High / Low Esthetic


There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned tight budget to get your creative juices flowing.

The fun of dreaming is dreaming big, no matter what our resources. But we should always (always!) make the most of what we already have. These days, reduce, reuse, recycle is way more than just a slogan.

I call it making something out of nothing, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But all you really need to get started is one solid piece to build upon and the courage to jump in with both feet.

The High/Low esthetic has been around for a while. In November 1988, Vogue stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele put a super model in a jewel-encrusted Christian LaCroix jacket and a pair of stone-washed jeans. Before this cover, couture was couture and the rest of us were the rest of us and the twain were never meant to meet. But de Dudzeele loved street fashion and decided the matching LaCroix jacket and skirt they planned was too expected, too staid, less than badass. She took a chance and a trend was born. Her new high-low esthetic set the fashion world on its proverbial ear. Today, that cover shot is a classic and is as exciting today as it was 30-plus years ago.

Admittedly, this fashion moment wasn’t exactly born of a literal ‘nothing’. The model was stunning, the photographer was Peter Lindbergh and it was shot on the streets of Gay Paree. With the wagon-load of designer loot at hand, even I could have styled a pretty picture. But pretty wasn’t what they were going for. Pretty is easy. Panache is hard.

Creating a stunning room on a budget is a bit of an undertaking but it’s not unattainable. Yes, there is alchemy involved. But remember, the Webster definition of alchemy is “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” The emphasis in that definition belongs on ‘seemingly’. It’s notable that the word ‘effortless’ does not appear. For us mere mortals, we’re gonna have to work for it. The sooner we realize this, the better. Stop hoping for the lyrics for ‘Yesterday’ to appear to you in a dream. We are not Paul McCartney.

In any and all types of projects, your chances for alchemy improve if you follow the followers of the following:

Educate Your Eye – The internet has eliminated your excuse for not knowing any better.  Before you begin searching on-line for a great deal, Google the top of the line fanciest of the fancy – tables and chairs, upholstered furniture, décor, anything and everything.

Apply Two Tried and True Principles of Design – 1) In all things, scale matters. If you have to err, err on the side of larger rather than smaller. This is especially true with light fixtures and rugs. And, by the way, diamonds. 2) A variation of textures is your saving grace.  All soft looks mushy, all hard looks sterile. Mixing your textures provides a juxtaposition that assures the sum will be greater than the parts.

Tolerate Lots of Trial and Error – First, try something outside your wheelhouse. Then stand back, decide something is just not quite right, and give it another go.  I often give an idea a whirl and walk away for an hour or a day or a week. Percolation works as well for the old bean as it does for the coffee bean. Design and décor is what I call a Game of Inches, so shifting stuff around a bit might be all you need.

Embrace The Re-Do – Funky old brown furniture comes to life with a fresh coat of black or white paint.  Black or white – not cobalt, not coral, not camel – black or white. To decide which, analyze the background where the finished piece will live and decide if you want it to blend in or pop.

Original Artwork – The real deal (no matter the medium or the artist) is always a better option than ‘store-bought’ décor. You can frame almost anything. Get to know your local framer and ask them to demonstrate the power of mats and fillets.

Give the High/Low a go. The more you try, the better you’ll get at it and the more confidence you’ll build. Yes, it has to please more than just you. You have a family and you have friends and your goal is to delight rather than to shock. But it’s absolutely worth your while to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. My best tip for cultivating some badass attitude and nurturing your joie de vivre? Just this once, listen to the live recording instead of the studio version.

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