I’ve interviewed hundreds of designers over the years, and I often ask this same question: what makes you cringe when you walk into someone’s house? I expect them to say something like bad taste, too much clutter, no sense of proportion – but universally their answer is: lack of personality.
Our homes say a lot about us, and ideally the goal is for our homes to reflect the best version of us, not the too shy, too busy, or too boring version. So when a publicist promised that his client, interior designer Margarita Bravo, could reveal “what the aesthetics of someone’s home reveal about their values and identity,” I was intrigued.
In 20 years of writing this column, I’ve never seen a pitch for a design seer. I thought I was putting Bravo to the test. Though she later admitted it wasn’t her idea, Bravo, which has offices in Montecito, as well as Denver and Miami, was in on it.
Because there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, I invited Bravo to visit my house virtually and give me a design reading to find out what my house said about me. Yeah.
We met on FaceTime. I walked her around my house while she took notes. Before giving me her opinion, she asked me: “How long have you been living there?
“Five years,” I say. “Why? Does it look like 50?”
“No, because it looks very finished and well put together. Many homes are in progress. But your house is finished.
“Don’t tell my husband that,” I said. “I still have plans.”
Then she rattled off some other impressions:
“From the outside, it’s a traditional house, and the orange front door is a focal point that reveals you’re not afraid of color and shows throughout the house.” (Does she think I’m screaming?)
“You have traditional pieces, transitional pieces, and eclectic items, but overall a clean look.” (My disdain for limits comes through.)
“I love that in your office you place a cowhide rug under a traditional carved desk. It’s not planned but it works. Plus there’s a bit of glamour, chandeliers with crystals and champagne finishes, then a rustic hutch, which feels relaxed. (Ditto.)
“It looks like an organized house that shows its personality in pieces that are inherited from the family and very expressive art. I have seen metal art as well as oil on canvas which shows that art is a very important part of your and your husband’s life. (In fact, this is a topic we usually disagree on.)
“It looks like a house that real people live in.” (That’s all.)
With that revealing exercise done, I asked Bravo what she wishes more people knew to speak up at home:
You’re not after a look. You are after your look. Interior design is not about having a house that looks a certain way, but about showing the lifestyle and personality of those who live there. Your home shouldn’t look like it might belong to someone else.
Good designers know how to channel you into the design of your home. The best interior designers aren’t the ones who put their stamp on a house. They are the ones that put your mark on a home.
You can make anything work. Many people have pieces that they love, but think they don’t fit in their home. If they matter, they belong. Don’t hide what’s important to you. If you have an emotional connection to a piece, such as a painting of your grandmother, that piece is a talking point and should be featured prominently.
A home should feel organized. Your home should contain pieces you’ve collected over the years and not look like you bought it all in one day at a showroom.
Your collections will betray you. If you want to see what someone enjoys, see what they collect. People who enjoy travel will have pieces, like African masks or Indian baskets, that they have collected on their travels. Art collectors will no longer have space on their walls for more art. Those who appreciate family and heritage will have family memories and photos everywhere.
Do not be too long. “If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to finish,” Bravo said. “When I see homes where the walls are bare and the windows uncurtained, I want to encourage homeowners to finish the job. Those finishing touches may not seem important, but they are.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go”. Contact her at www.marnijameson.com.