In his new book, “The Designer Within: A Professional Guide to a Well-Styled Home,” interior designer John McClain suggests we ask ourselves, “What would make me happiest when I walk into my home?”
Reviewing an advance copy (Gibbs-Smith, $45), I have to agree. That might be THE question.
What would make me the happiest? To come home to people and pets dear to me, of course, in a place that is clean and orderly – and beautiful. I want to see objects and vignettes that I love, pieces that my husband and I have collected over time that tell stories.
“I want readers—whether homeowners looking to tackle their first renovation or seasoned designers looking for new ideas—to come away confident and inspired,” he writes.
Readers will want to give their entire home a makeover after looking through this inspiring 114-page book, illustrated with photos of McClain’s own home, a “Modern Loft Bungalow,” and his other design projects, ranging from traditional to contemporary .
“I didn’t want it to be just another pretty coffee table book,” McClain told me over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “What I really want this book to do is start a conversation, a conversation within your own household that sparks change.”
I was eager to hear more.
Q. Every designer, including you, says to collect inspirational images from magazines or on a Pinterest board to form the foundation of your design. How do you go from that jumble to a design plan?
A. You are looking for inspiration. When you find something you respond positively to, whether it’s a photo of a room, a rug, or a piece of art or furniture, dig deeper. Analyze why you like it. Is it because it reminds you of a favorite place, or makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. The items in your home should awaken something in you. They have to be more than just beautiful.
Q. You tell readers to “be brave.” That’s loaded advice. Please advise.
A. I’m all about people copying what they see in Crate & Barrel or Restoration Hardware. Homeowners need to express themselves. My favorite way to be bold is through wallpaper, but it can also be through a statement piece of furniture, perhaps an oversized lamp that acts like a sculpture or through unexpected color.
Q. Your book contains many painted cabinets, but the idea of painting wooden cabinets terrifies me. Isn’t that sacrilegious?
A. Now I’m going to raise you a who cares. Wood is just wood. People say they can’t change this golden oak, and I say, “Are you kidding me?” Wooden cabinets are no more special than painted cabinets. Although, when painting cabinets, choose colors that will stand the test of time.
Q. Share your secrets for creating a great “shelfie” or tablescape.
A. When styling a bookshelf or coffee table, must-haves include stacks of books with some sort of “book topper,” such as a brass object or any small accent piece on top of the stack to read the table. Then add one to two objects with height and a round object, such as a bowl. Mix sizes, shapes, colors and finishes.
Q. You advocate home design that is “comfortably chic.” How do you bridge those opposing ideas?
A.Chic and comfortable is my go-to design aesthetic. You can choose a chic sofa with beautiful, sophisticated lines and cover it with fabric that is so durable that the kids can wipe their dirty hands on it. Complete it so it’s more comfortable than you’d expect, while maintaining the same sleek silhouette.
Q. What are some ways to make a small space look bigger?
A.Use chairs and sofas with legs that allow air space. Clear acrylic chairs take up less visual space, and curtains that start at the ceiling will make rooms feel longer. Don’t be afraid to use large pieces in small rooms. A few larger pieces are better than several smaller ones. A monochromatic color scheme also helps.
Q. You talk about a high-low philosophy when discussing how to afford a great look. Where are the best places to save money and where should you invest?
A. Spend money on the items that get heavy use: sofas, coffee tables, dining room chairs, beds, appliances and container goods, such as dressers. Save on items you use less, such as lamps, mirrors, accessories, side tables, sometimes area rugs and art. Even when I’m working on a multimillion-dollar house, I’ll put an expensive well-made dining room table next to a $50 mirror.
Marni Jameson has written six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” Reach her at www.marnigameson.com.