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Throughout the year Decorating Den interior decorators are invited to participate in a variety of super events…our Annual Conference, our tour of the High Point Market, and our Grand Destination Trips.  But nothing is quite as exciting and rewarding as our annual Dream Room Contest.  This unique opportunity allows Dec Den decorators to have their work judged by the media and magazine editors, and this April for the first time the competition is open to the public.  Go to and cast your vote.


Sarah Herman’s award-winning living room.

Out of the first place winners in twelve categories one designer is designated Decorator of the Year.  She or he is recognized in front of their peers during our conference award ceremony (our version of the Oscars) and bestowed the grand prize.

Recently we hosted our 2011 winner, Sarah Hermans and her husband Erik in New York City with a suite at the Waldorf Towers, a Broadway Show, and dinner at the Four Seasons restaurant in the landmark Seagram Building.

Lending glamour and charm to the evening’s festivities was our dear friend and Giant among Designers, the Prince of Chintz, Mario Buatta.

Sarah and me inspecting the Four Seasons chain swag window treatments

The timeless Mies van de Rohe furnishings, chain swags and Picasso tapestry, provided the divine atmosphere for our gathering of design oriented people celebrating Decorating Den’s Decorator of The Year.

From left to right, my husband Jim, Mario Buatta, Sarah and her husband Erik, DDI Master Licensees Mary and Bill Borkovitz, and me


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How To Make Your Decorating Last

The lyrics of one of my favorite romantic songs poses the question, “How do you make it last?”  Haven’t we all wondered what the secret is to an enduring relationship?   And, don’t we wish that in every aspect of our life things were a bit more lasting?

After forty-three years of marriage I am still learning what it takes to “keep the music playing.”  However, after an equal length of time in the decorating business I am willing to share a few ways to keep your decorating “from fading too fast.”

COLOR…Let the colors you are consistently drawn to act as your guide.  Save those “hot colors of the moment” for accents only.  Certain color schemes remain perennially fresh, such as; delft blue, crisp white and sunny yellow; or Tuscan hues of clay, ochre and olive; or nature’s array of blues and greens from the forest, sea, and sky.

Design by Merete Monahan

Designed by Merete Monahan

MOOD….Spaces with staying power, even the most elegant, are never stiff, rather they convey an appealing, relaxed ambiance.  Adding a charming piece of wicker to a formal setting, or treating windows with unstructured drapery panels, or prominently displaying an arrangement of family photos promotes comfort and eases the perfection of a carefully orchestrated  room.

STYLE….The enviable, enduring rooms of the rich and famous always have a touch of eclecticism, whether decorated in a traditional, transitional, or contemporary style.  They contain fabulous flea market finds and semi precious antiques, shelves of books and often a hint of African Safari, which promote the intriguing forever fashionable look favored by savvy individuals.

FLOORPLAN…. In order to serve the multi functions and the various situations encountered in every room, a well designed floor plan includes flexibility.  In living rooms, major upholstered pieces are arranged in conversational groupings, with a selection of easily movable tables and chairs ready to accommodate different size gatherings.  Sometimes the chairs are extras from the dining room, or a matching pair of antiques, or an individual chair intended simply to serve as an object of beauty.

Decorating a home never ends, it only continues to evolve.

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The Beauty of Imprefection

In design circles the word imperfect is the new eclectic, but it has been in my vocabulary for as long as I can remember.  In fact it goes back to the 3rd grade when Sister Ignatius told us that there was no way to attain perfection here on earth.  What a relief, I thought. 

 This was my first lesson in seeing the futility of anything, environments in particular, that could be portrayed as impeccable, pristine, or flawless.  Perhaps it’s my defense mechanism compensating for not wanting to spend the time, effort, or money required to contrive and maintain perfection.  Imperfection’s appeal is that it is far less demanding.  Three of my idols profess similar feelings. 

 With French decorator and antique dealer extraordinaire Madeleine Castaing I share her taste in color, pattern and style.  But, where our decorating DNA converges best is in our mutual disdain for perfection.  Castaing was not afraid of faded dustcovers or frayed carpets, believing that the worn and a melange of styles “plunge a place into life.”

 Illustrious interior decorator Billy Baldwin observed that some people were not secure enough to change or move anything once the decorator departed.  Baldwin encouraged his clients to avoid the “sterility of perfection” by adding their own personal identity to the rooms they inhabited.

