When I first began dabbling in the world of interior design in a well-to-do suburb of London, I was dating a much older guy. He moved in established circles and we were often invited to sit-down dinner parties with people I barely knew. As the new kid on the block, I would be asked what I did for a living, and when I replied with “I’m an interior designer,” I invariably would be asked:
“So what would YOU do with this room?”
Just as invariably, I would freeze—as I do to this day. My internal brakes go on and my mind goes completely blank. The question feels wrong to me on every level! I hated those moments because they made me feel insecure, maybe a tad inexperienced and inadequate, as if I couldn’t be a very good designer if I were unable to make up amazing design schemes on the spot.
I’ve seen other designers thrive in such moments! They “hear” the space speaking to them, calling for a particular solution, and they enthusiastically deliver impromptu design advice. And yes, I can give an answer purely based on the aesthetics I learned in architecture school: “Maybe a little more symmetry by putting a second vase on your mantel?”
But that approach to design has always left me cold. It certainly has its place, but it’s not what gets me excited about my work. I want to say, “But this is YOUR space! I can’t walk in here and tell you that what you have chosen to be your sacred home isn’t good enough.” Nor can I say that right now shades of pink and purple are trending and that maybe your palette could use an update. What if your first boyfriend happened to break up with you by phone while you were sitting in your soft-pink teenage bedroom? In that case pink could be the worst color to pick for your home ever, no matter what’s trending! My husband to this day recalls an apartment with brown carpets where he lived during a difficult period in his life. I don’t think that he could ever live with brown carpets again without his mood hitting rock bottom. He can’t even think of brown carpets without associating them with hard times.
Colors are powerful memory triggers and mood inducers, just as sound and scent are. They have to be chosen with great care, keeping in mind one’s (own) associations with a particular hue.
What interests me as an interior designer is the people who live in the space and their desired experiences there, as well as where they want to be in their lives, their dreams, their memories. Our homes are powerful tools that can serve as a kind of stage for memorable experiences that leave a much more lasting impression than the design of the space itself.
Imagine a mountain lodge with a cozy armchair next to a roaring fire. We can easily picture ourselves curled up in that chair with a great book in hand after having spent an active day outside in the snow. We all know what that would be like, how the chair would feel, and it probably is a comfy, well-used one in your mind right now. I bet you’re wrapped up in a cozy blanket, too. But would we necessarily picture the actual brand of that chair, or its color?
To create a space that enables you to live the fulfilled and joyful life you desire takes an in-depth process—something that can’t be achieved during a casual dinner conversation. As a designer I see it as my role to draw out those favorite memories and moments in your life so that I can design a space that enables you to enjoy them as often as possible.
To paraphrase one of my favorite sayings:
“A good interior designer is someone who knows the song in your heart and creates a home that sings it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
That’s what your home should be doing for you! Let’s make it clear, this girl doesn’t design pretty, meaningless shells or status symbols, I design experiences.
If you are a fellow interior designer, I am sure you have found yourself cornered in a similar scenario at one point or another. I would love to know if you have ever been asked, “So, what would YOU do with this room?” and how you responded. Do you have a standard response at the ready that works for you? Let us know in the comments below.