Part of what I love about interior design is the handmade touch designers can bring into spaces.
My design team and I recently enjoyed listening to two keynote speakers, one from England and one from France, at the San Francisco Design Center. The presentations and their differing styles reminded me of going to Europe for the first time and experiencing the opulence of Versailles and the charm of Hampton Court. They are both magnificent palaces, but the styles were so very different.
Lulu Lytle of Soane Britain opened her presentation with photos of her family home and told us how her mother loved decorating and was constantly changing things up, adding and subtracting. The images of her family’s English estate, set in a rolling green pasture, transported me somewhere magical.
The interior was furnished with comfortable overstuffed sofas, chintz draperies, antiques and a multitude of floral papers covering the walls of every room. There was even a dog sleeping on the sofa or sitting in front of a roaring fire – everything you would desire to see in an idyllic English countryside home. That sense of style filled my soul. It was so inviting. My colleagues and I found ourselves envious of Lytle’s childhood. We all wanted to step into this world, full of artisan pieces and a lifetime of collections.
Paris-born architect and designer Jean-Louis Deniot, dubbed the “modern master of French design,” followed Lytle. His work is imposing, dramatic and beautiful. Deniot is an architect first, ensuring that the interior architecture of his rooms is suitable before incorporating a neoclassical approach to the decor. If a building were constructed in the 17th century, he would salvage or reproduce the moldings from that time period for the project, adding nuance to the decor with something contemporary.
In one of his rooms, the furnishings were very traditional. But a dramatic, framed black-and-white portrait of the man who helped start electronic music hung from the gray paneled walls, seamlessly combining old world and new world.
Deniot told a story of a young retired tech client from the Bay Area who wanted him to design a Parisian apartment in a Marie Antoinette-type style. Deniot agreed but said he wanted the Marie Antoinette style to be modern and updated. He again designed a room decorated in the traditional French style, but the top portion of ceiling paneling was painted to look like it had suffered water damage. It, surprisingly, felt right. I loved it. He wants his rooms to have an energy about them. I have to say they do. His designs are really spectacular and unique.
Crisis of craftsmanship
The compelling subject that both of these designers touch on is the crisis of craftsmanship. Employees at Soane Britain, a company that makes and designs furniture, heard about a rattan factory in England closing down. They purchased the machines, hired the skilled craftsman and apprentices to keep the craft going and created a new line of beautiful raffia furnishings and lighting.
Deniot has previously said that in his works, he uses mostly handmade materials and finishes.
“Every surface and finish I use comes from great and unique artisans,” he said. “Each atelier provides unbelievable high-level craftsmanship; they have the knowledge and the experience, and together you create the magic.”
When my design team works with clients on decorating projects, we encourage investing in hand-knotted rugs, bench-made furniture and hand-woven wall coverings. We source embroidered and hand-blocked fabrics for draperies and/or pillows. We want to see original art that is meaningful to them in their homes. The art doesn’t need to be expensive, just unique to them. These items help tell their story, making their homes unique. We want their objects of interest to become heirlooms, treasured for generations to come.
Celeste Randolph is an interior designer in Los Altos. For more information, visit celesterandolphdesigns.com.