April 17, 2019

Design School 101: 3 Basic Lessons From the Pros

Pam Connors, Atlanta Studio Consultant

My earliest memory of design school came on Day 2. A very colorful professor stood up from his desk and asked the class, “What is the most important room in the house to decorate?” You can imagine the responses:

“The kitchen! It’s the heart of the home.”


“The foyer! A guest’s first impression.”

No again.

“The master bedroom, the owner’s oasis.”

Close but still wrong.

One by one, the professor shot down every answer. So what is the most important room to decorate? Happy you asked…

Lesson #1: Focus on the Powder Room

You can imagine the groans among the fledgling designers when the professor declared this the most important room to decorate in a home. He explained that the powder room is the only room in the house that your guests can shut the door and truly examine your, or your designer’s, design talent and style. It’s a small space and therefore easy, and relatively cost-effective to decorate. With just a few elements—a fabulous mirror frame, beautiful sconces, special art, unique fixtures and a vanity, you can pack a stylish punch all in a tiny space. When you think about it, it’s genius.

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Lesson #2: Follow the Golden Mean

This was a mind-blower for this budding designer (and hater of math). True, the concept is found in nature: leaves, a shell, the stars. But it’s also part of…gasp…MATH. The Greeks called it Phi (pronounced “fee”), the perfect ratio of 1 to 1.61803399: The Golden Mean. Knowing how the Golden Mean works can help you create the perfect room. Ocean waves, sea shells and the turn of a leg on a classic piece of furniture all follow the theory of the Golden Mean.

So how can you use this shape to help you decorate a room? Have you ever noticed a room that just feels “off” or out of balance? That’s usually because it’s not in line with the continuous progression from the spiral 60-30-10. When choosing the colors for a room, choose one color for 60% of the space, usually a neutral. Dedicate 30% of the space to a dark color and 10% to a bright. And if you want to give it 110% add a bit more of an even brighter color.

Source: Creative Bloq

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Lesson #3: Use the Most Expensive Materials in the Smallest Spaces

This is something I learned a bit later than the first week of school, but it’s something I talk about every day. Use the most expensive item in the smallest space. Concentrate that fabulous designer fabric in throw pillows, not upholstery for your sofa. Put a beautiful, simple “field” fabric on the sofa and let those pillows do the talking. You get that fabric you love and its pattern, color or texture in the room but at fraction of the cost, meaning you can invest that savings in other areas you really care about. For a kitchen, use a simple countertop for your perimeter work surfaces and an ornate quartz or exotic granite on the island where it will stand out. Add intricacy to your kitchen backsplash with a wonderfully intricate "picture frame” detail just above the cooktop.

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Bonus Lesson

This is a piece of wisdom I learned quite a while after design school but it’s stayed with me for a long time. I assisted my friend Pat with the renovation of her home ten years ago. While contemplating what color cabinets she should select, in a time when chestnut was king, she said, “You know, white cabinets are always in style. They may not be the absolute hottest, but they never go out of style.” Well done, Pat. I say this to my buyers every day.

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