Understanding the Texture of Design

Recently I attended 2 seminars addressing different aspects of design and the design business that, as usual, led me to examine what I do (and often, WHY I do it)! The first seminar that I was fortunate to attend was in Winter Park, Florida (a post should be dedicated to that terrific city, just because it is amazing all by itself) The Friends of Casa Feliz hosted the 7th annual Colloquium for Historic Preservation and I was back among the environs of my architectural studies.  This year the subject was the architecture of James Rogers Gamble and James Rogers Gamble II and the guest speaker was Paul Goldberger, who I have admired since I read his work on skyscrapers and other articles in the NYTimes, Vanity Fair, and elsewhere.  While we had several interesting discussions as to why preservation was and is important, what constitutes “good” architecture and why it matters,  I was most struck by the panel discussion on the work of the two architects.  These two men, uncle and nephew, could not have been more different in era and work, yet as son and grandson “Jack” Rogers explained, what makes good architecture great is this sense of place, context,and texture.  In residential design, whether it is the exterior or the interior of a building, texture is what elevates the ordinary to something that is meaningful and moving.  Something that we respond to on a deeper level.

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Here we have a riot of detail, Palladian windows crushed next to portholes, roof lines, turret, columns all crowded together on one home- totally overwhelming. This is an example of More=Too Much!
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Interesting, but not in a good way! Here the mistake is expensive materials used unwisely. Badly proportioned entry and windows with uncomfortable scale and size.
typical oversized home with lack of texture and details on brick, window trim, over-sized windows, and badly proportioned entry.
Typical over-sized home with lack of texture and details on brick, window trim, over-sized windows, and badly proportioned entry. This home looks like attempts were made with texture on the brick pattern surrounding the doors and defining the floors, but they fall short, and it looks unbalanced.

A lack of texture is one of the major and defeating problems of the typical “McMansion”.  The details are flat and uninteresting, usually under-scaled and out of proportion.  Details on an exterior of a home can be terrific on a small or modest home and elevate it to something charming, expressive and interesting, and details on a large sprawling and expensive home can still be inexpressive and uninteresting, no matter the level of expense.  So if it is not about money, what is it?  It is quite simply, good design.  Attention to detail means that it is historically appropriate and well proportioned at the very least, and that is not about richness of material or cost of labor, but everything about scale, shadow lines and reveals and materials that have texture.

Contrast that with the work of the two architects of the Colloquium.  James Rogers Gamble is responsible for many of the gothic buildings that define the campus of Yale University.  Even allowing for the differences in our period to that of late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the choices we make when determining a style of a building, these buildings have a universal language that we can all appreciate and they are the epitome of detail and texture.  More importantly for the purposes of my thoughts on this subject are the residential buildings of James Rogers Gamble II, working in Winter Park, FL.  James Rogers Gamble II was an architect that followed the “old-school” apprenticeship route to a practicing architect, but was something of a renaissance man of intense curiosity and awareness of the world around him.  His homes built in Winter Park during the 20’s and 30’s were not about massively expensive materials, and massively sized homes, but attention to detail and texture were superb.  These houses are delightful to the eye, moderately sized, yet perfectly proportioned.  The interior of Casa Feliz, perhaps his first  “important” home for Massachusetts industrialist Robert Bruce Barbour is delightful, spacious and yet very simple, in keeping with the style of Andalusian farmhouse that he was patterning the home after.

An example of multiple shapes and details that create an interesting facade and does not overwhelm it.
Spanish Colonial Residence-An example of multiple shapes and details that create an interesting facade and does not overwhelm it.
Beautifully proportioned, large, yet not overwhelming, beautiful texture of brick and other materials to create a sense of history.
Casa Feliz-Beautifully proportioned home. Large, yet not overwhelming, and the beautiful texture of brick and other materials to create a sense of history.
Also built during the Depression as an Apartment complex, Rogers II inteded this to look like a collection of buildings like a little village.  The "cluster style" housing that we are seeing more of today. But here we see a terrific use of texture to create interest with the smooth stucco of the stairs against the rough texture of the brick wall.
Barbour Apartments-Also built during the Depression as an Apartment complex, Rogers II intended this to look like a collection of buildings similar to a little village. The “cluster style” housing that we are seeing more of today. But here we see a terrific use of texture to create interest with the smooth stucco of the stairs against the rough texture of the brick wall.
Even in a "Modern" style the proportion is excellent and the details are clean and simple and in keeping with the Less=More philosophy
Even in a “Modern” style the proportion is excellent and the details are clean and simple and in keeping with the Less=More philosophy

 

All these images and discussion lead me up to the importance of that same texture and detail in interior design.  The second seminar that I participated in was on the features and principles that make a room worthy of being published.  What is involved in the evaluation that an editor brings to judge interior design work? The same principles of design in architecture, apply to the work that I do.  Scale, proportion, detail, texture, AND getting them right is the most important skill that I and my fellow interior designers bring to the table.  The difference between a nice room and a terrific room is the sum of those details.

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Wallpaper panels designed and added to perfect the proportion and scale of the room. York Designer Show House 2012, Master Bedroom, Meredith Bohn Interior Design
Greg West Photography

 

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Paint colors on walls and ceilings were selected to create a better proportion to the space and to create a soft, restful ambiance. Farrow and Ball paint throughout enhances the light and adds a depth of color that is unique to their paint formulas.
“Skylight” on Walls, “Borrowed Light” on ceiling.
Greg West Photography
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Corner detail showing wallpaper panels and relationship of the detail and proportion to the window and ceiling. Meredith Bohn Interior Design
Photo by Meredith Bohn

 

Each room that I design calls me to address the details, whether to correct a proportion problem, balance the furniture in the room, or even to solve a traffic flow difficulty.  The choices that I make are all designed to create a space that functions well for the client.  But, more importantly, I believe that the homes we live in should be beautiful, meaningful, and nurturing.  The places we live are the places that enrich our lives and we respond BEST to homes and rooms that are made up of our history, our future and our spirit.

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Texture is not only in traditional or “full” rooms- this space is calm and serene, yet full of color in the artwork, multiple textures and materials in the furniture
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Eric Cohler designed the living room for This Old House in Carlisle, MA.  Here is a different example of texture in the materials. Patina in the original beams of the barn, and mixed with the rough stone stucco of the fireplace chimney along with the modern traditional shapes and fabrics of the furniture.

A flat, mundane,  “4 walls and a ceiling” do nothing for our spirit, and it is not about how much money we spend.  It is about the layers of texture and detail that we enjoy without really knowing why a space feels good.  The cozy corner that calls us to curl up and read, the warm, inviting kitchen that we use to feed ourselves, our guests and family, the welcoming entry that functions well and invites everyone into OUR space.  It is not about only “traditional” style, or layer upon layer of “stuff”.  A simple, spacious modern home can speak volumes to the occupants about light and color and can be just as welcoming.

My goal as a designer is to create spaces that are as distinctive as my clients.  To find that one thing that most means HOME to each of them.  The principles of design are my tools.  Balance, proportion, texture, architecture and architectural style, period and history all combine to help us define what each of us call HOME.

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Personal, welcoming spaces speak to all of us.
black and tan-meredith Bohn Interior design
Layers of texture, patina and detail create interest even with a restricted color scheme
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Light, Air and Simplicity speak to all of us- and that is the universal truth of good design.

If you would like help creating a home that speaks to YOU, contact me! Meredith@mlbinteriordesign.com

 

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