James Swan

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Seven Key Interior Design Principles

A different, but equally elegant Living Room as designed by Wiseman-Group.

Many years ago, after living, loving and learning from the pages of Architectural Digest, I stood in a show house living room designed by Paul Wiseman with tears filling my eyes. The airbrushed yellow glazed walls were backdrop for an elegant, chic collection of overstuffed upholstery, fine antiques and timeless art. The cumulative beauty was, for me, overwhelming and deeply motivating. It is a room I will never forget.

Reflecting back on that room and the many rooms of beauty I’ve experienced over the years there’s a shortlist of concepts which I believe provide the foundation stones on which a remarkable room is built. While foundational, these principles never take away from the artistic inspiration and personal flair brought to any room by a serious designer. But, as with all things foundational, they are critical to a beautifully designed space.

If you’re working to create a timelessly beautiful room, make use of this checklist of Key Design Principles:
Focus- If you’re lucky the architecture of your room offers you focus. A fireplace, window or structural details are some obvious elements on which to focus a room’s orientation. In the absence of one of these strong attention grabbers it becomes the smart designer’s task to introduce a primary feature (strong furniture piece, art….etc.) supported by an appropriate collection of secondary focal points.

Balance- Whether approached using symmetry or asymmetry the balance of elements in a room is vital. Give careful consideration to the architectural details, the furniture, colors, art and accessories, as each should strike a compelling and consistent sense of balance.

Scale- Refers to the relative size of each object and element in a room in relation to all others. A room filled with large scaled objects can be successful based on the relative relationship of each item. In much the same way a room chalked full of relatively small items and elements can also be successful. The haphazardly mixing of these two ends of the spectrum can spell confusion for a space for its lack of clarity.

Proportion- Speaks to a desirable relationship off size between elements in a room. Correct proportion is accomplished with specific intent. It does not happen by accident. Careful understanding of the relative size of objects and elements as they relate to every other element in the room helps deliver rooms with pleasing proportions.

Color- Often the most obvious element of a room, color is quickly identified but its implications are powerful and far reaching. Color in all its relationships (complimentary, contrasting…etc.) conveys a wide range of emotions which heavily impact the design of a room. Understanding and then utilizing color to its best effect delivers an undeniable layer of beauty.

Pattern- Delivers to a space and surface a regular, repetitive arrangement of pattern. The successful mixing of pattern elevates a space by adding a depth of visual interest otherwise not possible.

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About the author, James

With the launch of the new podcast, Million Dollar Decorating, James Swan adds media-host to his career accomplishments. The interview-based show becomes the first daily podcast devoted to the worlds of design, decorating and beautiful living and features interviews with the world’s leading designers, decorators, architects and artisans. Life-style leaders like Robert Couturier, Sandra Nunnerly, Vicente Wolf and Timothy Corrigan populate the podcast where unguarded conversations reveal behind-the-scenes sources of inspiration, resources and stories that inspire and motivate.
James Swan has built a career crafting classically influenced interiors across the United States. Swan has been featured in House & Garden, House Beautiful, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune and wrote for the “Trends & Shopping” column in House & Garden magazine. His book “101 Things I Hate About Your House” won a 2011 American Bookseller’s Award.
Television appearances on HGTV’s “Homes Across America,” speaking engagements with the professional design industry association NEOCON, regular guest spots on national radio programs have consistently placed Swan in the media spotlight.
Swan’s career took off back in Northern California at a noted San Francisco architecture firm, where he managed residential interiors. After that, Los Angeles beckoned, specifically the prestigious design firm of Frank K. Pennino & Associates, where as senior designer he managed high-profile projects, and earned a reputation for refined classical design that succinctly reflected his clients’ lives. In 1999, Swan opened his own firm in Beverly Hills.
Swan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology and music from Southwestern College in Waxahachie, Texas, and studied in Arizona State University's Architecture and Design master's degree program.
Swan is a past member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, serving on its Executive Board of Directors. His other commitments include PAWS/LA, which assists with the care of pets for people living with disabilities, and KidSmart, an art education foundation for inner-city youth. In his free time, Swan may be found furthering his passion for skiing and traveling. Currently he lives and works from his home on the Maine coast.