After 22 years of designing interiors for clients like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ellen Barkin, New Yorker DD Allen has gained more than a little wisdom.
1. You can't be afraid to try something new. There are so many interesting materials out there—and even more creative ways to use them. Corian, for example, isn't just counter material; it can also be a cabinet surface. If you're open-minded, you'll have many more options—and the end result will be that much better.
2. A sense of humor is essential. Decorating should be fun. You should get as much enjoyment out of the process of designing your home as you will from living in it.
3. Hardwood floors aren't necessarily an asset. A bad wood floor can ruin a room if it looks cheap, has a poor finish, or is the wrong color. And even good hardwood doesn't have to be completely exposed. Just avoid area rugs that are too small—they'll end up looking like postage stamps.
4. Hardware is like jewelry. Don't skimp on it.
5. The masters matter. Great painters are terrific colorists, so they're a wonderful reference point when you're looking for a palette. I often look at Matisse's Morocco period, which has such beautiful hues, when I'm trying to find the right color for a room. And I once did an entire house based on John Currin paintings.
6. Fresh flowers are a luxury... ...but they really bring a room to life.
7. Fads are a waste of time and money. Giant mattresses are getting the hard sell right now, but are they worth it? Will these bigger mattresses really give you the best sleep you've ever had? Or will they turn your bedroom into the set of The Princess and the Pea?
8. Too many people overlook the ceiling. It's a great place to add color, texture, or decorative moldings to your design. Whatever you put overhead—speakers, smoke detectors, lighting—should be organized, whether clustered or laid out on a grid.
9. You should splurge on what you love. If there is a spectacular piece that's really going to make your room sing, consider it and see where else you can save. One person might go all-out on a Sub-Zero refrigerator, then buy a Crate & Barrel sofa. Another might spend on a B&B Italia sofa and be happy with a stainless-steel GE Profile fridge.
10. Design is about collaboration. Whether you're working with a designer, contractor, or upholsterer, it's all about the exchange of information and listening to other people's ideas. The best idea wins.
From the Spring 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!