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  • Jacqueline Hosford

The magic of 'people spaces': design with artful intentionality

A well-designed people space, the sort that we admire in magazines, incorporates hundreds of details to arrive at that wonderfully finished look and function. Think of juggling multiple "design" balls to arrive at just the right balance: Therein lies your artful home design solution.

Every element of a successful people space – whether obvious to the observer or not – relates to the whole. What would a cake become if short one egg? Or with an added dash of spice? Being savvy as to how each element impacts the artfulness of the whole finished design is key to a successful space.

Even a pro needs to learn these lessons. Early on in my professional path, I was a site manager for high-end Manhattan projects and saw first-hand the work of world-class designers installed from beginning to end. At first, on one project in particular – before I had learned to hold my judgment – I was sure the design was going to be an awful mishmash. The designer's carpet choice clashed with the newly painted walls. The drapes only added yet another mismatched element.

But on final installation day—when the bed and the upholstered pieces, the accent furniture, the lamps, the framed art, the decorative accessories were all put in place — I realized I hadn’t had a clue to the designer's overall vision, or how all these disparate layers would come together in a stunningly gorgeous room. I learned my lesson then and have never forgotten it.

When everything does indeed work together, it seems so obviously right. Pros make it look easy, but you can start simply to achieve a “Wow!” factor yourself by keeping this “working together” concept in mind.

It could be as small a touch as choosing a spectacular modern lamp shade for a funky Victorian-style base, and suddenly that odd element clicks and belongs in the space. Similarly, an almost-but-not-quite-together room may need one well-proportioned piece of stunning art to make it shine. Or space-hampered kitchen can become a delight to work and live in because one section of countertop continues uninterrupted to create a small round dining spot, perfect for informal meals and face-to-face conversation.

For a unified design every aspect of a people space is intentional. As as you mull over choices of color, materials and furniture, be mindful of how aspects of proportion, emphasis and balance – just a few key design relationships ­– impact the aesthetics and function of your design.

For example: Break up the flatness of painted walls, a flat mono-color tiled floor and smooth furniture finishes. How? Provide balance with a highly textured stone wall, which happily also provides the visual emphasis the room needs. Do that textured wall from floor to ceiling; now you have rightsized the room proportion by adding a vertical element to a room dominated by long horizontal walls and low ceilings.

It might not be straightforward: Design photographs, for example, often trick the eye to make the room pop. A spectacular room shot may rely greatly on a stunning floral arrangement to make it shine. A very white room may only come to life with the dash of color provided by the very large, lovely piece of art on the wall, or by replacing a monochrome sofa fabric with something dashing and exciting.

In short, every aspect of great design is a reflection of myriad design elements woven artfully into a whole, finished and delightful people space.

I tell my beginning design students that if they learn one thing only, it is to consciously see and verbalize why a design element works within context. The key: Intentionally work the design relationships within the integrated whole, and your people space will really shine.

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