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Interview: No Regrets

Designer Doug Wilson discusses bad mixes, good combinations — and how “Trading Spaces” isn’t real decorating.



Home Style: What’s a common mistake you see in people’s homes when you go in to redesign?

Wilson: Buying a lot of crap. Things that just don’t really mean anything or relate to each other, and you just buy them to fill up a space or fill up a wall. Buy things and put things on the wall that are proportionate to the room — proportion meaning the size works with the space that it’s going in, whether that’s a wall or a floor space.

In Richmond a lot of people have antiques, and many of the homes were built in the early 1900s. What do you suggest to break people out of their conservative tastes?

I think that just because you have a specific time-period architecture doesn’t mean that you can’t contrast that with modern furnishings. You don’t want to mix a lot of period furniture with modern aesthetics because then it’s just gobbledygook. You have to be very delicate about how you do that. You can’t mix a bunch of styles together. When you have a neutral background it’s easier to combine different styles.

What’s something easy you can do to give a room a face-lift that people don’t usually think of?

We know we can do it with pillows and paint color and rugs. … there are lots of inexpensive curtains that are on the market. …. Freshen up with some lighter curtains with no heavy valances and cornices. Throw some color and patterns in there — but not florals! I have this saying that florals belong in two places: in a vase and in the garden. I contradict that all the time, but I think you have to use florals sparingly.

What’s something you’ve done to a room that you regret now, that you think was a bad idea?

Oh, I have no regrets! Especially on “Trading Spaces” because things are done so quick, you make mistakes in terms of proportion; you design something quickly, then it’s like, “Oh, I wish that was a little bigger or a little smaller.” “Trading Spaces” is so different because it’s not real decorating; it’s decorating out of necessity. It’s what’s available in the market you’re in. But in my normal work, maybe it’s the wrong choice in pattern, maybe you’ve got something that sort of clashes, you take a chance to do something interesting, and it doesn’t quite go right. Patterns are a little tricky.

How does your work as a designer differ when you have a bigger budget and you’re working for someone like Liza Minelli or Brooke Astor?

Well, you’re working for someone. “Trading Spaces” is a television show — it’s entertainment. I have a purpose there to be entertaining and to push the envelope and keep the show moving in a progressive manner rather than stay stagnant and give the same design show after show, like we’ve seen with a number of designers on “Trading Spaces.”

With normal clients it’s a collaboration, they’re paying. “Trading Spaces” is not a collaboration even though the setup sometimes seems as though it is; we don’t have time to talk with the homeowners to discuss the options. We come with a gut feeling of, “This is what I can provide for you.” We get a packet of information with photos, but those photos can come to me when we’re on location taping somewhere else, and we’re traveling and you’re limited to what’s available to you.

What style is in your own home?

I have a book coming out next fall, and you’ll be able to see how I live. I definitely have a grounded, traditional foundation in terms of how I live and how I design in general, but with a very modern flair, so it’s not stale.

What are some of the latest design trends that people should stay away from?

I don’t really think there are any design trends. In the metropolitan markets there may be certain little trends but they’re such a small pocket of people. If there is a color that I’ve seen a lot of, it would have to be lavender — but by the time this comes out there will be another hot color. HS


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