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Designs on a Homeowner’s Personality

<i> Julie Bawden Davis is a regular contributor to Home Design</i>

One home interior in Laguna Niguel is “playful and whimsical,” with soft-sculpture “people” on display. It’s the perfect decor for a young woman with charisma, says its designer. A house in South Laguna has a “tranquil Southwestern setting,” which is comfortable for a working artist, says its designer.

Two distinct homes, two owners with contrasting personalities, but they used the same designer.

How did Jackie Jacobson of Creative Dimension in Laguna Beach know what style to suggest to each client?

She analyzed them.

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“Designers need to understand you before they can design for you,” Jacobson said. “They must have the gift of sizing people up aesthetically. Designers pull out of people their dreams and create settings that reflect them.”

They evaluate clients’ taste based on such factors as dress, lifestyle and age.

“If people dress in a very business-like, tailored way with conservative colors, a sleek hairdo, and minimal jewelry that is of high quality, such as pearls, gold, and gems, then they probably want a traditional decor,” said RoxAnn Johnson of Spatial Expressions in Orange. “Just as their dress is not far out or risky, neither is their taste. They tend to gravitate toward traditional 17th- and 18th-Century English and French furniture and feel the most comfortable in a traditional layout with a sofa, love seat, two chairs and a cocktail table. Such people choose elegant, long-lasting furnishings which they consider investments.”

On the other end of the spectrum are those who embrace the current fashion trends. “If they usually wear the latest styles, they are probably more interested in trendy furniture that is in now, rather than timeless pieces,” Johnson said. “Such individuals are often more liberal and interested in a wide variety of choices and creativity from their designer. They don’t insist on designs they’ve seen before and often get excited about having something that no one else has. If they get traditional furniture, they will usually want to add a contemporary touch. For instance, they’ll want a crackle finish on a wood table.”

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People who wear designer labels have a distinct home design preference. Style is very important to them, according to Dana Eggerts of Creative Design Consultants in Costa Mesa. “They will want furniture from famous designers that is made with designer fabric,” she said. “I had one client who was newly divorced. He wore a Rolex watch and lots of flashy clothing. It turned out that he wanted every inch in his home filled. Just as he wore a lot of things, he wanted a lot of things around him.”

Casual attire signals to a designer the need for a relaxed lifestyle. “One man dresses in shorts, sandals and sports shirts, which are all in good taste,” Johnson said. “His home is the same way. He has plants all around the house, terra cotta wood tables and antique Spanish furniture. Comfort is one of his number one priorities, and it shows in his dress and home.”

Clothing doesn’t always paint an accurate picture, however. There are exceptions. “I designed for one woman who wore plain polyester suits,” Jacobson said. “She happens to have a gorgeous home which has very unique architecture and design. You don’t expect this of her when you look at the way she dresses.”

Another consideration for designers is the client’s lifestyle.

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“I need to know how they live,” Eggerts said. “It’s important to know if people are home during the day or if they mainly see the house during the week at night and live in it on the weekends. Depending on how they spend their time in the home, I can create the appropriate atmospheres for each room.”

Johnson gives her clients a questionnaire which asks about daily routines, how and when the clients entertain, what rooms they use the most and for what, where they eat, and what sports, if any, they play. Evaluating the answers indicates if a client is an introvert or extrovert, which enables Johnson to make the right design decisions.

“Extroverts like to socialize a great deal and entertain family, friends and business associates,” she said. “They tend to have more large groups in their homes and hold many pool and patio parties. Because of this, they often want large spaces that are multifunctional. An entertainment center, area for dancing and a spacious kitchen are all common necessities for such people.”

Extroverts are concerned with the impression their home gives to business associates and friends. For this reason, such people generally like a dramatic interior.

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“A house that has drama is like a stage set,” explained Jacobson. “Drama comes from lighting. Such atmospheres usually take large spaces to produce this effect, although it can sometimes be done on a smaller scale.”

Introverts don’t want the drama. “Individuals who are reserved and introspective want more intimate spaces, even if their home is large,” Johnson said. “They gravitate toward cozy corners where they can curl up in front of a fire and read. Generally they want their home broken down into smaller pieces and require intimate areas where three or four people can hold conversations.”

Hobbies also indicate to a designer the type of home environment a client wants. “Many golfers tend to entertain friends over dinner after a game,” Eggerts said. “They often play cards and will want a game room. Those who are into sports such as sailing or tennis won’t entertain as much. Instead, they’ll be out pursuing their sport and will often want to come home to a clean, sporty look.”

Hunters and fishermen often like an interior that has a “ranchy” feel to it, Jacobson said. “The type of decor that appeals to this person is the traditional Southwest design which has natural, strong colors, textured woods and weavings,” she said.

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People interested in less rugged sports such as hiking, bird watching and gardening tend to like more romantic interiors in softer colors that include trees, flowers and other elements from outdoors, Jacobson said.

Age can also play a part in a person’s home design. Johnson has found that young homeowners want a look that’s unique, less traditional than their parents.

“With the proliferation of tract housing and unit living in condominiums, there is a tremendous repetition in decor in the office, auto and residence. Young people want something different,” she said. “They have their own personalities and wish to identify and display them.”

Design preferences don’t always last a lifetime. “I worked with one couple whose children had all grown and left. They were preparing to enter the second phase of their life and wanted a more contemporary look,” Johnson said. “So we introduced contemporary pieces into their traditional decor.”

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Although designers have many guidelines to follow, analyzing the personality of each client often takes time.

“You need to give perceptive and sensitive interviews in order to discover what a client really wants,” Jacobson said. “It takes a while before you fully understand people and can create decors that reflect who they are. When you finally meet this challenge, though, it is very fulfilling. There is nothing more satisfying than having clients tell you they feel as if you’ve discovered their inner self and placed them right in the middle of it.”


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