Truth in Design

Honesty in art & design...  It's often a very elusive thing to achieve.  I find that I'm constantly searching for an understanding of how to create honest, true, "real" designs.  It's not an easy task and one that I've made it a goal to get better at through the years.   

{Darryl Carter in his DC townhome featured in Elle Decor, photo by Simon Upton}

Much of my design work comes from logic, careful planning & attention to balance, scale, color, harmony...  but then the other part of it comes straight from my gut.  (I think this is how it is with many people)  It's that "gut" aspect that can't be forced.  That has to be real & honest and current.  It's not a recreation of what's already there, but a new concept...  something created or incorporated to spark a feeling.  

{Our living room}

In his lecture Some Hints on Pattern Designing  (delivered on October 4th 1899)  textile designer, artist, socialist, and writer William Morris said, "Every work of man which has beauty in it must have some meaning also; that the presence of any beauty in a piece of handicraft imples that the mind of the man who made it was more or less excited at the time, was lifted somewhat above the commonplace; that he had something to communicate to his fellows which they did not know or feel before, and which they would never have known or felt if he had not been there to force them to it."

{portrait of Willian Morris by George Frederic Watts}

I haven't been able to get it out of my head because it's just so true.  The words "I'm so excited about..." come out of my mouth (and often onto the blog!) pretty regularly...  (Hence the overabundance of exlamation points you're used to seeing here ;)  Now I'm not saying that what I'm necessarily excited about is anything new to anyone else, but to me it's new, and the potential for beauty I see is exciting to me... My goal with every project I do is to create something that is new for my clients & provokes a feeling that they would not have without my design...  To spark a feeling, to create a mood, to set the perfect (in the realest sense) backdrop for my clients' lives.

{Women's Shelter bedroom by me & Rebecca Ilgenfritz}

To do this, a design has to be true & honest.  It can't be a copy or an imitated-version of another room.  Anyone can do that and I wouldn't want to pay someone to do it for me.  Because each person, each family is different, their homes should reflect their uniqueness.  One of my favorite parts of meeting new clients is helping them figure out their personal styles.  And then taking that style and applying it to the mood of a room, because even someone with a self-described "casual elegant" style may want a room that makes him or her feel happy or a room that makes him or her feel alert or relaxed or calm or whatever.  There are different goals for different spaces in a home, and I love figuring out the desired mood/ feeling in a space and to set about making it a reality.  Again, to create a truth or an environment that did not exist before the design came to life.

There are so many different levels and depths to decorating/ design.  So many goals and so many desires.  Some people's desires are more surface-grazing: a beautiful room that they and the people who visit their home will love...  It's well-designed and often complimented.  Others want a home that is updated and comfortable: Does it have hardwood floors? Check. Does it have granite counters? Check. Does it have my favorite color? Check. Does it have 'art?' Check.  Pretty and comfortable furnishings? Check.  Is it "pulled together?" Check. And this is totally okay! 

...  But there are others who want something deeper.  Honestly, it's what I'm after.  I want a feeling... It has a "pace" or "speed"...  a level of motion or a "pitch" if that makes any sense.  (See synesthesia if this isn't clear)  My desires for the feeling I want in a room change failry regularly... often seasonally.  But the essence of it remains.

{Our foyer at Christmas}

It can be a new observation or true appreciation for a type of art or a fabric.  When we laugh out loud because of a movie or something we're reading, we often find ourselves saying to ourselves, "that's so true."  (Think of Seinfeld...  observing life's daily monotonies and saying the statement/ observation out loud.  We laugh because of the truth of what he's saying.) 

We also feel other emotions when presented with truths like these in stories or movies, songs,  or to sum it up in all types of "art."  Honest representations have meaning or truth behind them.

{Iwo Jima by}

Like many things there's the cheeseburgers and the prime rib...  (I think Stephen King said this??)  But sometimes  you are in the mood for a cheeseburger and sometimes you're in the mood for prime rib.  Although prime rib is widley regarded as "better" than a cheeseburger, the best cheeseburger in the world is better than a poorly cooked prime rib.  Think of design/decorating like that.  In honesty, in creating what is "real,"  you can create the perfect cheeseburger, and isn't that better than making a crappy prime rib?  My point is be what you are.  When you design, design for the space and the client at hand.  Beautiful things like crown molding exists, and when used in the correct spaces, are perfection, but just because crown molding exists and is beautiful and you can do it, does not mean it is right for every space and will necessarily make your space look beautiful.  (The same applies especially for granite countertops!! ;)  Honesty in design is appropriateness. Do what you do and do it well.  Don't worry about it being what everyone else is doing or what's "in" or "out."  It needs timeless appeal to you and/ or your client.

