Scanning interior design social media channels this weekend I happened upon an image from a respected regional firm. It was heralded as International or Cosmopolitan Style, seemingly labeled and coined like “Rococo” or “Art Deco” and therefore should be immediately and commonly recognizable. It was not; it was ghastly. The Hall had a beautiful antique clock against some garish wallpaper and they added a Perspex table and what looks to be a cheap 1980s piano stool. The firm noted they were “so very excited to share this top secret project” so I looked closer, and then looked at the next image, which was more startling than the first. A dining room with what we assume started with the homeowner’s collection of 19th-century French bronzes, export porcelain, lacquer screen, Dutch chandelier: all wonderful things. But the walls are some odd, wholly contemporary woven of battleship gray, the curtains a “peppy” and preppy blue and white design best suited for a seaside home, a bold and colorful modern rug (which matches nothing in color or design), and thrown in for good measure a SET of that modern mid-century icon, matching tulip table and chairs. I love design. I love good design of any flavor. As a designer, I am tolerant of rooms with some hiccups as like a portrait painter we must sometimes pander to the client. However, for the first time, I was appalled. The rooms were in the worst taste and that puzzled me. And the images made me nauseated.
I called an architect friend and asked if he had seen it. I could hear him fumbling for his phone and seconds later he was on the app. “Oh God… that is awful.” Yup. So I pondered, “WHY?” Is it new, young designers who convinced the managing partners that this is hip and fresh? Or is it because some designers feel you can throw a bunch of interesting things together and voila, it is Eclectic? But then it dawned on me: the economy is good. Big firms expect designers to generate a minimum amount of net fee revenue that is, say, 3x their salary. (Small firms do not do this; they seem to eek by on 10%.) So what the project looks like to me is that some wonderful older couple with a fabulous art and objects collection went to a known firm that they could trust to “modernize” the rooms. (Sidenote: Trust is a big concept in interior design and one I hold sacred. In fact, I am the first one to tell the client (usually a strong person like CEO, a top surgeon, or similar) if something would look wrong. In fact, as a client’s design proxy, I have taken them aside to say gently yet firmly: “The fountain water feature in the Master Bedroom sitting area would be a mistake.” Mistake is also big word for me. I never want something to look like a mistake, or worse, in bad taste. This is why there are designers, and why clients trust a designer’s eye and guidance.) This project looks like a mistake, as was confirmed by multiple people in the industry.
What happens next? The consensus was that we will start to see an “Emperor’s New Clothes” style — also apparently now known as the Cosmopolitan Look — in this new, stronger economy. Big design firms will sell those expensive gold-plated fountains — once only reserved for a Trump residence — to meet their numbers. I hope not. Time for principals of firms to revisit tenants of good design and by that I mean to review the balance, proportion, and detail of ornamentation of Daniel Marot. Then look at Elsie de Wolfe. Perhaps meander on over to the hand-hooked rugs and American handicrafts rooms of Sister Parish. Or the clean lines of Billy Baldwin. Good design is timeless. A jumble of furniture whose only common denominator is the firm’s bottom line should not be the driving force for design.