Claire Bell

Disillusioned with Academe and faced with the choice of remaining in the ivory tower or changing course to a more artistic path, I walked away from a position teaching French on the faculty of UCLA to have a go at my first business.  Now 15 years have gone by, and I am on my third business, the one that has flourished beyond expectation thanks to some increased self-knowledge, years of learning design trial-by-fire, and invaluable business lessons learned.  My intention with Chic Abode has always been to demystify the clichéd notion of the designer, spurred on by my mantra: “Things look beautiful for a reason, not just because I told you so.” As a result, I have invested the requisite 10,000 hours into articulating the reasons behind why rooms look great.  Some wonderful training from Ethan Allen initially introduced me to the concept of design rationales. Now, some 12 years on, I am able to share the rationales I’ve developed through dialogue with my own clients and the completion of their projects.  Working with each homeowner to uncover their hidden design path–one, in many cases, they were unknowingly already on–is the driving passion behind each project completed, each room transformed, each Chic Abode…

Here are some of the rationales behind great décor decisions that I hold nearest and dearest to my designery heart…

…complete, don’t compete
For example, putting a large rectangular piece of artwork over a large rectangular piece of upholstery such as a sofa creates a competition between the two. They fight for focus. Instead of having this one-on-one battle, use smaller artwork or a circular piece and flank it with electrified or hurricane candle sconces. Now the artwork and sconces will complete the sofa wall rather than competing with the sofa itself.

…high-contrast = glamour
When colors pop, glamour happens. Sophistication gets lost, though, when the eye doesn’t know where to look. That’s why high-contrast means using one or two strong colors in combination with each other, often neutrals such as white and espresso/black. When too many colors from different families come together (combinations of warm & cool-based) the eye no longer knows where to focus. This is why high-end interiors tend to focus either on tonal palettes that are overall cool-based (blues/greens/greys) or overall warm-based (reds/yellows/oranges).

…no man’s land spaces
These are the areas of the house that everyone has experienced frustration with at one point or another—the ones that are hard to furnish or make use of. Sometimes, you just need the right space plan in order to discover an area’s functional calling. Other times, the solution is not to place anything at all there, which leads us to the next design rationale….

…room to breathe / negative space
As the eye sweeps across a room, it needs moments to breathe from one set of objects to another. Items that are grouped together should relate to one another in ways that make sense for human use—otherwise we know on a basic psychological level that we are uncomfortable around them. For example, when we see a chair in a corner with no table lamp or floor lamp next to it, we know intuitively that it doesn’t feel inviting due to the lack of light or amenity in that spot. Having said that, once functional groupings are made in the space, it is important to let there be negative space between them. It’s really okay to leave some walls and walkways empty! The eye needs a rest and psychologically, we need “room to breathe.”

…psychological barriers
a poor living room space plan may, for example, have a loveseat blocking the traffic pattern. This forms a psychological obstacle every time you walk by it. The result is often that you become accustomed to its presence and don’t realize why it bothers you any more. The reason is because it transmits the sense of a barrier rather than allowing ample space to pass through. As human beings, we know intuitively when a space is ill-conceived for us to circulate through it. A good space plan solves such design dilemmas and creates a sense of openness and movement.

Email us or post to our facebook page to inquire about some other design rationales that may help you define and enjoy your space better:

  • radial balance
  • scale & proportion
  • sculptural objects always look good
  • circle-in-the-square
  • adding architectural interest gives big empty walls their reason for being
  • mirrors replicate the feeling of windows
  • too many hard corners in a room are softened by circular shapes and fabrics