 My admiration for Henri Matisse increased when I learned why he preferred the Spanish painter El Greco over his compadre Velazques.  Matisse described Velazques as “too perfect, too skillful,” while in El Greco, “there is soul everywhere.”

 As I was composing this Blog I came across the philosophy of wabi-sabi.   It is newsworthy in the world of design the way feng shui became the hot topic more than a decade ago.  Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic view of the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  As described on Wikipedia, wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object a greater meditative value.  Similarly, materials that age, such as bare wood, paper and fabric, become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be explained over time.

 Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.  Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.


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I am made up of everything I have seen.
      Henri Matisse

Like the pianist who doesn’t read music but whose natural talent allows her to play by ear, my mother possessed the instinct for recognizing by eye the principles of design without the help of a text book.  I am blessed to have inherited her miraculous instrument as the sculptor Alberto Giacometti referred to the eye.  For my self-taught mother New York City was her school.  Her teachers were men like interior decorator, William Pahlman, whose brilliant designs decorated the model rooms and dressed the windows at Lord & Taylor, and movie art directors, especially Cedric Gibbons, who created the captivating room settings for the MGM films of the 30s and 40s.

When I look back upon those halcyon days touring Manhattan I realize that in pointing out the details in a store window or a movie set, or in a museum, or at a Broadway show, or in a restaurant, was Mother’s way of familiarizing me with the principles of design…line, form, balance, scale, harmony, color, etc.  She was teaching me the importance of training the eye to be open to all that it can see.  Matisse said, “To see is itself a creative operation, requiring an effort.”

Mother’s tutorials prepared me for design school and design school provided me with a profession, but that was only the beginning of my education.  For over forty years I have never stopped looking, observing, and training my eye to take in the details of the world around me.  As Director of Design for Decorating Den Interiors one of the things I enjoy most is talking to a graduating class of new DDI franchise owners.  This is my chance to open their eyes to product designers, interior decorators, legendary architects, artists, and sculptors, and those tastemakers who not only had a major affect on me, but whose contributions have made an enduring impact on the world and continue to enhance our lives.  

I appreciate the way DDI’s interior decorators continue these traditions by creating lasting decors that enhance the lives of their clients.

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Making A Dent In Preserving the Environment

“Many cultures traditionally associate the color green with nature and its attributes, including life, fertility, and rebirth.  In recent years, green has become the symbolic color of environmentalism.”

 All of these facets of green were explored in the recent “Green: the Color and the Cause,” exhibit at The Textile Museum inWashingtonD.C.  Nature itself is subtle and repetitive, and often unpredictable.  It links all humans to the natural world and is a reflection of paradise on earth. The leaf, a symbol of beauty and fragility was the subject of much of the artwork, garments and textiles on display. 

 Many artists’ creations were made from repurposed articles of clothing, found fabrics, and precious fragments.  Gyongy Laaky who used discarded tree prunings to spell out “The Green issue” said, “I am interested in making a small dent in changing attitudes about the environment and our relationship to it.”   Words like sustainability, eco-friendly and recycling were not part of a woman’s vocabulary in my mother’s generation.  Nevertheless in many ways they were contributing more to conserving the environment than today’s shopaholic/throw-away consumers.

 In my mother’s case, she advocated quality over quantity.  When she added a new suit to her wardrobe or updated the drapery in the living room she chose wisely and carefully.  Mother passed along to me her attitude of buying less, but buying the best we could afford. She knew it was more likely I would appreciate, take care of, and continue to wear a couple of good outfits better than I would maintain and keep a lot of mediocre things. 

 Mother didn’t realize it at the time but when she repurposed our Louis XV style living room sofa that she was making a contribution to the green movement.  My father was reluctant to let her part with their red velvet mahogany framed sofa which no longer suited her taste, but that did not stop her from getting the look she wanted.  She had an upholsterer recover it in a  leafy green, nubby texture and also had him strip the dark frame to a more fashionable blonde stain.  My mother was either extremely confident, or very daring, or both.  Her revived sofa was the talk of the neighbors in our NYC apartment building.   


 I have followed my mother’s lead regarding repurposing, buying less and taking care of what I already have. My husband and I, not being of the throw-away generation, have kept several pieces of furniture we owned before we were married 42 years ago.  One of my contributions is a transitionally styled credenza that was first in my teenage bedroom, then during my single days found its way into my apartment dining room, and  now it endures at our lodge in the country.   Add in the antiques Jim and I have collected over the years and I guess I can claim we are making a small dent in preserving the environment.

