How to find your style

pantone palette

A sneak peak at Pantone Shades in the forecast for 2014 / 2015 inclusive of a test palette I created from sampling Pantone’s image.

The best way to find your style is to identify what you like. Finding your style may be harder than you think!

A reader wrote to me last week and asked me what a transitional Japanese style room might look like. This was an interesting question because it was very specific. Design styles are like that wall of candy bars you faced as a kid in the grocery check-out. Mom invariably limited you to a single choice – but limiting your style choices in your own home puts you right back in front of that candy with no clear limitations other than your budget constraints – narrowing your choices gets harder now. Jennifer’s question was a perfect launching point – she likes Japanese style, less the limitations implied by a literal translation.

To find your style think of creating a transitional style like a painter creates abstract art. The abstract artist in nearly every case began with a firm understanding of conventional ways and means. The measure of their success lies in the choices they made in how and where to bend the rules.

The best place to consider finding your style is to expand on a specific theme by adding or subtracting the best and least that you love.  Transitional or eclectic style is created by blurring the distinctions between specific styles. Begin by making a two-part bullet list of :

a) Attributes that define the style you are drawn to
b)  reasons that you find this style appealing

The Shinto Buildings at Ise, Japan via

The Shinto Buildings at Ise, Japan via

When I think of what defines Japanese style for example, 3 mental images push their way to the forefront of my impressions…

1) The Shinto shrines at Ise Japan.

These shrines are built absolutely by hand (no power tools) only to be dismantled every twenty years by new ones built on an immediately adjacent site. The Shinto monks believe the site is purified and building materials renewed in this manner, while preserving the original design from the third and fourth centuries. The new shrines albeit seemingly identical to the old ones are not considered replicas but “Ise re-created.” The-creation process reveals Shinto’s understanding of nature which does not make monuments, but “lives and dies, always renewed and reborn.” At least one imperfection is intentionally built into each recreation, so as not to be so arrogant as to attempt to imitate perfection.

The empty site of the previous shrine (called the kodenchi) is strewn with large white pebbles. The only building on the empty site, which retains its sacredness for the intervening twenty years, is a small wooden shed or hut (oi-ya) inside of which is a post about seven feet high known as shin-no-mihashira (literally the august column of the heart, or more freely translated as sacred central post). The new shrine will be erected over and around this post which are the holiest and most mysterious objects in the Ise Shrine. They remain hidden at all times.

What draws me to this style: I was mesmerized with this place and its phoenix life cycle many years ago when Charles Kuralt visited the shrine for its reconstruction on CBS Sunday Morning. I loved the hand-hewn craftsmanship with clean lines and its embrace of imperfection.

George Nakashima Conoid bench

George Nakashima Conoid bench

2) The wood-works of George Nakashima are sonorous of a Japanese aesthetic in my mind. I could not find Kuralt’s interview, but the video below provides the jist defining an impression of an icnic style.

I love the blending of Nakashima’s clean aesthetic and its similarity to Bauhaus era iconic furnishings – a place to begin finding your style?

But I am a true lover of color – to get color inspiration I might look to the forms and colors of a Japanese style garden and that connection to nature, or….

Japanese Garden image via Houzz

…another iconic symbol of Japanese culture and style that flies in the face of minimalism.

Geisha image with Chip it applied

Geisha image with Chip it applied

Tailored, yet anything but minimal, the Geisha tradition adds a whimsical burst of unexpected yet controlled frivolity and drama to the Japanese aesthetic. This departure provides a vivid and unforseen color palette to pave any of several paths to a transitional departure…and is echoed in Pantone’s coming trends for 2014 / 2015 as seen in the image up top!

Jananese style reading room by Marsha Schrank Interiors –

Japanese style is married above with a traditional aesthetic – the color palette, tailored clean lines and jute rug suggest rather than broadcast a Japanese influence.

Maybe you Find your style hidden in the shapes or suggestion of Ming porcelain in a minimal format that speaks less subtly to a Japanese influence. But a bit of sparkle sharpens this minimal landscape, giving a nod to that feminine yet disciplined drama of the Geisha…

kitchen with Japanese flair – Marsha Schrank Interiors

As does the room below, showcasing a whimsical Swarovski crystal branch chandelier reminiscent of the Geisha hair adornments. The room itself draws obvious inspiration from nature and that Japanese aesthetic that erases the lines drawn between in and out of doors.

Interior Designs Inspired by Nature – hotnickcom

When blending styles, take a nod from the Shinto monks – pay homage to your inspiration rather than trying to copy it verbatim. No matter which styles you blend to find your style, the same rules apply:

  • Pick a color palette that speaks to your inspirational muse and then put blinders on to reinvention or addition – discipline creates master pieces!
  • Suggest connections to your theme through similar shapes and furniture styles – think themed, not theme park!
  • Blend styles that have some relationship – think of it like a dinner party you are giving for friends you love, who don’t necessarily love one another. Don’t put styles side by side that have absolutely nothing in common or worse yet, compete.
  • Create no more than three focal points – otherwise the eye has nowhere to rest and the brain feels anxious in such a space.
  • Experiment!!! It’s design, not brain surgery or a corporate tax return – finding your style will cost no lives nor result in jail time if something goes wrong. Make the list I suggested above about what and why you like the design styles you hope to marry – knowing where you want to go is key to getting there!
  • Don’t forget to have fun finding your style :-)