James Swan

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The Enthusiast’s Guide to a Beautiful Home: Quotes from 6 Top Designers

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In the almost 18 months that I’ve been interviewing design professionals from around the world (600 and counting) I’ve learned something new, interesting and sometimes surprising from every conversation and interaction.

Today I want to share with you some tips from the very best.

Use this to make your world and home more beautiful.


Suzanne Tucker










James Swan:               What’s the best decorating advice you’ve ever heard?


Suzanne Tucker:          Well, it might be, when in doubt, take it out.


James Swan:               Yeah, it’s hard to beat that one, isn’t it?


Suzanne Tucker:          It is hard to beat that one. You just have to be disciplined to really listen to yourself, and from a professional standpoint, not be afraid to tell your client something’s wrong, or that you made a mistake, everyone does, or from a layman’s point of view, again, when in doubt, take it out. I would say that’s probably the best advise. As far as sort of what to do, I don’t know, don’t be a slave, don’t be a slave to trends. Trends come and go. Fashion is trends and you buy a pair of shoes, you buy a dress, you buy a suit, you buy a tie, they go in and out. Those are trends. Design is not trendy, good design.








There’s plenty of things out there that are trendy. I’m tired of all those sputnik chandeliers that people hang around, but those are so trendy, and you’re going to look back on those, and go, oh, my God, that was so 2016, and you can do that, you can look back in time, and say – I mean, perfect example, Kentia palms, those are Victorian era. Avocado green and harvest gold, those were the appliance colors back in the ’60s and ’70s, so those were trends, and they miss. So, my advice is don’t follow trends, try to find your own style. What resonates with you, what works for you is absolutely correct. If you don’t like it, it’s not correct.










James Swan:               Very wise words. Now, along that same line, what is something that our listeners can do at home today to make their home more beautiful?


Suzanne Tucker:          Today? Go out and buy fresh flowers, yeah, put fresh flowers in your home. Doesn’t have to be expensive, a bunch of daisies, or go to the nursery and buy potted marguerites, but having something growing in your house, in a room is I think is important, it’s that bit of life. I feel that way about pets, pets in a home, they give it life, give it soul, and music, turn on the music, yeah, flowers and music. That can transform everything and then add a cocktail, and hey, you’re ready to go.


Campion Platt







James Swan:               What’s the best decorating advice that you’ve ever been given?


Campion Platt:            I would say it’s along the same lines of scale and proportion in that there are basically three scales: the large, the middle, and the small. You could take that from city planning, to a building, a townhouse, right into your living room. When you take it into your living room, you’re talking about the grand scale of the room, the architecture of the room. You’re talking about the middle scale, which is the furniture of the room. You’re talking about the small scale which are the decorations. The scale and proportion and color and materiality of those is really what makes up design. If you were to distil it down into those three factors, you could apply them across the board. The average consumer, one should consider all three of those every time you go to look at anything you want to do to.








If you have two of them but not the last one – if you have a room and the furniture but nothing else in it, it’s gonna look like a showroom or it’s unfinished. Those three simple rules that I think will help people really finish off rooms well.








Alexa Hampton










James Swan:               What’s the best decorating advice you’ve ever been given?


Alexa Hampton:          Well, that’s impossible to really distill because I have grown up knowing Albert Hadley and my father and David Hicks and Bill Blass and you name it. But there was a moment when my father said to me – We were talking about a living room – he was talking, I was listening. He was talking about a living room furniture plan in a house where the dining room table seated 16. He was talking to the room (because we’d have these meeting and the whole office would be in the meeting), and he just off-the-cuff pointed out that, of course, if you’re going to have the expectation of seating 16 people in your dining room, that you should have approximately that much seating in the living room.









That kind of blew my mind. I know that’s so stupid, but I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms. Being reminded that design is logical is amazing because it’s not like you’re searching for some weird inspiration or you need to smoke peyote and go into a sweat lodge. No, a lot of it is based in the rational world, and I loved that.


