Wisdom on giving space style and personality



The Washington Post
Designer and writer Erin Gates, 35, lives in a white clapboard Colonial in Newton, Massachussets, with her husband, two dogs and a leopard-print stair runner. Gates pens the blog Elements of Style, where her advice is glamorous yet practical and often served up with humor. In her just-published book “Elements of Style: Designing a Home and a Life,” Gates shares secrets including dressing up a closet to finding a kitchen counter material that will fit your lifestyle.

The book has lots of lists and charts and advice. She's got a great list of housewarming gift ideas (terrariums instead of flowers, for example, or a return-address rubber stamp) and assorted tips for renters (if you’re not allowed to use huge nails to hang a weighty mirror in an entry hall, try leaning a tall wall mirror behind a console table). Her primers on the 12 best sofa styles and 45 favorite paint colors are keepers. I spoke to Gates recently about her book and her insights into helping people discover their personal style.



Q: How do you find your own style if you haven't a clue?

A: Go through your closet. Your wardrobe says a lot about the colors and patterns and textures you are comfortable with. If you see a lot of bright colors and patterns, this is what you are drawn to and should do in your rooms. If you have a more muted wardrobe, more businesslike, then I advise people to decorate with neutrals and clean lines.

Q: What other tools can you use?

A: Pinterest has been the most helpful tool for people to really explain and figure out their style. You can look back at your pins and say, “Oh, I have 57 linen couches pinned here. I must love them.” We always ask clients to make a board of anything they are attracted to, whether a wall color or type of chair or a fabric. When you gather these things and look at them as a cohesive unit, trends will pop out.

Q: What else do you have to consider?

A: Be honest about your lifestyle. If you are somebody who doesn’t throw things away or has lots of stuff or kids who have a lot of hobbies and toys, a streamlined space that is super modern with little storage will not function for you. Do you have dogs? Kids? That should play into the fabrics and rugs you choose, and the style of furniture and materials. You don't want glass coffee tables or white silk fabrics if you have kids.

Q: How do you add personality to a room?

A: Add antique or vintage goods or hand-me-downs. If you see a room with brand-new, high-end and fancy things, it looks unlived-in, like a hotel room. I always try to bring something vintage or antique with a little patina. Look for things a bit quirky. If it's too perfect, there is no warmth to it. Add a funky upholstered chair or cool piece of art. Make sure that there is something unique that is not in everyone's Pottery Barn catalogue and seven people in your neighborhood have as well.

Q: What is one of your favorite neutral paint colors?

A: My favorite is Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist.

Q: What are five home accessories no home should be without?

A: A beautiful collection of books; greenery (either a fresh flower arrangement, plant or tree); an amazing-smelling candle; a work of art you absolutely love; and beautiful trays for coffee tables or as a catchall atop a bar or in the bedroom to corral jewelry.

Q: How can you make a personal statement in a tiny apartment?

A: Use wall color. Dramatic wall color changes everything, especially in a small room. The adage that small spaces can’t be dark colors is wrong; it actually makes them feel bigger. Another way is to incorporate a large-scale work of art; the dramatic size will be especially impactful in a smaller-scale space.

Q: Would you share a couple of budget decorating tips?

A: Etsy is the best source to find pillows made from trade-only, designer fabric for much less than even we designers can make them. It allows you to decorate with pillows that not everyone else has bought from the same company. Don’t overlook hand-me-down furniture: A fresh coat of glossy white, black or bold-color paint and a change of hardware can take Grandma’s dresser from blah to beautiful.


Last modified: November 6, 2014
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