The look of design today is driven by a turn toward modest, meaningful living. We see the shift mostly in the emerging nester generation, although mature homeowners, in downsizing, are also drawn to simple, customized designs. In smaller homes it is often easier to focus on multiple details, and to get big impact from less complicated changes.
Most importantly, in considering smaller home living, many of our clients are discovering what we have detected in nesters of all house sizes: that people are naturally happiest in the nest within the nest, those crucial communal spaces such as kitchen and family room, or in restful places like bedrooms and studies. The endless caverns of lower levels, master bedroom sitting areas and of second family rooms are often neglected in favor of primary rooms close to the hub of the house.
In recent years, many of our clients have purchased and redesigned mid-century homes, where low-slung rooms and sincere use of space is often more satisfying than size for size’s sake. In newly-built smaller homes, the details speak to function and modesty. Great rooms joined with kitchens are still prized; single level floor plans are more attractive than multi; and storage is compact and organized.
The word often used today in design is ‘bespoke’. It means to have something made to order, tailored to need. It requires thought to be conceptualized and craftsmanship to be rendered. Realtors and builders often said to clients in the early 2000s: “With all this countertop, how could you ever run out of workspace?”
Today, we’re better served to approach design another way: “How do we live? Let’s suit that.”
We like the tradition of summer houses, a simple dwelling for the warm season, usually built along cool water or under shady trees. They are particularly popular in Sweden, where the term is called ‘sommarstuga’. We did a little hunting and found an interesting detail common to these dwellings: the color known as ‘Falu rödfärg’, a deep red not unlike the color we see on our American barns. Originating from pigments out of the copper mine at Falun in Dalarna, Swedan, the classic paint uses starch for binding and is considered excellent for preserving wood.
Originally, the color became popular in the 16th century and was painted on modest, wood mansions to imitate the color of brick. The use was in common practice in many parts of Sweden up through the early 19th century. Then the trend faded in favor of lighter colors, like white and soft yellow, as stucco became a more popular finish material. A later serge in popularity among country farm dwellers has kept the color alive and beloved in that part of the world. A popular Finnish expression is ‘punainen tupa ja perunamaa’, which means ‘a red house and a potato field’, which is meant to indicate an idyllic life in a single family home.
Blue is always reinventing itself like the best divas. While the peacock tones of recent seasons are still showing strong, the purist forms of blue are popping up here and there in home design and elsewhere. From Elle Decor, a trend watch that made me smile.
Day three of snowy weather has me contemplating the allure of white rooms. A few years back I had a client with a three year old who wanted an all-white living room. Imagining pudding stains and crayola shenanigans, I lobbied for something less pristine. We compromised on bright sand; cream tones seemed dirty to her eyes.
As impractical as it is, I have to say I get it. Like a blank canvas, the white room is pleasingly simple. The people who visit it bring the color in their garb; vibrant brush strokes that come and go at our invitation.
However, on a day to day basis, the all white room may be more satisfying in theory than in practice. Humans like to be stimulated visually. What I have learned is that we use color to make space more engaging and interesting. When we edit it from the space, the forms and textures that remain have to be all the more dynamic to fill the aesthetic gap. The photo below, from House Beautiful, is a good example of how to keep a white space soft, warm and compelling. This is a crisp, romantic take on the all white room.
- This is not a ‘color pop’ kind of space; it’s more delicate and soft and less about mod vibrancy. Using black and white art instead of color [the collection on the wall to the left] and eschewing patterned rugs is a subtle but excellent commitment to detail. The Lesson: Keep the concept focused.
- Dynamic installations provide the drama that we otherwise find in color. The sheer size of the rough hewn door to the rear creates a focal point in a space that’s been blown open architecturally. The Lesson: Up the ante on accents and installations for drama, but make sure they’re used to enhance the bones of the room.
- Form and composition are building blocks to good design. The massive potted plant and spherical chandelier in this space establish a rhythm of mass that prevents our gaze from getting stuck on the over-scaled central column. This open space soars when the eye is not grounded in just one area. The Lesson: Without color to tell the eye where to roam, it’s more important than ever to get the styling right.
- This room is well-edited and interesting, mixing refined and primitive elements equally. The whiteness provides punctuation between each piece and the collection finds unity by virtue of its setting. This is not unlike the art of gallery curating. The Lesson: Embrace the innate gift of a white space: that it allows and even demands a diverse mix.
- Texture, texture, texture. The primitive table in the foreground, the dappled painting over the bombe chest and the organic tangle of branches are all fantastic use of texture to add depth to this design. Replace the table with its sleek lacquered sister and swap out the art for a gleaming mirror and the room instantly grows colder. The vase of branches reminds us of nature and is a peaceful connection. The Lesson: Grainy woods, coarse finishes and natural elements offset the pristine elegance of white and keep spaces feeling friendly.