Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I LOVE helping my clients enhance and beautify the homes they’ve worked so hard to obtain. Over the past sixteen years, I've created designs for second homes ranging from a cabin in the woods to an estate on Kiawah Island. Nantucket. Destin. Snow Mass. Hilton Head. And every one of them has been magnificent, each in its own way.

It always surprises me when people treat their second homes as if they don’t matter. The second home is where they put things that are too worn or out of style for their regular homes – and this makes no sense to me! Whether it's a one-bedroom studio or a mansion on the lake, second homes should be valued for the comfort and relaxation they provide.

A good designer can recycle those "oldies-but-goodies" and put them in "just the right place". However, if quality time isn't spent discussing function and comfort, that wonderful second home can become a not-so-wonderful secondary afterthought. Do you entertain for six or eight for dinner? Then your 48" round table won't cut the mustard. Do you have a counter at your island to sit at and eat your cereal? Those old barstools are probably too high.

Regardless of whether you decide to recycle old items or buy new, do treat yourself to a good mattress and box springs. Losing sleep at your vacation home is an oxymoron at best. Your sofa needs to be comfortable for those Sunday afternoon naps, too - no springs popping up through the cushions!

A second home need not be secondary. With careful thought, working within a plan and specified budget, your second home will provide many years of good times and fond memories.

I don’t have a second home (I hope to one day). But a little vicarious living can be fun. So, if you don’t have a second home (yet), I’d love to hear what your dream home would be. If you do, tell us what you love most about it!


Summer is finally here! Of course, if you live in Atlanta like me, Summer (and its 95 degree afternoons), has been here for the last three weeks! Summer is a time for walks on the beach, hand-scooped ice cream, and evenings watching baseball under the lights.

The savvy home-decorator knows another thing about summer: it's the best time of the year to order furniture. That's right, July and August are months when furniture manufacturers offer an extra percent off to their retailers, and the retailers pass those discounts on to their customers. That’s why stores offer their highest discounts to those who order their furniture before Labor Day.

A designer has more time to give to his clients during these hot months, too. Smart customers take advantage of this, knowing that decisions they make now mean saving money – and having beautiful rooms of furniture and draperies ready to install in the Fall, when life cranks back up to full-tilt.

So enjoy your Summer, everyone! And don't forget to special-order that room of furniture while the sales are red-hot!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Favourite Things

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens – I don’t really care about either of those things all that much. But I do love my house. Probably because it is filled with lots of things I've collected over the years. Fiestaware plates. Duke of Windsor stuff. Paris flea market finds. When I look at them, they put me in mind of different times and places. And they make me feel good.

Our favorite things communicate a lot about us. They start conversations. They create a visible representation of the way we see ourselves. For instance, my house has a lot of books, but not so many that it looks like a library. There are Edward VIII plates in a hallway and a Ralph Lauren sofa (which I bought) next to my grandfather’s desk (which I inherited). When people come to my house, I hope that they see old-world charm and 1920s elegance. I hope they get a sense of literacy and wit.

When I go to my clients’ houses for the first time, I look for their favorite things. Are family photos framed and displayed? Are certain colours more prevalent than others? Are there collections of any kind? What’s important to them? What do they want to communicate about themselves?

One of my favorite design projects started with a MacKenzie-Childs pillow in a Neiman Marcus bag. It was the first day I had met the clients, who were looking for a designer to set up their new condo in Destin, Florida. The pillow didn’t come with a great story or a long history. But the clients loved it and ultimately, the colours and textures of this one "favorite thing" became the “launching pad” for the entire project.

Six months after our first meeting, my clients were enjoying new furnishings in soft lilacs and apple greens, re-enjoying an old set of dining chairs upholstered in a new coral fabric, and placing a glass of wine on a beautiful, black, three-tiered bar/end table. Their collection of Alvar paintings and colourful art glass in all shapes and sizes were perfectly displayed. Except for a few new lamps and rugs, new accessories were not even needed. The end result was a new home that highlighted old treasures in a new way. It remains one of my favorite projects.

A great home is a combination of intelligence, passion and integrity. We make some decisions intellectually: “Our dining room must be able to serve at least ten people.” Some decisions are a matter of passion: “I simply adore this fabric – its pattern, its colours , its textures… I have got to have it somewhere in this room.” Most important, we want our homes to have integrity so that they are not just a collection of unconnected things. But they are a specific kind of place in which even unrelated items come together and work.

As it turns out, the qualities of a great home are the same as the qualities of a great designer. You want someone with intelligence, who can see your home and recognize key elements of color, texture, proportion and style. You want someone with passion for his work – and an appreciation of the things that matter most to you. And, of course, you want a designer with integrity – who explains what he does and who does exactly what he says he will (or, perhaps, even more. That goes back to the element of passion). I like to think that this describes me. Because, clearly, creating beautiful designs that work for my clients is probably my very most favorite thing.

Knowing what your own favorite things are is important – it’s a way of knowing yourself and knowing what your home says about you. So, look around your home and tell me: what are a few of your favorite things? I’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Biggest Mistake

Have you ever made a mistake? Of course, you have. We've all made mistakes. They aren’t fun. But mistakes are only disasters if we don’t learn from them. And if we learn from them, hopefully, we become better human beings.

