Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Touches of Green

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 OnlyHERE)

***** 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


  1. I saw your name listed in "Novel Interiors" on this blog:

  2. Wonderful Pamela... I can imagine that room was completely beautiful and I am absolutely certain your philosophy on design is the right one... xv

  3. ………. and, this is why you do what you do Pamela. I love our home and I love decorating it. My friends tell me that I should be an interior designer but, I know that I just couldn't do it ….. I'm only OK in my own home. You have an eye, can listen to what others want and know how to achieve it. XXXX

  4. There are snatches of green in every room here . Most of them recently growing until dragged inside .

    I would IMAGINE YOU came out smelling like a ROSE!

  6. Pamela I love that you share the realities of Interior design.
    The best rooms always have all of those special finds a client loves, art, books, accessories from travel, a place to nest and relax!

    Featuring The HighBoy

  7. Sister Parrish sounds awesome, and fierce. My husband would want that uninstructed view of TV from every chair also. Your challenges are tougher than I would have thought and I'm sure the outcomes are amazingly gorgeous.

  8. Well...I love everything about this post. I am sorry to sound like a hopeless gusher that I am but really can't help it. I fell in love with reading at a young age because of all of the worlds that it opened me up to...ones that I could see as if they were right in front of my eyes! I can hear the elements of your design aesthetic in your writing and can imagine your writing in your design!

  9. I live in a part of the US where too often, it is a designer's recommendations (at the request of the client) to provide what the designer considers trendy or tasteful. I find such homes devoid of personality.

    I come from a part of the US where what is old is treasured, what is individual, likewise, and a designer is more of a guide than a replacement for an absence of self-knowledge.

    I sense that you are such a guide. I love these words from you, describing your role: "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."

    That sounds perfect.

  10. Wind in the Willows, Pamela, one of my favourite books. I shall never read it in quite the same way again - you have fired my imagination.

  11. What a wonderful post and great read......Sister Parish was fabulous and one of a kind. For me its about one thing first and foremost...loving and surrounding yourself with things that you love and that make you happy!

  12. I have been meaning to write you about the client who thought you were like "Rain Man"!! We kind of some ways.

    I get this! We share some very unusual gifts; that you may not know about! Fortunately for me; I had a really gifted mother who was 40 when I was born; and understood far more than most; and was far more nurturing than most!

    When I was about 7; I was shopping and a lady was carrying her skirt looking for a blouse to match. I asked my Mommy....."why is she carrying that skirt?"
    My mother said...."because she doesn't have a "color memory" like you do! Only 2% of people have a 'color memory'" I can tell you do. Next, she explained to me that I have a "gift of visualizing" I can picture a room; I can picture things "in a room".....where they go....what they will look like! 2% again. When children are born with these things......(and you are truly "born with them") they think everyone else has the same ability! WRONG. Another thing she pointed out that I was born with was a "photographic memory !!! There is a camera in my head.....if only I could develop the film....and label it! But I have pictures in my head of beautiful rooms I have seen down to the details! Very very rare!
    So this rare and wonderful mother encouraged me to be a decorator; in 1960 (I was 13, and there hardly any of them.) She gave me the book "The House in Good Taste" by Elsie de Wolfe; (what?? this is a job??? I thought!)
    She also counseled me to be an English Literature major....which I was....and I, like you learned so so much from reading. Really, everything!
    Amazing tale!


    ps you had challenges in decorating I would have run from! (especially the tv way I could do that!)

    But I did have one client who said to me: "What??? You want me to buy a light fixture that costs more than a rifle?"

    We do have to be psychologists, too!!!

  13. What a lovely post! I love hearing how books have inspired you in your life as a designer - I think of how real those imaginary spaces were for me, and love the thought that they can inspire beautiful real spaces. Lucky clients you have! XOXO

  14. I am besotted with novel interiors! Love this post - it so exactly captures my love of "playing" with my house!

  15. Thanks for a good laugh on this winter day; nature is favoring snow white in Maine. I admire you patience for working with stubborn clients.

  16. I think that charming illustration is by Inga Moore?

    1. Thank you, Valerie! I found it on Pinterest and didn't know the artist.
      She's credited now!

  17. I do think the decor should be pleasing to the person that lives there. That being said, I would love to have the use of a designer.

  18. I bought a coup of this book and down loaded it on my i pad.....I have looked at it over and over.....a fabulous book!!!!


  19. I truly enjoyed reading your post...our work can be nerve wracking, especially for the one client that can find fault in everything.
    I, too, get inspired by my readings and litterature is a big part of my creative process.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at Thank you for reading!