Monday, May 9, 2011

...about Design on a Dime... One Room, 13 Tips.

This... a little of this...

...equals this!

Not all design projects follow the same path. Each client, each room sets the stage for what’s to come.

And for sure, designing for Design on a Dime, the fundraising premiere design event for Housing Works, set quite a stage. While it involved filling a space from the ground up, like I do for many a client, it was far from a conventional design process.

The first challenge was rounding up the room’s contents from vendors, companies and friends who would donate their worthy wares, free of charge, and without any hope of getting their merchandise back at event’s end, since all contents were sold to benefit Housing Works.

After a slightly panicked weekend which I spent almost entirely listing people I could hit up, rounding up email addresses and combing my list of Facebook friends (and Liked companies), I started reaching out for hand outs. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t tap too hard on any one vendor’s door… which made it fun, but also way more challenging.

Almost everyone I approached stepped up and said they’d chip in, but the challenge for me (apart from persuading them to do just that) was to make sure it all came together into a cohesive, high-style space for my maiden voyage into some seriously high-profile design waters.

Being added a little late to the party meant decisions had to happen fast, and there were lots of donation options in play. Each “yes” was preceded by a “maybe” or a “What do you need?” and early on, I wasn’t sure. First donations set the stage for later decisions, causing at least one major change in course along the way (at one point, the plan was for marigold leather chairs, a black and red painting, and chocolate vinyl crocodile walls! Maybe next year!)

Oil on Panel, Babette Herschberger; Kimora Buffet, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; Clarke Bench, Jayson Home & Garden; Le Tent Pharmacy Lamps, Circa Lighting; Stacked Stainless Steel Coffee Table, Wisteria; Cubist Charcoal Throw, DwellStudio; Grasscloth Wall Covering, Koroseal; Photo: Jody Kivort

Happily, for me and for Housing Works, it all came together, a three-sided white box transformed into a room ready for its close up, amidst the likes of industry vets and design-savvy celebs. While the process to get there wasn’t necessarily conventional, the principles I tried to hold on to along the way were pretty true to how I generally attempt to assemble a space. Here are the top 13.

1) Invest, Save and Splurge… and Start with a Rug.

I tell clients that the room we create together will be an exercise in “Invest, Save and Splurge” and although no client here to tell that to, the room held true to the philosophy. A gallery-caliber piece of art from Babette Herschberger, and a room-filling viscose and wool rug from NIBA Rug Collections, designed by Doug and Gene Meyer, were the early drivers, and it was most apropos: These are two items I tell clients to consider first, and consider spending a bigger chunk of their budget to get.

Splurges (even though they were donated) were the antique Chinese acupuncture figures, good quality framing (here, from Art Addiction) some small touches of sumptuous fabrics (Allan Knight via Koroseal, and Donghia velvet at the windows), and some “design building” pieces (the Hal stool and premium hide rug overlay, from Designlush).

Savings came from “shopping” catalog and internet sources, and working with retail sources, like drapery hardware and display cubes purchased from West Elm… they had already committed to doing the booth for Iman. (Yes, the project took a bit out of my own pocket, and the pocket of my supportive and patient other half…)

Chinese WIne Table, Pagoda Red; "Smoke" Leather Pouf, Serena & Lily; Table Lamp, Hubbardton Forge; Ice Blue Hurricane/Ice Bucket, LazySusanUSA; Bird photos, Marty Maynard, framing by Art Addiction; White Venetian Glass Vase, Lee Calicchio; Wine Decanter and Glasses, SwitchModern; Grasscloth Wall Covering, Koroseal; Photo:Jody Kivort

2) Layer the Light.

Every room needs a layered lighting plan. Overhead lights courtesy the event set-up stand in for overhead recessed or track lights, but the plan didn’t (or shouldn’t) stop there. Lamplight, art lights and a pair of pharmacy task lights (most with built in dimmers) give the room lots of depth and mood option. Fire-safe battery candles stood in for the candlelight to round out a party-ready and flattering lighting plan.

