Emperor’s New Clothes

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.

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Surface Texture and Pattern

Color palette and scale are a large part of designing a room, yet the details of texture and pattern are often overlooked or relegated to secondary choices. Surface elements can unify a space as much as color can, and this is even more important in a space with virtually no color (think all-white or monochromatic spaces). The trick in those rooms is to use texture (such as a variety woven white fabrics on furniture: fluffy mohair, coarse linen, embroidery details, or a textured quilting).

 

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In this Family Room project, the overall color scheme called for subtle colors (misty pale blue walls, lots of white woodwork, a pale golden hued flax linen on the sofas) so the plan was always to add interest through texture. We procured Navajo baskets and 17th century Spanish metal candlesticks at auction; an antique rug in a tone on tone pattern came from a Boston dealer; we added a variety of ceramics like Majolica, tin glazed earthenware from France, and beautifully patterned Navajo pottery — all completely different ceramic styles but they worked harmoniously together; and we ordered a custom sized reproduction chip carved sideboard lending both texture and pattern to the furniture mix.

Tiny details matter, so even the bronze nailheads on the chairs and stools had an interesting patina and were applied over fine linen trim or a leather band. Other materials included a buttery leather on stools, English fine woven wool on chairs, hand blocked linen at the windows, English woven wool striped fabric for pillows, and a smooth limestone and iron cocktail table custom made for our specifications by a Maryland based artisan.

While all of the elements are beautiful and significant on their own, the mix of surface texture and patterning is what makes this room come alive.

If you are considering a Family Room renovation or other project in your home, we invite you to visit more images of this project on our website.

An Interior Designer’s Exterior

Christine Tuttle Patio
Eric Roth Photography

Sometimes interior designers venture out past the threshold and into the garden. Traditionally, landscape and climate plays a role in that union, but even New Englanders are opting for a wholly integrated home that can effortlessly blend interior living with exterior spaces. On many projects, the homeowners ask me to weigh in on landscape, hardscape, garages, and other outbuildings.

This new garage, below, was based loosely on the 1930s one it replaced, and was designed slightly higher, with a sharper roofline, and with extra space in the rear, giving the homeowners more storage. The exterior lantern from England was made in the same style as the ones on the adjacent house but slightly larger and more in proportion to the garage sidewall. The black-taupe-white color scheme mimicked the main house, and custom garage doors with 2 over 2 panes of glass, added visual interest and interior light.

Keller + Keller Photography

For the residence below, we worked closely with the landscape architect and builder. We oversaw the planting schedules, acted as design proxy for the home owner, specified the exterior paint scheme, the material choices, and had weekly meetings – and usually daily emails – about each upcoming choice. Here, the Kitchen and Breakfast Room feel part of the outside, and it was important to the homeowner that we connected those spaces.

Originally a builder’s spec house, the home needed a complete renovation inside and out, yet we felt that some elements of the exterior only had to be hidden, or at least made to feel less important visually, by design. The existing chimney was made of unfortunate multicolored brick, so I determined that painting it in same shade as the stucco would make it less obvious. A bris-soliel (on the left) which integrated a large expanse of unattractive sidewall (the rear of the garage) was designed with sectioned doors, and acts as storage for rakes and grill tools. Consulted with the landscape team from the start, and at every point, from lighting and plant material to positioning of larger trees and the self watering containers, we were able to maximize a seamless view from the second floor bedrooms, first floor family room, and kitchen area which looked out onto the back garden. Lastly, the all-weather teak furniture, with marine grade cushions, were a perfect choice for the outdoor dining area and fire pit lounge space for the family, making the backyard terrace a perfectly related space to the inside of the home.

One Way to Cope with a Blizzard

Christine Tuttle Bathtub Vignette

Blustery and snowy Jonas attacked the East Coast last night, making it an “at home” Saturday night for many. This master bedroom en suite bath, designed for Wellesley Hills home, has all the elements of a perfect night in: heated limestone floors, a deep soaking tub with minimal oak tub caddy (the rounded edged plank of wood), a fluffy towel from Waterworks, and one of my favorite Diptyque candles. I love the Diptyque range, and my favorites are Ambre, Figiuer (at the holidays), Violette (a harbinger of spring), and Lilas (now, sadly, discontinued). A perfect stormy night setting. A nice glass of Pinot Noir not included.

#Diptyque #luxury #masterbath #interiordesign #wellesley

According to Pinterest, Everyone Wants a Barn Door

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Barn doors in homes are currently all the rage. Like pocket doors, they allow privacy without requiring space for the door swing. It gives a room a rustic yet fun vibe.  I see barn doors being installed between hallways and family rooms, to separate casual living spaces in weekend homes, and in finished basements.

In the fall of 2013 the homeowners on my This Old House project  were very keen on incorporating a sliding barn door in the basement, separating the family’s new media room from the stairwell and basement hall, to give both a sense of enclosure and for climate management. Yet, this barn door also made for a strong decorative element. Tom Silva built the door from original floorboards that were salvaged from the attic. I specified to paint the foundation rubble stone (rather than enclose it) and the architect David Whitney suggested to partition off the new play/TV space with new drywall for an entirely fresh look, feel, and function. I used some of the homeowner’s existing furniture and art in the Hall and Family Room (including a beloved vintage Godzilla movie poster), and added a few vintage pieces, modern side tables, indoor/outdoor covered upholstery, a colorful hooked rug, oversized bean bag chairs, and pillows covered in handprinted fabrics, which all added to the rustic, casual, and comfortable look of the space.

View all of the project images at Christine Tuttle Design.

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The Year of the House

CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – is upon us again and technology driven homes are the stand out concept. This Boston area project of ours was a complete transformation from a nondescript spec house to a spectacular residence thanks to smart home technology. Using integrated, seamless, and often invisible systems for light, temperature, security and whole house sound, this property and house was turned into a state of the art home. The curb appeal at dusk is obvious: the exterior lighting with layered light invisibly fitted under the bluestone caps on the stone walls, up-lights in the garden, and small, recessed walkway lights on the path, showcase the fine work of collaborating artisans and landscape designers.

Christine Tuttle Exterior Front Dusk
Wellesley Hills Project, Exterior.

Enter the Entry Hall

Entry Halls are special rooms: they set the stage for the rest of the home. As a public area, and a pass through space to other rooms, it should be inviting yet somewhat impersonal. Deeply cushioned chairs and framed photographs of the family should be reserved for Living Rooms and Family Rooms. An entry is a transitional space, which visually connects to other rooms.

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In this front hall I used a monochromatic color scheme made up of five shades of white. From “Super White” by Benjamin Moore (the brightest of whites for the ceiling), and three off whites (wainscoting, trim, and balustrade), to a pale cream with hints of taupe (“Stingray”) for the walls, each shade complimented the other.  The large entry window allowed for changing light in the room. That light added depth and resonance to the paint choices and the palette allowed the custom balustrade and artwork to take center stage.  With a neutral yet confident color scheme, the double height space could then visually accommodate the pale grey sculptural silk pendant, which was close to 4 feet in diameter, and the large encaustic painting by contemporary artist Brian Bishop, which is five feet square. The pendant light feels as airy and compatible with its surroundings, and using a stronger color in the room would have made it stand out instead of work together with all of the interesting elements.

Completed in late 2010 and published in Design New England Magazine‘s January/February 2011 issue, this room stands the test of time. I still feel painting those walls a bold color over a white would have made the space too obvious, remarkably too safe and predictable, too tricked out, and a complete mistake… because sometimes it is the most subtle design choices which are the most powerful.