| May 18, 2011 |
WSJ editors explore 'What's Next in Decorating' at DDB
By Staff

By Jennan Al-Hamdouni

There wasn't an empty seat in the Decoration & Design Building's (DDB) Spring Market keynote with The Wall Street Journal, "What's Next in Decorating?" Deborah Needleman, Editor in Chief of WSJ Magazine, hosted the expert panel consisting of Sara Ruffin Costello, WSJ Columnist; David Netto, WSJ Contributing Editor and Decorator; and Miles Redd, Decorator.

Needleman didn't tease the audience by simply asking the questions, and first began with her honest opinion of the idea of 'trends,' which is arguably the first thing many of us think of when asking what is next for design.

Deborah Needleman

"I have to be honest and confess that I really hate 'trends.' I really feel that they are manufactured in an office and they aren't authentic at all. Nobody buys complete new sets of furniture every season and we don't run for new paint when Pantone tells us the color isn't teal anymore. However, there is a zeitgeist taking place, there's this feeling in the air around 'style leaders,' because they are the genuine leaders of 'trends.'”

David Netto, Sara Ruffin Costello and Miles Redd

And with that, Needleman introduced her panel of industry leaders who happen to be her close friends—all of whom conveyed a singular devotion to the industry. Needleman began by asking where each of the panelists personally sought inspiration.

"I find the most inspiration in the great rooms of the great decorators throughout history," said Ruffin Costello. "I look for the bold strokes they take. The 'big moment' that happens in a fabulous room is what design in all about—it’s the surprising drama of a home. Mark Hampton has his big moment in every room by finding the perfect piece of masculinity in an otherwise feminine room. Janet de Botton is another who always has that big moment, like covering the entirety of a room's walls with shelved plates!"

"For me, I'm now finding inspiration in color and shades," said Redd. " I look at artists, fashion and color and it just gets me when it's fresh and reminiscent of nature. I've always loved and condoned color blocking with the primary colors-you can add the three to any room and it will be a good decision."

"I'm most interested in the point of view of objects and how they relate to industrial design and architecture," said Netto. "Dorothy Draper is an example of being fearless in design in the 30's and 40's and it's just so brilliant how fearless she was. I think everything looks better just slightly unfinished. I love handmade, and a more ‘primitive modern’ lately. I'm in love with the 30's; that's my inspiration."

After being repeatedly quipped by Netto for clicking through his slides too quickly, Needleman got back to business and asked the panel what they have been especially loving for a while, but may also need to get rid of because of loving it too much or for too long.

"If I love something once, it's hard to get rid of it... I've just never been a hater!" said Redd. "I do love seeing restraint though, saying 'no' is very appealing to me."

Netto backed-up Redd by noting, "As you learn to decorate—which takes years—you learn to use less, which is harder."

"Jackie Onassis is a perfect example of using restraint," Redd continued. "She had the balls to put a drafting table in her living room because she knew she wouldn't use the room unless she could do her watercolors there!"

When Needleman asked Netto and Costello what they each could not give up or stop loving in design, Netto laughed and agreed that there were probably too many things to name.

"I can, of course, do all kinds of straight, clean design but what I really love is more organic and woody," said Netto. "I love the architecture of everything because it's personal and eccentric—or at least it should be. I can't shake that love for shape."

"I love magazines so much... too much," Ruffin Costello said. "They serve up what I crave, which is newness—new things, new design, new creativity. I love where advertising has gone too. It's now more like rustic luxe with peeling paint and lavish drama. Ilse Crawford is a great example of this; she makes the elaborate very comfortable."

"I also need to add here, that I truly want to be the love-child of John Fowler and John Dickenson!" Ruffin Costello added. "I think that's become obvious in my answers and slides!"

Ruffin Costello's comment was met with nodding heads by her peer panelists and by Needleman, all of whom agreed that she was nothing but Fowler’s and Dickenson's love-child.

"I now have to ask what a few things each of you are truly sick of in design?" asked Needleman. "What is overdone, overused, beaten to death?"

"Wallpaper, but I can't stop using it!" claimed Ruffin Costello. "Otherwise, I'd have to go with cerused oak; it's just what everything seems to be right now. I think one of the best things that people can learn from trends, whether they're the popular Pantone guides or something created by a true leader of style, is that following a trend is what can make them so awful. We now have counter movements to trends with things like etsy.com where I can buy something made by one little woman in Wisconsin, and it's one of a kind, and no one else has it but me—and that's special. That's trendsetting."

When the topic of Ikea and Crate & Barrel products surfaced as examples lacking unique qualities, Redd pointed out what a designer's talent and job should be.

"You can take a piece from Restoration Hardware or Ikea away from a set of everything like it, and integrate it into other things—if you do it well, no one will ever know that it's Restoration Hardware," said Redd. "A talented designer should be able to use anything and put it in a setting that makes it feel unique. Luxury doesn't HAVE to be one of a kind. Luxury is first and foremost about privacy."

"It's harder to be a decorator now than it was ten years ago," Netto added. "Magazines can make people think they can do everything themselves and it's easier to show now because of the internet. What shouldn't be forgotten, however, is that a designer is hired because of his or her ability to compose things. The ability to bring everything together is the essence of our authorship."

Running too long to take questions, Needleman closed the discussion after the four collectively decided that if nothing else, each of their next steps in design would be the career-long commitment to dismantle the current trend of hanging the flat screen television over the mantle.

"I loved the discussion; I thought everything that they talked about was spot on," said interior designer Adrienne Neff. "And I totally agree with what they had to say about televisions over the mantle! It's so awful that that has caught on so much and it needs to stop!"

After the panel, Needleman said to The Editor at Large, "I loved that the colorful maximalist Decorator, Miles Red, was swinging minimal and beige! I also loved that Sara Ruffin Costello wants to be the love child of John Fowler and John Dickenson; David Netto is aspiring to a messier modernism; and that I'm striving for a perfect imperfection. It may seem that we're all a mass of contradictions, but really, it's the beauty of great juxtapositions."

"It's a total pleasure to be in Deborah’s orbit again at the Wall Street Journal," said Ruffin Costello. "I am smitten with the entertaining editorial Deborah's producing in the Off Duty section and WSJ mag. When she asked me to speak about trends, love them or leave them, it seemed like a good idea—though totally intimidating sitting between those two old pros Miles and David! Trends are difficult, as Deborah mentioned in her introduction, and so often feel invented by the media just to foist advertiser’s merchandise our way. But there is certainly a collective unconscious out there that mysteriously makes us all unwittingly desire the same thing simultaneously! Amazingly the three of us independently zeroed in on a real zeitgeist moment happening: Baroque Minimalism, a new kind of restrained excess. It reminds us all of the 80’s—unbridled everything—except redefined for this generation. Smarter and less showy, it’s chintz upholstery in a clean room of Balenciaga-style curtains done up in muslin, deep bullion fringe attached to a common stripe, and ... more beige rooms! To look at Miles Redd’s slides and not see a room with color, well, that’s really telling you something. You heard it here first!"

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.