In Why This Works, 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.
Sure, having a central fireplace and ample windows in a custom-built house doesn't necessarily sound like a problem. But, this living room, in Arlington, Va., is one of those tricky spaces that could be a clunker of a design disaster if left in the wrong hands. So the homeowners brought on Tricia Huntley, a DC-based decorator (and participant in this year's Holiday House showhouse in Manhattan) known for marrying sophistication with warmth to turn their space into an elegant, easy-flowing room. "There are a lot of openings and windows in this room," explains Huntley, "and it can be tricky to figure out a furniture arrangement in a room like this. The clients like the traditional, but they have young kids and so there couldn't be anything too precious. It had to be comfortable and liveable but also interesting while maintaining the traditional vibe."
1. Cafe curtains don't automatically come to mind when addressing windows in a room with a formal edge, but Huntley says they "solve a lot of problems. They create privacy without sacrificing the light or the view. We used Isadora in Phylo from Gretchen Bellinger, a vanilla-tinted sheer Fortuny Pleat, and hung the curtains on small rods aligned with the highest mullion. Stunning and practical."
2. The ceiling is treated with a beautiful printed damask paper. "It has a subtle metallic quality to it, but it's not glitzy. There are very few walls in this room so the two planes that dominate—the floor and ceiling—needed to be addressed. The damask mirrors the floor covering and creates a nice sing-song moment in the room."
3. Locating furniture in this room was tricky, as it has two very large doorways, floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls, and a prominent fireplace at one end. "It was important to create multiple seating arrangements since the space is used as a receiving room for parties and special occasions," says Huntley. "There are three subtle seating groups: the sofa and slipper chair, the slipper chair and club chair at the fireplace, and the curved settee near the entrance of the room. The triangulation of the furniture layout creates the opportunity for both intimate and collective conversations during both social and family gatherings."
4. The sofa was actually something the clients brought with them, but, as Huntley explains, "Everything curvilinear becomes one note. Clean lines play off of the curves and you notice them. The structure keeps it from getting too saccharine. You need a breath of fresh air with all those curves."
5. "Patterned fabrics are everywhere these days, but sometimes I find it's more interesting to layer them in subtle, unexpected ways than knock my clients over the head with them," says Huntley. Upon first glance, this living room is subdued and somewhat neutral. But ther are actually numerous patterns at play: the Oriental motif in the rug, the damask on the ceiling, pastel tribal and cut velvet dragon-print pillows on the white sofa, a modernized rose pattern on the slipper chair, and a stripe on the curved loveseat. "These particular patterns lend a dynamic vibe to the space, but one that's soft and refined thanks to the scale and tone of the fabrics."