Thursday, May 2, 2013

...about coloring outside the lines: Design on a Dime 2013

I’m always intrigued by the design challenge of show houses, window displays, tabletop shows, and Design on a Dime, the annual fundraiser for Housing Works, whether I’m participant or spectator.

Do you try to represent the work you do, or woo the work you want? Do you go theatrical, because the spaces are ethereal, and the intent is to draw the eye and stop traffic? Do you shoot for practicality, or shoot for the perfect shot?

In the specific case of Design on a Dime, there’s the added caveat of making everything attractive to the frenzied and festive buyers who show up on the opening night. Make no bones: this is a sale. So on top of all those conceptual questions, Design on a Dime adds a few more practical ones: Do you set up shop, create a mini storefront? Do you tackle it like you would a client’s project (the space we’re given is not that much smaller than many Manhattan living rooms)? Do you risk the dreaded word “busy,” even knowing that the more you have, the more you sell to benefit the beneficiary?

So after two years of relative safety (if you count a pair of three-foot acupuncture statues, and brown crocodile walls safe), I decided to go big. Big color, big texture, big, well, parakeet. And in the process, big fun. And, for you and for me, a few big lessons along the way.

Walls Can Shape a Space
Well, THAT seems obvious, but I mean more the wall covering. All three years, I’ve used wall coverings (the first two years from Koroseal, this year, that amazing "Flame" printed grasscloth from Schumacher), and they have turned “booth” to “room” the minute the last sheet or roll went up, before a stick of furniture went in, even in this “room” with only two walls.

So what’s the lesson? Wall coverings take the edge off new construction. They can cozy up a room, hide flaws, make a room feel settled in, and add an instant sense of architecture to the barest of white boxes.

And here’s my bonus tip: I always underpaint a wall that’s being wallpapered, using the wallpaper’s predominant color (this year, Valspar’s Autumn Glimmer, who might also possibly be a contestant this season on RuPaul’s Drag Race). For Design on a Dime, it’s because there’s always the slightest chance things won’t arrive in time, so at least I’ll have color if it doesn’t, but in real life, also so that at wall ends and ceiling lines, or if there ends up being any shrinkage at the seams, you won’t see glaring bits of wall.

And while wall covering adds some serious time to the limited set-up timeline, I’m most certainly doing it again next year, assuming I’m asked back! The generous folks at The Alpha Workshops have already signed on, and I have my eye on their Topography line.

Client Sympathy
I think one of the biggest things you pay a designer for is visualization skill, and very often, after the first meeting, I can see a finished room in my head before I’m off the subway. It’s no different with Design on a Dime. From the first Pins and before the first donor commitment (EVERYTHING you see was donated!!), this room was complete in my head. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of doubt (dare I say PANIC?) along the way. And as much as I loved the wall covering, and KNEW it was the perfect choice (happy, vibrant, a great scale to hold its own at this busy event, Miami-evocative and color-motivating), when ONLY the wallpaper was up, I thought “Oh dear god,” even though passersby commented positively about the paper.

So the lesson is, when the room is only painted or paper, DON’T JUDGE. Keep soldiering on. It will make sense when other elements are introduced. Here, once the sofa was in place, when “Salvador” took his place above it, and when the ivory Lola chair arrived and the white Power Shag rug rolled in, it became exactly the room I’ve had in my head since January. But the moment of panic made me extra sympathetic to clients who say, “Um...”. Actually, it just reaffirmed my commitment to keep clients OUT of the space at that stage. Sorry clients! Buh-bye.

During set up, the phrase “It gets worse before it gets better” crossed my mind more than once. Installations are NOT pretty, and it’s why I try my best to not have a client around when I do it for that reason too.

Risk = Fun
Deciding I was going to design outside my own comfort zone became a VERY invigorating exercise. Everything became a happy “Why not!” instead of a worried “Should I?” 

What were some of the rules I broke or bent?

I mixed metals (burnished brass sits next to polished nickel, near raw steel legs and shiny gold nailheads). Why not!  The gallery wall, while unified by white frames (and gorgeously framed by Steven Amedee) that also tempered their presence on top of that jazzy paper, adhered to ideas of general balance and not strict symmetry, even though that was my intent up until the first screw went in the wall. Tell those Virgo voices to hush! The frames are not all going to line up, not THIS time. Why not! The bonus of letting go on my gallery wall? An overall arrow-shape that pointed right into the booth, and with forced-perspective, made my long wall seen longer than its 12 feet.

Go With the Flow

Be prepared to change your mind. People, this is art, not math. There’s no one right answer, and as much as I envisioned those Circa Lighting picture lights/wall easels tucked low behind the Constable lamps and just above the side tables, with the parakeet the wall star, it just looked wrong in reality. Actually, I might have left it were it not for my patient paperhanger/handyman who offered to move them in the 11th hour (when he knew they needed to be moved, and also knew I didn't have the heart to ask him!). And surprise, they actually drew more attention to the wall’s main piece instead of distracting from it. Why not!

Use What You Love
I’ve always said, “Buy what you LOVE, and anything will make sense together. But I’ve never really tested the theory with such abandon. But that was my rule: ask my generous donors for pieces or versions of pieces that I just loved. I loved the new orange leather at Mitchell Gold, so why not use it on the studio-apartment-perfect Keaton loveseat? (traditional lines, so the traditional bar cart had a friend at the party, both in their orange party duds, to boot). I love the hair-on-hide zebra on Bernhardt’s Connor Chair and loved their Ardmore bench, so why not combine them? Both vendors said yes without hesitation.

