Practicing as an interior designer for nearly 20 years, with 13 of those on television transformation shows that have brought me into the homes of folks all across America, I’ve been in (and worked on) pretty much every style of home imaginable.
From the classic bungalow to the classic ranch, and from cramped urban rowhouses to sprawling suburban mini-mansions, I’ve seen it all and discovered firsthand that the old adage of not judging a book by its cover applies to our homes, too.
Not that long ago, residential interior design wasn’t that much fun, especially if you were working on a historic home. There seemed to be hard-and-fast rules for what your home should look like and what every room in the house had to be used for, even if you had a different point of view or didn’t use a formal dining room more than twice a year.
The goal, apparently, was to do what was expected, and that often meant being guided by what the exterior of your home looked like. A Victorian-style home should probably have Victorian-style furnishings, and a perfectly preserved mid-century masterpiece should logically be filled with pristine mid-century things.
Unfortunately, this resulted in homes that felt like time capsules and operated like museums. They said practically nothing about the people inside. Living rooms and dining rooms were usually sealed off unless someone special was visiting. On the surface, nothing seemed noticeably wrong about this approach, but it certainly didn’t feel quite right to many who had to live in these static environments. After all, most people (even if their home is historic) don’t want to feel like they’re part of a historically accurate Williamsburg re-enactment.
I’ve always maintained that your home (historic or not) should be a physical manifestation of you, regardless of current trends or the exterior style of your home. I’m also a big fan of the idea that a home should be functional and practical as well as aesthetically pleasing — and designing a historically accurate home, down to the furnishings, simply isn’t functional in today’s terms.
No one I know is one-dimensional to the point where a single style could completely define him or her, so I also endorse the idea that a home ultimately is the harmonious coming together of function and aesthetics, and that those functions and aesthetics uniquely cater to and reflect the individuals living inside. For example, we are way past the days when people felt obligated to purchase furniture in sets. We’re now free to purchase a dining room table without the accompanying chairs and china cabinet. And unless you are preserving your home to put on a history tour, the inside of your home can dramatically depart from the outside.
I have always loved living in older, historic homes. I grew up in older, historic houses and have always felt that they have a charm that is impossible to re-create in new construction.
My current home in Atlanta was built in 1925 and is a hybrid neoclassical/neo-Georgian, featuring architecture inspired by a home in Birmingham, Ala., that the original owner fell in love with. It still has many of its original energy-inefficient windows with wavy panes of glass, and foot-thick plaster walls that make it painful and time-consuming to install cable for the Internet.