How often has this happened to you? You spot a stunning coffee table, maybe a little trendier than your usual cravings, but still, it calls out to you and you just have to have it. Fast forward to you returning said coffee table because it just doesn’t “fit in” at home. What’s the lesson here? It’s easy to be drawn to an item when it’s styled to achieve a particular look. But sadly, that same look doesn’t always translate into our home.
“Sometimes, the problem with shopping at our favorite stores is that you’re seeing these beautiful vignettes and are so taken with them, you’re not thinking about your own personal style,” says Frank Fontana, Long Island native, lead designer and host of HGTV’s Design on a Dime and author of the new book Frank Fontana’s Dirty Little Secrets of Design (Stewart, Tabori and Chang). “Instead, you’re focused on the style someone else has put together. Impulse takes over and you can end up spending money on something that was an unnecessary purchase in the first place.”
What to do? Be more intuitive and spend some time with yourself says Fontana. Of course, finding your own personal style is not the easiest task, but with a little work and some guidance from the pros, it is possible. In his new book, Fontana shares his Quantum Design Element (QDE), his method that encourages paying attention to how we create our spaces, which makes finding our personal style a little bit easier. “It might sound a bit scientific,” he says, “But at the heart of this theory are basic design principles that we should all consider, no matter what style we’re aiming for, and they are function, ambiance and cohesion.”
Function can be one of the most overlooked features of any furniture purchase. “If a piece has not been touched, moved or paid attention to in six months it is just wasting space,” says Fontana. “Instead of enjoying the item, you are instead just simply accumulating things that do not serve a true function, which often leads you to buying even more ‘stuff’ which leads to clutter.”
To counter that, Fontana suggests purchasing a coffee table that actually fits your lifestyle. If you need a coffee table that you and your family often snack on, then be sure to purchase one that has an extension. Another good idea? If you’re without lots of storage yet need a place to stow away extra blankets, pillows, toys or other living room needs, invest in a storage ottoman—something that can hide it all away.
Ottomans can also provide easy, last-minute seating. “I entertain a lot myself, so I keep an extra set of ottomans around for extra seating,” says Fontana. “I like to create simple vignettes with them by using them to carve out a separate area away from the TV or the party so there’s room for private conversations, too.”
The ambiance of a room is also important. Everything within a room gives off energy, explains Fontana, and it’s that energy he says can tell a lot about a space. “Just like when you meet someone new for the first time, when you first walk into a space, you’ll usually know within the first 30 seconds if you like a room or not!” Try it at home tonight. Feel like you need to change something? Steer yourself towards what moves you, what inspires you.
“Growing up on Long Island always had a huge influence on me,” Fontana says. “It still does to this day when I come back to visit family. Port Jefferson is one of my favorite spots. The homes, the vibe—it’s like Martha’s Vineyard meets Nantucket. I just love it.”
And if you feel as if you have to change or alter something to have it really speak to you, to really make it feel like your style, then do it. There are so many DIY projects both large and small that can make a world of difference. In addition to quick fixes such as changing out pillows or repainting, Fontana suggests putting a little elbow grease into your projects to take on other tasks such as staining or faux finishes.
“I learned so much working alongside my dad and later on painters and carpenters,” says Fontana. “My time spent assisting those craftsmen in and around the design industry really helped me learn the tools I need to achieve the looks that I want for myself and my clients.”
Finally says Fontana, make sure the items you choose to surround yourself with have a purpose, a story to tell. A cohesive environment doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to “match” but rather, it can simply be a collection of items that have a personal value to you and ultimately, will make you happy to come home to.
“How much more interesting is it to tell a story about why you choose a certain lamp or piece of artwork, rather than just saying, ‘oh, yes, I got it at such and such store’?” says Fontana. Of course, not everything will have a grandiose tale, but the items that do will be another extension of you and your personality. And after all, isn’t that what finding our personal style is all about?
Photos by Brian Willette