Recipe for Design Success

Recipe for Design Success


Tonya Olsen, author of “Room Recipes: A Creative and Stylish Guide to Interior Design” (Plain Sight Publishing, 2013) makes decorating as simple as following a recipe by serving up a variety of beautiful spaces and breaking them down into a series of steps and list of ingredients.

The idea for an interior design book styled like a cookbook came to Olsen while seeking inspiration from other authors. “I was flipping through a book and saw a room I liked, but when I started to go back through I couldn’t find it. I thought, ‘This needs tabs like a cookbook,’” says Olsen, co-owner of LIV Showroom, an interior design firm and retail space in Bountiful, Utah.

In the book, each room is introduced with a palette, detailing the colors, patterns and textures in the space. The “ingredients” are the room’s main components (furnishings, window treatments, fixtures) with brief descriptions of why and how they work. The “recipe” is a generalized set of instructions for creating a lookalike. And each recipe comes with “garnish” — simple how-to projects and finishing touches.

Write Your Own Recipe

What are Olsen’s tips for nonprofessionals who see a room they like in a magazine or online, and want to re-create the look at home?

• Start by creating a palette including the room’s array of colors, patterns and textures.

• Look at paint colors, fabrics, area rugs, draperies and accent pieces. Then, create a list of ingredients referring not just to the picture but the actual space and its functional requirements, including seating, storage and lighting.

• Use the palette as a guide when shopping for items on the list. Having a palette that came together harmoniously in one design helps people mix and match colors and patterns more confidently, Olsen says.

A Room for Every Taste

Olsen divides the book into room types rather than “courses,” but several spaces call to mind certain types of dishes. For “comfort food,” there’s the living room designed to accommodate a large family. A fireplace anchors the space, with a big comfy sectional oriented toward it. Cushy pillows and throws encourage lounging.

For a taste of the exotic, Olsen points to another living-room project called Gypsy Gem. “It’s the craziest mix of trash and trinkets and DIY projects, including a coffee table made out of a chicken coop,” says Olsen. Salvaged gymnasium flooring, plum-colored walls, a sky-blue ceiling, a “gently used” leather rug, mannequin parts and animal-print pillows complete the eclectic look.

Dessert, surprisingly, is a home office. But it’s richly decorated with damask upholstery, inherited antiques, fine art including two authentic Renoir sketches, and an intricate needlepoint area rug. “Decadent is the perfect word to describe it,” Olsen says.

Have No Reservations

The recipe metaphor only goes so far. When cooking, there are certain ingredients that should be used sparingly – cayenne pepper, for example. And while it’s certainly possible to have too much of a good thing in a room, in Olsen’s book there’s no one design element that must be used cautiously. “[I don’t say,] Don’t put too much of this or too much of that. That’s not really what the book is about,” she says.

In fact, “There are no set, hard rules in my book,” she adds. “It’s just a fun book of guidelines and suggestions that you can take with a grain of salt – pun intended.”

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