5 Rules for Personal Style

In his book Living Traditions, interior designer Matthew Patrick Smyth shows readers how to compose a room suited to their lifestyle and reflective of their identity. “Rooms should express the needs and personalities of the people who live in them,” Smyth writes.



Living Traditions
Photograph by John Gruen, taken from Living Traditions, © 2011 The Monacelli Press.


According to Smyth, designing a personal room starts with a vision, the completed scene you’ve been dreaming up for a room. After securing the big picture, a marked attention to detail is essential to bring your plans to life; assessing the impact of the individual items on the whole. “Design is a domino effect,” Smyth writes. “Each decision affects every other decision.”


Take the room shown above as an example. Smyth’s client envisioned this room as a multifunctional space. Smyth accomplished this vision by carefully choosing a variety and furnishings: casual seating for lounging as in a casual foyer; a desk for studying or working as in a library; and additional seating for a dinner party as in a dining room. Creating such a room involves a complex integration of choices and connection; for Smyth, design “a set of relationships, of interactions among objects, colors, patterns, textures, materials and light.”


Smyth has five rules for designing a personalized room:

1. Choose mirrors as if allowed only “one mirror per room.” Though you can certainly use more than one, analyzing the singular effect on visual composition, lighting and angle is a practical tool.

2. “A single object can bring the entire room into focus and cause everything else to fall into place,” Smyth says. Ensure that your selections don’t just complement their neighbors, but the entire room.

3. Without exception, it’s better to have too little in a room rather than too much, Smyth says. Quality wins over quantity when making selections for the home; no matter the source, always choose well-made pieces.

4. Keep passageways open—too much furniture on one side of the room will be overwhelming and off-balance. However, aligning furniture and carpet along the room’s perimeter will frame the structure nicely.

5. Try looking at a room first for architecture and secondly for flow, analyzing its function and purpose, then using the floor plan as a roadmap to evaluate which elements will fit and how. “I can look at the floor plan and see what the components of a design will be,” Smyth writes. “Once I have it, I’m set. After that, it’s just styling.”



Magazine Page Cover
Photograph by John Gruen, taken from Living Traditions, © 2011 The Monacelli Press.


For more personal design advice from Smyth, see Living Traditions, published by The Monacelli Press, © 2011; visit randomhouse.com/monacelli.


By Jennifer Milas



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