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Chapter 1: A Rod Not a FishYou may want your home to look like a magazine, but to do so may require a mountain of money and a staff of hundreds, the dexterity of Michelangelo, and a backhoe. But for that kind of cash, labor, and expertise, it better be pretty damn great (see the Piazza San Marco).
Most of the time (almost all the time, in fact) great design has to be accessible to the rest of us. By definition, it has to be easy and affordable, smart and stylish. But you don't need a "look." Rather, based on a point of view, great design can be found in many styles.
All design is composed, to varying degrees, of the following elements: space, form, light, color, material, scale, and symbols (or associations). Good design gets the mix right; but great design includes one more: passion. You don't appreciate great design; you love it. Great design describes inanimate things (objects, spaces) that inspire human attachment. It's personal. It resonates. It enthralls. Truly great design is what you would carry out of your house if it were burning down.
In a world where everything is starting to look like everything else (think Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma) great design is a little off. It includes the unpolished, the unique, perhaps even the slightly nutty. To have great design, you've got to have a little something, with a little something extra.
Design can be scary. It seems to involve spending a lot of money, taking a lot of time, and making a lot of seemingly arbitrary decisions. It doesn't have to. All you need to do is understand how to recognize it for yourself. To have a great home, the point is, you don't need a platinum card for a flair for fabrics. You don't need a degree. You don't even need to know how to draw. You need to know how to see. And this book will show you how.
Sometimes that means looking not in a Sotheby's catalog but in places closer to home. Great design, one should keep in mind, is often so well designed as not to seem designed at all.
Often it just means remembering.
Everything you need to know about design you learned in freshman English, at least if you read William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style as you were supposed to. On close examination, this guide to good writing gives some brilliant advice about good design. "Work from a suitable design," Strunk and White advise. Do the same at home. Decide what's important and go about it in a methodical way. "This does not mean," they sensibly point out, "that you must sit with a blueprint always in front of you, merely that you had best anticipate what you are getting into."
Keep it simple, the authors continue: "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell."
"Approach style warily," they wisely caution. Turn "resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style -- all mannerisms, tricks, adornments." Remember that style is what is "distinguished and distinguishing," not a "garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish can be made palatable." Once again, the same is true for interior design. Style is important. A style is not.
Heed Elements of Style and you'll realize that the ability to make a home look great is neither a mystical talent nor a God-given blessing bestowed upon a lucky few. Interior design has principles, and the most fundamental of these are gathering and retreat.