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Decorating Can Be a Bit Off the Wall

Interior designer Nina Campbell will bring her emphasis on reducing stress and having fun to a Newport Beach audience.


"Don't panic," said Nina Campbell, one of the world's best-known interior designers. "Too many people worry about doing the right thing when it comes to designing their homes. They let themselves be bullied by their friends as to what's good or bad. I like to take the fear out of decorating."

Taking the fear out and replacing it with fun is Campbell's ongoing goal. She'll be one of the presenters at the Decorative Arts Society's lecture series, which begins Tuesday in Newport Beach.

English-born Campbell has been a designer for more than 25 years and was chosen as the decorator of the first royal residence to be built in England this century. She is a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and won the American Family Award for "the woman who has most influenced style internationally."

"My design philosophy is to help clients create homes that they feel secure in. My job is to make them feel confident and tell them not to fuss about things. Keeping a good sense of humor helps," she said.

Campbell's humor came into play recently when she decorated an ocean-view home in Southern California.

"When the architect heard I was the interior designer for this contemporary home of glass, wood, slate and granite, he told the clients that I'd use lots of chintz. I walked in and said, 'Let's put really heavy drapery over those [view] windows.' After he realized I was joking, we got along well and he was pleased with the results."

This project was a departure for Campbell, because she isn't known for her contemporary work, but it was one she enjoyed. "It was fun to use the colors of water and sand."

A more usual Campbell design would include lots of color and patterns that work as a whole. It is a feat often tried by homeowners, sometimes not successfully. Too many colors and prints can make a room enclosed.

"You have to remember scale," Campbell said. "You can use a striped pattern, throw in a paisley or a print and it all relates if you never use the middle scale. Things have to be big or small.

"The other advice I can give is not to compromise. If you see a fabric you love but it's too expensive, don't say you can't afford it. Instead, buy a smaller piece. Rather than using the fabric as draperies, use it for a chair or even a pillow. I see people buy a compromise piece and they hate it. A bit of what you like is better than a lot of something you only tolerate."

Campbell believes you should always buy the best furniture you can afford.

"I think in terms of recycling. If you buy a good chair now and you redecorate, the piece can always be moved to another room."

Campbell also designs two wallpaper and fabric collections each year. They are distributed worldwide by Osborne & Little, and available through Oakmount in Los Angeles.

"I try for each collection to be different but with colors that blend well with previous collections."

The latest fabrics feature jungle prints and washed chenilles. The wallpaper collection has bamboo, rattan and wood finishes.

"In the interior design field, I think of myself as an editor. I take the clients' ideas and massage them so that they get what they're comfortable with and what gives them confidence."

Along with that, clients get a designer who puts everything in the correct proportion, from the size of the print to the size of the ego.

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