The Tale of ‘U’: Listen to Yourself to Get the Design You Want

guy_designAs an interior designer and stylist, I am often asked about the “new trends” emerging in home goods. It would be easy to be pithy and declare with absolute certainty that X is the new Y. But the reality is I don’t really know what the new trend is because I often advise my clients not to follow whatever they are reading or seeing in the media. It’s a bold statement coming from a man who makes his living offering advice, but the truth that no one is telling you is that the best designs are an extension of the inner you.

I recently visited The International Contemporary Furniture Fair  (ICFF) in New York City and had the opportunity to view work from over 600 artisans, crafts persons and skilled trades. Literally thousands of pieces of furniture, accessories and lighting were on display, with each vendor vying to see if they had captured whatever zeitgeist would ensure sales and dollars. A small vendor based out of Brooklyn asked if I thought they were “on trend.” I responded that no, they were not “on trend,” but were “on narrative.” Puzzled, they asked what that meant and what ensued was a 15-minute conversation on my ethos and the guiding principles I use to steer the design process with clients.

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I wholeheartedly believe the best homes are those that have a narrative or a cohesive thread that connects the unique stories of the furnishings in the space to the homeowner. Sure, you can have a house full of “wow pieces,” but more often than not, those types of homes feel disjointed and sterile, as if the home were a museum. I advise my clients to think back to the homes of a grandmother or great aunt. More often than not, they can’t remember the pieces, but they remember how they felt in the spaces. Those homes were extensions of those individuals—packed with history and curated not for an eye for design, but typically with an eye on love.

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Human nature drives us to collect beautiful things—it’s in our DNA, so why fight it? However, as a designer, my job is to help clients find those links between the object, its story and themselves. My job is to take all the stories from the many objects they love and weave a narrative that speaks to their heart, mind and soul. So when that company asked if they were “on trend,” I honestly didn’t care because I was more concerned that their products continued the narratives I created for my clients’ homes; that the pieces spoke of craftsmanship, attributed to a sense of overall ease, and were, of course, beautiful in their own right.

Think of my columns over the next several months less as design mandates and more as design mantras meant to be repeated when you are contemplating between X or Y because honestly, the only letter that really matters is U.

Courtney Lake is the interior designer and lifestyle expert behind Monogram Décor (www.monogramdecor.com) and his celebrated blog, Courtney Out Loud. He and his work have been featured both in print and on television, including coverage by “The Wall Street Journal,” “The Nate Berkus Show,” the “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Life & Style Magazine,” “RUE Magazine” and “7×7 Magazine.”