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The Interior Lives of Designers

July 10, 2001|JURA KONCIUS | WASHINGTON POST

As editor in chief of Elle Decor magazine, Margaret Russell lives in a world awash in beautiful rooms and beautiful people. "I'm so busy and I don't have a lot of free time. Writing a book was the last thing on my mind," says Russell.

But when photographer John M. Hall came to her with the idea of writing a book about design from a woman's perspective, Russell was energized. Why? Because she thought "Designing Women: Interiors by Leading Style Makers" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 176 pages.; $40) would give her the opportunity to show how the personal style of 16 contemporary players in the design world has influenced their life's work.

She has chosen an interesting lot: hot-shot decorators, hip stylists, retail entrepreneurs and specialty-store divas. Each has a distinct sensibility: Some go for Zen-like spareness; others eschew strict color schemes; still others prefer cool, ordered spaces.

You'll visit the soulful Victorian house in San Francisco of Celia Tejada, vice president of Pottery Barn, and the minimalist Paris apartment of cutting-edge furniture showroom impresario Holly Hunt.

What's fun about peeking inside their city flats and Georgian houses is that despite what the rest of us might imagine, they don't take decorating all that seriously. You'll see desks piled with papers, and baskets of kids' bath toys hanging from pulleys over the tub. The book is more a look at lifestyles than at rules of decor.

Take, for instance, Ellen O'Neill, vice president of home design for Polo Ralph Lauren, whose black-and-white New York apartment is fresh and lively. O'Neill, whose job is to create stylish environments and themed collections for one of the icons of the American design world, has designed a home filled with black-and-white checks and stripes, weathered white-painted chests, quirky French wallpaper and black metal chandeliers dripping with crystals. "I like a sense of humanity in a home," O'Neill told Russell. "I've tried not to like stuff, but face it --I just like stuff."

Each of the 16 chapters has a "Design Details" page, real-life tips from the pros who are featured, such as where to shop for out-of-print books, how to accessorize using stacks of magazines or even the name of a favorite California Merlot. They share personal details about their home lives: One admits to keeping a lint brush in every room to deal with pet hair.

Russell lives in a modern New York high-rise with a knockout view. "I am a non-stuff person. My main stuff is books."

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