NYC Renovation Chronicles

Who me, picky?

By Clare Donohue  | February 11, 2010 - 5:57AM
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The Situation

Back in 1995, John Tierney wrote a story for The New York Times in honor of Valentine's Day.
The article, "Picky, Picky, Picky," chronicled the various inane reasons a single New Yorker might reject a potential mate. For instance, "She mispronounced 'Goethe.’"

Similarly, the homeowners of this city seem singularly equipped with their own lists of design peccadilloes and a passion that can be startling. It can be about color, it can be about furniture, it can be about fabric. I'm always amused when I discover a new one.

My fellow designers and I have heard a long and conflicting list, ranging from, "Absolutely no gray," to "I hate color, please, can we stick to soothing gray?"

Some dictates are decipherable, as in, "No overhead lighting."

Others, not so much: "No lamps on end tables!"

Often we uncover a childhood association, such as "My stepmother wore florals" or "My dentist had those shades."

One client hated crimson because it was the color of Harvard's dining room.

Sometimes there's no explanation at all, like the client who adamantly declared to my partner and I, "NO OTTOMANS!"  (We were afraid to ask!)

Occasionally the association is quite deep. One client looked at me in horror when I showed her a photo of the latest rain head shower, a bathroom accoutrement most people lust after.

When she explained that it reminded her of Auschwitz, I understood immediately, and we moved on to other varieties. (She later recanted after a stay in a luxury hotel that featured a 10" rain-head.)

Designers are not immune to such hyper-personal dictates. I grew up in the '70s, and it took me a long while before I could embrace orange as a color. I'm still not over paneling.

The Solution

• Don't expect that your designer will completely anticipate your personal preferences, or that they are universal. Especially in this melting pot of a fashion-forward city, it takes all kinds.

• When choosing a designer, try to pick someone whose taste is at least on the same plane as yours. If you're a strict modernist, don't hire someone who leans towards chintz and swags. That may seem obvious, but I've seen people vet decorators recommended by friends, never registering how different their friend's tastes may be from their own.

• If you've never really been sure where on the spectrum your style falls, it may take some experimenting. Spend time with design magazines, books and websites to cull favorite examples. It can be equally helpful to make a pile of what you DON'T like (get those deal breakers out in the open).

• Be direct, but polite, about any suggestions not to your liking. It's perfectly okay to say, "That's not really for me." It's less ok to say, "Eew. That's ugly."

• Remain open-minded. Perhaps certain design rules were drilled into you by a stylish mother or aunt, but those rules may no longer apply. Who knows? Something entirely outrageous, like the beau your entire family disapproves of, may be just the thing for you.

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