One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others,
By the time I finish my song?
I bet at least half of you were able to recite those lyrics in tune. For those of you who are not familiar with the insightful and catchy classic soundtrack of Sesame Street (I'm actually a little envious of you), this was a popular segment for decades (The all-knowing Muppet Wiki has informed me that it has been replaced by the newer segment "Journey to Ernie." Who even know such a site existed? The internet is a powerful and twisted place...).
The other day while watching a classic Sesame episode with my son, it dawned on me that "One of these things" is not just an isolated lesson for kids in shapes, colors, or sports equipment. It actually applies to my design aesthetic too. Granted, I am consumed in several fun design projects at the moment (including some at my own house), so that's the way my mind gravitated, but hear me out on this one.
Interesting design (read: happy place, stand-out, "there's just something about this room that I love" design) is achieved for me through a careful mix of cohesion and tension. I believe that every room should have a "what the?" element. That piece of furniture or accessory or pop of color that your common sense tells you just doesn't quite go, but that your heart tells you was a great addition. The "thing that makes you go 'hmmmm'" if you will.
I started thinking about this theory when I was choosing a simple color scheme for a new room. Things in the room were pretty neutral: A gray wall, a brown leather couch, a reclaimed pine entertainment unit. The schemes and pieces I was finding for the room looked good, but nothing spoke to me. Scratch that, nothing sang to me. It was all very I've-seen-this-look-on-page-5-of-this-catalog, and oh-wow-my-room-is-grey-white-and-brown-too. It just wasn't special, and for this particular room where the family spends all their time, it just had to be something more. So I took a lesson from my high school art teacher. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary. Not only in name, but also in aesthetic appeal. Think Violet and Marigold. Melon and Turquoise. Aubergine and Kelly Green. Pretty, right? These aren't necessarily color combos that you would think of immediately, but when paired together they are really quite beautiful because of their hmmmm-ability. Sure I could stick with the grey, beige, greige scheme of designs past, but where's the fun in that? Where's the tension? What is there in those schemes that is going to make you leave the room thinking, "Wow, I wish I had thought of that."?
So that is often where I go in the beginning of my design process. To the unexpected. To the furthest place from comfortable I can go.
To extend the lesson past color, think about the overall style of your room in question. Oriental rug, wood coffee table, beige walls, leather couch... why not add a pair of Eero Saarinen sleek white Tulip Tables to flank the couch? (or these great, less-expensive options here, or here.) Or how about those, in RED! Complement the pop of midcentury modernism with a few well-placed accessories (a retro wall clock, oversized earthenware vases, or an egg-shaped accent chair) and your room goes from "hrmph" to "mmmhmmm!"
Another common place in the home where you can inject a little "tension" is the bathroom. A normally smooth, sleek, clean space may do well with a pop of unexpected warm and fuzzy. For example, an all white marble bathroom with a polished floor, clean white subway tile, and shining polished nickel hardware would absolutely benefit from an oversized reclaimed wood armoire. Or if oversized furniture is too much of a commitment for you, what about hanging that old (ahem, antique) oil painting with the gilded gold frame you inherited from your great grandmother? "Hmmmmm" you say, right? Trust me, the unexpectedness of it will keep your eye and your mind moving, and create a unique space that will leave visitors thinking about it (in a good way) for hours after they've left.
When you are remodeling your home, Mike will be the first person to stress the need to respect your home's original style, and the importance of carrying it over into the new space. In our own home, we did our best to maintain the house's architectural integrity throughout the addition (in fact, we won an award for exactly that last month! Woot woot!). The Colonial roots are seen throughout the house, in the arched doorways, the window styles, and the classic materials we used. But we made sure to inject a little pop of "Mroz" in there too. I designed an oversized half-circle window that mirrors the vaulted ceiling in our eating area. We installed a glossy white beadboard ceiling in our family room that evokes the feeling of being at the shore. And who can forget the pop of turquoise on our "smile door?" All these things create "tension" and the urge to go "hmmm," but somehow still complement the home's Colonial style.
I'm not saying that anything goes, or that you should hang that Cookie Monster poster you bought at Sesame Place last year in your formal dining room (uhhh, that might actually be kind of cool in a kitschy, primary colors kind of way? No? Too far?), but in general if you put things you love in a room together, they're going to jive. Make sure each piece or feature you're adding is something that you feel a connection with, and you just can't go wrong.
She can be reached at Ellie@MichaelRobertConstruction.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Michael Robert Construction, its affiliates, or its employees.