AT HOME | OPINION: House’s decor should tell the story of the owner | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


I like interesting stories and I like interesting houses. I also like to believe I tell the former and have the latter. (Don’t we all?) So, when a book titled “Authentic Interiors: Rooms That Tell Stories” (Gibbs Smith, March 2024) hit my radar, I thought, “Shazam! My worlds collide!”

I dove into the 224-page, picture-rich hardcover, then rang up the author, interior designer Philip Gorrivan, to see if I could divine the secret to designing rooms that tell not just stories, but our stories. (Face it. Despite what they say, a lot of designers tell their stories.)

In his introduction, Gorrivan cites the 20th-century designer David Hicks who said, “The best rooms have something to say about the people who live in them.” The book then goes on to feature 14 client-inspired projects including the author’s own house.

“If you’re going to design your home, whether a grand house or a shoebox apartment, whatever the budget, make sure your interior space is an extension of who you are,” he said. “This, after all, is where you come home, sleep and live.”

Few would disagree. However, this is one of those easy-to-say, harder-to-do design maxims. In the wrong hands, the result could be ghastly. Some people’s stories just aren’t pretty. I turned to the pages for clues. For one couple — a screenwriter and newspaper editor — Gorrivan used posterized black-and-white images of famous faces. For a Brazilian couple’s New York apartment, he incorporated saturated tones from the tropical rain forest, painting walls in a lacquered emerald and incorporating fuchsia furnishings.

As with any author I interview, but especially this one, I was curious to learn the writer’s story. Where is he coming from? So, I asked Gorrivan, who has a house in Connecticut and an apartment in Manhattan, that and a few more questions:

Marni: Before we talk about other people’s stories, what’s yours? What was your early home like?

Philip: Because my parents had different interests, our house was a mix of antiques and modern furnishings. It was by no means “decorated.” We lived in Portland, Maine, where we had these long bleak winters. My family had this old farmhouse, which became a repository for family hand-me-downs and heirlooms. To amuse myself, I spent hours exploring all these pieces. I became visually tuned into furniture at a young age. I may have been the first 10-year-old to ask for a subscription to Architectural Digest.

Q: Interior design wasn’t your first career. When and why did you switch?

A: After college, I worked in sales, got married, had children and was working to pay the bills. When 9/11 hit, we were living in New York. It made me rethink everything. I decided then to do what I loved. I went to work for an interior design firm to learn the ropes, and after two years went out on my own. My break came when House & Gardens magazine asked me to design a room for a show home they were putting together. They had one room left, a 12-by-8-foot laundry room, the smallest room in the house. I made the most of it.

Q: Although your rooms tell your clients’ stories, you clearly have a signature look. How would you describe it?

A: I come from a love of textiles and fabrics, color and pattern. I like to align with great design firms of the 20th century to create a look I call classic modern, a mix of periods that speak to both the home and the homeowner.

Q: Color indeed! Not everyone can pull off Chinese red lacquered walls.

A: While I have a lot of respect for neutrals and earth tones, I especially like mixing in strong color. Color is powerful and transformative. The chapter titled “Reinvention,” for example, features a New York apartment we made over after the owner got divorced. He was living in the same place he’d shared with his ex-wife and wanted it to feel completely different. Painting the walls bright spring green felt like a new beginning.

Q: Beautiful interior design books cover coffee tables everywhere. Why another one? How is your book different?

A: The word “authentic” is in the title because it’s important to me. We see a lot of pastiche in the design world, where designers copy and paste the work of others. Authenticity is critical in any creative endeavor. I wanted to convey that and emphasize that a successful interior should speak to the architecture of the house or apartment, to the surrounding geography, and ultimately to the homeowner.

Q: What if the homeowner is a couple with different interests and tastes?

A: Every couple disagrees on looks. We negotiate. A successful home design includes elements that reflect all inhabitants, which ultimately makes the interior even more unique.

Q: What makes you cringe when you walk into some homes?

A: Furnishings that are totally out of scale. A sofa that is way too big or art that is too small can ruin a room.

Q: How can we inject our story into our homes, whether that reflects our professions, interests or heritage?

A: Think of what you love and want to surround yourself with: your children, your pets, your travels, your roots. It may not be your profession. Some clients don’t want any reminders of their work once they get home. And you’d be surprised how many want to decorate using the colors of their favorite sports team. Heritage also matters. I always want to know where my clients grew up.

Q: What do you want readers to take away?

A: Though the book is filled with pictures, I hope readers look at the words, too. I hope they read the different stories and see how stories can come alive in design. I hope they see how the best designs come from the inside out, and come away thinking, maybe I can do this, too?

Marni Jameson is the author of seven books including the newly released Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow, What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want.

  photo  “Authentic Interiors” by Philip Gorrivan (Gibbs Smith, March 2024, $45, 224 pages) “provides much to savor,” says Publishers Weekly. Photo courtesy Gibbs Smith. (Handout via Marni Jameson)


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