In his book, Decorating the Way I See It, Markham Roberts proclaims right up front that the volume “is not intended as a how-to or instruction manual on decorating,” adding that he doesn’t “dole out designer secrets.”
After reading the book, however, I beg to differ. Markham Robert’s book offers plenty of sage advice, and I found myself thinking that decorating the way he sees it, and decorating the way I see it, are remarkably similar. (Though I don’t profess to have a pinky of his talent, see my manifesto after you read this for similarities!)
Here are just 5 of the many worthy tips I found sprinkled throughout the book.
1. First, he opens the book with the first thing anyone faced with an empty room should consider, and that is furniture arrangement and the importance of a floor plan before you dash off willy nilly buying things. He illustrates his point by dissecting the arrangement of furniture in large scale spaces, showing that they can be livable and should be lived in.
Look at all of the wonderful possibilities for enjoying these large living rooms.
2. Second, he proclaims that “it’s important for rooms to flow well from one to another through related schemes.” Yep, its all about harmony.
In these two rooms, the spaces are tied together by subtle references in color (blue, green and brown) and pattern (living room chairs and dining room wallpaper).
3. Third, Markham Roberts is all about customizing his designs to meet each client’s individual needs. He extols the virtue of versatility and eschews the idea of a signature style. “If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for…find a way to create it,” he says.
That’s just what Roberts did when he stenciled the diagonal stripes on the grass cloth in this room to create a youthful edge for his young clients and to play nicely with the lines of the rug and verticality of the book spines.
4. Fourth, having proclaimed a love for custom, Roberts quickly adds that he copies stuff “all the time,” noting that “the knowledge of what has been done well in the past informs what we do as we go forward.” There are images of sofas inspired by ones found in Elsie De Wolfe’s Villa Trianon, columns mimicking ones found in Oscar de la Renta’s entry, and entire rooms spawned by the designs of the Eames and George Nakashima to name a few examples.
5. Five, his rooms are all about the mix: “Contemporary things can give antiques new life, and, when put together, older things can give newer pieces depth and character.” Roberts wisely cautions that if you need ask if old and new go together, you might wish to call of professional. (ahem)
In this next photo, Roberts pairs a shapely Louis XV stool in front of a 1970s Karl Springer parchment low table. A new sofa and painted Louis XVI-style bergere from the 1930’s also are in the mix together with a sculptural tree-like contemporary side table.
There is one more incredibly important takeaway from this inspirational book, particularly as it pertains to the professional designer. I think of it as more of a philosophy rather than a design tip. For Markham Roberts, the client and his or her needs rule. He finds a way to make sure his clients’ desires are met , even if those desires are not shared by him. There is no “my way or the highway” decorating for Markham Roberts. The book shows several examples.
In one instance, Roberts found a way to use artwork loved by the client (but hated by him) by surrounding it with pieces he felt were more tasteful, explaining that “while seemingly highlighting the picture I was actually deemphasizing it.” In another, he adhered to his client’s desire to have white loveseats similar to ones she saw in Tory Burch’s apartment, admittedly not his first choice. But he made it work, as we see here by surrounding the white loveseats in luscious shades of blue.
In this age where every top designer fells compelled to publish a portfolio book, Markham Roberts, Decorating the Way I See It is one worth buying. Not only is it filled with gorgeous, inspiring photographs, you will find many a designer secret hidden among its pages, notwithstanding the author’s statement to the contrary. Make room for it.
All images provided by Vendome Press, who also provided Lynn Byrne with a free review copy of this book. Principal photography by Nelson Hancock. As always, all opinions expressed are Lynn Byrne’s own.