image courtesy of www.urbannarrative.com
I was recently asked the question "What is your Design Style". My near-instant reaction was to feel the hair on the back of my neck standup in slight indignation. And why you ask? Its funny but I just get the tiniest bit tetchy when I'm asked a question to which you know the asker wants you to give a quick 'sound bite' of a response that appeals to our impatient 21st Century desires in five words or less. In thinking it over as to why I reacted this way, I had to acknowledge that it's because I've learned enough in my twenty-plus years in the design business to know that personal style should be multi-layered and not necessarily actually be definable in simple sound-bite phraseology.
In our fast-food approach to modern life there are all too many lovely interiors which by description are some sort of style or other, and yet some of them are lacking in personality, and a sense of place.
I personally do not have a 'set' design style, and that is a very conscious choice because I believe you should avoid pigeon holing yourself into a - well - pigeon hole! I also say that because when you determine the look and feel for your interiors you should not do so without considering it in context to its surrounding environment, the architectural style of the building, and the cultural context in which it is situated. Having said that if you cornered me in a dark alley and asked me this question for life or death I'd probably say on a personal level I am currently tending towards more mid-century modern influences. But that single preference is not the only style I enjoy - its just one that's perhaps a bit more front-of-mind at the moment because it is appropriate for where I am currently living and responds to my preference for light and color. While my current home reflects a bit of the mid century modern style, I would not describe my home as being 'mid century modern'. Its just a home that reflects my quirky and eclectic personal tastes with a hint of mid-century modern as a vibe, in the same way a skewered olive is an enhancement to a classic martini. Its not the main event, but the main event would not be the same without it.
Note that I also said I am "currently tending towards". Its a good thing to give yourself permission to change your design preferences as you mature and travel. None of us are a work of black and white, so let your boundaries be a little flexible to allow in the influences that your life journey brings, to enhance and inform your interiors so that they reflect your personality and not simply some generic 'design style' that can be categorized in a single word. From a purists point of view, our answer to the question "What is Your Design Style" should really be "My Own Style".
I recommend to all my clients that when they are determining their interior style preferences that they also consider it in conjunction with the style of the architecture of the home itself, as well as the context of the location (ie is city or coastal, mountain or prairie). While it is important to know what you like and dislike and have a general sense of your style preferences regardless of where you are living, you can enrich your enjoyment of the space by ensuring that their is a language of harmony expressed between the interior space and the architectural style and the location. If there is a disconnect between them it can have a negative effect on those who inhabit or use the space; Warning signs can be when you know something doesn't feel right but can't quit put your finger on it. Often if this is the case, the synergy may off between these elements.
It does not mean that if the exterior of your home is traditional that the interior must follow suit in all aspects; For example, I have seen quite contemporary interiors done in fairly traditional homes. However, to strike the balance it is generally most pleasing to have a similar type of feeling and mood conveyed from the exterior and carried through into the interior. You may be able to place contemporary pieces intermixed with some traditional and/or transitional pieces, as long as the overall mood and feel of the home has a consistency and flow, connected by a common thread.
What I am talking about is what many design peeps refer to as 'Sense of Place". In other words, that the architecture and its corresponding interior should be informed by the context of the location, and the culture in which it finds itself. Generally speaking, architecture and interiors 'feel' right when they harmonize and compliment the place. This is especially so when they are constructed using materials indigenous to the area. Think of the lovely villages in the Cotswold Hills of England in which the homes were constructed out of Cotswold Stone. Similarly how the homes in Greece are white and made of local plaster/chalk/mud. In both cases they achieve a sense of place because they 'feel' like they belong in their environment.
It is quite pleasing when you extend the sensibility expressed in the architecture into the interiors. Think back to the Greek example above, and visualise what Greek homes look and feel like; They have simple unadorned walls and furnishings, using bright colors on a white background, often with blue as a preferred color. In that type of architectural and in a climate which receives intense hot sunlight, you can use either traditional furnishings or contemporary furnishings, but generally the lines of them should be simple and unfussy, in order to compliment the architecture. Accent the interior with touches of bright color. All of it is made luminous through the type of natural light they receive.
If you've ever been on holiday to a Greece and you feel quite at home there, you may even say you 'love' the interior design style and get tempted to try in your own home, in part to try to remind you of the happy times you have spent on holiday.
However, it may be a mistake to attempt to apply that design style (either in part or entirety) to your own home which is in a completely different part of the world, in a totally different climate. Unless of course your home had the right architectural 'bones' to support a change of style, and even then you have to be careful to avoid making it feel like a caricature of the real thing. If the bones aren't right, then no matter how much cosmetics you apply on top of it, it will not feel right.
So, the moral of the story is as you become aware of your personal style preferences, to also consider at the same time the context of where your home is located and consider how this should inform and influence your interiors. Design is not an exact science and you don't have to feel cornered into making a definitive statement that confines your style into a little pigeon hole. It will feel right and will give meaning to you and the environment in which it is situated, when it reflects your personality, and responds to the architecture and cultural context of its location.
Kevin Gray is a residential interiors specialist, who has more than 20 years experience in the interior and architectural design industry.