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Friday, October 29th, 2010

Allusion or Illusion?

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As an interior designer for over twenty-five years, I have learned how to create space through the use of what I term “design magic,” ideas that contribute towards successful design. The premise underlying “Tricks of the Trade: A Professional’s Perspective” is my belief that effective design is achieved through a series of manipulative “twists of the wrist,” magic made by a professional.  By exploring the secrets behind timeless design, I hope to reveal how, through the sculpting and carving of space and the use of different and interesting materials and finishes, a designer creates magic.  “Tricks of the Trade” explains how these twists are created and then brought to fruition.

If sleight of hand is the magician’s forte, then sleight of imagination is the professional designer’s expertise. What distinguishes the so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ decorator from a real pro is basically the magic they create in sculpting and creating space. No mere pretty pink polka-dots on a wall, but perhaps a floating wall, one which seems to exist in space with no apparent support. Is this magic or professional know-how? It is both one and the same. It is an understanding of how a room can be made to look other than it is, and for a space to be constructed to look as though its imperfections were perfectly manicured.

Challenging Spaces Become Features

Consider the narrow passageway. The professional knows that by dropping the ceiling, the side walls “seem” to expand in breadth, thereby giving the sense of increased space. Was the space really widened? Was the neighbor’s apartment encroached upon? Of course not. It is simply a trick of the trade. Another bit of magic can be employed to make a floor appear larger than it is. By tiling or laying the floor on the diagonal, it appears to open up the space spreading off into some undetermined distance. Put a border around it and the magic is destroyed, the illusion cut short.

The Big Impact of Small Spaces

When visiting Malmaison outside of Paris last week, I noticed an abundance of antechambers—spaces designed to create the expectation of surprise and a breathing area, like a stop in music, where one waits in wonder as to what comes next. Often, these antechambers have dropped ceilings so as to create a sense of enclosure while simultaneously making the entering space feel even larger and more majestic. This sculpted drama is sensual in its appeal of the unknown. And then, when the individual passes into the major room, it is grander than thought. Back here in the United States, the entry foyer creates this same magic. By carving out a space, albeit small, it serves as a preface of what is to come. Again, it gives the illusion of grandeur beyond. So as not to enter directly into the living room, it is a transition area for circulation and surprise. What exactly lies beyond this curved wall, or veiled panel? There is really a type of physics going on here, as one lessens the feel of one area, the conjoining area seems enlarged. Niches do a similar thing; they carve out space, yet make it look larger. They create diversity and a sculpted sense that something lies beyond and within.

The Intrigue of the Half-Wall

Another bit of magic is that created by the half-wall. Instead of building all the way up to the ceiling and thereby closing off a space, a half- or three-quarter wall is created to divide spaces, while maintaining an open, airy feeling. These partial walls, which may be made of glass block, cabinetry, sheet rock, sandblasted glass, metal, basically any material, add interest and intrigue. It begs the question of what is beyond…. and yet visually it is completely open. This too is magic, as the viewer must now postulate on what lies ahead.

These are just a few of the sleights of hand, flights of imagination that the professional designer and architect conjure up to create the magic of space.

Coming in the next blog: The “magic” of mirrors, pocket doors, and perfectly placed furniture.

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