Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on The Professionals & Victoria Hagan

A lovely Nantucket living room by Victoria Hagan
I rarely find myself utterly smitten with a particular interior designer. I’ll see one or two homes I love (or the odd room) and then they go and spoil it by designing something horrific the next time.

A designer will do all these tasteful genteel rooms with quiet palettes and then suddenly inflict a gold room on our senses, filled with gilt religious iconography, for example. Why? Because they can, I suppose. And I guess it is all about the client's tastes.

Another problem with the professionals, besides their urge to be "creative" (i.e. wacky), is that the houses they design often look rather “done”. They positively scream "the decorators were here". Rooms are contrived, perfect, coordinated to a fault. Accessories are so synchronized you know everything's new (even if it came from a flea market this morning). Nothing’s out of place, everything is like the other things. Everything is proper. What do people do with all the things they loved just a week ago?

I understand that it must be nigh impossible for designers to work with lots of existing furniture and accessories and still create their sleek rooms. I get that it’s sometimes easier to wipe the slate clean, or to pick a couple of favourite things and work from there. Putting together these rooms must take months of hard searching and coordinating and is nearly as complicated as open-heart surgery, so I respect the effort. But still, the rooms can seem a little too perfect. Like eating too much candy.

That said, of course I see loads of professionally decorated rooms that I love. And if the decorator is interviewed in the spread, I always appreciate a room more after reading about all the copious decisions that had to be made and the provenance of various pieces (like having a work of art explained by the artist). Sometimes I’m in the mood for ostentatious, contrived rooms and sometimes they make my head ache. So I try to compare apples with apples and admire them for their “special type of beauty”...their perfection.

That’s why I like the work of American designer Victoria Hagan. If I had to chose one favourite superstar professional designer, I’d probably pick her. She was named one of Architectural Digest’s Top 100 Architects and Interior Designers, but I liked her before I knew that.
When she does contemporary interiors, she injects lots of classic details to make the rooms less functional-looking (i.e. plain), and when she does traditional, she likes to de-clutter and “clarify beauty and function, edit gestures down to their most communicative essences” as she says. Brave little soldier!
Her work is definitely for the horsey set and is quite serious, not like the whimsical eclectic rooms you see in Domino. Domino has rooms that look thrown-together from ones far-flung travels, but they are heavily styled too. Everyone suffers from contrivance.

But of the uber-designers, I like Victoria's philosophies. I love her consistently pale and gentle palettes, her light-handed style, her use of traditional, refined furniture (some from her Victoria Hagan Home line), and most of all, her ability to know when to stop. I like the openness of her rooms, their refinement and yet their simplicity.
All the photos I've included are her work, from Architectural Digest. There’s also a wonderful feature on her Hamptons weekend home (poor thing) from Country Living. I can’t copy the photos here, so please click the link and have a look at her sublime, airy home (my favorite of all her work I've seen so far). I hope you'll like what you see.


  1. I don't hold it against designers that their rooms are contrived. After all, thats what they get paid the big bucks for.

    I agree, her styles is serene and beautiful without being over the top.

    She has designed some items for Target that are quite nice too.

  2. Her work is beautiful and I can see why you enjoy it so much. She does seem to be swimming against the tide.

    It's always a delight to read your commentary. This must because you are extremely articulate and focused just like the style that you like so well.

    We eclectic all-over-the-place folks decorate the same way.

    BTW, how are your classes going? And, further, how are you doing?

  3. She is wonderful, I love all her rooms.

  4. I agree with you on the contrived bit...some can be at times. However, often the magazine dictates the need for perfection, so you are really just seeing the copy-ready look.

    I personally think the real geniuses are the folks who can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear...using the belongings of the homeowner and a few new pieces. Most anyone, with an ample budget, can achieve a fantastic, cohesive look if they copy a look and purchase all "new"'s really not rocket science. That's not to discredit the designers either...some are true geniuses with the ability to think outside the box and design truly unique spaces. But, there are definitely different levels of talent. It's kind of like getting a doctor who just met the minimum requirements, versus the doctor who finished at the top of her class...

    Beautiful photos...looks like you've certainly narrowed down your style favourites!!


  5. I love this post, and think Restyled Home is bang on.

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