Clarke Bench, Jayson Home & Garden; Charcoal Throw and Dot Pillow, Dwell Studio; Bolster in Opuzen Sun Velvet, in Royal, courtesy of Koroseal and fabricated by Solomonic Couture for the Home; Hal Wood Stool, DESIGNLUSH

3) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

Find ways to repeat colors (and their variations), materials and shape. Here, circles and squares make lots of repeat performances, from the staggered squares in the NIBA Rug Collections wool and viscose area rug (used here wall-to-wall) to the square frame on Babette Herschberger’s “Tidbit” collage, to the room-anchoring square of coffee table from Wisteria. Circles and curves are found in the Currey & Company Garnett chandelier, the Hubbardton Forge Ondrian floor and table lamp shades.

4) Compare and Contrast.

Everything in a room should have something in common with something else. But it should also have some sort of definite contrast, too. Here, the wood case goods share some things in common… the painted gray Wentworth Cabinet from Jayson Home and Garden and the Chinese Wine Table from Pagoda Red share obvious Asian roots, but one is leggy, dark and open, while the other is shape (not line) and features a painted finish. The far more modern Kimora Buffet from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams shares the deep wood one of the Wine Table, and the shape of the Wentworth, while the subtle front detail makes it Asian in its own modern way. Their commonalities make them play nice, while their differences make it a far more interesting party.

Grasscloth Wall Covering, Koroseal; Ondrian Floor Lamp, Hubbardton Forge

5) Organic Doesn’t Have to Mean Houseplants.

Sure, there’s an orchid and some cut papyrus, but the real organic work in this room comes from other sources… the mounted Spar specimens from Brenda Houston, the trio of nature photos, the grasscloth, the hide. These things bring in a natural quality that man-made just can’t hold a (real or battery-operated) candle to.

Garnett Chandelier, Currey & Company; Drapery Fabric, Donghia Velveteen, Blue Otter and Allan Knight Opus Sheer, Fog, Allan Knight courtesy Koroseal; Kimora Console, courtesy Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; Custom Negoro Nuri Pedestals, The Alpha Workshops; Double Lantern, LazySusanUSA;
Hal Wood Stool, DESIGNLUSH;
6) The Hand of Things.

Even a Transitional room can fall flat or feel cold if everything seems slick and machine-made. The hand-glazed pottery from Jayson Home and Garden, the hand-applied Negoro Nuri finish on the custom-colored pedestals from The Alpha Workshops, the hand-planed finish of the Chinese wine table from Pagoda Red, the hand-pierced and hammered metal Garnett chandelier from Currey & Company… all give the room a feel of being settled in. It’s a great way to take the edge off new construction.

Quinn Chairs, in Gunmetal Alloy, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; Area Rug, Cubist, NIBA Rug Collections; Ivory Hide Overlay, DESIGNLUSH; Silver "Big Shoom" Vessel, Alessi, courtesy of SwitchModern; Photo: Jody Kivort

7) A Little Room Can Take a Lot of Content.

Because this event is basically a charity sale, the bigger goal than just designing a space was to assemble lots of potentially sellable merchandise, so I went big on quantity. But I also generally think people underestimate the amount of content that can go into a small space. What makes it work is a few tricks, of color, scale and repetition. A limited palette keeps eye-interrupting contrast to a minimum. Bigger pieces (here, a bench which stands in for a sofa, and one of the three case goods) are close in tone to the Koroseal grasscloth wall covering, and that diffuses their scale. Repetition of metals (a range of shiny to matte silvers) and shape (squares and circles) also make things settle in.

Silver Ceramic Garden Stool, Wisteria; Faux Hide Tray and Bone Box, LazySusanUSA; Wentworth Painted Wood Cabinet and Turquoise Ceramic Jars, Jayson Home & Garden; Ondrian Floor Lamp, Hubbardton Forge; Academy Map Light, Circa Lighting; Stelton Stainless Steel Martini Shaker, SwitchModern; Artwork: "Tidbit" Assemblage, Babette Herschberger; Photo: Jody Kivort

8) Shine Activates a Room.

