The Finest Rooms In America: Decor Inspiration from Thomas Jayne

The Finest Rooms In America: Decor Inspiration from Thomas Jayne

Abby Stone
Feb 28, 2011

Venerated interior designer Thomas Jayne recently stopped by Rose Tarlow to promote the launch of his new book, The Finest Rooms In America: 50 Influential Interiors from the 18th Century to the Present. I was lucky enough to interview Jayne and he shared with us what he looks for in a room, whether decorated by a big name designer with an unlimited budget or a renter with limited time and resources. As Jayne himself explains it, "Some of the rooms are grand examples, but others are relatively simple. Because a room is small or created at modest expense, does not mean it cannot be among the finest."

Apartment Therapy: How do you define the word influential when it comes to decorating? is it dependent on a room's livability, its "wow" factor…or is it something else entirely?
Thomas Jayne: In the case of the book, I define influential as being refined. A fine room has an object of focus and thought behind its arrangement Sometimes this can wow a visitor — but a fine room is not always jaw dropping. An object of focus does not have to have great financial value, but it must mean something to the owner of a room. I've seen great rooms built from childhood art.
Apartment Therapy: What's your favorite room in the book?
Thomas Jayne: My favorite room might be the first room I selected: Henry Sleepers' Beauport (image 2). The 50 rooms in the book represent refinement and the book is meant as a conversation, which is why I started the website The Finest Rooms, where anyone can upload a fine room and we can all discuss our take.
Apartment Therapy: What was the first room that you remember vividly and what was it about that room that grabbed you?
Thomas Jayne: It is my parents living room in the Pacific Palisades which I discuss in the introduction -- It was comfortable and colorful and centered on a fine water color of old Los Angeles.
Apartment Therapy: Whether done by a high end designer or by someone working on a low budget, what do you feel is the one thing someone should concentrate on when creating an inspiring room?
Thomas Jayne: A great room needs an object of focus and thought around its arrangement.
Apartment Therapy: What advice would you give to someone who was working on a low budget or had limited ability to change up the bones of a room that would result in an inspiring room?
Thomas Jayne: Use the most beautiful l functional objects you can afford, and have one accent piece, such as a work of art, found object or some inherited treasure to focus on. Sometimes, if professional help is something within your budget, the expertise can save you money and improve upon the arrangement.
Apartment Therapy: Has your idea of what's inspiring in a room changed over the years and how do you think that what's inspiring about a room changes depending on the room's function?
Thomas Jayne: Surely my tastes change, however, anything great when it was new is still great. I have come to loath "matchy match decoration" especially designs that rely on one historic period such as all mid-century modern.

For anyone interested in design, the book is a crash course in classical decorating. The rooms are all classic examples of great design. Some of the rooms have never been published before while others are arranged in chronological order, beginning with the great historical rooms of Monticello and Mount Vernon and working their way to the present. The rooms encompass a diversity of periods, styles and geographic locations. What they all share, however, are a sense of proportion, focus, color, balance and whimsy; personality shines through each room. What makes this book a must have for your library is Jayne's commentary; he narrates what makes each of these rooms work in a voice that is both informative and engaging.

Rooms pictured above:
The outdoor room at Francis Brody's house, Los Angeles - La Gerbe, the ceramic mural by Matisse commissioned for this space, pops against the white walls and brings focus to this compelling outdoor space.
Golden Step dining room, Beauport by Henry Davis Sleepers - The skillful use of color, here green and white, weave together the disparate elements into one harmonious whole.
The dressing room at Vizcaya, Miami - Despite the majesty of the elements and the use of cold materials like marble and glass, there is a warmth and intimacy in this space.
Sitting Room, Albert Hadley apartment - Color, texture and the ability to leave some spaces blank, create harmony, ease and a sense of calm in a room which, with its many books and pieces of art, could have easily tipped over into the chaotic.
Meadow Lane, Southhampton by Thomas Jayne - the butter yellow walls and pale furnishings give this room a lightness in keeping with its bucolic setting.
Spanish room, Diamond Ranch, New Mexico by Thomas Jayne - The adobe walls and bright blue accents are a nod to the region's heritage without being kitsch.
Breakfast room and dining room, Penobscot Bay, Maine by Thomas Jayne - The color scheme of greens and blues underline the view outside the windows, making these indoor rooms feel very much like they are set outdoor.
New Orleans Home by Thomas Jayne - The colors and the choice of furnishings are a reminder of the area's heritage, while the mural adds a touch of whimsy
Loft home by Thomas Jayne - Large blocks of color define distinct areas in Jayne's own open loft. He also used it as a framing device to organize furniture around, creating vignettes that are warm and inviting. The blocks also work in lieu of large pieces of art to give the large space a human scale.

Available on Amazon.

Images: Oberto Gili; Historic New England; Steven Brooks; Kerri McCafferty; Reto Halme; Peter Aaron Jonathan Wallen; Jonathan Wallen; Kerri McCafferty; William Waldron, all from The Finest Rooms In America: 50 Influential Interiors from the 18th Century to the Present, used with the permission of Thomas Jayne.

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