Each week, Mansion Global tackles a topic with an elite group of designers from around the world who work on luxury properties. This week we look at how to make a living space feel both luxe and understated.
An elegant space outfitted with opulent touches doesn’t have to mean an interior that’s dipped in gold. Adding noble accents and materials in a quiet way will keep the feel timeless. “More and more clients say they want a home that feels special but isn’t too precious,” said Donna Classi, Ethan Allen design consultant. “To me, that means choosing the finest quality you can afford—from a statement chandelier or a hand-knotted rug to luxurious linens and fine art—and letting it speak for itself.”
Here, advice from design pros to create a lavish space that’s low key.
Strike a Balance
“I have always been drawn to things that are wooden and chunky and natural—nothing precious–approachable, yet luxurious, which I think sums up the quintessential California lifestyle: high-quality craftsmanship but understated finishes. Silhouettes and materials that are organic/modern/fresh, but with some sort of grounding to them.
“I also love the idea of tension, the combination of a beautiful antique with a modern sofa, or a vibrant painting in a cool, minimal living room. This type of balance and unexpected combinations feels very collected versus decorated. To me, understated luxury is achieved by adhering to design principles of perfect balance, juxtaposed scale, intriguing color and a multitude of textures.
“I love incorporating leather accents in unexpected ways, as leather adds a timeless and luxurious feel to a wide range of interior and furniture styles from traditional to very contemporary. The material itself also adds a visual depth to a space, which is hard to achieve with other finishes, but automatically feels refined and cohesive. Another consideration is to add some beautiful fabrics, such as linen or velvet to bring a subtle moment of luxury.
“Along with exceptional fabrics, we look to marble and hardwood flooring to elevate designs in an understated way. Using real stone and true hardwood versus porcelain or laminate is such a nice way to infuse a subdued sense of extravagance into a design. Keeping finishes honed reduces the glam factor and also creates a feeling of understated luxury.
“I always strive to incorporate furniture thatmarries both beauty and functionality, especially in a living room where comfort is of the utmost importance and being able to truly relax is the ultimate luxury.”
—Denise Morrison, founder & principal designerof Denise Morrison Interiors in Newport Beach, California
Curate With Care
“An understated room is one that welcomes you and invites you to ‘please touch.” Smooth satins and silky textiles are best.
“Choose neutrals that vary in feel—pure wool for rugs, velvets for upholstery, dupioni silk for draperies—to create a rich, cohesive look throughout.”
“Think beautiful, rich woods like sustainable mahogany for trim or crown molding; millwork can transform a simple box of a room into a striking architectural space. Hardwood flooring is always an excellent choice. But depending on the room, don’t overlook marble, porcelain tile or even concrete polished to a sheen. Feel elegance underfoot by layering area rugs over broadloom.”
“An understated room is one that looks and feels thoughtfully curated. That means every piece–from a show-stopping leather sectional to the smallest decorative accent–is considered in relation to the rest. Embrace craftsmanship and classic forms over trending styles. Remember that minimalism can be chic, so invest in well-made, practical pieces like bookcases, china cabinets and sideboards to help keep clutter at bay. Plush seating looks and feels luxurious, while glints of metal (whether paint or the real deal) add subtle drama to any elegant space.”
—Donna Classi, Garden City, New York-based design consultant at Ethan Allen
Mix and Match
“The overall space should feel considered yet inviting. It’s a fine line between having a thing of beauty that you want to use because it looks fabulous, rather than something you don’t want to use because it’s simply too precious and unapproachable.
“Layering, contrast, pattern and color are key. Any one element in isolation can look stark or harsh; it is the blending of these four elements that creates a luxurious yet approachable feel.
"Layering doesn’t just refer to the addition of throws or cushions. Having three different layers of lighting in a living room, such as decorative table lamps that create a soft evening glow, a central pendant or chandelier on a dimmer or additional spotlights around the room to highlight artwork or furnishings are keys to setting the right mood.
“Use color to accent and punctuate your scheme. For bolder spaces have no fear with vibrant patterns and colors, whether it’s the curtains to provide an interesting backdrop or cushions and rugs to add vibrancy. When it comes to contrast, even the lightest of color schemes still requires that small punch of dark to ground the space, this could be the finish of chair legs in an ebony stain or a piping detail to an upholstered piece. Keep an even blend of elements to ensure it’s not too matchy or staged.
“A timbered floor will always look smart and timeless. Keep shiny, more polished finishes to metal accents in furniture and ironmongery, mirrors and accessories. Anything that can scratch easily like marble, metals or specialist materials, should not be on a surface that’s likely to have lots of traffic.
“Mixing furniture styles, old and new, creates a curated look without everything looking brand new and totally unusable. It also contributes to the layering aspect of a space and brings interest and depth.”