May 1st, 2015

What an Interior Designer Can Teach You About Personal Style

If you look at my books, you’ll see that next to style and fashion tomes, I have interior design books.  I always marvel at how interior designers work with color, texture, space, etc. to create not just livable spaces, but spaces that inspire us.

I asked my good friend Nicole Lanteri, also one of my  favorite local interior designers, to give me her top design rules. We talked about how interior design and personal style/fashion have similar principles, and I wanted to test out our theories. Would some of the tried-and-true rules of interior design also apply to personal style?


Design Rule 1: Try to Think in Rooms, Not Just Individual Pieces

Nicole: Instead of focusing on the piece and whether you like the piece a lot, think about what you will pair it with and the effect you want to create. In this client’s home, we wanted a fun everyday dining space that had a lot of color but also felt calm. We started with the blue paint color, then needed a second color.  I found these bold yellow chairs that worked perfectly. A wood table would have been too much with the wood floors and a black table too dark. White was perfect. Then we needed just a little pattern. We brought in these stools where the black and white added a bit of pattern while the wood legs blended in with the floor. All the pieces worked together in harmony.


Rosana: We  apply this design rule when we add new pieces of clothing to our  clients’s closets. A good rule of thumb for whether or not you should buy a garment is to see if you can think of five different pieces of clothing you already own that will go with the new garment. Your closet is like the room above — things should go together. If you can’t, you probably should hang it right back on the sale rack. Your wardrobe should work in harmony — patterns, colors, textures should mix and match with relative ease.  This is especially true if you want to try capsulizing your wardrobe.



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Design Rule #2: One Chic Accent Color Can Go a Long Way

Nicole: Most clients are afraid of mixing color and pattern. I think part of that fear is that they feel like they need a lot of color and pattern in one room. While that can be fun, you don’t necessarily need a lot to make an impact. For example, in this room we mixed textures – black linen window treatments, a black tweed sofa, black wood chair — and then added the green emerald velvet chair as the main accent color. We also added the color in a safer way,  a chair instead of a  sofa.  This way it feels like an accent instead of  dominating the room.

Rosana: One of my favorite ways to add interest to a look is by mixing different patterns or textures  in more muted or neutral tones — then anchoring that outfit with a pop of color in a shoe or accessory. The red clutch in Olivia Palermo’s look below draws just enough attention that although you still see the interesting mix of pattern and texture in the rest of her outfit,  the red really draws attention and amplifies her overall look without dominating it.


Design Rule #3: Colors and Patterns Don’t Need to Match

Nicole: A bold pink and green floral and a gray plaid?! Why, yes! Totally different patterns and colors work well together – you don’t need to match a shade in the rug for the sofa to work with it. In order to mix different patterns, first think about the look you want. Here we wanted a more modern take on two classic patterns – floral and plaid. We used a large floral print in a daring hot pink and lime green colorway (as opposed to a smaller floral print) for a more modern feel. The plaid is more of a subtle plaid instead of a tartan plaid, which makes it the neutral next to the bolder floral.


Rosana: Mixing pattern, texture and shine is a great way to give your look some depth and interest. Like in the room above, you don’t have to go overboard with so many colors and patterns, but finding a grey herringbone sheath dress and pairing it with cheetah-print pumps adds interest to your workwear in a way that is still polished and classic for the office. You can also go bolder with your pattern mixing  by selecting a stronger print  - like the floral couch — and pairing  it with a more graphic print like a bold  stripe. The stripe top below, like the plaid rug in the room, acts as a neutral. Also, like the wood tables in Nicole’s room,  the  patterned outfit below is grounded by classic, neutral and structured accessories (purse, shoes).

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Design Rule #3: Use Your Favorite Bold Color in the Largest Space in a Room

Nicole: Sometimes I have clients who love really fun, bright colors but still want a tailored, chic space. In order to use a bold color but still maintain a tailored look, use the color in the largest space as your main color. Then add more neutral texture and pattern so that color can shine. Here my client loves pink so we found the perfect shade of pink to be the main focal point of the room. Then we layered in lots of texture – velvet, boucle, acrylic, cowhide, sisal – to diffuse the pink with texture and make the room still feel pulled together and chic.


Rosana: We always tell our clients to pick a statement – as in one statement. That could be a cobalt blue pant, which you could make the centerpiece by pairing with black pumps and a black blazer. Making multiple statements is not an across-the-board no-no (hello Solange Knowles), bu it is tricky. No one wants to necessarily look like their outfit is everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. So, whether it is oversize chandelier earrings or a green moto jacket or a printed trouser, keep the rest of your look tailored and neutral. Like Nicole’s pink wall above,  let that statement — in this case a pair of printed pants —  be the statement. The other elements in your look should support that statement for a cohesive, purposeful look.

Design Rule #4: A Classic Animal Print is a Great Go-To

Nicole: If you like animal prints, every room can use one. It’s a classic pattern generally found in a neutral tone that can pair with so many other pieces. It’s a little whimsical but still classic and chic.



Rosana: I second this love of animal print! The easiest way to add interest and texture to any look, in our book,  is with an animal print. You can’t lose with an animal print pump whether it is cheetah (fall/winter) or snakeskin (spring/summer). It acts as a neutral and is easy to match, pair, etc. with most everything. At the same time, it adds style and fun to your look. I like playing with animal print in unexpected ways as well.  The look below, with the loose sweatshirt-style sweater,  puts a fun tomboyish spin on a pattern that is intuitively bombshell.  The plum velvet clutch adds a ladylike touch.

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Design Rule #5: Neutrals are Just as Fun as Bold Colors

Nicole: You are just as fun if you like a mix of neutral colors and patterns! The key with neutrals is to keep mixing patterns – stripes, trellis, herringbone – and textures – wool, linen, glass, chrome, wood, wicker, brass to create a layered, complete and styled look.

Rosana: Works for style too! An outfit of grays and beiges has an unbeatable lux, polished look. Mixing neutrals also has a refined and grown up feel to it without feeling dull or matronly. A fun way to mix neutral is to play with texture in the different pieces — as Nicole does in her room above. For example, below we have leather, cashmere, suede and wool in a perfectly perfect all-neutral outfit.

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So the verdict? A resounding yes. Personal style and interior design principles do walk hand-in-hand. So tell us…have you used guidelines from another creative field to inspire your personal style?

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