Home’s interior doesn’t have to slavishly reflect its exterior

  • By Vern Yip Special to The Washington Post
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2012 7:28pm
  • Life

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.

I’ve 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 midcentury masterpiece should logically be filled with pristine midcentury 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.

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.

But even without the kids and dogs, my home wouldn’t look like Atlanta in 1925. My home looks like me and my family. There are sofas with clean lines, contemporary light fixtures, Asian antiques and countless souvenirs from the 43 countries we’ve visited over the past decade. Here are some general rules for decorating interiors, historic or otherwise:

•Make your home a physical manifestation of you and your family so that an invitation to your home is an invitation to get to know you. This place should be the most comfortable and desirable place for you and your family to be, and designing it to reflect you will ensure this.

Make sure that you don’t overlook function. The perfect confluence of function and aesthetics for your specific situation is a worthwhile goal that will ensure that you’ll love and use your home to its fullest.

Look for a common thread to tie together all the disparate items that coexist in a room. For example, if you have upholstered furniture from all different periods and of all different styles, look for a common fabric color to incorporate in each piece that will link them all together visually.

Select families of wood tones without getting obsessed with making sure all your wood is the same color. You are looking for common tones in all the different woods that fall within a general family. Dark, medium and light versions of a wood color or tone can live together harmoniously to create a rich, vibrant and layered look.

Most of all, don’t worry about ensuring that the style inside your home coordinates with its outside architectural style. The goal should be to create the ultimate home, not the ultimate museum.

Vern Yip is an interior designer and star of HGTV’s “Design Star” and “Bang for Your Buck.”

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