The domino darling and current editor-in-chief of WSJ magazine puts a holiday spin on decorating tips found in her new book, The Perfectly Imperfect Home
photo credit: Melanie Acevedo
A: Deborah, tell us how The Perfectly Imperfect Home came to be.
DN: The idea behind the book is to think about decorating based on how you want your home to make you and your guests feel, rather than what stuff you should put it in. It's about letting the feeling dictate the things you choose and how you arrange them. At domino we loved homes that had idiosyncratic style and vibrancy about them. This book starts from that point–it's about creating a home that is inspiring, exciting and inviting.
A: In the first few pages of your book, you write "Real life involves mess, accidents, memory and the incidental." So tell us–what are some of your favorite blunders and boo-boos?
DN: I weirdly love the scuffs on our wood floor because they speak of my son skateboarding across it and of parties. There are these tiny punctures in the floor from a certain very-pregnant friend who wore stilettos to a party. It makes me happy thinking about her so huge in crazy high heels. I used to love seeing the tsunami of naked, mutilated Barbies clustered around the drain after my daughter's baths. We've also got some ugly mugs that belonged to my grandmother that my husband likes to drink his coffee from. I would have chucked them, but it's sweet to me to see a connection between two people who never had the chance to meet.
A: Unwieldy as it sounds, you advise readers to drag a lamp base to a store when looking for a perfect shade. What else in your opinion cannot be eyeballed?
DN: That depends on your eyeballs. Some people can see the scale of furniture in their head; I'm not one of them. If I've got a 10 ft square room and I'm thinking about a 6 ft sofa, I need to spread out some blankets to see how much room it will take up.
A: When it comes to furniture, you say "no-no" to matchy-matchy. Is this ever not the case?
DN: No! Matchy-matchy is as bad and boring in decorating as it is in fashion. That said, some level of consistency and harmony is desirable. For example, if you have different bedside tables, make them about the same height. A bit of symmetry and pairing things off can be calming and stabilizing
A: We confess–we have a soft spot for Virginia Johnson's illustrations. Explain why you went the hand-drawn route versus photographing people's spaces.
DN: I thought it would allow readers to focus on the ideas expressed and the feeling of the rooms rather than the specifics, like pieces of furniture. It actually never occurred to me to use photographs because I wanted to create a consistent feeling and point of view. And because I wanted the book to be a beautiful object and Virginia's drawings are so lovely!
A: You devote an entire section to your book on lighting. What forms of lighting you prefer when entertaining?
DN: You know how some college courses have prerequisites? Good lighting is like a prerequisite to style. Harsh lighting is a deal breaker. The most flattering lighting in the world is candlelight and during the holiday season you have a free pass to use as much of it as you like. Load up on votives. Put candlesticks in front of mirrors where they reflect. And remember: a party is always better too dark than too bright.
A: Since an entry is so important in setting the tone for a home, what do you layer into yours during the holidays?
DN: I make sure it smells good immediately when you walk in. Right now I've got potpourri from Santa Maria Novella in a bowl and a little soap-like bar of scented wax on a string from diptyque hanging on the back of my door.
A: Speaking of, you describe the ideal home scent as "fresh air mixed with white flowers mixed with a burning fire and a little musky boxwood–all riding around on a breeze of lemon." And for winter you suggest the scents of "fire and the forest–musk, juniper, fig, clove, rosemary." Because we love these descriptions beyond words, tell us your earliest scent memory.
DN: I remember very vividly the scent of grass, of burrowing my face into the grass and trying to eat it. I don't remember scent inside our house, or on my mother. I really only remember outdoor scents–the boxwood, the mulch, the smell of the asphalt driveway in the heat. And the awful scent of a school bus full of wet children…
A: Holiday get-togethers are notoriously cramped. What are some products that moonlight well?
DN: I love a good moonlighter! I'm a huge fan of things that do double-duty. If you don't have a coffee table, turn to an ottoman. They are great with trays to hold books, drinks, candles…plus the tray can be cleared and you have extra seating that is cozy and intimate. Little benches, occasional tables and odd-looking little chairs can hold books or flowers when off-duty, and then can be cleared and called into action when needed. Baskets are the most useful and versatile things in the world: use them for trash, or as a holder for plants, magazines, extra blankets, the recycling–you name it.
A: "Fresh, clean, and simple" is your mantra for guest rooms. Does this still ring true during this time of year? What, if anything, do you layer in?
DN: Fresh, clean and simple is simply preferable to dusty, musty and full of all the unwanted furniture in the house and all the mini products swiped from hotels! Once the room is fresh and clean, by all means layer in the cuteness. I love having books, candles and writing paper in the guest room. It's especially nice to have an extra blanket folded at the foot of the bed during the winter. And flowers are great and always make people feel looked after and like you're happy they're there.
A: Throughout your book, you employ "cheat sheets" which are quirky, recipe-like equations for style. Do you have any to share for formal holiday dinners or cocktail parties?
DN: I do love a cheat sheet for how to do something like arrange flowers, or add pillows to a sofa. But for parties…that's hard. I will say for formal dinners, set the table the night before when you're not busy. Then you can have fun doing it. And for cocktails, I'm a fan of having a signature drink, just so there is one thing that requires no decision on the part of guests. And dim all the lights for parties. And forget any stress as soon as the doorbell rings, because then your only job is to be a gracious and charming host.The Perfectly Imperfect Home, now available at Anthropologie.