That's a big subject, and a fun one. As I mentioned in another part of this web site, I studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York, and it remains a big interest for me. Now, fashion design is more of a spectator sport for me than a practical one. A lot of the things I see and admire would look silly on me. I used to go shopping with my assistant, who is over six feet tall, and twenty years younger than I am. And when we shopped, I think I believed that her age and height were contagious. I would go home with my new finds, look in the mirror and discover that I was still 5í1Ē and the age I am. Oops, a lot of my purchases went back the next day, or should have. And the same happens to me now when I shop with my daughters. Most fashion today is for the very, very young, and made for a lifestyle that I donít have anymore. I canít get away with what I used to. So fashion is fun to look at and sometimes own (I still get excited about new clothes), but interior design is easier to live with, and something to enjoy at every age.
Because I work at home, my home has always been important to me. Very important. I spend a huge amount of time there. People who work outside the home, come back at the end of the day, barely catch their breath, eat, go to bed, and leave the next day. But Iím at home most of the time. Even when I was young and struggling, I have always stretched to have a home I loved to be in. (And yes, my home in San Francisco is a big one, and was a big stretch when I bought it). But itís not just about the price of a home or apartment, itís what you do inside it that really matters. I read a wonderful little book once about Ďgratitudeí (by Melody Beatie), where she talks about only being able to afford a really beat up old house that she hated. She spent a year crying over it, and then decided to be grateful for it, and got to work. Little by little, she turned every corner of the house into someplace beautiful, and came to love it. And eventually, she bought a house she liked much better, but being grateful for the house she had was an important lesson to her. Iíve always remembered that story when Iím in a situation I donít like.
When I was at Parsons, I majored in fashion design, but took several courses at NYU on antiques, art history, and some on interior design. It didnít really settle in with me until later. And the older I get, the braver I get about my decorating.
When I was married, I redid some apartment buildings, and had fun decorating the lobbies. I did a few apartments, and worked hard on my homes. My parentsí sense of dťcor did not include children. My nursery was black and white, which they thought chic (for a baby?), but I hated. And my childhood room was brown and beige. Yerghk. I hated it again. The one touch of magic was a navy blue ceiling where my father had lovingly glued gold stars of different sizes to represent the constellations, accurately. Definitely magic. The rest of the room looked like chocolate pudding. As a result, I have always turned my childrenís rooms into fairylands, with ballerinas painted on the walls, murals, painted furniture that was whimsical. A train that ran around the ceiling of my sonís room when he was little. They had beds that were made to look like stage coaches, school buses, a tree house, a sports car. I wanted them to have the rooms I never had as a child. And as they got older, Iíve done their student apartments, and their first apartment as adults. After that, theyíre on their own, but I have a great time doing it for them.
One of my favorite things in this setting is a rug made by an artist, as you come in. It has the Anne Frank quote on it that I love so much: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart".
One of the fun things about doing interior design for someone else is really listening to who they are. I know what I love, but itís their home, not mine. My oldest daughter is conservative and traditional in her tastes. One of my younger daughters loves all things vintage. And while doing an apartment for her recently, I learned a lot from her. We dragged through some pretty awful neighborhoods and funky old stores. We found a black and white roll top desk from the 50ís that we turned into a bar. Some great Lucite furniture and light fixtures from the sixties. And a Victorian settee with torn upholstery and the stuffing falling out. I quickly reassured her that we could recover it, and she looked horrified. To her, the beauty of it was its disreputable state. And believe it or not, she was right. In her otherwise pristine, very eclectic apartment, the semi-wrecked settee looks terrific. The upholstery is still torn, and the stuffing is still falling out, and somehow it looks right and very chic. Go figure. I always learn from my Ďclientsí, even when theyíre my children. My youngest daughter and I just did an apartment that is Ďsophisticated punkí, with graffiti art on the walls that she found in a gallery in the tenderloin. My youngest son favors black leather couches and a simple, masculine look. (My attempt to put cute little cushions on the couch, even in black and white, was immediately foiled). And I recently staged a house for sale with things I had kept in storage. With simple things, the place looked great, and the people who bought the house bought all the furniture with it, which was gratifying for me.
Nothing is more fun than putting together a home, even if itís a tiny apartment. Finding the perfect object, even if it costs next to nothing, and putting the right things together. It always reminds me of writing. Instead of inventing a scene or a home in my books, in decorating I have to find the objects, not just invent them, and figure out how to put them together, like a puzzle. And the best feeling of all is when it all fits and comes together and really works. You can do it with things that donít cost a lot of money, or beautiful antiques, found objects from junk stores, or things you had buried in a closet. The magic is putting it all together and seeing how it works. Colors play an important part, and above all comfort. You donít want to have a place that looks great, but there is nowhere comfortable to sit, or you yourself donít feel at home. I love playing with interior design, and my absolute favorite haunt in Paris is an auction house called Drouot, where they have 45 auctions a week. They turn over the auction rooms every two days. And you never know what youíll find there. Old gardening equipment, ancient books, vintage clothes, or some real decorating treasures, or even expensive paintings. Itís a treasure hunt digging through those rooms before the auction the next day. I found a beautiful old brass trunk there and got it for $100.00. Some beautiful Napoleonic chairs with the original leather on them, and 8 hand painted Chinese panels. I love coming home with my treasures. My children tease me when during a conversation about something else, I suddenly think of where to put a chair or a couch, or need a table, or remember an object I saw somewhere that will pull a whole room together. Interior design is a huge amount of fun for me, and itís not about how much you spend on it, itís about your vision, and how you pull it together.
My other favorite haunt these days is IKEA. You can find some fantastic things there at amazing prices, and a lot of the design is really good. My current big find there was a red and white rug that looks great in my entrance hall in Paris, and for which I paid the equivalent of $70.00. I love decorating and everything about interior design. And I love doing it for others too.