Suffice it to say, Jamie Drake loves a healthy mix. “I think that any room that is a snapshot of one moment in time, whether it is 1740 or 2020, is a missed opportunity to think about other ages, places, and cultures,” says the designer. A richer, more timeless space can be conjured through a medley of materials (incorporated through mixing styles and eras)—it’s why Drake is always looking for variety in his designs.
“Being a designer is akin to being a painter, just in three dimensions,” Drake posits. “And so when I am working on a scheme, I’m always envisioning how things come together and sit next to each other—just as any great painter might be, say, working with a palette of primarily blue and wondering, Where do I put that one splash of red, just to shake it up? It’s all about creating those kinds of dialogues.”
Of course, Drake has spent years mastering such dialogues in his interiors—which include settings as iconic as New York’s Gracie Mansion—but you don’t have to have a massive budget and years of experience to channel the same concepts in your home. Below, Drake tells House Beautiful how he leverages materials to create compelling, layered interiors—and how you can do the same.
1.Go for contrast
Forget worrying that your furniture should match—Drake encourages you to go in the opposite direction: “Having contrast enriches both pieces,” says the designer. “If you have primarily straight-line, contemporary pieces, a wonderful Baroque shape next to them heightens both. The curve of a cabriole leg against a Parsons table? Nothing could be more delicious.”
2. Train your eye
So how do you know what to mix? Well, it’s all about exposure. “I’m very fortunate in that I’ve been in the business for 40 years, so I’ve been able to develop a knowledge and an appreciation of quality,” admits Drake. But it doesn’t necessarily take decades to hone this knowledge: “Just looking in magazines, at museums, art fairs, you can really develop an eye,” says Drake. “The more you see, the more you learn.” Plus, he notes, you’ll “develop an eye for the unusual,” which is what really makes spaces unique.
3. Patina is key
Variations in era aren’t just about switching up shapes; history adds a distinct richness to an interior too. “Even the greatest reproductions,” Drake says, “don’t capture the magic of history through the surface and depth of a piece.” One aspect of antiques that he loves so much is the patina that comes with aged metal, worn leather, or distressed wood. An interior with all glossy finishes will appear cold—you want a bit of wear to soften it. “That’s when the soul comes through,” says the designer.
4. Consider texture
Another way to add some soul? Texture. “We never want all the pieces to be wood or all the pieces to be metal,” Drake says. “It’s much more interesting to have the contrast of different textures.”
A good place to start: “The contrast of textiles, where you may have a blue clay against a satin or a cool, crisp linen against a deeper, richer velvet.” Feeling overwhelmed by too many options? Find a connecting thread. “What may connect them is a tonality or color,” Drake suggests.
5. Take cues from nature
When asked what is the one thing that every room should have, Drake doesn’t skip a beat: “An element of nature,” he advises. “Of course, that’s a broad category. But whether it’s wool, silk, or linen, or marble, bronze, or wood, those natural materials are where we always go to first.”
6. Consider light
Variations in material will be heightened by how they catch the light, so consider incorporating materials that play it up. Right now, Drake says, he is finding himself experimenting with “all kinds of unusual glass: painted glass, poured glass. It’s just so magical.” He adds, “It brings in light; and those who are happiest are those who have light.”
7. Make it personal
While it’s all well and good to seek out products specifically for their materiality, Drake believes that the pieces that tell a deeper story are those with a personal component. “The element of memory is very important,” says Drake. For him, this often comes in the form of furniture purchased while traveling, or antiques passed down through family.
“In my own apartment, two of the chairs have been with me for 20 years, and so have lived in two homes and worn three different covers. And I have one marvelous French Art Deco table that I bought almost 40 years ago. It has traveled with me, and it always triggers the happy memory of shopping in Paris.”
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