American Dream Builders
For those of you who (like us!) have been glued to the tube come Sunday night on NBC, you’re already familiar with our guest today—Elaine Griffin. In addition to being a contestant on Nate Berkus’ American Dream Builders, Elaine is a BHG contributing editor, with a venerable taste well worth looking up to. We are thrilled to feature the designer and get the inside scoop on how she is, time and time again, able to turn a house into one stylish home.
First of all, congratulations on all of your success! You’ve, of course, worked with Better Homes and Gardens as an editor, and also have designed for Oprah’s O at Home, contributed to Elle Décor, among so much more—and now you are a cast member on NBC’s design reality show, American Dream Builders hosted by Nate Berkus. How did you get your start in this industry? What about design sparked your interest?
I was a publicist after I graduated from Yale, working in New York and Paris. After getting into a very Devil Wears Prada fight with my Vogue editor just before my thirtieth birthday, my mother suggested that I take a hobby and make it my job. Being Southern, my two greatest passions were design (interiors + fashion) and etiquette (about which every Southern Belle is obsessed), so off I went to the New York School of Interior Design, and later got a job working for Peter Marino.
Tell us a little more about American Dream Builders—We can imagine that your limits were tested! How were you able to keep your cool and execute such stunning results while under tremendous pressure?
Some days were better than others! We worked 12 – 14+ hours a day, six days a week, under more pressure and with less sleep than I have ever had, professionally. We would see a house for the first time at 9:00 a.m.; all of our drawings, plans and elevations were due at 1:00 p.m. for demolition, new framing (we couldn’t add footage to most homes, so we restructured the existing interiors), electrical, plumbing and tiling. Demolition began immediately after lunch at 2:00 p.m. Our fabric orders were due by 5:00 p.m., as were curtain measurements with finished lengths. We ordered fabrics online without seeing swatches, so sometimes we had surprises when the final goods arrived. To say we were on pins and needles and everybody’s nerves were frazzled is an understatement—each week, we completed two projects that would have taken months to do in the real world.
We were divided into two competing teams, but there was still enormous intra-team competition—you didn’t want to be the one to make a mistake and get sent home if your team happened to lose. Plus, everyone on the show runs his own successful business, so essentially we were twelve Chiefs and no Indians, which made for an interesting personality mix, too.
I realized after the Spanish build that in my quest to win, win, win!, I was being too aggressive with my teammates, and that I could be just as assertive and effective without being overbearing. The judges really gave me quite the tongue-lashing at elimination, and I almost got sent home, which was a very humbling, major aha moment for me. I’m a competitive, Type-A person by nature, but I saw that I didn’t have to overpower my teammates to get the job done, and that was life-transforming for me. In subsequent builds, I made sacrifices you don’t see on-camera for the benefit of the team.
You’re well-traveled, having been raised in Georgia, with stints in both New York and Paris throughout the course of your career. How has living in these cities shaped your style?
The one design rule I’ll never break is that rooms should look like the people who live in them, which, as a designer, translates into being able to implement a wide spectrum of styles for a diverse clientele. I’m a firm believer that dictatorial design is a no-no—the client runs the show when we’re working together, and I aim to implement their specific vision for their home. (Helloooooo, it’s where they live!!!!)
Developing a great “eye” in design is all about exposure—the more you see, the more you understand. So living and visiting as many places as you possibly can helps expand your creative vision. It’s why fashion designers are forever taking big trips to faraway spaces, but truthfully, with the Internet, we can all travel to a different destination every night on our computers.
Staying fresh and innovative in such a fast-paced industry like design can be a challenge. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere, especially in nature, which never ceases to amaze me with its beauty and complexity. I learned to understand color by studying the combinations in nature: a forest’s 10,000 matching shades of green, the colors of the sky at sunset and dusk, the skyline at the shore—I could go on forever. It’s important to look back, too, at the work of design and architectural legends of the past—Billy Baldwin’s rooms from the 40’s and 50’s look as fresh today as they did back then, as does the work of British legends like John Fowler and David Hicks. I could spend days lingering over the work of my contemporary peers and visiting designer showhouses, which are always endlessly creative and inspiring.
In flipping through your portfolio, we see earth tones and tribal-inspired patterns intermingled with geometrics and mid-century silhouettes. Can you give our readers some pointers for successfully co-mingling design styles?
As a rule, for patterned fabrics—floral, plaid, big print, stripe—you can have one example of each in a room, otherwise it starts to get busy. Fill in the rest with textured solids.
Of the four main “players” in a room’s design—the walls, ceiling, floor and furnishings—only one can be the shining star. The other three have to be supporting actors. So if you opt for the super-bold patterned rug, for example, then the upholstery, walls and curtains have to be quieter. Making bold visual statements with all four is painful to look at and even harder to get comfortable in.
When mixing furniture styles, know that all pieces with the same historical origin match: all classically-inspired styles fit beautifully together, for example, no matter where they’re from or how traditional or modern they are.
And it’s important to mix furniture finishes in a room to avoid visual monotony. You want wood, metallic and painted pieces, plus sleek/shiny and matte/textured surfaces and fabrics in every space to give it a professionally-designed look.
