Welcome to Why This Works, a new Curbed column in which decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.
For an Atlanta house, Georgia-based designer Barbara Westbrook transformed a small room with no purpose into an elegant music room. Westbrook, a Virginia native, is known for her tailored and classic interiors (as befits a proper Southern lady). Here, she "had a blank slate,” she says, "and this space needed to be a little dressy—it opens to other rooms and almost acts as a hallway. I wanted to create a jewel of a room where people could sit and drink wine and that also had a nice flow into other spaces." Below, see why it works.
1. When there are many openings into a space like there are here—three cased openings and two windows—don't introduce a dark fabric. (The effect makes it feel more chopped up.) Westbrook used a window treatment fabric that's the same color as the walls, creating visual unity.
2. Drama does not have to be "in your face" to have impact. Here, high contrast—black against the soft creams and beiges—does the trick. Because the walls, area rug, and window treatment fabric are creamy instead of a crisp white, the difference is soft and elegant—not jarring, but still effective.
3. Adding an antique chair with graceful lines tones down the substantial size of the black piano and black chairs. “And,” says Westbrook, “it’s nice to have some wood in a room because it warms up a space—always add something wood and something old.”
4. "I hate the term, 'pop of color,'" she adds. "It is so overused! I did add color to this neutral space, but it is very subtle." By keeping the blues soft and grayed out—the painting, the vases—the space is elegant without the need for more intrusive colors. The result isn't matchy-matchy or over the top, but it does have just enough color to be interesting. Westbrook adds: "I don’t like to be confused when I go into a room, but you also want to see interesting objects and things that are personal."
5. Black chairs with un-skirted legs don't weight down this small space. Westbrook also kept the furniture off the walls: "When all of the furniture is against the wall, you feel like you can't have a conversation. Visually, it make the room feel more cohesive and grounded, so it doesn’t feel like movers came in and just plopped it in."