What 12 Designers Learned From Their Moms About Decorating

published May 13, 2018
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

We turn to our moms for advice on just about anything—how to navigate our careers, deal with relationship issues, recreate our favorite childhood dish… the list goes on and on. As for me, I’ve even been known to ask my mom to help me choose a health insurance and 401(k) plan and I’m 29 years old. The point is, our moms have taught us a lot. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked designers what their moms taught them about decorating. Turns out, they helped to shape or inspire many of the present-day careers of these designers. See what they had to say below—and share with us in the comments tips you’ve learned from your own mother (or mother figure).

Embrace Color

“The biggest design lesson my mom taught me was not to be afraid of color! In a time before turquoise and pink doors were considered ‘stylish,’ she was paving the way. Seriously, we had a pink powder room and turquoise bedroom doors in the 1990s. People would walk in and say, ‘Oh, you must like color…’ and my mom would reply, ‘Yes, I do!’ She never cared about what other people thought if it made her happy. – Jessica McClendon, founder of Glamour Nest

Money Doesn’t Equal Style

“When it comes to decorating, my mom always taught me that you don’t need to have a lot of money to have great style. When we were young, my mom would sew sheets and turn them into luxurious duvet covers, and she also turned beautiful patterned linen dinner napkins into elegant throw pillows. I suppose that’s where I get my DIY gene.” –Taniya Nayak, Boston-based interior designer and HGTV/Food Network personality

Ask Before You Rearrange

“My mother taught me that it is good manners to ask permission before rearranging other people’s furniture. Unfortunately, this bit of wisdom came after I got in big trouble for rearranging my best friend’s mother’s living room while she was out for dinner. I was 11.” —Tom Stringer, founder of Tom Stringer Design Partners

A Scent Makes All the Difference

“I learned from her that a beautifully decorated room doesn’t look beautiful when it is messy and having little bit or nature in the room brightens the mood. I also learned that scents can make people happy being in that room. As my dad was in military, we moved quite a bit. My dad got most of our houses in a hurry, so my mom didn’t get to see them until we got there. My mom always managed to make our new home warm and pretty by having plants and flowers around, and polished everything so it was clean and neat. It wasn’t just the way my home looked, but also how it smelled. There were fresh scents from laundered sheets and flowers.” –Mia Jung, Interiors Director at Ike Kligerman Barkley

Use Stories as Inspiration

“My mother got her PhD in Anthropology with a focus on linguistics, and growing up I was taught how to observe and understand without pretext and prejudice. I also learned how stories and proverbs can be used to communicate big ideas. These two lessons—the importance of honest research and crafting compelling narrative—are ideas that have become a central part of our studio’s practice. –Brendan Ravenhill, founder of Brendan Ravenhill Studio

Always Edit and Update

“Through her actions, my mom taught me to take pride in the home. Whether it was as simple as displaying fresh flowers, installing new drapery in the spring, or going all out and wallpapering my bedroom, my childhood home was constantly being beautified by my mother. Her love for being surrounded by beauty definitely inspired my love for design and is a big reason why I pursued a career in interior design.” –Edyta Czajkowska, founder of Edyta & Co.

Express Yourself

“My mom has always been a big fan of bold style, which she proudly displayed in her wardrobe and in the design of our home. From an early age, she encouraged me to express my own individuality. And because of this, most of my childhood bedrooms had a mix of large-scale wallpaper, bedding in bold floral patterns, and sparkly details throughout. She taught me the importance of truly loving my surroundings, and to not be afraid to go bold.” –Abbe Fenimore, founder of Studio Ten 25

Invest in Design

“An attorney by trade, my mom had a logical and efficient approach to decorating when I was growing up. Once, she saw a two-page spread of a room she liked in a Spiegel catalog and ordered every single item—it was the ’90s, so think lots of denim, subdued primary hues, slipcovers, and large-scale floral prints. Later on, she hired an interior designer to round things out. I appreciate that she recognized the value of investing in design and always knew exactly what felt good to her.” –Caitlin Murray, founder of Black Lacquer Design

Get Creative When Saving for Big Purchases

“My mom always loved beautiful things and managed to buy them on a working class income. She would stash bits of her ‘food allowance’ and pay off antiques, flow blue china, and fine art. In one particular reiteration of this habit, she hooked up with a framer, who during the depression in New York traded with Thomas Hart Benton, Fernand Leger, Raphael and Moses Soyer, and other artists of the time. On special occasions she would gift me with a treasured painting, which remain amongst my most valued possessions.” –Bonnie Saland, textile and wallpaper designer, philomelasweb.com

Choose Fabrics Carefully

“Always plan the whole room—don’t approach things piecemeal, and coordinate the fabrics. Also, if it’s well-made you can reupholster, just get the best quality fabrics you can. Other tips: Make sure the fabrics won’t show dirt, shiny fabrics look cheap, and buy lamps and chairs in pairs, get complete sets!” –Raun L. Thorp, founder of Tichenor & Thorp Architects

Individuality Matters

“My mom is an interior designer, so there’s a lot she taught me about design and decorating over the years, but the one lesson that really stands out and sticks with me is her emphasis on custom-made home furnishings. I’ve custom-made everything from wallpaper to light fixtures to furniture that filled entire rooms. There is joy in creating something for a client that is one-of-kind and made specifically for his or her home. Individuality is its own luxury.” –Kahi Lee, interior designer and star of TLC’s “Trading Spaces.”

Good Design Takes Perseverance

“My eclectic taste as a designer stems from both my mom and my grandmother—and their never-give-up perseverance. My favorite story about my grandmother exemplifies her taste and her moxie. While out antiquing one day she spotted a beautifully hand-carved, pre-WWI grandfather clock by Bavarian clockmaker Lenzkirch. She knew she’d found a true heirloom and had to have it, coaxing the shopkeeper to help stuff it into the trunk of her Ford Fairlane after purchasing it for a song. At a towering seven feet tall, half of it stuck out of the back. Undeterred my grandmother crept slowly down the Autobahn all the way back to Stuttgart, cars whizzing past, all with the priceless clock dangling precariously from the trunk. Arriving safely home with her newfound prize, she and my grandfather heaved the great beast up two flights of stairs to its new home in their pied a terre. The gorgeous clock my grandmother found remains in our family today and for generations to come, much like her many lessons. As my grandmother would keenly admit, great treasures often require little more than a keen eye and some sweat.” –Patrick Ediger, Los Angeles-based interior designer