Interview: Designer Eddie Lee

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Eddie Lee is a superstar designer and decorator and owner of the design firm Eddie Lee Inc. He works throughout the U.S., with numerous projects in New York City and the Hamptons. His projects range from large scale collaborations with architects on construction projects to the decoration of existing spaces. We caught up with him to get a few design tips for our readers.

Are there common mistakes many people make with regards to design?

Not starting out with a furniture plan—a plan of the room designed to scale, with sizes and dimensions, that lets you decide the sizes and positioning of the furniture. Then they make “passion purchases,” buying things they like—only to discover they don’t fit in the room or don’t flow well with the look of the space and the other items there.

What are some of your favorite design tricks—say, for a kitchen?

Mirrors are a great tool. Mirroring an entire wall can double your space (visually). Or using a mirrored backsplash is also a great way to add light and make things look more open, especially in tight spaces.

Where do you start if a client doesn’t have a specific idea in mind and may not even know exactly what they want?

We do a walk-through and talk-through, to get a sense of where they are and what they like. Often it requires you to be a detective. For example, you can look at their closet for a sense of their favorite color palettes.  Sometimes you can start by looking at what they have now. If we can’t visualize exactly what they have in mind, we may have them look through a bunch of magazines pointing out what they like and what they don’t like. It’s also important to find out not only where they are now, but where they see themselves in five or ten years. A major project can take a long time and we want to be sure the finished project will be a good fit for them and their lifestyle at that time. So sometimes you really need to get into their heads.

How do you balance trends with unique and individual style?

I’m not a big fan of following what’s “in” at that particular moment. For one thing, as I said, these projects can take a while, so what’s “in” when you start may already be on the way “out” when you’re done. I prefer to focus on classic pieces or follow the client’s individual style. If you want to add a few trendy elements, you can always use small accent pieces that can easily be switched out later.

Is it essential that all the rooms of a house follow one general theme or have the same style?

I think that public rooms should follow a flow for continuity.  That doesn’t mean they need to look identical, but maybe having consistency with the moldings or the accent color. For private rooms such as a master bedroom or powder rooms that aren’t used by the public, I think it is fine to do something different and have a more unique style.

How can someone get the look of glamour and luxury if they don’t have a big budget?

Paint is a very inexpensive way to decorate. Even just adding a new accent color can really freshen up a room. Great wallpaper is also a good way to go. Many people—especially younger people—have the misconception that wallpaper is old-fashioned or outdated, but there are some great contemporary styles now. A great bonus of wallpaper is that you don’t need as much artwork because your walls are basically already decorated.

And of course going back to the furniture plan—it doesn’t cost you anything to draw one up. Then you can shop it out, because it gives you a good blueprint to go by when picking things up at a flea market or even garage sales. If you have a good plan of your space and know the types and sizes of items you need, you can pick things up as you go and eventually end up with a really great look.