Why the term “Addition by subtraction” always makes me want to use the B-word(s)

Been a while…I know. Been busy. See. Already, the “B’s” are everywhere. Beware. Let’s get to it. Addition by subtraction…that’s what everyone has heard. Less is more right? Well, I’m not so sure. If I know one thing after twenty plus years in the business…I know this; Most interiors don’t typically underachieve because there’s too much stuff. They suffer from the wrong stuff, in the wrong places…and not enough of the right stuff exactly where it should be. But this is what we do. We settle. We design without a plan. We decorate in haste. And when the bad decisions pile up over the years, we convince ourselves it’s time to purge our decorating spirit from our visual and functional sins..and we “de-clutter.” Which begs the questions, who in world is collecting clutter? And why on God’s green earth are you pulling anything remotely classified as clutter into your homes or lives for that matter. But that’s a WAY different blog…or maybe even a vlog. I’m not sure. Nevertheless, for too many us…the cycle…is..endless.

We’ve all been there. It happens to even the most ardent editors of interiors. Things begin to pile up. But the best interiors account for your stuff in stylish and function ways poorly designed rooms do not. The best interiors know how to evolve, flex and scale without sacrificing the core of what they are and what they’ve been designed to do. The best interiors have been constructed with the bones, the backdrops and the brains to stretch and style seasonally, and still stay authentic and beautiful. And I would even argue the most inspiring and interesting interiors actually aesthetically “school us” when we’ve introduced an element into that environment that’s just not quite right.

To illustrate my point, let’s circle back and drill down on the three “B’s” that can help you to create interiors that account for the lifestyle confetti we call clutter. Save you from the silly cycle of constant purging. And lay the foundation for spaces that will evolve with you, your family and the passions that make them personal. To do this I’m going to reference a recent project where the three “B’s” carried the design day. And a little foreshadowing here…the order is important.

Bones: This is where we look to put function first. Otherwise known as the building blocks of a successful space. See, even more “B’s”. All too often we look to leap toward decorating, without addressing what actually makes great interiors work. And that’s function. What does the room need to do? And if not’s doing it, let’s define that before we decorate. No amount of decoration with ever make a room feel finished…if it doesn’t function first. I get it. Decorating is fun. I love the decorating phase of ever project. But let me ask you this; Would you ever wear an outfit if didn’t fit JUST because you liked the way it looked? No, you’d put the “fit” first. Including reviewing the layout and scale of the furniture to make sure that works too. Take this approach with your interiors and the decoration will only serve to enhance and elevate the interior to the next level.

Huguenrd LG3

In this Lower Level of a recent lake home project, the existing basement configuration just wasn’t working for the homeowner. Originally, the area pictured above was mostly all dead space and served very little purpose, but accounted for almost a third of the rooms total square footage. As is the case with many staircase walls in rooms like this one, the wall space and adjacent area were under-utilized. There was a rarely used place-holder of a pub table in corner, the existing wet bar had limited counter space, and the seating was inadequate for larger gatherings. Upon designing a much more functional room with client, they wanted more seating, surface area and overall entertaining space. They thought a bar might just be the answer. But where? In addition, a well designed Lower Level meant the first floor didn’t have to shoulder the brunt of the load when lake house gatherings started to grow. So, we took the least used corner of the room and transformed it into this beautiful bar area, which immediately added more seating and surface area. Plus, putting the bar in this under-utilized space meant we could still retain the existing generous seating area. Then we looked to add the necessary function into the bar in the form of lighting, refrigeration and storage. Note, we didn’t start with the style or even size of the bar, the decoration on the walls, the color room, over even the popular designer/homeowner “feel we wanted to achieve” discussion. No, rather we began with where and what the opportunities were that best met the lifestyle objectives of the client. Only after we applied functional design accordingly did we look to introduce the style. It’s simple, but often overlooked and under-rated…focus on function first. Then we talk about the fun stuff. But if the visual equation is flawed from the beginning, and the lifestyle math doesn’t work…neither will the room. And even the most inspired decoration will only serve to mask the problems or confuse things altogether.

Backdrops: Most interiors typically miss on the biggest canvases in a room. Floors and ceilings are most notable. Especially ceilings…they can be deserts of drywall. Endless expanses of sheet rock leaving too many interiors thirsting for interest…as was the case with this first floor interior.

The previous owner chose not to leverage the largest visual opportunities in the Living Room and the Kitchen. The vaulted and coffered ceilings. So, my client and I agreed to the introduction of a soft application of reclaimed barn siding in custom colors to canopy the Living Room, added grass cloth wallpaper to the insets of the coffered ceilings in the Kitchen…and then looked to enhance the very brown columns with linen fabric insets featuring nail head detailing. The addition of molding, millwork and other decorative elements to the largest or most visible canvases in the room ALWAYS pays visual dividends, and begins the important process of layering. From columns to crown molding, from wainscot to wallpaper, addressing these areas with interest sets the stage for the remaining finishing details to be competed with a sense of context, color and confidence.

Brains: Once the bones (function) and backdrops (context) have been addressed now comes the part everyone loves…the decoration. Or as I call it the brains of the space. While most might assume the intellectual nature of a room to attributed to function…I see it a bit differently. I think of it in terms of thoughtfulness and intent. The fabrics, finds and fantastic style elements, are the things that make great interiors personal, thoughtful and authentic. What is the special story of the space? And in my design studio, if an interior has nothing to say or unique to share…than it’s just not that interesting. And always feel a little flat when you get beyond the money spent and the materials chosen.

This is where accessories, artwork and other finishing details are so important. All too often we introduce elements at this stage that just don’t work. We settle. We force things. Or even worse…we copy. Whether they’re impersonal, lack quality, are unoriginal or are just plain forgettable, this where what you choose and how you choose to display it can make or break the room. Look to create a variety of well orchestrated groupings on walls and table tops. If a room deserves an enhanced level of decoration don’t be afraid to take it over the top…go for it. In this particular lake home, we looked to balance an upscale cottage feel on the first floor, with a well-themed Lower Level Lakeside Pub. Remember that the fabrics and special finds in a room exist to tell your story and punctuate the design statement. Be mindful that a well orchestrated fabric package is always worth the effort as it tends to visually tie spaces together. And never lose sight of the fact that the accessories and art should mean something to you and support the overall aesthetic of the interior. At this critical finishing stage, it’s not the quantity of elements in a room that makes them successful or unsuccessful…but rather the quality. That’s why the focus on addition by subtraction can be so misleading. It’s only true if you’ve collected too many things that don’t fit…or never really mattered in the first place. So, all that being said…I’ll leave you with a few more important B-words. Begin. Build. And Beautify.

lakeshore living postcard

Check out our latest featured project in Lakeshore Living Magazine: Summer 2019!

Well, there you have it. Thanks to Lakeshore Living Magazine for the beautiful photos. Thanks to our amazing client for trusting us with this vision. And for the record, I’m fully aware that you might want to flag this blog as a design note for 2020, as the carnival of Holiday Decorating is certainly upon us. But remember this, the cycle won’t end unless you design with a balance of passion and purpose, and equal parts substance and style. Be brave. Be bold. Be beautiful. And oh yeah…and you’ve Been coached. Design on.