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Publication Date: 2018-12-03

Design Insights

Designer Penny Drue Baird on What's Timely—and Timeless—in Design

In her latest book, longtime AD-100 designer Penny Drue Baird shares her philosophy of design, focuses in on the building blocks of a great home—from architectural details to flooring to accessories—and shares pointers and hard-won lessons certain to prove valuable to neophytes and professionals alike. Here, some insights from her masterful new tome, On Interior Design.

Dramatic color contrasts add drama to a living room by Baird and her firm, Dessins LLC. Photo: Francis Hammond

Whether you are starting out at 25, coming into your own at 35, or refreshing your environment at 65, the warp speed of technological change has vastly increased audiences for design and their ability to acquire furnishings, lighting, materials, artworks, and objects.

Good design is always the result of a selective eye, and creativity and a personal touch are more meaningful in home décor than any adherence to design trends. Ideas and inspiration can be derived from travel, history, art, culture, fashion, and daily life, and they merge in rich layers of color, texture, pattern, art, accessories, and personality.

Don’t be coerced by what surrounds you; instead, create an environment in which your needs are met with your personal style flourishes.

Traditional paneling gets a fresh twist when offset by a textured wallcovering and a modern sofa. Photo: Antoine Bootz

Rooms and homes generally fall into one of two categories: standard-issue spaces with white walls and eight-foot-high ceilings versus spaces rich with architectural detail, be it traditional moldings and embellishments or modern sleek lines. Where a space is replete with architectural features, I typically embrace them as the basis for the interior design. But with a tabula rasa, architectural detailing—whether classical and refined or contemporary and creative—should be considered to make the most of your space.

Bold blues stand out strongly against neutral colors in this seaside home. Photo: Nick Sargent

Taste is constantly changing in the realm of color. Think of the dark, heavy colors used in Victorian times, the bland colors of the 1950s, the bright psychedelics characterizing the 1970s, and the overly colorful prints, papers, and fabrics of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the predominant color palettes are grays, blues, and whites, often with bright accents such as orange, turquoise, and vibrant blues.

Accessories should express our life experiences. Add them over time, picking them up on vacation or at a flea market or vintage store. Yet there are so many interesting objects available in stores and online that there is great appeal in finessing the look of a room straightaway. Either way, accessories are not optional extravagances. They are the spices that make the dish, the icing that makes the cake, the absolutely essential elements that make or break the overall look. Accessories equal personality.

Photo: Durston Saylor

The designer's new book, On Interior Design, published by Images Publishing.


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