Dorothy Draper's 10 Essential Tips for Interior Designers
Some gems of wisdom from an American design icon.
It's a truism: sometimes we must reach back into the past in order to look to the future. It's easy for us as interior designers to believe that we're always writing new chapters in design—but that's essentially rubbish. Just as every type of plot has already been written, every design innovation has already happened. Here's the headline: There are No New Trends in Interior Design.
Before you declare me bonkers, here's the flipside of that headline: But Every Interior Designer Personally Interprets Design Styles and Trends and Makes Them Unique and Fresh. (Just like every novel presents a retread of the same old plotlines, but they're told in the author's unique voice, making them new.) Just ask American design icon Dorothy Draper. We dipped into her 1939 landmark book Decorating Is Fun and came up with some gems of wisdom. They sound just like all the modern design trends and headlines we hear every day from blogs, shelter magazines, trade shows, and seminars. Again, there's nothing new; it's up to us to add our personal interpretations and twists.
1. Work with Clients to Customize Their Interiors. Draper said, "So many people stick timidly to the often uninspired conventional ideas or follow some expert's methods slavishly. Either way they are more or less living in someone else's house." The goal in decorating is to have the client feel that the interior scheme is "honestly your own—an expression of your personality."
2. Decorating Should Be Collaborative and Adventuresome. Draper warned that design shouldn't be "grim and serious." She said, "I don’t believe there is any rule in the game that can't be broken."
3. Turn Up the Heat and Creativity in Your Projects. Draper, our sage from bygone days, still sounds fresh today. "You need courage to experiment, courage to seek out your own taste and express it, courage to disregard stereotyped ideas and try out your own." She advised against blindly following design trends, fashion, or the advice and style of others. This is tempered, however, with researching what's available, collecting color and pattern samples that are appealing to you and your client, and coming up with a consensus on the design direction.
4. Be Bold with Color. This advice is pulled from the cover of today’s shelter magazines, yet back in 1939, Draper said, "The Drab Age is over. Color is coming into its own again. Until very recently people were literally scared out of their wits by color." She hated "wishy-washy" colors, but insisted that colors don't have to all be in bright shades. "Be sure your colors are honest, fresh, and clear."
5. Simplify and Streamline Rooms. Draper advised her clients to get rid of all "junky knickknacks" and eliminate purposeless elements from a room. A well-decorated room is one that celebrates "restful simplicity."
6. Pay Attention to the Decorating Details. Overlooking the smallest touches in a room can be fatal, according to Draper. "Your lampshades can make or break a room," and she said to consider the details as carefully as we consider layering our bodies in clothes and jewelry; accessorizing is as important as the basic outfit.
7. Decorated Rooms Must Have Comfort. "No room is perfect unless it has real comfort. It must be livable for you. It must meet graciously every requirement you make of it."
8. Balance the Furnishings in a Room. "A room that is weighted down at one end by a great, heavy sofa that is not balanced by similar weight at the other end is an uneasy room." Use upholstery cleverly, such as covering a pair of chairs with a fabric darker than the sofa to create more visual balance. "Solid colors will usually make things seem larger and bulkier than they are. And bold, all-over patterns will reduce their size because they break up the lines just as army camouflaging does."
9. Don’t Forget to Decorate Ceilings. Layouts and color schemes should include ceilings (the fifth wall); don't default and paint them white. "Your ceiling can be a contrast to your walls, or it can match some color in your wallpaper or rug. It can be painted shiny black, or it can be covered with the same wallpaper you are using on the walls. Just don't treat it like a stepchild."
10. Stop Acting Like Interior Design Is "All That." You know what she means: don't be a designer with a superior attitude. Draper said, "Have you ever considered how much pure stuff and nonsense surrounds this subject of interior decoration? Probably not. Almost everyone believes that there is something deep and mysterious about it and that you have to know all sorts of complicated details about periods before you can lift a finger. Well, you don't. Decorating is just sheer fun; a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life and an amused enjoyment of thesmart accessories of the moment." Amen, Dorothy.
In November 2006, Manhattan-based blogger Jay Johnson and his partner Irwin Weiner, ASID applied the popularity of watching videos on the Internet to the house-and-garden arena. The idea for Design2Share was born. On D2S, they share their insight, tips, and strong opinions about how people design and decorate their homes, entertaining over 300,000 visitors a year; their syndicated original videos had over 22 million video views in 2010.