I have interviewed hundreds of designers over the years, and I often ask this same question: What makes you cringe when you walk into someone’s home? I expect them to say something like bad taste, too much clutter, no sense of proportion — but universally, their answer is this: lack of personality.
Our homes say a lot about us, and ideally, the goal is for our homes to reflect the best version of us, not the too timid, too busy or too boring version. So when a pitch from a publicist promised that her client, interior designer Margarita Bravo, could reveal “what the aesthetics of someone’s home reveal about their values and identity,” I was intrigued.
In 20 years of writing this column, I’ve never seen a pitch for a design psychic. I thought I would put Bravo to the test. Although she later conceded this wasn’t her idea, Bravo, who has offices in Montecito, as well as Denver and Miami, was game.
Because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, I invited Bravo to visit my home virtually and give me a design reading to find out what my home said about me. Yikes.
We met on FaceTime. I tooled her around my house, while she made notes. Before she gave me her take, she asked, “How long have you lived there?”
“Five years,” I said. “Why? Does it look like 50?”
“No, because it looks very finished and well put together. Many homes are in the process. But your home is done.”
“Don’t tell my husband that,” I said. “I still have plans.”
Then she rattled off a few other impressions:
“From the outside, it’s a traditional home, and the orange front door is a focal point that reveals you are not afraid of color and that shows throughout the house.” (Does she think I’m gaudy?)
“You have traditional furniture, furniture that is transitional and eclectic items, but overall, a clean look.” (My disdain for boundaries is showing.)
“I love that in your office, you put a cowhide rug under a traditional carved desk. It’s not expected but it works. Also, there’s a bit of glam, chandeliers with crystals and champagne finishes, and then a rustic hutch, which feels relaxed.” (Ditto.)
“It looks like a curated home that shows its personality in pieces inherited from family, and very expressive art. I saw artwork on metal as well as oils on canvas, which shows that art is a very important part of your and your husband’s life.” (Actually, it’s a subject we mostly disagree on.)
“It looks like a house that real people live in.” (That it is.)
With that revealing exercise over with, I asked Bravo what she wished more people knew about expressing themselves at home:
You’re not after a look. You’re after your look. Interior design is not about having a house that looks a certain way but about showing the lifestyle and personality of those who live there. Your house should not look like it could belong to anybody else.
Good designers know how to channel you into your home design. The best interior designers are not those who put their stamp on a house. They’re those who put your stamp on a house.
You can make anything work. Many people have pieces they love, but think they’re not right for their home. If they matter, they belong. Don’t hide what’s important to you. If you have an emotional connection to a piece, like a painting by your grandmother, that piece is a talking point and needs to have an important place.
A home should feel curated. Your home should have pieces that you’ve collected over the years and not look as if you bought everything in one day from a showroom.
Your collections will give you away. If you want to see what someone values, see what they collect. People who value travel will have pieces, like African masks or Indian baskets, they’ve collected from their trips. Art collectors will have no space left on their walls for more art. Those who value family and heritage will have family memorabilia and photos throughout.
Don’t stall out. “If I could give one piece of advice it would be to finish,” Bravo said. “When I see homes where the walls are bare and the windows have no drapes, I want to encourage the owners to complete the job. Those finishing touches may not seem important, but they are.”
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.