Alan Tanksley: On Destinations

“I believe the first consideration with any project should be to establish the hierarchy of spaces, which is generally based on the function each space serves; this runs the gamut from the initial approach and entry through the shared communal spaces to the most intimate and private realms beyond. Of course, this can be accomplished in a relentlessly clinical manner—think of Louis Sullivan’s oft-repeated edict “Form follows function.”

Alternately, if one chooses, there are opportunities to create interesting, useful diversions or delightful distractions along the way without compromising efficiency and functionality. For instance, when creating a place to pause along a passageway by recessing a console table loaded with curious, eye-pleasing objects into an alcove and useful items, you add immeasurably to the experience of trudging from point A to point B with little or no added expense.

To further illustrate the subtle importance of this perspective, consider experiences we’ve all had when arriving at and moving through a house or apartment we’ve never been to. The most successful experiences are those that begin by being intuitively guided from the street, sidewalk, or parking lot to a welcoming front entry, ideally through a garden, forecourt, or intimate public lobby. Along the way, one may have encountered a place to pause, and though we seldom do so, the very idea of it is intriguing and thought-provoking. Moments such as these might evoke memories of peace, tranquility, or security—not a bad thing for an otherwise eventless transitional space.

When we perceive that an otherwise unremarkable approach has been transformed through skilled planning into an exceptional experience, we feel that something special lies in store, something akin to an adventure. If all goes well, the same effort undertaken to provide a nuanced and welcoming sense of arrival will be revealed throughout the rest of the home.”

Bobby McAlpine: On Intimacy

The seating area of a Nashville master bedroom is nestled beside windows at one end, and the bed sits atop a dais of antique wood. Photo credit Richard Norris

“Intimacy begins in the lap of parents where we once sat, held close but also emboldened to venture out, knowing that we were backed by love. In architecture, this experience is found within alcoves, bays, a fireside inglenook, and the spaces beneath low mezzanines or beams—all sheltered spots existing adjacent to loftier ones. Without thinking about it, we are drawn to them.

“In the language of cathedrals, we are more likely to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in chapels and side aisles; a timid person who might evaporate standing alone in the middle of the nave thrives along its shadowy edges. We experience this constantly and unconsciously in restaurant booths, which are far more intimate than tables in the middle of the room. When we sit buried in a banquette, we dissolve in safety and the conversation changes.”

Matthew White & Frank Webb: On Juxtaposition

“…Electricity is exactly what successful juxtapositions produce. Whether furnishings are complementary or contrasting, their pairing generates a palpable current that evokes a desired feeling or ambience. In the same vein, rooms are called lifeless when poor juxtaposition either fails to generate a pulse or electrocutes with overenthusiasm. The late Albert Hadley was a master at juxtaposition because his interiors were said to produce a wonderful frisson—a brief shiver of excitement—for all who experienced them. It was energy at its finest.

“Igniting that spark also involves a certain degree of risk; informed chances inject a degree of freshness, and ideally a whiff of welcome imperfection. Even the most tailored interior benefits from the errant extravagance, and the most sumptuously decadent from a touch of austere rigor. For us, we find our risk taking typically involves the introduction of a bit of humor or wit, and it’s fascinating where it can lead. If you respect the medium but never take yourself too seriously, you’ll give yourself the freedom to create risky pairings that can truly break new ground and surprise you in delightful ways.”

Sal LaRosa: On Framing

A doorway focuses the solid geometry of an interior view while measuring the path of ephemeral sunlight overhead. The tall, narrow portal tapers to amplify the depth of a wall and the drama of penetrating its mass. When empty, the frame conjures up the sense of an invisible human body passing through. Photo credit Scott Frances

“When I was a young designer, every photo shoot with my mentor, Joseph D’Urso, was a master class in the art of framing a view. Photography, as he saw it, should aim beyond merely documenting the appearance of a finished work: “Construct an image to relive the intentions that moved you to make it.” Joe had me peer through the camera lens and study Polaroid test shots, a must in those pre-digital days, to gauge how even the subtlest rearrangement of objects within a specific field of vision—“An inch more table here . . . less water in that vase”—can reveal powerful relationships within a room.

“The eye, I learned, has emotions, but the hand needs a steady frame of reference if it is to communicate intensely personal feelings and elicit a response from others. “Frame of mind,” as Joe taught me, can be far more than a figure of speech. This was a lesson that, centuries earlier, an artist like Johannes Vermeer might have conveyed to his pupil through the mirrored microcosm of a camera obscura.”

