In Why This Works, decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.
Los Angeles-based interior designer Michelle Workman is no stranger to glamour—she did decorate Jennifer Lopez's house, after all—but when she took on a living room for the Santa Barbara Design House & Garden show house this spring, she pared down the glitz to create an unfussy and simply appointed space. "I didn't want transitional," Workman says. "I wanted traditional and wanted it to look like a family had lived there for 30 years instead of a room in a brand-new home."
1. "This is a remarkably small living room for the size of the house," says Workman. "When you're doing a showhouse there's a tendency to overstuff to make it look more lived in. I really tried hard not to do that and it made it feel bigger than it actually was. The juxtaposition of a gray (neutral) ground and a bright color allows it to be bright and cheery but doesn't overwhelm."
2. "The space had an awkward corner. This one is right next to a door so you can't really do much with it—I probably would have done small seating on either side of that window—but because of the door, which is a major entrance and exit, it didn't make sense," says Workman. "I had to find something that would fit close in that would grab the eye but wouldn't be distracting. It made since to do a classic piece of art."
3. To open up the small space even more, Workman used a gray wool-and-silk rug. "There is a huge window and the light reflects from the silk beautifully, keeping the room well lit."
4. "Pops of turquoise are used in the accessories and in the artwork," explains Workman. "Using a single bright color for the accessories rather than keeping it in the same yellow, gray, cream palette adds spice to the design and keeps it from going flat."
5. "I always say you can mix any period as long as you love the piece." Here, Workman combined new and old, modern and vintage; the bench by the fireplace is from the 40s, two armchairs are new but done in an Art Deco style, and the sofa is vintage Baker done in Louis XVI style. "This works because it is all in the proper scale and there is no strong sense of period with any one piece.The room is simple and not overstuffed. It has a carefully curated look."