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When Work Is Not Work

There are several occupations that attract men and women who claim they would work in them for nothing.   What aspiring Bernadette Peters would question the pay if she were offered a role in a Broadway musical?  Is there a culinary school graduate who would turn down a chance to work alongside innovative restaurateur Jose Andres even if the job offered was simply plating tapas for minimum wage?  Wouldn’t starving wannabe Georgia O’Keefes and Pablo Picassos find a way to feed themselves before retiring their paint brushes?  And, would salary be an issue for a potential Yo-yo Ma if given the opportunity to play the cello at Carnegie Hall?

 In a “Cosmopolitan” magazine interview with the late Malcom Forbes, he said, “If you are driven enough, you will start small and grow big.  Probably more important than money, or even determination, is the ability to be totally consumed by something.  You eat, drink and sleep it, because you love it and you want it so much.  When you’re goal-oriented, the hours of the day don’t matter.”

 My first position out of DesignSchool paid half of what I previously earned as a receptionist in a law office.  As if that was not demoralizing enough for this newbie interior designer, I was further humbled twice a day when I lined up to  punch a time clock like a factory worker.  Nevertheless I was thankful for the experience of working and learning from the seasoned professionals in the design department of the venerable furniture store, W. & J. Sloane.  How many times since then have hopeful interior decorators told me that they wanted to get in this business so badly they would do it for nothing.  Money will follow when you treat the work you do not as work but, as Picasso described painting, serious play.   

 Besides the contentment we receive from pursuing our intended vocation is the satisfaction in knowing that we have enhanced the lives of others with our art, music, food, interior design, etc.   Jose Andres said that he has an abiding gratitude for being able to do something that makes people happy.  Sally Giar, a Decorating Den Interiors franchise owner put it this way, “It’s my clients that make my business so personally rewarding and fun.  Décor and design are a wonderful refuge in a harsh world, and a smile on my customer’s face assures me that I have created a pleasing space for her.” 

 You know you have made it in your chosen field of endeavor when you can’t wait to wake up in the morning and go to work.  That’s when work is not work.

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Approachable Decorators…Affordable Design

Years before I became a part of Decorating Den I read a couple of articles in the Designer magazine that caught my attention, “The Designer as Merchandiser” and “Not Every Client Is A Millionaire.” In a letter to the editor I wrote, “So many of my colleagues assume the attitude that a professional designer works only with the affluent client. These designers’ budgets for doing a job overwhelm the vast market of middle income people.  You are right when you say that interior design is a service.  A person should be able to hire a decorator who, for a realistic budget, is able to provide the client with beauty, comfort, and good design.  The best definition of a designer that I have heard is, “One who creates beauty.”  No more should working with a designer to “create beauty” be the domain of the rich alone.”

 The primary thing that attracted me to Decorating Den after my husband Jim became enamored with the concept back in 1984 was the affordable and approachable service their decorators were providing clients.  I had learned early on from my mother that a desire and appreciation for good design was not predicated on money.  Mother was a keen observer and used her wits and ingenuity to get the look she wanted without, as she liked to say, “Costing an arm and a leg.”  The people I look up to in the world of design and architecture all have similar viewpoints. 

 Mother always found inspiration in the model rooms at Lord  & Taylor. Later I learned that the decorator, William Pahlman, believed “Good decoration is design for the living not for looking.  It is the service of human needs.”

 When I studied Frank Lloyd Wright I was pleased to find out I had more in common with him than our birthday.  Like FLW, I agreed that “individuals other than the rich are entitled to a work of art.”  In checking out mid-century icons, Charles and Ray Eames, designers of the famed molded plywood leather lounge chair, I read their proclamation, “modern industry has a responsibility to get the best to the greatest number of people for the least.”

 And, I am particularly fond of an astute comment from David Hicks whose stylish geometric designs are enjoying a well-deserved revival.  In 1979 he observed, “Today there are far too many good fabrics, carpets and wallpapers available to the few and not enough good ones available to everyone.  Good design is no way dependent on money.  I like to spend the minimum of money and yet gain maximum effect.” 

 Those words are reminiscent of what my mother taught me and what I have learned and professed over the years.


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