Design Confidence

“With successful decorating, you’re not self-conscious, but rather confident in what you want,” said New York-based interior designer, author and tastemaker Charlotte Moss. Her office and residence are in Manhattan and she keeps a second home in East Hampton, apt zip codes for a woman of boundless energy, enthusiasm, creativity and confidence. Moss has written 10 books, most recently Charlotte Moss Entertains, in which she discusses her ability to make any social gathering stylish. From a picnic in her beloved three-acre East Hampton garden—she has a love affair with botanicals—to afternoon tea in her living room, Moss has a knack for creating an atmosphere with hospitality in mind.

Beyond simply placing plants in a room, what are creative ways that a garden can inspire the interior?
Just recently we did a project where we took a garden bench, painted it green, put a cushion on it with a beautiful fabric and set it at the end of a hallway. You can choose from an array of fabrics, depending on what aspect of the garden you like. For instance, Pierre Frey has wallpaper and fabrics that look like espalier trees. There are companies that make scenic murals where you can create your own garden inside that may either be simpatico with the outside or an indoor fantasy garden. Sometimes you see these scraggly houseplants and you think, “oh my god, they’re so anemic.”

I’d rather see one strong tree or one robust, really hardy plant. A lot of people have this vision that this is just an ordinary plant, but sometimes those ordinary things are very hardy. If you use them en masse, be generous with them. Put them in a big basket in the middle of a table or a group of herbs in a kitchen window. You have to think about placement: Where do things make the most impact? And then you play with that. If you’ve got room in the bathroom, there are things you can put in there that bring the notion of a beautiful living thing into that environment.

How can you add drama to a room?
Play with scale. You can take a mirror, overscale it and make it consume the space above the mantle. Or you can prop it on the floor. Big things in little rooms can sometimes be the most dramatic. Also, you can use a tree that goes from floor to ceiling—whether real or faux—because I love living things. You can fill a room with art at really reasonable prices, whether you hang them gallery style or it’s one thing that you buy in volume, like doing the whole wall with framed engravings. That sounds expensive, but if you go online, you can buy standard picture frames for very reasonable prices and create a whole art gallery of your own. It lends itself to collecting. It can be all sorts of disparate things: photographs, engravings, watercolors. I love gallery-hung walls because I’m always collecting. I never worry where I’m going to hang it because there’s always a spot.


Charlotte Moss’ ultimate key to decorating: be confident in all your design choices. image: bruce soyez-bernard

How can you incorporate romance into interior design?
If I look over in the corner and I see a table that’s got a still life of things collected or a few really important photos, that’s romantic to me because it makes me think, “When did they take that trip, where did they go, where did that come from?” It suggests personality and a little bit of mystery, too. There should always be a little mystery in romance. Just draping fabric over a table—if it’s done the right way, not too drippy, but tailored—and creating a table skirt adds a touch of softness to a room. And I love moody lampshades, dark colored lampshades, print lampshades. It’s not one thing that creates an atmosphere but how it all comes together.

What brings vibrancy into a small room?
Color. To lacquer a small room makes it look like the inside of a jewelry box. Let’s take red. If you talk to color specialists, they’ll say red makes people antsy. But it’s one of those great colors that could be great in a dining room because you’re only there for a meal. The dining room can afford to be eggplant, charcoal grey or red and have some drama. But if it’s a small breakfast room, you want something that’s pale and light because that’s the beginning of the day and you want something cheerful, maybe chartreuse, to wake you up. Between that and the coffee, it will open your eyes.

How can accessories make or break interior design?
Bad lampshades will kill a room: one made of cheap fabric, one that’s too granny or not in sync with the lamp itself. If you can’t buy a great silk shade, buy a paper shade and buy the best quality paper you can. Somebody could spend a million dollars on a room and if I walk in and they have bad lampshades, I’m done. Because anyone with money can write checks to buy things, but it’s getting those details right, that last ten percent with accessories, that makes the difference, creating an atmosphere and romance.

I saw your collection of straw hats playing a sculptural role on a staircase. How do you successfully mix unexpected elements like this in interior design?
That’s my house in East Hampton. I found this great hat rack and I put it where any of my guests who come down the steps can grab a straw hat and go to the pool. But unexpected isn’t in the visitor or the perception of one looking at something. When I buy something and put it in a room, I don’t think “Oh, I need an element of surprise.” You buy what you like and plunk it wherever you decide it’s going to work best. That all comes from one thing: confidence.

It’s almost like putting together a collage: a little of this and a little of that. It creates something with a little magic to it. If it’s a seashell you collected on the beach with a grandchild and it sits on your desk that’s maybe 18th century, it doesn’t matter. Anybody that has an ounce of style shops everywhere, and over time with a lot of practice you don’t even think about it. You’re not self-conscious about it, you just do it because it’s who you are. That’s successful decorating. Building the confidence to say I’m doing what I want.