artist's rat painting would have been executed differently & in his own style, each designer's interiors are executed differently & his/ her own style.  If a designer is good, he/ she can give you a rat if you want one, just as the painter can give you the rat.  If a designer isn't good, then the overall vision he/she  is was trying to achieve for the client would be hazy or lost and it would be a badly done room, as if a terrible painter (like me!) were to attempt the rat. 

You might personally love Monet's rat, but not like Da Vinci's rat.   It's great for you to have an opinion, a favorite that you're passionate about, and by dissecting the reasons why you like one and not the other, you grow.  You could never have done this if you closed your eyes to the paintings in the first place because they were of ugly old rats.

Does this make sense?  It's okay to critique/ judge, but I do believe we need to be open to design styles other than our own if we expect to grow/ learn/ appreciate design. 

{Dana Lyon, Photo by Reed Davis}

This doesn't mean loving everything.  There are plenty of rooms I don't like and even after hearing from where someone was coming from, seeing that the homeowner adores it and that it is appropriate, I still don't like.  That's fine!  We don't have to like everything (and definitely won't) but it's good to dig deeply and ask ourselves "why?"  ...  To just mentally pinch ourselves to doublecheck that it's not because it's done in a style that's different from ours or because we might not understand it. 

{Miles Redd, Photo by Thomas Loof}

Rooms shouldn't need a translation but there are so many spaces that grow on me the more I study them.  (And on the other hand there are rooms I initially think "So pretty!!" and then upon further inspection/ study, they kind of start to bore me...  some of these even being my old houses!)

So maybe a room isn't done exactly the way you would do it, but can you appreciate it anyway?  Is there in fact more than one way to skin a cat?


*All interiors from House Beautiful unless noted otherwise


Laurie from Laurie Jones Home said...

As a new designer myself I've learned working with clients is harder then I imagined and not every client is a good fit but once I know we are a good match its best to remember it's their space and I'm there to give them the finished product. I personally like a room to come together over time.

Oh and for the record you and your husband are about as cute as cute can be!

Haven and Home said...

I could not agree more! Clients homes need to look like them and just because someone doesn't like one style does not mean that it is wrong or ugly. Well written post!

Dianne said...

This is so true! I am very tired of white linen and seagrass rugs and slipcovers. Blogland needs to move on. There is so much out there that is beautiful and is in COLOR!!!! Different strokes for different folks.

Anonymous said...

Lauren - this was an excellent and really insightful post. This is why you are so successful at what you do! - you "get" it! What you wrote really resonated with me...2 years ago when I started reading blogs, I HATED certain aesthetics and really only had a single style that I liked. But being exposed to all that the design blogland has to share and the different looks and feels, I have grown so much in my appreciation of and willingness to embrace other styles. This post is totally bookmarked!

Unknown said...

AMEN!!;) I am studying to become an interiorstylist/colorist myself, I also learn to look further than my one "taste".....and as months go by, and LOTS of magazines and books go through my hands, I find myself loving even more "styles"......even the ones I couldnt live in myself, that doesnt mean its an ugly room!
There's more to it!!!
Thank you for the beautifull pictures!


Greet Lefèvre said...

I enjoyed reading this post!! You are so right! Every peron should feel good in its own environment! Whatever you like, is ok if you are ok!
I see that you posted a beautiful picture of Darryl Carter!
Love that!
And dearest Lauren, thank you so much for stopping by and for your nice comment! I so appreciate it!
Kisses from Belgium!
Hope that the baby is doing well?!

Greet Lefèvre said...

It is me again! I forgot to mention that you two look so pretty! You are a wonderful, goodlooking couple! I mean that!

A Perfect Gray said...

excellent piece. thank you for the time and work that went into it. I find my appreciation for different styles grows with me (or should I say with my age...). Blogs have helped me train my eye. Thanks again!

Jennifer said...

To me, the only time an interior is wrong is if it has no personal opinion. Otherwise, just because I wouldn't want to import it into my house doesn't mean it's bad!

Leah Moss said...

Fantastic post!!! I totally agree, and have been thinking about this in some of the homes I'm working on.

As a decorator, it's interesting how my tastes expand with each new client. I probably learn as much from them (through working with their vision and trying to incorporate their things) as they do for me. When I walk int a home and see a few awesome pieces with potential I immediately starting thinking about ways to bring that piece to life, and the process ends up totally turning me onto styles that I might not have considered on my own.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful know your subject so shows...smiles.

Annie Wilcox Designs said...

Working with clients as a color consultant has allowed me to be reminded that my style is not always their style. The question I ask myself is whether or not I succeeded in bringing out their style with color or paint? Did it make the room more wonderful than it was? I have had different answers to that question and from that, I have grown as peron/consultant. Thought provoking questions from you, thanks.

pve design said...

