Design ADD

Elegant as Rheinstein?

Chic as Irving?

Cocooned in a cacophony of color as Gambrel?

Or, crisp as can be as TOB?  What to do when it isn’t so much knowing what you like, as knowing what you like the most?  Which way to go when it isn’t not knowing how, it’s not knowing which.  How does one find the will to winnow?

Really.  I want to know.

Images from top, Suzanne Rheinstein for Courtnay Daniels, Southern Accents, November/December 2002; photography by Tria Giovan; Carolina Irving, her own home, via Little Augury; Steven Gambrel, his own home, Elle Decor by William Waldron; Thomas O’Brien, his own home, via

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41 thoughts on “Design ADD

  1. Beats me. There's so much that is so good, and I want all of it. Let me know if you find the answer 🙂

  2. Divine discontent? I used to have quite a few more things in my small Manhattan living room. But editing those things out made a huge difference. Using a photograph was helpful, making the process somehow more objective. In that sense, the matter has not been what I've like the most, but rather, what works in the space.

  3. I find myself loving less fuss. I think today's fast paced life somehow requires restraint, order and a home to slow down in. Perhaps one needs to go back in order to see where one is going. I love looking back at fashion and interiors.

  4. Does it really need to be either or? Can't it be all of those things?

    Your interpretation of those things.

    Design by committee is rarely as a successful as design from a singular perspective.

    Remember what Quentin Crisp said, "What is uniquely you? When you find it polish it and turn it into your style."

  5. I think it is a combination of lifestyle and what you like design wise. I also think it is very hard to do your own home-clients say that all the time+for me it is difficult also and that is my business. Good luck Mrs. Blandings. Picking this up from UK, working on project here.

  6. If we're honest, it's all about what we like [at the moment] because truly it isn't going to stay that way for a lifetime [ at least not in my house!] M.

  7. It takes all of those…..a riot of color for dreary, midwestern late winters; a calm, soft room for a gathering of friends w/ wine & laughter;a chic spot to be surrounded by favortie things & memories; and an elegant room for refined manners & encouraging civility.

  8. I have two all time favorite houses: Pinky Peter's house first published in Romantic Homes book printed 2002, and republished in January in Charleston Magazine and
    Louis Dossier's house in Boston. I try not to stray from their principles. It makes life easier and much more manageable.


  9. Dear Mrs. Blandings, this is the question I mull over in my head all the time. Especially when it comes to my own quarters….
    But I realized that when you give it a try and you look for your first inspirations, most of the things fall afterwards into place. Start with one thing you love, a color not going out of your head, a sofa you really want, or that one fabric, waiting to be pulled out! Style comes with it! Rheinstein? Gambrel? TOB? It's you!!!
    Then go with it! Create your own style, that will give you most satisfaction. You have it all within you already.
    There are so many possibilities, just pick one. They all have there pros and cons. Add your lifestyle, the boys, the husband, the dog to the mix and you get your guidelines!
    Bon chance!

  10. What is even better than knowing The Rules of Decorating is knowing how to break them. I enjoying see any beautiful interior, even if it does not have any obvious connection to the way I live. (There is always something to be gained from studying an exceptional interior that can translate to your own).

  11. Patricia-
    I did not want to be the first to comment, I was looking for an answer, for some direction just like you. I find this conundrum in fashion as well. Do I favor elegant, or boho-chic, or cutting edge-of-the minute stylishness. Or maybe I just revert back to my tried and true traditional, bordering on boring. Can one piece, like a new rug or paint color swing the pendulum in a different direction the way a new haircut or a leather biker jacket might. Oh help…..and by the way you rock !

  12. The big question in decorating, as the late Mark Hampton once said, is how to do something stylish
    without looking ridiculous. Wise words, but not always
    easy to follow! We need to approach these matters
    with ruthless scrutiny, and ask ourselves what it is
    that a particular house seems to be calling for. It's
    very few of us who can go against the grain of what is
    suitable- and get away with it.

  13. I'm planning to devote some space in the basement to pallets and plastic bins for slipcovers, pillow covers, and small objects. That way I can switch things up a bit without overcrowding.

  14. Am I correct in thinking that it was Diana Vreeland who said "Elegance is refusal"?

    Maybe not. Anyway, I think that applies to home decor as well. No one needs umpteen choices and by the time you've been around the block a few times, you should know what works for you. And what doesn't.

  15. Pick the last one. The O'Brien.

    1 & 2: You need the architecture and the budget to support these. Scaled-down suburban versions will look tacky.

    3. Will wear out its welcome.

    4. Can do this on any budget, high or low, and will hold up best over time.

  16. I try to think about what I can actually implement. I can't be too sparse and crisp b/c I am both a terrible housekeeper and a compulsive shopper/collector/hoarder. And there are a few looks that don't handle the "champagne taste on a beer budget" translation as well as others.

  17. Mrs. Blandings, the good news first: you do not have ADD. You just haven't accessed the verbal in these non-verbal images yet.

    Now the work. Lay out the four photos side by side and discipline yourself to select the elements common to all 4 photos. They are there. In my first reply which blogspot folded, spindled and mutilated, I dredged for and located 6 common elements that were obvious to me, just to get you started in the process of discovery.