Windsor Smith: On Communication

A careful balance between antique and modern furnishings is found in this room, which is anchored by a large table topped with books and a mirrored globe. The corners of the room are places for the occupants to retreat for intimate conversations, and the herringbone parquet floors, which lend purposeful symmetry, were reclaimed from a seventeenth century château in Lyon, France. Photo credit Luca Trovato

Instant messaging, urgent e-mails, video chats, and online streaming mean that the devices designed to bring us together are also pushing us further apart. I realized some time ago that the only way I could make clients with demanding lifestyles truly happy at home is to evolve my work to this shiftier new landscape of starts and stops. The flow I need to focus on building is the everyday flow of conversation.

Somehow, I need to find tangible ways to put emotion and connectivity into the DNA of rooms I was previously consumed with making beautiful. I had to draw people deeper than the next room. My job was now to inspire clients to express themselves and communicate in a deeper way within their walls.”

Juan Montoya: On Scale

When I think of scale in relationship to architecture, Le Corbusier comes instantly to mind. He relates the size of the human body to the scale of a room, and, in turn, to the architecture of a building. The greatest buildings I have visited are always predicated on notions of beauty based on proportion and scale. For instance, the library by Erik Gunnar Ashland in Stockholm poses a beautiful relationship between human function and its relation to its environment, with classical orders simplified to reflect modern-day use, such as open shelving to facilitate readers’ access to books.

The best rooms I have encountered are those that read simply. This is not to say that they are empty, but that the furniture bears a very exact proportion to the total scale of the space. One element always complements the other; there is a fine balance between them that works like a well-choreographed ballet.

A good room or building is like a symphony, with all the parts combining to make a harmonious sound to the ear.”

Jayne and Joan Michaels: On Silhouette

A Ward Bennett sofa, a pair of upholstered chairs by Kerstin Hörlin-Holmquist from the 1950s, side chairs by Tomlinson from the 1960s, and a daybed by Carl Malmsten have streamlined silhouettes that harmonize perfectly in the living room of this Greenwich Village, New York, apartment. The artwork above the sofa is by Timothy Paul Myers. Photo courtesy Eric Laignel

Light, air, scale, and proportion constitute the mathematics that make an object work or not work. The perfect silhouette must appear effortless, even though it is the result of equal parts calculation and inspiration.

The designer must be minutely attuned—with the eye of an artist—to the interplay of the outlines and negative space created by the arrangement of furniture and objects in a room. Silhouettes are a visual, often sculptural, language that, like Vermeer’s interiors, invest rooms with drama, poetry, and artistic meaning surpassing mere function.”

Campion Platt: On Proportion

The ergonomics and limitations of our body aren’t changing anytime soon, but the design to fit them always is. While the “a chair is a chair is a chair” mantra still holds, the proportions of ideal delight have changed over the eons. This is due to cultural adaptations and the advances of material science, but also an inquisitive personal need to explore new forms of design that lend comfort and meaning to our evolving world.

Note that in ancient design, individual furniture pieces held much more meaning; each object was usually created for a simple and unique purpose. In the modern context, furniture plays a more ensemble role, and its individual importance has been relegated to serving the whole. One might call this the socialism of design. Fine proportion and certain meaning have given way to a living utility where each piece of furniture may and must have a dual purpose, must be more durable, shippable, and adaptable to many different design possibilities.”

Carl D’Aquino & Francine Monaco: On Food

Interior design by D’Aquino Monaco Photo courtesy Michael J Lee

In our work, we may start a project with an underlying ideal, yet never a hard-and-fast one. Like cooks, designers allow their ideas to evolve as they work. There is absolutely an element of chance to both pursuits.

For a chef, the discovery of a particularly wonderful, seasonal ingredient from the farmers’ market may inspire an entire menu. The designer, like the chef, must be consumed by the beauty of materials, found or invented, “raw” or “cooked,” analogous to the ingredients in a recipe.”

Richard Mishaan: On Portals

“Architectural space consists, if nothing else, of continuous portals. The construction of interior space depends as much on the transparency of its portal as on the opaqueness of its walls and the closure of its ceiling.

When looking into a doorway, window, mirror, or painting or past a proscenium wall, we encounter an opening not only of light and space, but also of imagination. We are looking into another world, a world that stakes a claim on our attention in the same way that we lose ourselves to the drama on a movie screen.”