If you can dress yourself, you can decorate

February 8, 2013 

New York designer Elaine Griffin dresses like she decorates. Here she mixes tones and textures, pairing a satin top and cashmere sweater, and slick glossy framed chairs with velvet-upholstered seats. COURTESY OF ELAINE GRIFFIN


The idea of decorating an empty room feels as uncomfortable to many people as one of those dreams where you’re suddenly in public naked.

Here’s the truth: If you can dress yourself, you can decorate.

Let’s assume on most days you get up and get dressed. You, in fact, start from naked. (I’m going to plant the seed right now: Naked = Empty Room.)

To assemble an outfit, you – and let’s assume for the sake of our discussion that “you” are a stylish woman – have to make at least a dozen design decisions: skirt, dress or pants? Which top, shoes, what purse, lipstick and necklace? Scarf or no scarf, sweater or jacket? You get the idea.

You layer, mix color and texture, accessorize and edit, all while considering comfort, function and your schedule. .

That’s decorating. Pulling together an outfit takes exactly the same skills as pulling together a room.

“Fashion and interior design are first cousins,” said Elaine Griffin, a New York designer and author of “Design Rules” (Gotham, 2009). “Both acts share the same set of visual rules, which lead to creating a personal design statement.”

There are other parallels between dressing yourself and decorating: Purpose: When you get dressed, you automatically factor in the day’s agenda. Use the same approach for a room. What you will do there determines how you will dress it. Is the space public or private? Is it for formal entertaining, working or putting up your feet?

Style: Are you more Jackie Onassis or Lady Gaga, more RuPaul or Mitt Romney? Your taste in clothes – classic, funky, eccentric, tailored – should carry through to your home. Don’t dress like someone you aren’t, and don’t decorate like a fraud either.

“Rooms should look like those who live in them,” Griffin said. “I’d expect Joan Rivers’ home to be a riot of color and Calvin Klein’s home to revolve around black, taupe and ivory.”

Basics: Foundation pieces anchor both outfits and rooms. In clothes, foundation items are the skirt or slacks, the dress or suit. In a room they’re the main upholstered pieces – sofas, chairs or bedding. “A classic neutral sofa is your little black dress,” Griffin said.

Splashes of color: Every outfit and every room needs a spike of color. A teal tie or citron scarf, sherbet orange pillows or raspberry lampshades. A color boost could also come from a leopard-print rug or tiger-striped stilettos.

Bling: A touch of sparkle completes an ensemble and an interior. It doesn’t have to be much, but it does have to reflect light. Metallic buckles on shoes or belts, a ring that glimmers, a wrist watch or bangle bracelet does for an outfit what a crystal bowl, silver candlesticks or a mirror does for a room. “Earrings are lamps,” Griffin said, “and very important.”

The wrap: Jackets and outerwear are to outfits what drapes are to rooms, said Griffin. Drapes are the finishing wrap that completes the package.

Textures: A little cashmere here, a little satin there. Rooms and outfits need contrasting finishes. Put sleek with rough, shiny with matte, and soft with hard.

Lay it out: When putting together an outfit, it helps to lay out the clothes, swapping tops or ties, earrings and belts, until the ensemble clicks. Putting together a design board with paint swatches, floor samples and fabric clippings lets you visualize a room the same way.


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