Rats, I now have to go create my "imaginary" rat and do a post on this...we all have different tastes and styles and that is what makes each of us unique. Now to skin the proverbial cat....I know we would all do it differently. That is a good thing-

Kathysue said...

Lauren, Very well put!! I so agree. When I designed for my clients I would tell them I go home to the home I love I want yo to come home to the home you love. I did have a few clients want me to take Carte Blanche and I told them I was not the designer for them. I wanted to work with their personal taste not mine. It takes a lot of insightful conversations but well worth the time to get what they want. I can appreciate all types of design if done well. I find it funny when I read critiques based on personal taste instead of the overall look of a room. You put it all so well in this well thought-out post. Lots of work and we appreciate it out here in blogland. You and hubby are a beautiful couple with beautiful babies. Happy Wednesday, Kathysue

Susie @ Maddie G Designs said...

Great post and so true. My own style has evolved so much over the years...and there is so much out there I could never live with in my own home, but for someone else, I can see the beauty and admire it. I do agree that a home needs to be personal....and you can't design that if you don't really know your clients well. I hired a designer once when I was working a ton and had no time for my home. I basically was your nightmare b/c I told her my general idea for the space but otherwise sent her off on her own to design. Mind you, I'd seen her work at showhouses and at a friend's home who'd been published. But, she never pressed me for more info about how we lived and what we liked...and I never thought to really tell her...In the end, I see now the whole exercise was doomed from the start....

LindsB said...

What a well written post, I totally agree! I think that everyone's tastes are different, not everyone is going to love everything they see but there is something about appreciating what others think is beautiful.

Re:Fresh Design Studio said...

Such a great post Lauren! I really agree with what you said and I definitely have grown as a designer in my tastes and being open to many different styles. I shudder to think of how close-minded I was when I first started design school. I'm glad I've grown and can appreciate that design is for the client, the person living their life in that space.

Unknown said...

Amen sista!! :) I totally agree as well as many others reading this post. I am new to the whole design world and as clients ask me what I would do. You have to get to know there style because it is always different then mine it seems.

Thanks for that reminder post. SMILE

PS Love your spaces you've designed. ALL of them.

maría cecilia said...

Hola Lauren, I´ve got hooked on before and afters makeovers, great section of you so beautiful and interesting blog!!
Thanks for your visit and sorry to visit you back so late... the super mega earthquake you know...
Greetings from Chile,
Maria Cecilia

Tracy Watier said...

Excellent post, Lauren. Perfect for my current situation. I was called back to a client's home yesterday to help tweak a room damaged by flooding (now that it's been repaired). There is much about her house and current decor I don't like but that will have to stay because she either loves it or can't afford to change it yet. She continually asked me for my opinion, but my opinion is not nearly as important as her personal preferences. She is still VERY happy with the work I did for her a year ago that integrated the new things she wanted with the old (and, frankly, outdated) elements she wanted to keep. So my plan is to do that again: give her something SHE will love that is done well, that somehow looks updated within its outdated surroundings AND that I can be proud of doing even if I wouldn't want it for myself in a million years. Wish me luck!

My Notting Hill said...

Great post. I'm seeing a book in your future!

katiedid said...

Yup....right there with ya. I think a designer has a point of view that can span any style. For example, Daryl Carter has a very clean tailored point of view, vs. Miles Redd who is playful, colorful and flamboyant. Both approaches can be appropriate for traditional or contemporary spaces, New York lofts or country farmhouses. Nice discussion!

Kerri - Driftwood Interiors said...

What a great post Lauren, and so well articulated! I've just finished an apartment for a client whose taste is very different to mine, but I really enjoyed the process and learned so much from it. I really tried to listen and understand what she wanted, and I hope I delivered it all and more. We have to deal with pieces we either have to keep, or can't afford to change, and I think it's the designer's job to work around these obstacles to get the best possible result. Thanks again for another great post, and I think you should post about your time management secrets - with two littlies and a successful business, you're obviously very good at it!
Kerri xx

Living It At Home said...

Excellent post. My appreciation for different styles has definitely improved. At one time I absolutely hated anything modern. I was into shabby chick, cottage style only (I think). Just through blogging over the past 6 months, my tastes have evolved and I am able to notice other tastes and understand them. I look back and realize how immature my style was and still needs work. I really enjoy looking at all the different ways there are to decorate a room. I may never do an all white room but can look at it and learn from it.


Velvet and Linen said...