James Swan:               I like that, too. I’ve never processed it quite that way.


Alexa Hampton:          Yeah, but hearing it, it’s like, “Oh, my God, of course.”


James Swan:               Yeah, it makes perfect sense. Doubly so, coming from your dad… when your dad’s Mark Hampton. What’s one thing, Alexa, that our listeners at home today can do to make their homes more beautiful?









Alexa Hampton:          Well, there’re so many things they could do. I think my background is such that I respect the bones so much. So, if you need a crown molding or you need to make your walls plum or something to make the space itself, the shell, more correct or whole or more pleasing to your eye, I think that’s a wise investment. Because other things about design might be portable or they might be transient in your favor, but the bones really need to be right to hold it all. You can do a lot less if the bones are correct.








James Swan:               Isn’t that an amazing thing? People, I don’t think, always understand that by getting the backgrounds right minimizes the decorative flourishes that are necessary.


Alexa Hampton:          Yeah. You don’t have to sweat so hard trying to come up with whatever to distract. You can have it be the beautiful shell with a single thing in it, and it takes on sculptural, gorgeous qualities because the surroundings are so perfect.



Vicente Wolf










James Swan:    So, what’s the best professional advice you were ever given?


Vicente Wolf:             I was given an advice by a friend and mentor 35 years ago. He said an in-tune designer doesn’t make money by staying in his office. He makes money by going out there, meeting with clients, going to shops, going to suppliers. That’s how you make your money. I think it’s interesting because each time I do that, it’s always I find something, I meet with somebody. It’s nice to step out and look for another – going outside.

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An extra thought exchange from Mr. Wolf’s interview:


James Swan:               Wonderful. The internet plays a big part – so it seems – in the work that goes on in the design industry these days. Do you have a particularly favorite internet go to site that you’d be willing to share with our listeners?










Vicente Wolf:             One Kings Lane. And I love Wisteria. I mean 1stDibs too for when I’m looking for antiques or one of a kind pieces. We were looking – we’re just doing a banister. You go into all different suppliers that sell banisters and you’re able to research in a much easier way than ever before.



Michelle Nussbaumer









James:             Michelle, what’s the best decorating advice you’ve ever been given?

Michelle:                     Well, let me think that through. Well, I didn’t take this advice but I think I should have and I always recommend it to all the young people that work for me or that go off on their own. And that was to work for someone in design who had a good business going and learn everything from them before going out on their own. And somehow being the Type-A person I am, I didn’t follow that advice but I think I would have gone a lot further more quickly if I had. And when people asked me about that, I usually tell them I think there’s nothing better when you’re a young person when working for someone who has a good business going, a good clientele, a good relationship with the media and it’s relationships.








Everything in the world really has to do with relationships. And so take advantage of those relationships if you can and value them because I would be nowhere today if it were not for the relationships I have had in my life. And I value them so very much and I’m so grateful for so many people that have helped me along the way and I think that’s really what everything in life is about.

James:                          You are quite correct in that, not just design, but life in general. It’s all about relationships.

Michelle:                     Everything. It really comes back to your friends. I would be nowhere today without my friends and of course, my family.

James:                          Of course. What’s one thing that our listeners can do at home today, Michelle, to make their home more beautiful?








Michelle:                     Okay, I love this question because I think there’s so many things that people could do. I’m just going to give you a couple. Sorry, I can’t just do one because “more is more” is what I like. So a lot of people have family photos or things around and usually when I go into a house of that, you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by saying, “Take these things away that are personal and sentimental to you.” But sometimes they just don’t work. So try to declutter things that you don’t absolutely need. And then as far as family photos, which I think can be great, try to keep the frame similar. So if you have a bunch of gold frames, get a tray and just put them all on that tray on a table or whatever it may be.

