Getting down to the details of home decoration

Cecil Hayes, designer to the stars, has a new book, one geared to those who can't afford her.

Designers love to quote Mies van der Rohe's "God is in the details."

But those details are what stump many of us as we decorate our homes - as Cecil Hayes well knows.

The designer, who has decorated homes for Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson, provides a primer in her second book, Cecil Hayes Art of Decorative Details: Creative Ways to Design the Home of Your Dreams (Watson-Guptill, $29.95). We chatted with her to find out how to add details like a pro.

Question: It's obvious you used to be a teacher. Did you intend to make your book like a lesson plan?

Answer: You're 100 percent right. That's a part of who I am.

When I decided to do this book, I didn't want to create fluff or something that says, "Look what I did." For the most part, the people who buy these books are consumers. It helps them to do what the magazines do. It's geared to those in the middle class who can't afford designers.

Q: What do you hope people will learn from your book?

A: I see this as Volume 2 of my first book, Nine Steps to Beautiful Living. Nine Steps was baking a cake. This is like adding the icing.

Q: You have changed your mind about using a television as a design element. Why and how can it be used?

A: In our furniture designs, we started putting doors on a long time ago. The TVs were 15 to 20 inches deep, and you had to conceal the depth. We surrounded them with beautiful furniture pieces. The plasma TV takes the place of a wall unit. I design wall panels so it doesn't look so much like a piece of mechanical equipment.

Q: You often use decorative columns in your design. How can someone do this without hiring you?

A: If you try it yourself, just make sure you secure the column to the ceiling or the floor. The best thing is to go simple first. Take measurements and buy the plywood that already has a veneer on it. It comes in 8- and 10-foot heights, the height of ceilings in our homes. The base and the header should be a square box bigger than the stem of the column.

Q: What are your suggestions for great rooms that have no architectural elements?

A: One of the most important surfaces to detail is the walls. If you're not an art collector, when you have big open spaces, you can change the wall treatment on each wall.

A good example is in my own home. The wall that backs my kitchen has square panels made of a laminate metal in a neutral texture, not a pattern. On the other side of that wall is a muted tone-on-tone with a stone look. The dining room wall looks like a shoji screen with wood and fabric.

Q: Why does it work?

A: It gives the great room charm with elements of nature, creativity and excitement. It works because the eye doesn't see it all at once.

Q: What is the biggest mistake people make in their details?

A: One is [doing] too much. These are the people who consider themselves collectors. They need to hold back and understand when too much is too much. Then there are the people who know how to purchase furnishings, but their house still doesn't have any personality. I am addressing this to the people who don't know the next step to make the house personable.

Q: What is your personal style?

A: My style is what the book is about, letting the creative part of you come out in the details. My style is to never leave a room flat. When you take a box, which is what most of us get in a home, you need to bring out its character. This could mean raising the level of a baseboard from five to seven inches. My style is adding and tweaking existing concepts to make them unique to the person who owns it. I do this a lot with textured materials.

Q: How can you help someone find their style?

A: I pay close attention to how someone puts themselves together. I like to create some of their fashion style in their home style. The denim people or casual people want leather or chenille. Whereas the person who is more finicky about the things they buy loves the fact clothing has to go to the dry cleaners. They wouldn't mind white or silk fabric that is not as durable.

Q: What is decorative detailing?

A: Adding to an existing item to create a different look without changing the function.

Q: How can you avoid being tacky?

A: When it comes out tacky, it's often because people are trying to look crafty. It's crafty to put silk flowers around a mirror. You have to become more sophisticated and put wood around it.

Q: Your "Transformation Imagination" chapter talks about fabulous finds. How can a novice figure out how to improve them?

A: You have to pick up something and imagine it as something else. I look for things with carving. You can make the item into a place mat or create a tieback. If it's really beautiful, you can hang it on the wall as an art piece.

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