{image from}

Our house is a cheeseburger and we've tried to make it the best cheeseburger ever for us:  which would be one with lots of garlic and basil added into the meat, and even sometimes carrot puree.  A lot of people might not like all that stuff in their burgers...  So, even the "best" cheeseburger for us isn't necessarily the "best" to others and might not have mass appeal, but we love it and we live here. 

{The Something's Gotta Give Living Room via Cote de Texas}

However, many of the rooms that we (design-lovers) do fall in love with, are seemingly personalized spaces, because we appreciate how perfect and appropriate the space is for the people who live there.  (Think of the Something's Gotta Give House, above.  People (me included) feel head over heels for this it!!)  We appreciate the honesty in creating a space that's both highly personal and beautiful.  We take inspiration from these rooms and cherish our magazine tear pages. The inspiration should translate into learning,  reinterpretation, personalization and creating...  not necessarily copying if we're trying to actually create something new, something with its own soul....  something that wouldn't have existed if we didn't create it.


I am still learning and know it's a lifelong process.  I know there's still so much more to know.  There's a potential that I hope to reach and I know I'm not even close to it.  I don't say this to be vain, but because I'm sure you feel it too.  We all have this potential we're striving to reach...  to learn to create a truly honest design. 

Sorry to get all heavy on a Friday but I just had to get some thoughts out. :)  See you Monday and get excited about the weekend!!  ;)

xoxo, Lauren


Danielle Sigwalt said...

Great quote and I has to have meaning behind it!

Kathy said...

Hey lauren...
an emotion...
How true.
I find myself watching somethings gotta give often...Just for the beach house...
I adore it.
Great post~
xoxo~kathy @
Sweet Up-North Mornings...

La Petite Gallery said...

One thing I don't like is that ottoman coffee tables. Ugh.
You are right in saying the room should reflect you and the way you live. Many Designers forget that
it is not their house, it's the client's.


Hirondelle Rustique said...

What an inspiring post, well said!

nameisgrace said...

such a great post lauren. thanks for letting your deep thoughts out on this friday morning. i can relate to how change comes regularly, but "the esssence of it remains the same". love it! have a wonderful weekend:) xo grace

ps. thanks for your sweet comment. our boys would indeed have fun playing together especially in the new "playhouse"! the same goes for you if you're ever in southern cali, holla!

Jade @ Flip Flops + Pearls Design said...

Great post! All very true words!

Tricia said...

I think that this may be one of my very favorite of your posts. Probably because it's exactly what you set out for...honest.
Have a fabulous weekend with your men, Lauren.

Aimee said...

What a great post. Thanks so much!!

Jessica said...

your 'women's shelter bedroom' is beautiful. my mom has that dresser, so i may be a little biased.

Annie Wilcox Designs said...

We can all learn a little design from you and isn't a great way to get deep and share.

Bethany Christensen said...

Lauren- This is one of your best posts ever. So well thought out! It really makes me think about my designs. I know I can crate that honesty for myself but doing it for clients is a whole new challenge. Especially because they don't usually know what they want. And figuring out how to get to the heart of what they want can be really tricky. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

Robyn said...

I agree with your post completely. Most people can decorate a room, but the honesty comes out when you design it with a soul. So many rooms are decorated yet feel bare. I believe that if you are connected with a space and have a passion about what you are doing, it will translate into beauty.

Windlost said...

Hi Lauren, wonderful thoughts...I so get what you are saying!

Funny but at lunch with colleagues we were just talking about art, and how everyone seems to have even more individual taste in art than in even clothing or music. Our young co-op student said he thinks our love of art "comes from a very primitive, core place". I really liked that comment. Smart kid!

I could not agree more - it is the same with interesting rooms and things and spaces. What appeals to me (antiquity, patina, history, old man style, juxtaposed with clean, uncluttered, nice lines, etc.) may be totally different for another person, depending on our life history, our exposure to design, this accumulation of things, so for everyone it is unique.

I guess we each have a very different "truth", different things that resonate.

So I agree with your philosophy of finding a person's style, emotion/mood, character and trying to create a room around that...that really is the essence of it. And I can't even distill my own style, so I don't know HOW you do it!

On that note, I don't think people always appreciate that interior design can be such a DEEP field for people like us (who are thinkers!!), but it can really be. So much to ponder - the nature of people, how they live, the nature of consumption, the huge topic of beauty. How we live and decorate really encapsulates the entire human experience. No wonder it is complicated!!

