Popcorn and a movie, a beach sunset and a beer, bare feet on freshly cut summer grass–some simple pleasures in life are better together. One of my favorite pairings is a good book on a rainy day. We haven’t had many such days in Sydney recently, so this past Saturday, I embraced the chilled, foggy day of persistent rain. I was overjoyed to have a completely free afternoon ahead of me, with no plans (!!) and happily sat down with designer Lauren Liess’s book Habitat. It is no surprise that I am a design book addict. They are not only great for decor, stacked in piles on benches or coffee tables, but I consider them long-lasting resources for reference and inspiration.
I bought Habitat during our recent day trip to Bowral, of all places. It was such a bizarre experience coming across the book in a quaint hole-in-the-wall bookstore thousands of miles from DC, where I lived for so many years as “design neighbors” to Lauren. But it was also inspiring knowing that her beautiful designs are far-reaching. My first encounter with the designer was at the 2011 DC Design House, where I assisted Kelley Proxmire with the l’Orangerie and Lauren designed the upstairs library/office.
Truth be told I was not a fan of many of the rooms that year- you become partial to your own, after working countless hours for a limited period of time to pull a room together- but Lauren’s really stood out. I loved her mix of patterns and use of antiques, her presence of many textures and gallery-style hangings on the wall. It felt lived in and loved, yet was a brand new room only minutes old. I knew then that she had serious talent, and her success has grown exponentially since. Those of you in the States should look out for her new show airing soon, “Best House on the Block.”
Back to the design books, each has its own purpose. Some I love simply because of the photos, and admittedly I don’t even read the text. Others have limited photos but beefy text and wise words to live by as a designer. Lauren’s is a combination of both, a reference for both designers and non-designers alike, filled with useful information for both parties with gorgeous photos to prove she knows exactly what she is talking about.
I can appreciate her aesthetic for many reasons but some chapters were a page out of my own (yet to be written…) book:
- Architecture. It is SO important for a home’s architecture to continue in the overall design and aesthetic of a home. While I adore historic homes and farmhouses, I am currently living in an uber modern apartment with sleek lines and stark white walls. Everything is glass, stainless steel, and tile. It is not “me” but I make it work with modern furniture and colorful art. It would be all wrong if I added kilim rugs and leather ottomans. Chances are you bought your home because you loved its bones (OK and maybe the price was right and school district on point) but the point being, the decor that you add to a home should be apparent in its architecture. This is not to say you cannot mix modern with traditional- in fact this is my favorite way to design – but the architecture should be at the forefront. Highlight beautiful moldings and disguise or change awkward details.
- Finishes. People will stress about chrome vs. brass kitchen hardware until the cows come home, but there is no need. Lauren keeps the process for choosing finishes simple, and I completely agree. Pick finishes that feel good, are practical, and that will stand the test of time. It’s really that easy. Don’t put precious hardwood floors in a mudroom that will see constant traffic and endless scuff marks. Pick cabinet hardware that feels good in your hand. Don’t get “tricky” with a kitchen backsplash. Keep it simple and you will surely love it for years longer than something over-the-top.
- Rugs. Why do people breeze over rugs? Less makes the valid point that floors are one of the most prominent and noticeable aspects of a home. Besides walls and wall color, the tone and texture of your flooring throughout a home sets the tone. Rugs are a vital part of this equation and the wrong one can throw off a space instantly. Choose a rug that is BIG ENOUGH for the space (meaning all legs must fit on the rug, in the rare case back legs of chairs can teeter off if necessary) and that makes sense. Use multicolored, darker tones in rooms with high traffic and where spills are inevitable. Lighten up a space with a natural fiber rug where natural light is lacking. Use wall-to-wall synthetic carpet in colder, less insulated places or where kids rule the show. But truly pay attention to rugs in spaces that you use most. Splurge on a rug in rooms where you value most; antique wool rugs can often double up on durability and pattern/color to hide stains. you can have pretty and practical, you just might have to spend some extra time looking for it.
- Art and accessories. I am currently working on a house that is directly on the water. It is architecturally stunning and the views are second to none. It is visually breathtaking, and the furniture, lighting, and spatial planning that we are introducing will only improve upon its beauty. But as I often dread with clients, the art and accessories are lacking. The clients are not interested in buying new things, more appropriate to the style of the house, and instead are giving us questionable options of art and accessories. This happens more often than not, and I understand completely that these details are completely personal. But they have a time and place. A beach house with soaring ceilings deserves a gorgeous pieces of modern art or a textural sculpture by a local artist. A small antique painting of a tree will simply not suffice. While the world of design is daunting and construction can often be the most stressful time, don’t lose steam in the end. Choose wisely your art and accessories and ensure that they make sense for the home’s style.
- Juxtaposition. Everything is made stronger when set against its opposite. One of my favorite words – after all the namesake for this blog is based off a juxtaposition. It is so important to every room
In addition to these key points, so in line with my own aesthetic, Lauren constantly harps upon comfort and practicality. What use is a living room that is never lived in? Why choose a carrara countertop when you hate red wine stains? Be smart in choosing the aspects that make your house your home, but don’t lose site of yourself in the process. Only you know how best you will appreciate your habitat. Make it yours and enjoy the process along the way.