If you had told me even a year ago that I’d be blogging and bragging about a room with flamestitch grasscloth, orange leather, zebra upholstery, shag rug and a giant acid-green Australian parakeet, metals both warm and cool, and a loosened grid gallery wall, I’d have asked if your meds were current. But guess what? Why not! And this room, and the process to get there (breaking my own rules, relaxing my own preconceived notions, less matching and more mixing) has made me a better designer. I have never had more fun with a room, long or short-lived, client reality or fundraising folly. And it’s because the elements were fun. Colorful, happy, buoyant, flying birds and lacquered lobsters. That buoyant, festive vibe was very much the way the finished room felt. Plus, it was a BLAST to pull together. 

It’s the only happy pill I’ll need for quite some time. Well, at least ‘til the next Design on a Dime. I’m thinking “Decadent Dining" for 2014...

Stay tuned to see more vignettes from Design on a Dime 2013.
Read more about where I started and how it all came together over on New York Spaces.
See the Pinterest Board that started it all! 

All Photos: Jody Kivort

You'll notice among the sources many of my colleagues in the interior design world. I have special and deep gratitude for their personal generosity and support of this effort.

"Flame" Wallcovering in Zippity Doo Dah,: Schumacher,  Celerie Kemble collection
Parakeet photo: "Salvador," Leila Jeffreys
Loveseat: Keaton, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, in Rojo Leather
Bench/ottoman: Ardmore Bench, Bernhardt
Area Rug: Power Shag, Natural, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Chair: Lola, Ivory Leather, Room & Board
Marakesh Upholstered Ottomans: Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Orange Throw: Holland & Sherry, courtesy David Scott Interiors
Otto Pillows in Tangerine (on loveseat): DwellStudio
Tahiti Pillow on Chair: Horchow, courtesy Nicole Haddad
Artwork: David Peterson courtesy the artist and SwitchModern; "Macaw," Sharon Montrose courtesy Joel Woodard; Dan Romer, Aaron SmithCaroline O'ConnellBabette HerschbergerGary Moran
Framing: Steven Amedee, courtesy Steven Amedee and Mike Cahill
Bel Air Test Tube Vase: Jonathan Adler
Alexander Horn BoxesSargent Studded BoxBrass Knot Bottle OpenerBrass Link Box: Jayson Home
White "Urchin" Objects: DwellStudio
Gold-rimmed Stemless Champagne Flutes: West Elmcourtesy Mae Lee Hacking, Here in this House
Ombre Wine Glasses: West Elm, courtesy Wayne Breeden
Ling Decanters: Crate & Barrel, courtesy Scott Tjaden and Brian Rose
Tour Double Old-Fashioned Glasses: Crate & Barrel courtesy Brian Rose
Carmen Cocktail Napkins: Crate & Barrelcourtesy Mae Lee Hacking, Here in this House
Chinese Stone Table Top: Pagoda Red
White Lobster: Z Gallerie, courtesy Susan Weiner
White Lacquer Tray: West Elm
Modern Marble Sculpture (on tray): Wisteria
Trousdale Coasters, Jonathan Adler
Scissor Cut Ice Bucket: Crate & Barrel, courtesy Mae Lee Hacking, Here in this House
Cylinder Vase (used as wine cooler), Poppy: Wisteria
Flask Orange Vase: CB2 courtesy Janice Ward
Gourd Vase in Poppy: Wisteria
Orange Resin Star Fish: Pottery Barn
Thalia 14" Cylinder Vase: Crate & Barrel, courtesy Mindy Miraglia
Books: Courtesy Jay Gurewitsch, Arcadia NYC
Quince Flowering Branches: Crate & Barrel
Paper Hanging: Phil Farley
Set-up Assistance: Alan Bounville, In Our Words Project

Special Thanks: Steven Heavner, Michael Morris, Bridget Wise, Bethanne Matari, Eloise Goldman, Landon Shockey, Luca Rensi, David Scott, Matthew Patrick Smyth, Tammi King, Neil Goltz, Alice Moore, Meghan White, Jim Finch, Molly Peterson, Steven Maserjian, Madison Hewerdine, Arielle Trop, Susan North, Lynda Quintero-Davids, Victor Boccarossa, Ken Wampler, John Sullivan, Roy Otwell, Mel Alvarez, David Raper, Cheryl, Suzanne and ALL the Housing Works staff and volunteers.

Get Social! Find Housing Works, Valspar PaintWisteria, Steven Amedee, Schumacher, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Room & Board, ArcadiaNYC, Currey & Company, Jayson HomeBungalow5, Pagoda Red, The Gilded Stag and SwitchModern on Facebook. Follow me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. i hear you- i've had more than one client freak out at the paint stage, not understanding that the room is going to feel very different after the furnishings are in. usually i can talk them down, but at least twice, they've got cold feet and opted for less color. ;-/

  2. Oh Patrick what a fabulous room and fabulous story about how it came together. I love what you did and how fearless you were with color and style. Well done! Thanks for a big dollop of inspiration and sensational example of coloring outside the lines.

    1. High praise, indeed!! Thank you for visiting, and THANK YOU for commenting!!!