Crashing Bore

Irwin Weiner -- The jitters are back! The stock market took a dive due to risky mortgage loan businesses, and I'm sitting by the phone waiting for clients to call about canceling orders or postponing indefinitely their plans for construction.

The inevitable attempt to transform clients' plain spaces into rich, luxurious, and expensive interiors without spending a fortune is my ever-elusive goal. With the stock market dipping disastrously this week, the goal posts have been moved a bit further back.

With the skidding fortunes of the stock market, it feels good to complain about my design pet peeves. When you decorate an interior, you need to spend money. When you want a great interior, you need to spend a great amount of money. Don't scrimp and expect miracles. If you want a Bentley result, don't scale your budget back to a Chevy level.

Companies like Crate and Barrel and Mitchell Gold are clever at interpreting good design at reduced prices. Theirs is furniture for the masses, albeit mass with class. This is not too different from buying a Prada-style dress from H&M. You're not really buying a knock-off, but you're not really on the cutting edge of design either.

I refuse to sell a room of furniture to a client where everything can be identified as coming from a commercial source. "That's from Pottery Barn. I know that chair's from Crate & Barrel." And so on. In high-end interior decorating, there should be about 4 or 5 memorable and outstanding items in any room's interior, items that defy commercial classification. If you have "substantial" art, striking architecture like a large room with big windows, unusual antiques, and exotic fabrics, you can get away with complementing these items with design features that are quite mediocre.

The converse applies: Having a room with everything totally over the top and exceptional is pure overkill. When I'm in a room like that, I get museum fatigue.

Refining the rule is quite easy. Like an exquisite model in jeans and a T-shirt, a room would look just fine with a Picasso hanging above a Pottery Barn sofa. Come to think of it, that sounds quite chic!

So back to the stock market jitters. There's always been talk of buying stocks for the long term. Can't my clients buy furniture and art the same way, and buy/invest in exciting, stylish, cutting-edge furniture and not get tired of it?

furniture.jpgWe've become so fashion- and consumer-oriented that it's standard to get rid of Art Deco in favor of Mid-Century. In the past, clients purchased a classic, but boring Georgian piece with the idea that it would increase in value and become an heirloom. It's like they're buying a classic trench coat. It's a very safe purchase, but the style and design is not cutting edge, and many clients tire of it after a few years.

It's hard for us to accept living with a piece of furniture for very long because we have such short attention spans. In my ideal world, I would decree that investing in high-end furniture is married to great style.

How can my ideal world come about? It's difficult to achieve, particularly in the wake of the stock market jitters. But here are the steps you can take and this decorator's sage advice to consider:

  • You should always spend more than you think you can afford. I've seen people regret that they didn't go the extra mile to make an extraordinary design purchase.
  • Don't buy impulsively. Be sure, but let good style be your guide (and hopefully you have a great decorator).
  • Buy something unusual. You will get bored with boring pieces.
  • Think about scale when you're making design purchases. Here's an example: squeezing a large, but very good painting into a small dining alcove is heaven.
  • The large auction houses like Christies and Sotheby's are excellent places to research great purchases.
  • Websites like are good resources for designer furniture and antiques.

Screw the stock market jitters. It's time to spend!

Have you made a high-end decorating purchase lately? Post me about it . . . .

Jay Johnson1 Comment