“A man’s style is his mind’s voice.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
DEFINING YOUR OWN STYLE
Know Thy Decor Self…. Learning how to define your style, composed of those decor elements you gravitate to repeatedly, elements you consistently love, is the key to developing a style uniquely you. To a large degree, this is a style that is “trendproof,” because it is comprised of the things you love beyond the moment. Taking a step back, and learning to recognize your own style or patterns in life, whether they are buying habits, needs-based on your career or lifestyle, tastes, or wild dreams, is an exercise that can’t be practiced enough. While it may sound like busywork, you’ll be amazed at what you can discover about yourself if you take the time to work through these steps.
In the same way that people get a better lay of the land or gain perspective, by looking down on city streets from high vantage points, like a very tall building or an airplane, you can develop a clearer understanding of your tastes, and in turn your style, if you take the time to lay out what you like, what you have, what you need, and then step back and look for repetition and patterns in your taste. Those patterns are the core of your style. They reveal what you gravitate to, time and again. They are the things that move you, what you love, and want to live with, and conversely, what just does not suit your lifestyle, no matter how cool it may be.
“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” ― Gore Vidal
Physical constraints, rural life, budgets, careers, bouncy children and puppies, available space…MANY factors affect the style we ultimately develop. You must start by listing what you love and what you need. Don’t limit your choices, or try to be practical, at this point, just gather what you really love onto a paper list. You may end up creating a digital list, but for now write it down so you can see it in it entirety, each time you add to or edit it.
Not having a clear understanding of what you consistently gravitate to, why you like it, and how you want your home to look and feel 10 years from now, yet still buying a household full of furniture, is like setting out on a journey with no roadmap, unsure of your destination but still hoping to not take costly wrong turns, or be continually lost.
If you bypass this critical step, you’ll probably wrestle with indecision, buyer’s remorse, and perennially timid decor choices. Moreover, being unclear about your personal style leaves you open to a constant barrage of decor trends, always begging you to buy buy buy, on a relentless decor quest for what is chic. No one wants a house full of furniture that is a hot mess of impulsive purchases.
Even those of you with the budget to hire a decorator/designer, who can help you edit and create cohesive interiors, will find you’ll be happier with the end results if you take some time to know your decor self. If you feel like you’ve been on this road to who-knows-where for a little too long, it’s time to analyze your own taste, and develop your own style.
So, whether or not you choose to work with a design/decor pro, take this first step. Start by writing the lists I mentioned, but don’t stop there. Begin to cull photos, from Pinterest, magazines, wherever you find them. Keep the images in a physical or virtual folder. Leaf through magazines to find shots of furnishings, art, colors, textures, whole rooms, whatever it is that calls your name.
If you have not yet discovered the GoAntiques Pinterest boards, and especially the “Good Information” and “Color, Texture, Patina” boards, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Really a great resource. Print out images, and preview/buy only the magazines that have images you love. After printing or tearing out the pages you want to keep, circle or write with very few words, ON THE PAGE, what it is you like (or hate) and keep them in a stack. If you decide to organize your images into folders, do only minimal sorting. It’s WAY too soon to spend much time organizing. Just dump them into a box the size of about 3 old-school urban telephone books (Remember them?) You will be sorting later.
Continue by listing what you already own, that you think you’ll always keep. This includes heirlooms, collections, art, and already purchased pieces that you love. If you already have a household full of furniture, create a separate list of only the pieces you like best. They often can be made to work, if you learn to look for transitional pieces that link those pieces to the style you want to develop. Finally, list what you cannot live with, what you dislike, what makes you crazy. Years ago, I was injured on a photoshoot. The damaged muscles were so unstable that a year later, I broke my ankle just by rolling my foot out of a sandal. This affected my style to this day. I wear chic flats, but high heels are a no-go for me. Therefore now, after years of doing this, I don’t pull images of outfits that absolutely must be worn with heels.
“The most important step in your own “style revival” is defining your style. This is a mandatory starting point for all of our clients, not to mention an integral part of our process.” Jesse Garza, Huffington Post
Many creative folks do this, or something like it, on an ongoing basis. So keep at this, for as long as you can, going through and culling out images you no longer feel strongly about. However, rather than throwing unwanted images in the trash, keep the culled pages in a separate folder, or at the bottom of your stack, because you can learn a lot from them. You’ll see how you are affected by what is trending, versus those items you are perpetually drawn to, regardless of trends. You find images that say,“This was a fleeting fancy, but now it bores me,” and “I thought I liked this color, but now I realize it was the margarita I had at lunch.”
