Oh why did I go down this rabbit hole?
I have an analytical brain, a creative soul, and no technical artistic skills whatsoever. Zilch, zero, nil, nada, nunca, and nothin’. I can’t draw or paint a picture. I don’t and shouldn’t play an instrument. I can’t sing, dance with rhythm, sculpture, sew, or craft anything worth a crap.
So, I did what any wannabe artist does.
I got licensed to practice law. Became an insurance litigator and focused all my creative energy on the interpretation of insurance policies, mapping out subtle linguistic connections so weird that 95% of my opponents wouldn’t understand them unless they smoked a joint. Judges were more forgiving, mostly because insurance is not a real crowd pleaser on the bench and reading a novel insurance coverage argument is sort of like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting. You pretend it makes sense even if you’re pretty sure it doesn’t.
But that’s not all I did.
I also decorated my houses. A lot. And in the process, I discovered stuff about me. Like, I need to live and work in spaces that explode with unexpected curiosities. Places with big color, fabulous chandeliers, eccentric art, calculatedly mismatched themes, a style so saturated with delight that you don’t want to leave. In other words, even if the escape was fleeting, I needed to get away from the crushing stress of being a badass litigator and pretend I was living inside a Tim Burton film.
As a result, our homes have just plain made me smile. If I could pigeonhole my design style, I'd say it's eclectic drama or maybe theatric eclectic. Or maybe poor judgment, I don't know. Whatever else it might be, it clearly is the physical manifestation of what happens when your brain says, "I want to fly and be free" but your job says something else entirely.
What constitutes dramatic interior design?
A few years ago, one of our artsy neighbors asked to tour our little blue cottage in Old Towne Orange, because rumor was spreading it was immersed in art, fantasy, and color. She loved the interior and said it reminded her of Tony Duquette. I’d never heard of Tony Duquette, so I Googled him and discovered page after page of lavishly beautiful eccentricity I never knew existed in any designer’s work.
Duquette was an L.A.-based artist and set designer in the advertising and film industries who parlayed his immense talents into an interior design career spanning decades and the world. His life and work were incarnations of otherworldly romances, including a love affair with his muse and wife, the enigmatic, quietly refined artist Elizabeth Johnstone Duquette, nicknamed “Beegle” because she reminded Tony of the poetry of an eagle and the industry of a bee.
In my view, Duquette is the founding father of dramatic eclectic design. Others think so too. Dominick Dunne wrote the following foreward in the magnificent eponymous tome, “Tony Duquette,” which I recommend to anyone interested in the subject or just super fun coffee table décor:
Tony and [his wife] Beegle took me up and started inviting me to their extraordinary parties, which were total fantasies. Every inch of that studio became a dream. I remember great golden Buddhas, shiny dark-green walls, and Venetian mirrors. He sometimes dressed like a doge in the most elaborate robes, which he knew exactly how to wear.
At the far end of the studio was a stage with a velvet curtain and footlights. When ancient trumpets announced dinner, the velvet curtains parted and the stage became the dining room. We sat behind footlights at tables filled with beautiful objects. The guests became actors in Tony’s fantasy. I loved being in his play; it was a very special experience.
The years passed and houses changed. There were fires. Beegle died. But the last time I saw him, in a different house in Beverly Hills, I experienced his magic all over again, just as I had the first time, twenty-five years earlier. He always made me gasp.
Dunne pretty much nails what comprises a dramatic design style through the memoir of his friend. For me, it's harder to explain because I think its permutations are almost infinite and because I have ADD (self-diagnosed). Safe to say, it's one of those "you know it when you see it" things. Clearly, it takes you other places -- most importantly, out of your own head, which sometimes is the best place to be. It is a deceptively disciplined and seductive design style which, when you pull it off, rarely crosses the line from whimsical to tacky, or from intrepid to disordered, or from coolly juxtaposed to randomly hodge-podged. Whether it is the result of shock, delight, or horror that someone could have such bad taste, a well-executed room in this style just makes your eyes fly open and flit around with surprise. Not all your neighbors, friends, and family will like it. But they won't forget it. It'll make them gasp every time.
How can this blog help me make my home a wonderland?
Duquette is only a starting point for dramatic inspiration. There are other awesome designers who have portfolios rich with imagination. Some, like e.g. Lorraine Kirk, Michelle Nussbaumer, and Susanna Salk are still alive. Others, like the heavenly Dorothy Draper, are not.
Which leads me to the final point of this post. By now you must be asking, with so many books, magazines, Internet resources, and t.v. shows offering design ideas, instructions, and inspirations, why would I listen to an amateur "designer" with no portfolio and dubious space planning skills? Good question. But as we've established, I'm a lawyer. So of course I've got an answer.
It's because I'm not an expert, and presumably, neither are you. We wanna-be-designers have something in common (besides a total dearth of relevant training). We can look at pictures and tour beautiful show houses all day long and still say, how am I going to make that gorgeous synergy happen in my house? I suppose we could hire a designer, but what's the fun in that and wouldn't you rather spend the money on something else?
If you're with me so far, then here's my promise. I'm going to reveal all my design gaffes and decorating disasters which, for reasons I can't quite grasp, seem to occur on a daily basis. I mean, after all, some of the best spaces I've created were the direct result of someone's dumbass mistake, usually mine.
But most importantly, I'm going to take you through the keyhole, into the wonderland of what is otherwise known as the creative process. You'll meet Tweedledee and Tweedledum (painters, cuz they've breathed way too many fumes), the Queen of Hearts (me, cuz I'm a bitch), the White Rabbit (wine or worst case scenario, tequila, cuz booze takes you places you'd never otherwise go), the Cheshire Cat (contractors, cuz now you see them and now you don't and they're usually sporting a shit-eating grin), the Mad Hatter (my husband Mike, cuz he's crazy enough to have married me), and Alice (you, cuz you're headed for HUGE adventures and you're gonna be the star of your neighborhood).
That said, it's my sincerest hope this blog fuels YOUR creative process -- through humor, bad language (because we all know colorful rooms are the close cousins of colorful language), and the opportunity to live vicariously through someone else's decorating spoofs and blunders without actually having to pay for them.
And . . . we're off!