One of the things that I have learned over the years is that something that initially seems to present a major design challenge can become the catalyst for a really special room. A problem feature or element that cannot be changed often requires more creative thinking and can result in something better than it would have been otherwise. For example, a room with low ceilings is not ideal but can become a magical, cozy dining room if a fireplace can be added along with a mirror over the mantle flanked by twinkling sconces. Sometimes the element that cannot be changed is a prized possession- grandma's table, a huge leather sofa or a carpet inherited from a great aunt. Even though these things may not be my first picks (or second or third) for a room, I realize that one's home should incorporate one's personal history and that often means including items that precede my arrival on the scene! So how do you take something that initially appears to be a major negative and turn it into a positive?
The first step is getting rid of your pre- conceived notions about what should ideally be. Once you get past the "I wish this room had higher ceilings or bigger windows or I wish the client would get rid of the leather sofa" thoughts, you can then start to look at things with an open mind. Allow your mind and imagination to wander and even jump around freely as you think about the "problem" area. Scenes of cozy Inns in New England may come to mind when you think about the low ceilings. Or vintage lifestyle ads by Ralph Lauren might pop into your mind as you consider the leather sofa. Once you have a positive mental image of the "problem element", then you can begin to create your room. Allow yourself to brain storm and play with different ideas, no matter how foolish they might seem. Keep doing that until you latch onto something. Once you have the seed, the jumping off point, the inspiration, the rest is easy. You simply play out the idea layer by layer until it reaches its logical conclusion.
So that all sounds great in theory but what does it look like in real life? Here is a case study that illustrates what I am talking about:
1. Identify the Problem:
Client insists on including a large leather sofa in a new beach house. Leather sofas do not normally play a big role in beach houses. Sitting on a leather sofa in a wet sandy swimsuit is not pleasant.
2. Clear the Mind of Preconceived Notions:
Why can't a beach house have a leather sofa? Who says they don't belong in a beach house? Was there a time when leather was found near the water? Is there something in nature that shows me that my thinking is wrong? Is there a place in the world where beach houses look different that might inspire a new beach house reality here?
3. Brain Storm:
Navy leather can be cool. I love the old Chris Craft boats with their beautiful camel colored leather seats. Images of horses running on the beach. What about the old sea captains whose homes overlooked the water? Shiplap walls, worn creaking wide planked floor boards, antique brass lanterns... a burnished leather sofa would fit here. Yes! That is it.
4. Play It Out:
Using the idea of a ship captain's home overlooking the water as the jumping off point, what other elements come into focus? Add some oil paintings of ships framed in antique gilded frames, an elegantly worn old persian carpet in colors of sand, camel and navy, and fabulous strong lined gilded iron light fixtures. Plantation shutters or simple roller shades will dress the windows where privacy is a concern, the others facing the sea will be left bare. An antique desk with a navy leather top will be placed near the window that looks out to the water. And so on. Now the room has become something special, unusual and highly personal.
So, the next time you are stumped by a problem in your home that you can't change, try using my 4 step process and see if you don't end up somewhere better than you ever imagined possible.