Common Interior Design Dilemmas

I was interviewed for this article in 2015, but the advice I offer is still relevant today!

Common Interior Design Dilemmas

By Camian Larson

Tell us a little bit about your experience, company history and the services you offer.

My dad was a residential general contractor in Placitas, so I spent a lot of time on his job sites and worked for him throughout high school. In 2000 I came home from San Diego, got my contractor's license and started my own company, ZENTERIORS. Over the next 14 years, my services morphed numerous times, ranging from faux finishing and color consulting, to full-service residential remodeling, to design consulting for both contractors and homeowners. I am so grateful to love what I do!

What are the most common decorating mistakes you've seen when you walk into a home?

I see a lot of poor kitchen and bath floor plans and storage arrangements with inadequate lighting. As a designer and contractor, I explore ways to maximize the functionality of each space in a home, before getting too focused on materials. It takes time to come up with creative solutions, and they should be decided prior to the start of construction. I often see nice features of a home or lot that are not attracting as much attention they could. I try to identify the best elements of a property and then work toward emphasizing them with floor plan adjustments, furniture arrangement and colors.

What simple tips do you have for themes, color choices and materials to help make a space unique?

The first thing I recommend is to start looking at what is out there. Take a field trip to your local showroom or big box store, start browsing websites and magazines to see what styles or materials grab your attention. Allow it to be a personal, instinctual and visceral experience, but try not to over think or judge your choices. Once you have a collection of photos or concepts that appeal to you, study them and find some common elements between them. Maybe you see a modern neutral palette emerge; perhaps you love bright, vibrant, exotic patterns. Of course there's nothing wrong with being drawn to traditionally classic looks. Decide on a few critical elements (like cabinets, flooring or countertops) that ideally you want to have, then make your space unique with the details (like accent tile, lighting or hardware). When the variety of choices feels too overwhelming, I advise investing in neutral, classic backgrounds then splurging on personal details that you can easily change over time.

How do you deal with combined living and dining rooms?

Spaces are not defined by walls alone. Lighting, flooring, color, pathways and furniture arrangements can all be used to either make areas smoothly flow together or create distinct functional zones. There are six boundaries to each space: the four sides, the floor and the ceiling. I am constantly analyzing how each boundary affects each area and how my clients will use the space on a daily basis, as well as for special occasions. In my experience, good measurements and proper spacing are the most critical elements at my disposal. Having a multipurpose living area or great room where most of our shared living happens is a really desirable feature to many homeowners, but having dimensions that work for each area to function well is the key to success.

Do you ever have trouble finding inspiration? What inspires you when you're working with your clients?

Absolutely. Luckily, I am inspired by lots of things! I frequently browse with my clients on my iPad during our first meeting and again at product selection time. It is a fantastic idea and communication tool for anyone thinking about residential design. Ultimately with each new project, I am most inspired by my clients. The design work I do is not about me or my portfolio; it is always about my clients, their lifestyle, needs and wants. Each client is different in expressing what is most important to them and what they find desirable. My job is to spend a lot of time listening and educating them about the construction process and product characteristics, so I can be effective in helping to find the solutions that suit them well. Sometimes I just have to expose someone to the right resource with a little guidance, and they end up discovering the perfect element that inspires the rest of the project. I approach each client's project as an opportunity to collaborate; it makes the whole experience more fun and productive for everyone involved.

Do you have any personal design secrets that you can share?

I have been known to go into clients' closets to see what colors they are naturally attracted to while gauging how bold they might actually be. I also love looking at their artwork to get a feel for their aesthetic. People often don't trust themselves or their own taste, and the thought of "designing" feels overwhelming. They pick products they think they should like, instead of what they do like. I believe people should invest in elements that make them smile. After all, it's their home; they should feel good in their own environment! I believe in being true to one's self and not following trends. The most authentic designs are the ones that remain relevant and attractive, long after a trend seems appealing.

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Camian Larson