How to Make a Design Statement
It’s all too easy to stumble when trying to create a room with impact: there’s either too much going on at once, or an overemphasis of one grand object. Architect Will Meyer of Meyer Davis knows something about making a statement, from his work on Manhattan’s Harlow restaurant, to the revamp of the iconic Paramount hotel. Meyer spoke to Rachel Kemp here at YLiving about the importance of scale and paying attention to basic modern design principles:
Rachel Kemp: What are some tricks of the trade?
Will Meyer: We always look at the scale of the room first. For instance, if there’s a lot of volume, it’s nice to celebrate that. You could designate one wall for interesting shelving to get some height in a bedroom. Or you could separate the space with shelving in the middle of the room, using something like the Loft Bookcase. I like how it’s almost like a barcode, and you can mix up books and objets on it.
Another way to make a statement with volume is to use a daybed, like the Barcelona. To use a daybed correctly, you need to float it in the room and maybe add a side table like the Imperial-Chinese-style Moooi Common Comrades Seamstress table or their low-slung Elements 002 table. The seating island it creates speaks to the scale of the room. It draws your eye to the center and creates drama.
RK: What about setting the scene for a dramatic living room?
WM: I like to start with a clean-lined piece to use as a canvas, perhaps a quiet sofa like the Baseline Sofa. Then you pop in some more unexpected pieces that show personality. One of my favorite ways to make a statement in a living room is to use a rocking chair like the Rapson. It has movement and sets a quirky tone — it makes a statement by not taking itself too seriously.
RK: What about a dining room?
WM: Mixing up the level of luxury in a space shows confidence. In a dining room, I like to take the EM table by Jean Prouvé and surround it with basic chairs. Or you could do the opposite, and use the Astor Dining Table, because it’s simple and monumental, as a backdrop for some crazy personality chairs, like the Eames Tulip chairs or the Moooi Smoke Dining Chair.
RK: What about a lounging area?
WM: We always start by imagining how the space will be lived in and go from there. For a lounging area, I like the De la Espada 135 Lounge Chair and the Rapson Highback Greenbelt Lounge. They are unusual and rustic, so they look collected, not purchased. The statement they make is subtle, but it looks like a home that’s well lived in and has evolved as the owners have brought more into it. That’s a great statement to make.
RK: Is there one kind of item that’s foolproof for making a statement?
WM: Many people don’t consider natural skins, but a sheepskin or cowhide is a great way to make a statement and add texture to a room. The Long Wooled Natural Sheepskin rug works in every room, and it’s affordable. Same with hides in general, like the Pure rugs. You can layer them on top of one another, so it looks less contrived, more like it just kind of happened.
RK: What if you’re dealing with a small room? Or an especially large room?
WM: With small rooms, people tend to under-scale their furniture to make the room appear bigger, or furnish sparsely. But with a small room you should just go with it. That shows an understanding of the qualities of a space. By accentuating that coziness with big pieces and dark colors, you are make a big statement with a small room. I like to pack small spaces with furniture, like the Artek Tea Trolley because it’s iconic, but it’s also going to look fun in your space.
Curtains and dark paint can definitely work in a small room and make a statement. With bigger rooms I leave more space between the furniture and use relatively larger accent pieces like Jonathan Adler’s Ojai Side Table. That says to people that you don’t need to fill up the space. One piece can be admired and observed — another great statement.
RK: Do you have to be careful about having several statement pieces in a room?
WM: I only put one statement piece in a room. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean you can’t curate a selection of great furniture and decorative elements — a statement room isn’t just about one or two great items, but the scene you’re setting. You want to balance the various influences you have in a space so that great pieces can really sing, but feel whole. Careful, amateurs — a room can look like a museum fast if every single piece tells a long story.
RK: How would a modern statement piece work in a more traditional interior?
WM: There is a complementary nature between traditional pieces and modern pieces. If you have some nice old club chairs and you cover them and put a great modern side table beside them, like a Noguchi table, you get a lot more mileage out of it. The statement is fresh.
RK: Can an accessory make a strong statement?
WM: Of course. Accessories give you freedom to experiment and help you tell a story within a space, and an under-accessorized room doesn’t look done. Pairing accessories works similar to furniture as well: you can match different styles of objetstogether. I love to mix and match. Some of my favorites are the Ameico globe and the Seletti hourglasses. If they are mixed right, they draw the eye and bring drama to the room.
RK: Are there some common mistakes people make when trying to make a statement in a room?
WM: Often, I go into rooms where there is a big statement made — a big shelving unit, say, or a huge piece of art — but the room doesn’t solve the most basic needs, which is comfortable and well-positioned seating, a table to put your book on, someplace soft to rest your feet, and close proximity to a reading light. People frequently forget these things, and if you don’t solve the fundamental decorating issues the room won’t be a success, let alone make a strong statement.