4 Lessons from the 'Design for the Masses' Movement
Irwin and I want to share a few lessons we've learned from this "Design for the Masses" movement, lessons that will help us all improve our interior design practices.
Years ago, my partner Irwin Weiner was walking through the Kips Bay Decorator Show House with interior design colleagues. They were trying to convince themselves that what they saw was America's design equivalent of Paris Fashion Week...until they came to the room with colors that matched the M&Ms carefully placed in dishes around the space. "This is typical of the tasteless way interior design is being invaded by pop culture and mass media," said Irwin. Home design makeover shows on TV, the expansion of discount home stores, and designers extending their brands into mass-produced home goods—Design for the Masses is here.
The good news: more people are aware of interior design.
The bad news: the quality of the design that's being embraced is atrocious. Many do-it-yourself projects, for instance, should end up anywhere but in someone's home.
Irwin and I want to share a few lessons we’ve learned from this movement, lessons that will help us all improve our interior design practices.
- Interior design is like a new toy. Design for the Masses means everyone thinks they can decorate. Your design clients can't get enough of decorating, they love to keep playing with it, but they don't have much experience with it. When people have the money to professionally decorate, they, like most people, can't get enough of design. But remember this truth: People with lots of money don't necessarily—and quite rarely—equal people with good design sense. Be patient, but purposeful in your decorating advice, and you shall overcome the "decorating is my hobby" mentality.
- There's no such thing as the "right way" to decorate. Compounding bad taste is the wrong-headed notion that any high-end design purchase has to be "just right." Most people don’t have experience or knowledge about what's good or bad about design. They're insecure and feel the need to know that something is Right, Absolute, or It. It becomes difficult for them to weed out the many bad possibilities from the few and varied good ones—and that's where you come in. One client drove Irwin crazy not making up her mind about a purchase, so he asked her how she chose her husband. "There was much less choice," she said. Most of your clients can relate to this.
Steer your client to the safer path that there’s no one "right choice." Likewise, there is no one "correct look" or "right way" to design a home project. If there was a right way to decorate, then there'd be only one interior design magazine and it would feature only one house.
- There's a lot of design confusion out there. Changing design styles compound the choice problem for some clients. Twenty-five years ago, styles were quite contemporary. Ten years ago, they were more traditional. We're swinging back again to contemporary. Seasons are confusing, too. Mass decorating has merchants selling light and airy patterns and cotton-covered upholstery in the spring and summer and darker, somber colors and heavier fabrics in autumn and winter. It amazes us how difficult it is to sell a heavyweight fabric to a client in summer! Help clients find beautiful and practical choices that span a middle ground.
- Focus clients on what a good interior means. "A good interior gives me the same goosebumps I get when listening to a great piece of music, seeing a wonderful film, admiring a beautiful painting, or gazing out at gorgeous scenery," says Irwin. Interior designers have spent many years analyzing what evokes goosebumps, shows good taste, and is worthy of the "good design" mantle. Let's break it down.
- Show them articles from great design magazines like The World of Interiors and guide your clients into better design decisions through visual inspiration.
- Help clients focus on unusual architectural elements: high ceilings, big windows, sweeping staircases. Avoid fussy architectural elements and columns as well as generally applied ornament, and stick to what gives a space good bones.
- Encourage your client to focus on the essence of a room, clearly defined. What is its essential beauty and proportion? Try to strip it to that essence so it shines through.
- Tell your clients that's it's okay to fill their rooms and decorated spaces, but together, you'll do so wisely. Fill rooms with whatever you and your clients choose, but try to always keep things unusual and unique. Look at elements in any furnishing or decorative object for what they are: their shape, color, and design. Don’t just look for their context. It doesn't matter if what you purchase together is dated, expensive, or priceless. It's only important if it's incredibly interesting.
- Teach your client that the goal of good decorating is to grow and evolve their interior décor. Clients should be steered clear of calling themselves "collectors"; instead, they should think of themselves "accumulators." Accumulate the elements that fill each of their rooms, then carefully curate, meaning weeding out unwanted items periodically and adding the wanted. "Always be looking and learning," Irwin tells our clients. "It takes a lifetime to decorate. You're living in a growing, changing environment—not a museum. It will never be completed, and you'll always run into unique pieces to add, and you'll learn to live in a perpetual state of Good Design."
Our wish is for you and your clients to steer clear of the Design for the Masses movement, enjoy the higher-end decorating journey, and help them fall in love with their well-decorated spaces.
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.