I think anything when you do a group on a table on top of a tray, it becomes magical and important, a group together. I think sometimes people collect things like whatever it is they may be collecting and they’ll have one small thing on this table and another thing on a shelf. Put those things together, those like things on a tray or just together on a table. So that’s always something really easy. And I think the way you make your bed is something you could do today to change. Take your top sheet, fold it back, and let’s see it. Don’t fold it all the way up. Look in a magazine and look at different ways beds are made.








Take a shawl or something you may have, put it across the bottom of the bed. It’s super easy. You can do something different with that. De-clutter your kitchen. If you have things sitting out that you cook with that really don’t go with the vibe of your kitchen, just put them in the drawer. You don’t need all that sitting out. So I would say be mindful of what you leave sitting out because when you see that kind of clutter around, it kind of clutters your brain. And then you also just think it’s overwhelming, you don’t know what to do. And also you can move your furniture even today. You can do that. Where’s your sofa in the room? Think is there another wall you can put on for fun?

Try to use pairs. If you have pairs of lamps and they’re not on each side of the sofa, maybe one’s on the table and one’s somewhere else, put them on each side of the sofa. Pairs are something that designers always do and it’s really easy. Probably you have some pairs. Try to use them in that way.


Robert Couturier










James:                         Speaking of advice, what’s the best decorating advice you ever received?


Robert:                       Oh, my God. There would be so many. It would be very many because there isn’t one advice that works on every job and for every single project. I think that the one good advice probably that I would have to give that probably was never given to me is to be as supple as possible, and as open-minded as possible. There is no bad idea. There is just bad execution. And, I think when the client says something and you say, “Oh, my God! This is a bad idea.” You should never say that because it’s not. It’s an idea that belongs to the client. And then, you have to make it work.


We’re doing an apartment right now that’s quite large, and then, there is something that the client wants at that apartment that, actually, I’m fighting against giving. And, I’m making them unhappy. And, I will give it to them. But, I will give it to them in the way that I think is good that will work in the project. It might not be exactly what the client wants, but it’s in the direction of what the client wants. And, I will make it work and I will make it beautiful. And, it’s my ideas, their idea and together, two ideas make one better idea. So, I think the best idea is to be as open and as accepting as possible. And, as nonjudgmental. You can’t be judgmental.


James:                        I think that applies in just about every area of life, right?


Robert:                       I think it should. I think it should, indeed. I think in our job, it does very much.


James:                        Without a doubt. Without a doubt. So, share one thing that our listeners at home can do today to make their home more beautiful.







Robert:                       One thing that could make their home more beautiful. I think that the more you put of yourself inside your own house, the happier the house is. You know, haven’t you ever been to sort of many houses, and you go into a house? And you go into a house and you feel comfortable, and then you start to look around and you feel comfortable and happy. And, you start looking around seeing that in fact, all these different disparate elements, neither one of those elements really works, but together, because they’ve been put together by that person, with the single will of one person, because this is what makes them happy. It’s what makes them tick. And then, you sit in that house and say, “This is a good house. This is a successful house.” It might not be aesthetically what you want, you yourself, the person looking at it, but if that person is happy in their house, the battle is won.


James:                        What could be more important?


Robert:                       It’s a beautiful house.


James:                        Very nice.


Robert:                       So, just make yourself happy. I don’t think, you know that – also, I think you have to be very leery of fashions. I think, you know, we have all these magazines that come up and they say, “You know, the fashion is greige.” So, everybody has to do a greige house. And, you have people who are just not meant for it. You know, you do a greige house for them and they feel like killing themselves. And, why? Why should all houses be greige? Why should all houses be white? Why should all houses be red? I think they have to be what the person feels comfortable with. And, I think there should be much more freedom in the way that people do their houses, and much less judgement. And, much less fear of being judged because, most people also stand in fears of being judged by their peers or their friends. They say, “Oh, I can’t do that because my friends are going to say I have no taste.” Who knows? Maybe their friends have no taste and they do have taste.


James:                        And, they’ll only know that if they try, right?


Robert:                       Absolutely.


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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.