Look for images of furniture styles, colors, collections, patterns, textiles, art, combinations you like, and “Don’t know what it is, but there is something about this room.” If you find you are always pulling photos of (currently out of your reach) architectural features, like banks of windows, fireplaces, or soaring ceilings, that’s fine, but that may, ultimately, become a separate folder. It is important not limit yourself to images of interiors, or even to just images. Some of things that inspire me the most are natural, pieces of leather, tortoiseshell, rocks or flowers. My inspiration board is plastered with #VenetiaStudium silk tassels, textile swatches, dried flowers, postcards of art, felled nests and found objects.
Every 6 months, or when you’ve amassed a pile, quickly go through your stack, shifting favs to the top and duds to the back (or into the “What Was I Thinking?” folder.) Ask yourself : Do I love it? Will I still love it five years from now? What is it that I like? Is it well-constructed? Will I like it after the trend passes, and it is “outdated”? Is it versatile? Can it work in a variety of room sizes (this is especially important if you don’t live in your “forever” home)? Over time you like learn to recognize patterns in the things you repetitively choose.
You may discover that you’re consistently drawn to seating with curvilinear romantic lines, Mid Century clean lines, rustic woods, dark antiques against white walls, tribal artifacts, jewel tones, or distressed paint. If you are drawn to the same thing, over and over, for example all white kitchens, gather many images of white kitchens, and determine the ones you like best, and why.
This can be a relatively inexpensive way to distill your own elements of style. In fact, it is far more costly to overfill a home with impulsively purchased, disparate and incompatible items that are a clear roadmap of the trends, but whose final destination is more likely a garage sale.
The best home’s decor is built over years, with the goal that the ongoing and overall result will be cohesive, beautiful, and furnished with pieces that hold their value. Making the effort to define your own style, early on, over several design seasons, is like developing a map leading to that goal. It will help you to stay the course to that destination, rather than be carried off course with each decor wind. Even if you, yourself, have difficulty discerning your patterns, even if you expect to use an interior designer or decorator, this process will help you more clearly define your own tastes, apart from what the design world tells you that you need.
If you work with a designer, they will be able to spot patterns, and because of your efforts be better able to create interiors you adore. Budget constraints may limit what you can purchase at any one time, but having a “roadmap” of your tastes allows you to go only as far as you are able, from day to day, and still end up at your goal. This map will help you plan for the most important pieces in your decor, pieces you are less likely to regret, and spend less to update and refresh. Moreover, many designers will take what they learn about your tastes, and layout a phased plan that you can implement yourself, in stages, as you are able.
Decor bloggers routinely mention currently trending interior styles. They may be helpful to begin identifying what you like, initially. They list styles including Modern Farmhouse, Scandinavian Minimalism, Industrial Chic, Travelled Bohemian, Eclectic Vintage, Urban Loft, French Country, Cottage, Rustic Luxe, Farmhouse, Traditional, or Sophisticated Classic…Whatever. The names change every few years, so don’t get too caught up in them. Instead, give thought about what it is that you like about each style. If you limit your understanding of your own likes, your own style, to catch-all terms like these, you may never really be able to define exactly what it is that calls to you, maybe from several styles, and combine them in a way that is uniquely you, and wonderful.
Exercises like this often evolve into ongoing inspiration boards, or home renovation notebooks, complete with furniture sizes, room and furniture measurements, fabric swatches, paint & stain samples, wish lists, etc. I highly encourage you, even if you think you have already have a bead on your taste, to do this, or some version of it, to develop a clear, lasting strategy for creating spaces you love, and for fine tuning your creative self, and developing some serious style.
One last thought: Spend some time browsing the history of furniture and architecture. If you learn, over time, to define what you like in terms of historical furniture and architectural styles, you will learn to see beyond trends, recognize those classics that stand the test of time. Borrow, blend, refer to the past, but make it your own. Push yourself. You will love the creative power a new vocabulary brings. And your space will reflect the entirely unique person that is you.