Learning to Take Risks - Lessons from Iris Apfel

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Make a powerful statement.


In life, and in design, it’s so easy to get complacent.  To get bored.  To settle and let things just get so bland that we kind of forget to try something new.  To put some effort in.  To live a little.


I know what that’s like because I do it, too.  There are those parts of our home that get ignored, put on the backburner for years.  Or rooms that we were inspired to get just right, to adjust and perfect until we fell in love with them… only to let the years slide by while things got stale again. 


Sometimes it just feels like a lot of work to rethink things, to choose and rearrange and make it fresh when things are ‘good enough’ but after watching a documentary on Iris Apfel again recently, I got thinking about inspiration and passion and how that translates to our homes.  A happy, rich, interesting life should translate into a home that looks and feels the same.  It is worth it to feel good in our places and spaces, isn’t it?

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Iris and I, we also agree on another aspect of style:  there are far more important things in life.  Education, charitable work, doing a good job at whatever your craft is.  Being happy.  One of my least favorite type of question from clients centers around what is ‘in style’… because, well, who cares?  What an industry deems on-trend has very little to do with good, meaningful interior design that is going to feel good and look good to *you*.


So, what can we learn from fashion icon, and general profound badass, Iris Apfel about interior design? 



Be bold.


Don’t be a sheep.


Choose what you love.


Break the rules.


Put things together that make you happy.


Don’t seek trends to follow.


Choose classic and traditional.


Mix up color and pattern and texture.


Use the items in your home to compose the story of who you are.


Have some excitement about what you are doing.


Develop a signature style.


Curate your life.


Have some common sense.


Take risks.



Iris Apfel, in her mid-nineties, is wise and bold and an absolute inspiration when it comes to the business of getting clear on your style and just going for it.  Lessons we all should soak up.

Want to learn more about Iris Apfel?  Check out the links below!

Starring Iris Apfel, Carl Apfel
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What I Hate About Interior Design & How I Got Over It

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Yes, design is about style and fashion and sophistication.

To me, though, that is some surface level stuff.  The entire foundation of good design is technical and it’s about simple intuition.  Maybe it’s the intuitive application of technical principles.

Interior design is a learnable skill.  It’s grass roots and basic, salt-of the-earth stuff.  It’s absolutely concepts that can be applied to any space with what’s available.


Are you curious what this interior designer hates about interior design? 

Here’s the truth:  I hate the superficial snobbery.  The brands.  The overpriced nonsense.  The frivolous stuff and the materialistic showing off.  And often all of this is happening while basic design principles, like good, simple scale or balance, are being ignored. 
How did I get past that?  I got down to business.  I refused to buy in.  I never once rolled my eyes at what clients had to work with.  I rolled up my sleeves, got creative and put my knowledge of the basics to work.  And you can do that, too.

Don’t for one second think that you, person who just wants to have a nice, stylish home and make the best of what you have, is the only person who has felt that eye-rolling, half-smirking look cast on them by someone who deems themselves ‘tres chic’ in the design world.  Nope, sister, it’s happened to me, too.  And I’m a decent* professional interior designer.  I’m just also down to earth and put my focus on making a well-designed space however my clients want to get there.

*Maybe I’m decent, maybe I’m damn good, maybe I’m a solid 8/10, it’s really difficult to objectively rate yourself, am I right?

It's possible that by sticking to good, well-thought out design principles, by making the best use of what my clients own and love, that I'm missing out.  Maybe I’m not making as much commission on overpriced furniture as I could be.  It’s possible I’m not handing out invoices for styling purchases that make people faint.  The bottom line is that I really don’t care what anyone other than my clients think about that, I’m going to keep being me because I think it's being true to what I believe in.  And if that’s you, too, then hold your head up and keep on being yourself, too.

I know the principles of design:  scale, harmony, rhythm, balance, focus.  And I think you can know them, too.  I can transform a room with that knowledge.  Anyone can.

I sometimes say that I am an advocate for ‘design for the people’.  I’m partly being cheeky but there is truth there. 

Interior design is about loving where you live or work or wherever you ‘be’ and that has nothing to do with style or fashion or sophistication.  It’s your home and you deserve better than that superficial nonsense, don’t you think?

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The Best Hardware to Update Oak Cabinets in 2017

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In a house filled with golden oak, it can be a challenge to update things in a way that is both stylish and doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount.  This is especially true when it comes to cabinets in the kitchen. 

After all, most people are thinking ‘if I’m going to spend so much money to make this oak work, I’m going to just wait to completely renovate the kitchen.’  There is little point to investing in stone counter tops, new flooring and the rest of it, if you are just biding your time until you can deal with the cabinets.

But, what can you do that will update the oak and make your kitchen look amazing in the meantime?

I hear it all the time.  You might be wondering, too: ‘is there such a thing as a quick, simple and cheap update for an oak kitchen?’  My answer?  Yes!

There are a few ways you can make it work.  Right now.  For little money.  All of them check those boxes and can be done, by you, in a few hours or afternoons.  My go-to steps:  Paint the walls, change out the lighting fixtures, work with the other colors in the room (art, accessories, rugs) … and one of the biggest impacts:  change the hardware!

Hardware makes an enormous difference in the bones of the cabinetry and the style of the room.  If I was facing down an oak kitchen that I wanted to live with, in harmony, for a bit of time, here’s what I would do in one weekend:  Paint it a great color.  Clear the counters.  Lay down a great, eye-catching rug.  Change out the hardware.  Add some color (probably a big framed print and a huge plant in a nice planter).  That’s it. 

Rest easy, friends, you can do this, too.  And then, since it looks much better and you are thrilled and at peace with it, you can move on to dreaming about that full kitchen reno you are still working towards… one day.  Or, maybe you will be so happy with the small changes you made that you can cross that idea right off the list and move on to dreaming about making other areas of your home just right.


Wondering if the hardware on your oak cabinets is outdated? 

Here’s what’s to look for:

Full plastic

Overly ornate


Brass or gold look (yes, I know it’s back but on golden oak and in the 90s styles, it’s not)

Ceramic inserts, especially painted with flowers or fruit

Wood center on pulls


Here’s some thoughts on getting that update right:

Stick to either historic (think luxurious historic mansions or Frank Lloyd Wright) or modern with simple lines.

Respect the integrity and style of your home’s architecture.

Balance the oak with a more updated style when choosing hardware, colors, counters, sink & faucet, appliances and accessories.

Contrasting colors will make the new hardware stand out and give some visual breaks in the monotony of overwhelming golden oak (and add The Power of Distraction!) so go for black, oil-rubbed bronze or a nice silver finish.


Take a look at my 2017 list of top 20 suggestions for updating oak cabinets with fresh hardware! 


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