I have these same thoughts in bed at night and wish I had more time to ponder them. So I am always glad when you write something like this - so I know I am not the only old man out there thinking about this stuff!! ;)

You rock Lauren! xo Terri

Linda in AZ * said...

* Lauren, not only do I AGREE w/ everyone else's comments, but was THRILLED to see DARRYL CARTER has a German Shorthaired Pointer, just like WE do...... and, while most of our others in the past have been larger, our now-7-year-old "BELLE" is not only the same "smaller" size as his PRECIOUS POINTER, but they look like TWINS~~~ B*E*S*T dogs in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD, BELIEEEEVE ME!!! (Hence my e-mail address!)~~~

Again, wonnnnderful blog today! Thanks, kiddo!

Linda in AZ *

Heather said...

Wow, how talented you are...first time to your blog and I'm glad to find some new inspiration! I'd love for you to come link up some of your posts to our Fabulous Friday linky party!
Heather @

A Perfect Gray said...

fantastic post. I will read and re-read this many times, just like your 'undesigned spaces' post. your encouragement to be true to ourselves, our style, is invaluable. and, as an english major, your points reminded me of this quote by John Keats:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know.

Thank you so much for this post, Lauren, and for sharing your valuable insight with us...

All the best, Donna

Jennifer Sergent said...

Great thoughts from William Morris. I heard Barry Dixon say recently that there needs to be a reason for everything you do as a designer -- and if you can only say you did something "because it's just so pretty!" a potential client should run, not walk, away from you. It looks like you are all of like mind!

Kathysue said...

Lauren what a beautifully written post. I so agree about being true to who you are and what you want for your home. I have always been more concerned about the feel of my home and my clients home than the look. I feel anyone can decorate a pretty room, by mimicking a store vignette, something in a catalog. But, to create a feeling and bring out yours or your clients personality, now that is true design!! I read a saying on a blog the other day and they were referring to copying what we see, They said look at the birds, a Robin makes a nest for a Robin not a finch but for a Robin, We should do the same. In other words make your own nest suited for your family ,not someone elses!! I love that you are on your own journey of discovery. I think you are very much on the right track sweet girl.

On another note, thank you sooooo much for your sweet comment on my Commenting post today, It was so special to see you there. I know how busy you are so I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, Have a wonderful Happy weekend, Kathysue

Love Where You LIve, a blog celebrating design, individual style & decorating. said...

I love walking into a room or a home that conveys a new vibe (via design, color, repurposed material). It's contagious fun. Great post1

Things That Inspire said...

Love the thoughts here, and I think the cheeseburger/prime rib analogy is even true within a person's home. Some rooms are cheeseburger - prime rib would just be wrong. Some rooms are prime rib - cheeseburger would be wrong. It's an interesting way to think of design, and I like it!

Jeanette {A Passion for Home} said...

Well said. Bottom line - surround yourself with what YOU love!

kayce hughes said...

Well said Lauren!

deardesigners said...

Terrific post. All of it so true. It's not easy to achieve 'honesty' in design. Too many clients think they have to chuck everything out and start again. The first thing I do is convince them that what they already have may be better than what they want to buy. I think they thank me in the end.
Maybe I should show them your post!

AnneHH said...

I have been grappling with these issues SO much over the years and this post has helped move my thinking forward. Thank you. You have wonderful instincts. One of the reasons that I love your blog is that you offer your readers so many dimensions--beautiful images, gorgeous makeovers, inspiring projects (can we say "barn board table") AND thoughtful musings on design. Amazing!!!!!!
xoxo, Anne

Kim said...

Great post! I completely agree that just because crown molding exists and is beautiful, it doesn't mean we should use it just anywhere.

We're in the process of doing long needed maintenance and repairs on a family house in the country. We have a very limited budget and will be doing pretty much all the work ourselves. Early on in the process I decided we wanted to adhere to the country cottage look (since that's what it is) and all our decisions since revolve around that choice.

Although we personally love a sleek, modern look, that wouldn't work in this house. And I'm thoroughly enjoying the challenge of making this country cottage the best country cottage it can be :D We are looking at a 2-3 year ongoing project to do everything we want/need but half the fun is in the journey!

Velvet and Linen said...

We share very similar ideas when it comes to our design philosophies. I definitely design to evoke an emotion.
When Steve and I were designing our own home we imagined how our family would use each room. We made decisions that would help our family live together harmoniously (well as harmoniously as 5 people can live under the same roof!).
I also wanted our home to look like a happy family home.
I think most people don't realize how good design can affect their lives.