It Started When I Needed a New Sofa

Back in my twenties, when I bought my first home, I made a big mistake. I was working in fashion at the time but I always had an eye for interiors. And I knew that it was time to retire my five year old, unnaturally shiny Herculon couch and go shopping for a new, "eighties-looking" sofa. Yes, I know - sofa is just a nicer way to refer to a couch. And that’s what I needed – a nicer kind of couch. So I starting getting ideas.

I've always believed in giving business back to where I got business. It happened that one of my clients had a family-run furniture business, so I decided that I would buy my sofa from them. My client’s furniture store was in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania, some Podunk town I had only heard mentioned when big news happened there. Like maybe a bake sale.

I relished a road trip on my day off, so I hopped in the B'mer, rolled back the sunroof, turned on Talking Heads full blast, and I was off to Houtzdale. I had made an appointment, since, no matter where you are, an appointment gets you better service than “just showing up.” I arrived in this sleepy little town and, had I been in the Southwest, I might have seen some sagebrush tumbling by. Then, I saw the store and realized why people from all over the Commonwealth came there to buy their furniture. It was a big store. A HUGE store. I was met at the front door and introduced me to every employee within earshot. Made me feel so important. Then, Mrs. Ann Sahlaney escorted me to an old building elevator.

Upon arrival at the fourth floor, I witnessed what had to be the largest collection of sofas I had ever seen. There were probably a hundred or so and, like many of my clients today, I was overwhelmed by the task of selecting the RIGHT sofa for my new home.

Selecting the Right Sofa was Easy – NOT.

Keep in mind that I was a buyer and a selling manager in better men's and women's wear. If my job that day had been to buy $10,000 worth of men's suits in the best-selling sizes, colours and fabrics, I would have had no problem! But this was different. This was going to be my only sofa, and, being the trend-setting icon that I saw myself to be, I just couldn’t make a mistake. Those of you who know me well can probably already guess that I wasn't going to leave town without buying something or placing an order.

[side note: If you want to take two years to find the right couch for your home, think twice before you come to me for help. Make an appointment, come with a budget and rest assured - I'll order you that sofa within two hours.]

Halfway through the day, I went through the fabric samples on these big metal rings from the company whose sofa I liked and I narrowed my selection down to three choices (always a good idea). By this time, the salesman had stopped offering recommendations because, clearly, I could see, he understood my exemplary taste level. One of my fashionista mentors had used the word, "duck-cloth", so, when I came to the selection of duck-cloths, I knew that I was on the homestretch. My sofa (mine – not one of the "floor samples"), was going to be a classic, "tuxedo-style" sofa, with three back cushions over three seat cushions, and these two cute little "kidney-pillows." And it would be made in the most wonderful neutral-colour duck cloth that the mills had ever woven.

Mission Accomplished? Maybe not.

I was drunk with excitement. My dream had been fulfilled by a Drexel Heritage, name-brand sofa in a fabric that I alone had selected. I couldn't write the deposit check fast enough, seal the deal and drive home through the mountains to return to my soon-to-be-photographed house. After all, how could Architectural Digest resist?

Remember, this is a story about mistakes. So, what was the problem? Was the sofa too big? It could have been. You know, I NEVER thought about my award-winning sofa being too big for the room... and I lucked out in that it fit perfectly. Was it comfortable? Yes, it was. In fact, I still own it; it's in my library. Was the problem actually that beige duck cloth I had chosen so carefully to wear well and look fantastic?

Oh yes.

The Sahlaney truck arrived and the delivery men entered with my prized piece of furniture, wrapped like a mummy. I could hardly contain myself. The wait was over, and the men proceeded to carefully unwrap my treasure. I think I remember going to the kitchen to get the men a glass of cold water, and, when I returned, there it was… wait - my WHITE sofa?

I was speechless. What I had remembered as a cousin to khaki had evolved into an albino aberration of cushions and pillows. I didn't know whether to move to Hollywood or find out where my Grandpap got his bubble-wrap covers for his car seats on his '56 Nash, but I quickly signed the paper on the clipboard being held in front of me and crashed back to earth.

I drank back then, but even I knew that a Johnny Walker straight up (or two or three) wasn't going to change my dinosaur egg into the colour I should have ordered. At least I had bought a quality product, worthy of reupholstering. So, within a short year of napping, entertaining, and just plain-old TV watching, my seven-foot duck showed proof that I owned an Olde English sheepdog and I knew I had to call my best friend, Marlene, and hire her to slip-cover my Joan Crawford nightmare. It was time to move on with my life.

What did I Learn? A Lot.

So, what is the moral here? Never buy a white sofa? No, white is good for some rooms. It just wasn’t good for mine.

The lesson here is to know what you want and be willing to listen to someone who knows something you may not. Had I allowed myself to be warned about how a light fabric can appear up five times lighter when it actually appears on the furniture in a room, or had I thought to share that I had a dog, or had I at least been offered fabric protection, things might have turned out differently.

Thankfully, the wonderful business consultant and trainer, Iris Byers, taught me how to help my clients avoid my own earlier error: Let me listen to you, ask questions and work with you. You can rest assured that you’ll wind up with furniture that fits your home, your style and your budget.

So, how about you? In the great wide world of your home, what was your biggest mistake?