What are your top three tips for achieving high-end style on a lower-end budget?
1. Commit to an investment. When decorating, time and money are inversely proportionate—to save one, be prepared to spend a lot of the other.
2. Buy lamps, even if they’re only cheapo temporary lamps from the dollar store or thrift shop. You could fill a room with cardboard box furniture and it would look flat-out warm and inviting by lamplight. (Trade secret: As a rule, you need a lamp in at least 3 out of 4 corners of a room for balance and to avoid dark spaces.)
3. Do accessorize. The finishing touches are the last 10% of decorating but they give 90% of the effect, style-wise, so don’t give up until you’ve got them. It’s the objéts, accessories and art that personalize a room and add warmth and style. I’m a big fan of hitting flea markets, thrift stores and HomeGoods for fabulous chic-on-a-shoestring pieces.
You’ve been quoted as saying that a person is the “soul of every room” in their home. What does your home say about your soul?
My most favorite compliment by visitors dropping by is how nap-worthy my living room is. I love that because it means that it’s warm, cozy and inviting. And that’s what a home should be—nurturing. I have wanderlust and love to travel—I hope that’s reflected, too, in the multiple periods that are present. I’m crazy about style but am a practical gal, too, says my Ikea dining table and Pottery Barn rug.
I grew up on the Georgia coast and still have sand in my shoes…and far too many seashells in my living room now. True to my Southern roots, I love to entertain and adore doting on my guests—there’s always room for one more at my table, with proper napkins for cocktails, lunch and dinner (Southern ladies believe in fussing over their table napkins), and it’s always six o’clock somewhere! At the end of the day, though, I want you to feel comfortable and instantly at home the minute you walk through my door. That’s what’s most important of all.
Catch Elaine on American Dream Builders Sundays on NBC at 8/7 c, and keep an eye out for her winning space from last week’s episode in the upcoming June issue of Better Homes and Gardens!
(Photos courtesy Elaine Griffin)
This season on #DreamBuilders we’ve seen our competitors reach for their highest creative limits, and the headline of that is that the best is yet to come, and YOU arrived to the party just in time to catch it! We’ve watched them brave the elements, and then each other, all while pulling off the BIGGEST home transformations I’ve ever seen on Prime Time TV…and you know what, I’m loving every minute of it — not because I’m the host, but because it’s design at its inspired best returned to TV!
This week our contestants face what most of you contend with everyday…SPACE or lack thereof. Divided into four teams of two, they were each issued a modular home and given one direction: get as much style into this small space as you can. And guess what? They delivered BIG time. Along the way they found real small space innovations and inspired ideas that we can all takeaway at home. One being that real-sized furniture works best even in a small space. Small scale makes the room even smaller.
On top of that, for this episode we up’ed the ante by welcoming the BH&G editors on set to give their input and pick a space to feature in the pages of the magazine. Make no mistake, four editors staring you down made the stress even more palpable. To say the least, our contestants were definitely feeling the pressure!
The first thing people ask me when they see me, or on my Facebook page, is…Nate, please come to my house! Because how we live really matters. Period, the end. It’s about living with what you love, in a space that reflects who you truly are. This show is about bringing high design back to television…design that I hope inspires people to think about their spaces in a new way. And that’s what you see on the show. Talented, passionate designers who are fighting for their point of view. Some of the choices you will love, some you won’t. And that’s the thing with design, it should always be about what feels good, about what speaks to you. That being said, there are rules…things that can help turn an okay space into a room that really feels special.
I love this living room transformation from last week’s episode. The mistake people often make is thinking they need 20 pieces in a room. But the thing is, if it’s well-chosen and edited, fewer pieces are fine. In this space they edited the book case and left only a few curated objects. I might not have made that choice but it certainly hits home the fact that more than books can live on your shelves. In fact, that’s one of the take aways for me doing this show; sometimes less really is more. People also think that they have to be adventurous with paint. If that’s what you love, I say do it. But freshly painted white walls will never go out of fashion. Keep to the same hues when you add color, like the grey and purple accents here. And don’t forget lighting. People, I can’t say it often enough…it’s one of the most important things to think about. Go flea market shopping and pick up vintage sconces or brass lamps. These are the details that will bring the room together. That will make it feel layered. And like a room you love to come home to.
How great is this wallpaper! Absolutely perfect for a kid’s room…that was my greatest takeaway here. It feels fresh, fun…but also chic. And a space that they can grow into. That’s important. You want your child’s room to evolve with them. I also love the seating area. A place they can do homework, or read a book. It’s about creating a beautiful space, yes. But also, is this practical…does this space serve us? This is actually a pretty small room. But proof that you don’t need a lot of space to live well.
I can’t wait for you all to tune in and watch the second episode of American Dream Builders on Sunday night at 8/7c on NBC. I would love to hear what your favorite rooms are; what you’d love to recreate and why.
Guest Style Spotter, Style Spotters | Tags:
American Dream Builders, bedroom, Better Homes and Gardens, color, Decor, decorating, Design, Kids Room, Living Room, nate berkus, wallpaper