You are such a great writer, Lauren. I couldn't agree more with this post. I think we approach design in similar ways. My designs are very client driven. I want their home to feel like them. Although I prefer neutral colors in my own home, I can definitely appreciate colorful interiors.
Fantastic post!

Unknown said...

You wrote this so beautifully! Its so true! I can absolutely appreciate a well done room that might not be to my own personal a designer I would imagine this is paramount! I love what you said about your husband as well...and the two of you could not be any cuter!

Hello said...

Great post. Your so right that there is beauty in everything that brings joy to others. I feel like the blog world has helped me be open to all different styles even if I couldn't see them in my own home I still can see the beauty of them. I'm glad I read your post being that I just started my first class in an interior design program. I'm positive this post will always be in the back of my head when thinking about designing anything. Thanks in advance.

Doug Davis said...

well said. and glad you included Betsy Brown's house...she lives across the street from me and I try to sneak a peak in her windows every chance I's a PERFECT house, as you'd expect!

AnneHH said...

Hi, Lauren,
Thank you for this wonderful post on a subject about which I feel so passionate. I loved how you articulated the various considerations in evaluating whether a particular design is "good" or not. So many of us with a passion for beautiful design are constrained by issues of money, practicality, and comfort, as well as other family members' needs, tastes and desires, as we strive to create a beautiful up-to-date living environment. Yet, the irony of interior design these days is that by the time 99% of us are exposed to and can afford to implement a new trend, the taste makers are already saying it is passe. The whole dialogue feels very elitist. Just a troublesome aspect for me of loving interior design. Thanks so much for countering some of that negativity with your thoughtful observations.

Maria Killam said...

Love these rooms you've shown and I you are so stunning along with your husband. 6 days before I see you :)

Heartfire At Home said...

Brilliant post!

I think this part of your post...

'I was creating rooms around furniture/ things, not around and end goal/ mood/ atmosphere. It should be the other way around: "Things" are our tools for creating atmosphere'

....cuts right to the core of it for me. That's exactly what I'm all about when it comes to design - intent/purpose and atmosphere!

Beautifully laid out and explained.

Linda. :)

Little Emma English Home said...

It's so true Lauren. I've been thinking about it with my new home furnishing and decorating. I like many styles like english cottage style, but it would be ridiculous in our Italian kind of apartment...So I had to find a compromise, I hope to have found right... Thank you, I love the way you just wrote about this truth with very simple words...


Maurie said...

Great first summary paragraph--from a writer's view and a designer's perspective! "When approaching the design of a space, I do believe that there are "wrong" ways to do things, but I also believe that there are multiple"right" ways to do the space. In my mind, there really is no "right" way, but there is however, a "best" way. ---a way that feels "right" for the person who lives there & is appropriate for the home."--Amen!

Angela at Giannetti Home: Design Online said...

I've always said, the best compliment a designer can receive is when the client says, "It looks like me".

Nice post.


Angela at Giannetti Home: Design Online said...

I've always said, the best compliment a designer can receive is when the client says, "It looks like me".

Nice post.


Unknown said...

I can appreciate without loving, and design a room that a client loves without wanting to live there myself. I always tell clients and friends that they should purchase things they love. There will always be a place to put it. Sometimes it's a challenge to work with pieces that the client loves that I don't love, but as you so eloquently stated, that's my job and my talent. How we pull those well-loved pieces together in a cohesive and beautiful way showcases all of our skills from listening to the clients to knowing where to get the perfect lamp.

The Scott Family said...

Great Post.

DecRenew Interiors said...

Beautifully said Lauren! I'm so glad there are so many styles and so many designers with great taste that we can learn from and appreciate. Love the example of you and your husband when you met, perfect!


Lila said...

You clearly have the right mindset for a great designer. It is always about the client's wants and needs. You totally understand that and even if you don't like the style, you will give it your "BEST"! I love to hear this. I love your blog and your ideas and tips. You should feel proud that so many people respect your ideas and desire to know what you would do for their spaces!
Lila Ferraro
Queen Bedroom Sets

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

My first experience with a designer was devastaing...realizing they did not get it.
My mom hired one when I was in HS. Said designer came up with an idea that was SOO wrong (for my mom...had she interviewed her longer she would have seen) I had her "let go" and took on the process myself.

Must say It left a TERRIBLE taste in my mouth about so called designers. And how their eyes and minds could only traverse what THEY felt was best...what their minds eye saw. NOT their clients. was the turning point that made me NOT want to go into design. Ever. The thought of working for a client whoose taste I just could not do...bugged me. (imature...sure)

I give you kudos on your philosophy...not sure all designers follow suit. HOPE they will.

Kelle Dame said...

Awesome post! Very well said! Thank you!

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