    This is what I do with clients, I do not set up rooms according to my taste, rather I facilitate the birthing and articulation of the client's style. Once you pinpoint the to-date Mrs. Blandings Imperatives, the frustration will be over and you can get to work putting your imperatives into place.

  18. I agree with Hobac. The trick is to look and then put it all away and decide what you really want, and what works in your life and space. I tend to think in terms of colors I need around me, but you often seem to think of patterns; Greek keys, Trellis, that star pattern you made? Could you keep that Rheinstein living room fresh with two boys and company? Do you want to? Having just found a huge trove of back World of Interiors, my head is spinning at the moment, too. It helped to read that it took the Spades 5 years to get to the apartment we all drooled over.

  19. Glad you brought this up. I live with this question every day. Sadly, it leads to paralysis for me and a house with no rugs, no coffee tables, no window coverings and almost no art on the walls. We've been in this house for 7 years. We've finally redone the floors, and kitchen, so there's no longer an excuse. What to do? Violet

  20. Voilla! Annon said it.
    Most designers would benefit from hiring another designer. If not to do the project – at least to consult with. Everyone gets mired in their own attachments to stuff and styles. A designer will be able to look at your home with fresh eyes and an open mind.

    Hire someone you trust and who will be able to be honest with you. Friends & family are rarely the right people to hire.

  21. Mrs. Blandings,

    [Your "Connecticut Country Home" post seems appropriate for the lifestyle you describe and the architecture of your new home (from what I've seen and read). It would allow a bit of Rheinstein elegance with a bit of TOB crispness with a bit of Gambrel color with a bit of Irving flounce.] It is hard to pick a look but once you do, you will have fun with it — and don't look back! I know this sounds obvious but what I would suggest would be to listen to your gut. Your true-who-you-are-in-this phase-of-your-life-gut. Let your home express that. And know, that in 10 years, when your boys are all out of the house (what?!?!?) you will have another opportunity to express yourself through your home. And then another opportunity after that … and then another…

  22. What do we like the most? It's a moving target. Try figuring out the real "why's" behind why you like a certain style, maybe that will move the process forward. Only advice I have is don't do the white/light TOB sofas unless you use Crypton.

    But I know whichever design you follow, you'll do it in style, taste and beautifully. So get going already.

  23. There are factors to consider here: where will the pooch perch? Where will hubby want to nod off with a good book? Will kiddies bring the yard in with them. For that matter, will the dog? Also, what pieces do you already have that will stay as permanent residents? All styles here are lovely, and a combination will surely work out. As much as I have always wanted light colored sofas and floors, like TOB's option, they could start out looking beautiful like a photograph, but a day or two could swing the picture perfect to rack and ruin.

    Looking forward to seeing your style shine through!

  24. I love all four of those. Figure out what you like best about them, and what is right for your house and lifestyle (and by lifestyle, I mean, the four Blandings boys). "Murder your darlings" – the best preaching advice anyone ever gave me, it's sort of the same as "Elegance is refusal" above. And whatever is most true to you will look right.

  25. I love your blog–you are a wonderful writer. I do think your new home, its architecture and even neighborhood should play a role. As much as I love all of these, they would not all translate equally well to the average house. You would need very high ceilings and great "bones" to pull off Suzanne Rheinstein's room, for example.

  26. To me, all but Irving are quiet and balanced: light walls, sofas, rugs, setting off dark furniture of striking shape. Plus books. This makes me think that irving's style isn't going to be one you can emulate, tho it might be your alter ego! I also think, like several earlier commentors, that a happy home is one that turns accident into intention: the limits of what you already own and the space you live in and how you live in it become happy restrictions on the infinitude of beautiful choices out there — happy because they give the depth of time and life lived to the aesthetics of space.

  27. I did a shoot for Living magazine at Steve Gambrel's house in Sag Harbor and fell in love with it. I was a designer in a previous life and thought I had seen everything. That man really knows how to edit and make things comfortable, eclectic and elegant all at the same time. My only other choice, for pure live-ability, would be Thomas O'Brien …crisp and clean but a bit nondescript, I need more personality. 1. too formal 2. too fussy.

    Have fun, be yourself, take chances….I can only assume plenty of folks will be asking the same question with photos of your place added to the list in a few years!

  28. Always feel exactly the same way!! So difficult to decide but you will of course find your way graciously and gracefully as you always do. I look forward to seeing the progression.

  29. Oh, this strikes a nerve–so glad to know I'm not the only one with undisciplined, greedy eyes. I admire those (they tend to be architect-types) who always know exactly what belongs in their houses, and ignore everything else. But, as Colette once said about becoming a vegetarian, "Not this year, this year I'm too hungry!" My solution has been the default one of neutral walls, woodwork, sofas, etc. with a changeable mix of fabrics and smaller pieces added on. (I believe that Rheinstein is a big fan of slipcovers and other fabric quick-changes, too.) If you establish a semi-organized resting place for pillow and chair covers, rugs, art and objects, you can change things out seasonally, or whenever you get bored–crisp, colorful, elegant–why not have all your cakes and eat them, too?


  30. I am faced with this debate every time I have to make a design decision for myself. I find so many designers inspiring and love spaces they create and often have to really analyze whether I can live in a space like that, and not just like the look. When making design decisions for clients and other people, it's always much easier… which I suppose is a good thing and probably how every design afficianado feels! Beautiful images by the way!

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