Let simplicity drive your design

 As much as some people might argue the merits of having unlimited choices in life, there can be too much of a good thing. Start redecorating or remodelling your home, and the dizzying multitude of product options and scores of professional opinions available can have you aching for the wisdom of Henry Ford’s “any colour as long as it’s black” paint offerings for the Model T.
    So how to manage the allure of all those exquisite furnishings and the expertise of so many designers? Learn to ignore them, or more accurately, learn first to recognize your intuitive preferences so you aren’t misled or distracted by the din of the marketplace. At least that’s the sage advice of one of those designers, Darryl Carter, in his book “The New Traditional: Reinvent — Balance  Define Your Home” (Clarkson Potter/Random House, $45).
Creating good design    
Through his experience with clients, Carter seems to have gleaned two key guiding principles. First is that no design is successful if it doesn’t reflect the tastes and everyday needs of the homeowners, who if properly coached can usually cultivate some degree of design savvy and confidence. Second is that it often doesn’t take that much to meet those needs and create good design. His designs are widely published and often praised as “restrained” and “liveable.”
    This book showcases a number of spaces Carter has designed for clients and for his own homes, and they feature a nice balance of well-scaled furnishings, focused detailing and understated colour schemes. He especially enjoys juxtaposing antique and contemporary furnishings for a look that is both fresh and familiar, and coined the book’s title phrase to describe that style. Whatever the particular ingredients, his spaces leave the eye with plenty of opportunities for rest as well as for movement. Elsewhere, excess ornamentation and intense colour might produce an immediate and short-lived “wow” factor, but it won’t be long before the sensory overload has you heading for the door or reaching for sedatives. If you share the opinion that comfort and serenity are among the key virtues of home, his deliberate and disciplined approach to keeping the environment simple will likely mean you (and your guests) will want to stay.
    The book’s format underscores this “simpler is better” core of Carter’s design philosophy. Each chapter title consists of a single word, and that particular theme unfolds through several basic guidelines intended to flesh out the particulars. Here’s a look at some of those focal points:
Don’t let the original intent or uses of a space limit what you do with it, and where possible aim for “convertible” spaces that can allow multiple functions, say a library with a guest bed. Steer away from formal or rigid decor and toward a “posture of ease” that promotes comfort. Perfection is fine for museum displays, but it creates a stilted environment in a home.
 Start paying attention to all of the design and architectural elements that get your attention in a good way, in any setting. Establish a clippings file of photographs and magazine pieces. Design preferences are always somewhat subjective, and cultivating yours will increase the confidence to create your home’s look. If you can get past the normal fear of making a wrong decision and can avoid seeking the approval of others, you’ll evolve past do-and-don’t rules and toward your own personalized design habits.
Don’t forget the bones, the structural or architectural elements of the home that decoration can embellish but not substitute for. Features such as millwork and mouldings, built-in bookcases or storage niches, and coffered or tray ceilings are essential elements in all but the sparest contemporary designs. Think of them as hardware to the decorative software of colour, texture, light and finishes that will complete the space.
Establish strong transitions and a natural flow between rooms and spaces. Colour is an especially useful tool here, so keep hues similar and vary the shade or intensity slightly. Abrupt colour transitions (such as the all-too-common red dining room amid neutral spaces) promise drama but tend to undermine visual flow and can make a home seem disjointed or smaller. Find versatile furnishings that can be placed in different settings, so rooms don’t get a defining character that’s too rigid or one-dimensional.
    These are just a handful of the themes Carter singles out for discussion. The remaining chapter headings — Touch, Balance, Edit, Reinvent, Light, Relate, Focus, and others — each zero in on particular lessons or strategies involved in creating a home that is at once highly personalized and inviting to others.