Lucy said...

Fantastic post Lauren, it has really cheered me for some reason.

I love that pic of your living room, and when you threw in Something's Gotta Give I was gone, just gone!

In fact your living room interior reminds me a bit of some of the nicest houses (mostly Georgian) I saw growing up in a small country market town here in England, and how they were furnished.

I know that they are a key reference point for me in knowing my ''true'' style. I know exactly what you mean about truth in design, I think! I try to look at pictures I've saved and work out the elements that would be true for me, but whether they would be true in my current rental is a whole 'nother question.

Can I just say-

You find the best paintings!
If and when we manage to buy somewhere, I'll be emailing you!
If and when we manage to buy somewhere and get surprisingly rich, I'll be flying you over!

Have a lovely Sunday.

ps a barn nearby falls down and becomes your harvest table, that sounds so charmingly rustic I'm jealous.

Belly said...

This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I agree with everything you said, this is exactly what I'm looking for now while decorating our apartment, and I find that creating rooms which suit different purposes and states of mind, but yet are coherent is hard but very satisfying. Thanks for the food for thought:)

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Loved reading this!

shelly @ the familyblt said...

This is a great post! Really helps to keep ideas/things in perspective.

Tammy@InStitches said...

Great post, Lauren. You've got me thinking about this cheeseburger analogy now. My home is definitely gourmet cheeseburger, not the McDonalds dive thru kind ! Hope you are having a great weekend.

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

L, that is what makes your design so special, you don't copy the trends and there is truth to your design. Keep up the great work. Love your style.

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

You know me, I am a blogger of few words, most the time. I did a post the other day about your decor having a soul ... check it out, Two photo, few words, but it says volumes.

Linda Merrill said...

Excellent thoughts. I think of that "pitch" you mention as a "buzz". When I see a space, or a color combination, or whatever, that works for me, it's buzzes.

Lorna said...

Great post. We live in a 1970s cheeseburger!! (admittedly it is in beautiful countryside) but I really miss the Victorian red brick houses we lived in while in England.
but I am restyling and decorating and it will be the best cheeseburger around!

LindsB said...

I love this post! You always have the most thoughtful, well written posts that make total sense to me. I hope one day I can have a cheeseburger of a house and make it the best cheeseburger I can!

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

Great thoughts Lauren....and as a fellow synesthete...I know exactly what you mean by the pitch and feel.

I am a gut person. Not so much the other logistical stuff. That's where I get hung up...or not.

lisaroyhandbags said...

I love this post. It's so true to always remember to be honest to yourself and your lifestyle in decorating. Anyone can put together a room by perfectly matching everything to a point where it resembles a showhome. But it's the personal touches - pieces picked up on trips away, handmade accessories, and things that really speak to you that make a house a home. Photos of interiors should evoke a feeling to be inspirational. : )

Clancy said...

You know, I just signed up to take an interior design course, and I was feeling a bit nervous about it, but this post just restored my confidence. Thank you so much for writing.

gigi girl said...

Loved your comments along with the beautiful pictures of the rooms including the bedroom that you decorated for the Women's shelter! I just think that the color you chose for the walls was dreamy! What color was that and from what company?
PS-Thanks for always delivering such great, thought provoking decorating tips! I just love your blog and I cannot wait to read it each day! Thanks so much!

Diane at Perfectly Imperfect Life said...

Thanks for the great post, Lauren! I loved your cheeseburger/primerib analogy because I've slowly come to the realization that I'm a cheeseburger...and that's OK. :-)

I also have to ask, where did you get that blue pillow (or is it a pillow case) for the Women's Shelter?

MyLittleHappyPlace said...'s certainly a Cheeseburger in Paradise (as Buffet would say) - Your home, that is!

Hello Lover... said...

Lovely post. And I must say, no matter how many times I see the image of your foyer it always stops me - I'm not sure why but it's so wonderful.

homesteader said...

I really enjoyed reading this and I don't say that everyday. Well done.

Jane @ The Borrowed Abode said...

Lauren, if you have a moment - I'd love to have your opinion on my bedroom curtain dilemma. Thanks!

helenreaddy said...

Ahh I loved the womens shelter bedroom! I'm really into the 'weathered' style of french furniture . Before I was converted to this style by a friend, I was addicted to (well, still am!) silver furniture . Anything mirrored and I'll have it though I guess! Plus, I have just purchased a fabulous centre piece for my lounge, a huge gilt mirror , ah it's just stunning! Thanks for posting and sharing your beautiful ideas..