How do I develop good tastes?

Updated: Sep 10, 2018

A Tasteful Example

I am redoing my living room, but I want to do it tastefully. However, good taste seems so subjective. Help me to know whether or not I’m being tasteful!

Sincerely, My-in-laws-need-to-know-I-have-good-taste

Dear Tasteful, Good taste is one of those things that on the surface seems completely subjective, but there is some genuine objectivety to it. Subjectively, I prefer things with square, clean lines (although I do like wild patterns), while my designer friend Nina loves those heaving Italian forms. The objective part of good taste goes beyond liking one object and disliking another and has everything to do with putting these objects together well. This is where real design training can be helpful.

Here are my top pieces of advice for creating an objectively tasteful living room:

  • Give the room one obvious focal point.Generally, in a living room this is a fireplace...even if this is the room where you watch TV, it should not be the television! (That said, the TV should be in a place where you will actually watch it because a room that is tasteful, but not useful, is really neither.)

  • Do not buy a three piece matching furniture set off the showroom floor. This always feels very commercial and generally it is too large for your space. Giant sectional sofas fit in only the hugest of rooms. The objective part of this point is being aware of the scale of furniture. Actually, I think it’s great when a room is filled with some objects that are deliberately over-scaled, but you must think architecturally about this. For instance, we worry about the scale of a piece of art on a wall, (“Is that too big!?”) but if you go visit palatial renaissance rooms in Italy, you’ll see entire wall planes are covered in fresco mural scenes, with the furniture dwarfed in comparison.

  • Study the color wheel.Recognize that you might hate a color in one context, but if you combine it with colors that are scientifically known to compliment each other, the color you hate might suddenly become one you love. I absolutely cannot stand the color lavender on its own (usually I think it’s overly feminine), but when combined with chocolate brown, it can actually have a masculine attitude.

  • Think about the proportions of your room.With this, I mean you need to choose molding profiles and window treatments that are complimentary to the scale and proportion of your rooms. If you have a very tall room, you will want a baseboard in that room that is taller than average (say 8”-12” instead of a more standard 5-1/4”), a crown that is very tall and soaring, and possibly even elaborate (not garish), and curtains that careen all the way from the crown molding and break on the floor (curtains do not need to be fussy). If you have a short room, don’t try to make it feel tall. Celebrate its shortness. Select robust moldings that look like they are designed to hold up some gravitational force pushing down on the room. Maybe don’t do formal window treatments, but something fun like bamboo roller shades.

  • Your rooms should say something about who you are.This is where the objective and the subjective meet. Every season of design we have new words like “bold,” “serene,” blah, blah, blah. If you’re not bold, don’t make a room that is. If you’re not serene, don’t make a zen spa. Your home should be a reflection of your character so that your guests leave feeling like they know more about you than they did when they arrived.

Good taste should always celebrate the qualities of you and your room—don't try to make it or yourself something else!

Sincerely, Daniel

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