Shine, sheen and reflection add visual depth to a room, and makes the most of your light sources. Shiny things (even the glass on the front of a framed print) give a space visual activity that doesn’t add visual clutter.

9) White IS a Color.

White (in its full range from bright white, in vintage Venetian glass vases from Lee Calicchio, to ivory Chinese figures, to white mats on the art, candles, white and ivory hides and bone box from LazySusanUSA) has a bright starring role. When used intentionally, and not as an afterthought or default, white is a fresh and modern color choice. It also deepens up all the colors around it.

10) Look Through Your Coffee Table.

A coffee table can eat up a room, so I’m a big fan of glass for table tops. You still get the real estate, but you also get the most of the rug beneath it, and the room around it. This one, a showstopper from Wisteria, also has a base that keeps light, air and color flowing through.

Photos: Jody Kivort
11) Symmetry and Balance.

Symmetry can help create architectural interest and focal points where there are none. But too much of a good thing is not very imaginative or terribly interesting. While the main plan was symmetrical (to draw the eye of passers by, since symmetry catches the eye more quickly), several things broke the rules: side tables were similar but not identical. An asymmetrical plan for the accessories on the back console and the coffee table keep things active.

As for balance, the two side vignettes are balanced in height, but each is different enough to keep the room from becoming too formal or static. What makes that happen? Repeated color, for one (the gray “Smoke” Leather pouf from Serena & Lily balances out the gray paint of the Wentworth cabinet from Jayson Home & Garden, a touch of deep brown in a tray on one side balances out the wood tone of the Pagoda Red Chinese wine table). The similar heights and color of the lampshades also draw similarity and balance from differing scenarios. Intentional contrast (one piece of large art on one side, a mass of smaller pieces on the other) also keeps either side from feeling heavier or lighter than the other. Even the side pieces balance out through color and scale: the larger mass of cabinet is a lighter, wall-hugging color, while the smaller more linear table is in a deeper, more contrasting color.)

White Crocodile Pattern Reliefware; Good Design (on West Elm Display Cubes)

12) Mix Your Woods.

Matching wood tones too closely leads to an “all off one truck” look, and even though this space didn’t have the luxury of time to evolve, I wanted to make sure it looked like it did. One way to do that is to not match all your wood pieces. Painted and stained, deep oxblood and caramel-y tones all find a home here. But because each wood tone has at least one other note of the same color in the room it all ends up looking intentional… but still collected. (Making sure pieces are of differing vintage and style also helps to create a collected look.)

Chinese WIne Table, Pagoda Red; Table Lamp, Hubbardton Forge; Ice Blue Hurricane/Ice Bucket, LazySusanUSA; Bird photos, Marty Maynard, framing by Art Addiction; White Venetian Glass Vase, Lee Calicchio; Wine Decanter and Glasses, SwitchModern; Grasscloth Wall Covering, Koroseal;

13) Frame for Fame.

Art does not have to be big ticket to look it. While the large oil on panel piece was a bigger-price tag piece, the smaller art pieces are elevated to that same caliber with artful framing and overall presentation. Wide mats give pieces more important, and framing grouped pieces in like-colored frames give you a higher end look. And art lights (here, two plug in pieces from Circa Lighting) make the pieces shine.

So what tip are you currently using in your home? Which one should you be, but aren’t? Which is the biggest eye-opener?


  1. So many wonderful tips here.
    I have always admired your work since first being introduced to your work.
    Every time I visit NY I make a trip to at least two Housing Works.

    Rashon aka Mr. Goodwill Hunting

  2. Thanks for the great tips!! I just moved into a small 2 room apartment in Denmark, and am at the very beginning of a (long) collecting & designing process - this is the perfect inspiration to get me going :)

  3. Lots of great information here. It'll take some time to digest it. Congrats on your first space at the show!