Designers tell all in 'Living Rooms' Home: California's best designers reveal trade secrets in a new book worthy of your coffee table.

December 28, 1997|By Dylan Landis | Dylan Landis,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Imagine a private seminar with you and, oh, 20 or 30 designers who are dying to reveal their trade secrets.

One of them, Michael Tedrick, confides that he lives in just 400 square feet. "Rolling carts are a blessing for small apartments," he advises. "Televisions and VCRs and sound equipment are best kept out of sight from day to day. They tend to take over the room and become too much of a focus."

Stephen Brady urges you to look for beauty in unexpected places. He learned this the day he peeled storm-damaged wallpaper from his living room walls and fell in love with the mottled green and white tones underneath. "I loved the odd 'ruined' look," he says. Indeed, he hired an artist to fake the effect where it was missing -- and lives with his "ruined" walls still.

And Orlando Diaz-Azcuy suggests that you mismatch the lamps in your house -- yes, even if your parents bought theirs in pairs.

"Each lamp should have its own individual style," he says. With too many matched sets, he says, a room "starts to look like a hotel lobby."

Of course, there is no such private decorating seminar -- but there is a new book that reads like one. For "California Design Library: Living Rooms" (Chronicle, $16.95), author Diane Dorrans Saeks interviewed the state's top designers, prying loose the kind of valuable advice their clients have to pay for. Inspiring ideas, like those mentioned above, flow freely.

(Also in the series is "Kitchens" and, later this year, "Bedrooms" and "Bathrooms.")

Ten houses and apartments are explored in the first 31 pages of "Living Rooms," a square paperback with photographs worthy of a coffee-table book. Home by home, Saeks revels in the details. She gives away the precise shade of gray-taupe paint on Gary Hutton's walls, names every chair in Michael Berman's living room and tells you who makes that voluptuous lamp on Barbara Barry's writing desk.

The rest of the book is packed with solutions that anyone can adapt, and not just in California. Here, dozens of designers talk about how to group pictures on the wall, pry open a small room, choose a great sofa and arrange objects on a tabletop so visitors will linger over the display.

Saeks, the San Francisco city editor for Metropolitan Home, never interviews one expert when two will do. Quizzing five designers on the shapely and versatile ottoman, she determines the best size (20 to 30 inches wide) and explores the range of prices ($50 for a down-at-the-heels flea-market specimen to $5,000 in the top showrooms). Then she adds nine guidelines for upholstering, trimming, embellishing or slipcovering to make one's ottoman ever more glamorous.

The rooms in the pictures are classic, but also highly imaginative. These are, after all, designers' homes, and they know the secrets of fabulous style. As John Dickinson explains it, "Style is not what you do, but rather how you do it." This is one of the rare design books that gives the instructions away.


* When sofa-shopping, don't be seduced by bright fabric, sexy arms or dramatic pillows. Instead, look for clean lines, simple tailoring and comfort. Gary Hutton, a San Francisco designer, likes Tuxedo-style sofas, with arms and back of equal height.

"The shape of a sofa should not attract too much attention," he explains, "because its size already draws the eye."

* Develop a personal style of flower arranging, advises Saeks. "If you love big, full bouquets in cloisonne vases on your mantel, that should be your pleasure. If you prefer single Casablanca lilies on your bedside table, make them your signature."

* Encourage May-December marriages among your furnishings. "A room will always look more interesting if you bring together something very old with something very new," says designer Ruth Livingston of Tiburon, Calif. "Refurbished old occasional chairs and a coffee table from your attic or a charity shop would enrich a living room with a new sofa."

* Don't be afraid to ask for help. "If your eclectic decor looks like too many odds and ends, and furniture placement is difficult bring in a professional designer," Saeks writes. "Often with one consultation, a decorator can bring out the best in a room, rearrange the pieces, and create a fresh and more pleasing decor."

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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