Touches of Green
for "By Invitation Only"
With my hands folded, I sat on a moss green chair and looked around. The walls of the room were painted moss green. The sofa was covered in a moss green brocade. There was moss green carpet on the floors and moss green curtains drooped at the windows. No prints of any kind. Even the throw pillows were green. The effect, which I was trying valiantly to ignore, was both amphibious and unsettling in the extreme. I looked over at the elderly woman sitting benignly across from me and smiled weakly. As this was my very first assignment as a professional designer I was desirous of appearing both creatively confident and reassuring. Clearing my throat, I asked her,
“Is there anything about this room that you particularly like?”.
After a frightfully long pause she said, “Green. I like green.”
Believe it or not, this reply, though both unnecessary and discouraging, told me volumes about my first client. It told me she hated change, wasn’t comfortable in her own choices, and, as she had called me in for design help, longed for something more.
The legendary decorator, Sister Parish, used to roll a tea cart through the rooms of a new client, loading it up with every offensive object she encountered and instructing her hapless employer to dispose of them all posthaste. Though occasionally tempted I myself have never possessed the audacity for such an exercise, preferring instead to call upon a wellspring of tact cultivated from years of dealing with unusual requests. For instance…..
There was the client who wanted an unobstructed view of a television from every chair in every room. There was the client who wanted a ballroom-sized family room designed around an antique electric blue rug. There was the client who had just, days earlier, ripped down everything another, more famous, designer had installed and filed a lawsuit against the fellow. ( And if that doesn’t make one swallow a bit hard, nothing will. Fortunately, for me and my lawyer, he loved what I did.) I once met with a woman who couldn’t understand why no one wanted to spend time in her living room. “I’ve spent a fortune in that room, and no one ever goes in there.” One look and I knew precisely why. Pale Easter-pink walls and white plush carpet. Formal chairs lining the walls. And a lavish, lugubrious, lily-heavy, silk floral arrangement draped across the mantel. It looked for all the world like a funeral parlor. Defoliating it was a challenge, I can tell you.
More than education, more than travel, it was literature that taught me about design. Loving houses from an early age, I learned from my beloved books that every one was different; every house reflected the personalities of the souls who resided there. The invitingly snug abode of Mole in Wind and the Willows wasn’t anything like the eccentric splendor of Mr. Toad, but each suited its owner perfectly. I could easily envision the black and white marble tiles in the entry hall of Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane; could easily see the shadow Mary Poppins would cast on those tiles as she rapped at the glass front door with her parrot-head umbrella. I clearly saw, in detail, the rooms of everyone I ever read about, from the reverse-painted lampshades Lady Slane would surely have had in her Hampstead cottage in All Passion Spent, to the microscopes and birdcages striped with the rays of a Grecian sun as it fell through the shutters of little Gerry Durrell’s room in My Family and Other Animals. These were the kind of rooms I wanted to create for people: rooms as unique as they.
Through all my years in design, despite the popular trends that march dictatorially across the pages of current shelter magazines, my goal has remained the same: to create surroundings for my clients that reflect who they truly are while at the same time gently nudging them towards the beautiful, the meaningful, and the fine. Oh, and the lady with the green room? The finished product featured Scalamandre chintz that echoed the flowers outside her window, polished wood floors, creamy sofas, pale green pillows, and lacy green ferns. Yes, lots of touches of green.
(To read more on the topic of design today,
check out all the participators in By Invitation Only… HERE)
***** Note: One of the most delightful design books I’ve encountered recently
is "Novel Interiors" by my friend, Lisa Borgnes-Giramonti. It’s as though she crawled inside my own head to capture the decorative influence of books. Marvelous.
Illustration of Wind and the Willows by Inga Moore