What Is Good Design

What Is Good Design

The great American designer Albert Hadley once said, “I deeply believe that a beautiful decor can have a beneficial influence on our life.”

We all love beautiful things—in fact, some of us are quite obsessed with beautiful things—but the sum of beautiful things does not necessarily make a beautiful home. A beautiful home is a combination of real comfort, and the expression of the inner life of its owners.

Consider the most interesting, inspiring and individual homes you’ve seen, either in person or in the pages of a magazine or book. Very often, what made them memorable to you was not necessarily that they were the biggest or the most glamorous, but a intangible quality generated by a combination of art, books, personal collections, good lighting, comfortable seating geared for conversation—there was a sense of real lives being lived in those rooms.

The secret to a great interior goes beyond the accumulation and arranging of things, no matter how beautiful they may be. Instead, I think it has to do with how a given setting evokes the essence of past experiences, and places that trigger involuntary—and often very specific, unique memories—through sensory experience, sight, sounds, smells. And without it, even the most visually arresting design is ultimately lifeless.

The great acting teacher Stanislavski first conceived the idea of “sense memory,” to help his students get in touch with the essence of a character. This involved using a trigger of some kind that could reliably call up a similar feeling, event or place from the student’s own past—a rose-scented handkerchief, perhaps, to conjure memories of a beloved older relative’s garden, and how safe and content we felt there. The best design can have that same ability to evoke memories and emotions.

Without that very personal, and sometimes intangible element—for lack of a better term, soul—your home will never truly speak for you, nor will it for the people around you. Take the time to really think about these important cues from your past, even though today they may only live inside your mind; for they provide the key that elevates a house into a beautiful home.

Some of my next entries will be on a recent trip to Arizona, my pics for art and design books, beautiful examples of one of my favourite architectural features; the enfilade, and a select list of my preferred sources in London, Paris and Brussels.