It was such a treat to finally catch up with New York-based designer, Elaine Griffin. To simply say that she is busy, would be a complete understatement. From taping design segments on the Today’s Show to her new campaign with HomeGoods, and of course juggling her successful design business, it seems that everyone is in hot pursuit of her time and talents. An alum of both Yale and the New York School of Interior Design, and a Georgia native (might I add), what attracted me to Elaine was her ability to perform in the realm of high end design, yet still have a passion for helping design enthusiasts with modest budgets.
She is a contributing editor of Better Homes & Gardens, a former contributing and special projects editor at Elle Decor and is ranked as one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 American Designers. Elaine’s work has been featured in publications including Elle Decor, House Beautiful, the New York Times, Daily News and Post, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Accents, New York magazine, and Oprah’s O at Home.
Welcome Elaine, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today…
How has your Southern upbringing influenced you as a designer?
Being Southern is more than a place of birth – it’s a lifestyle! No matter where you live as an adult, if you grew up in the South (I’m from Brunswick), then that’s “home” and you are forever Southern. I adore Manhattan and I love living in NYC, but the South Georgia’s Golden Isles will always be home. Southerners invented gracious living and hospitality (honey, there’s no such thing as Northern Hospitality!!!), and I like to leave my clients with a bit of that, too. There will always be enough chairs to pull up and sit a spell, like we do down home, and my work isn’t done until clients are ready for a dinner party for at least 8, even in a hermit’s studio apartment.
Your bio says that you spend some time in Paris as a publicist. I adore Paris! Please tell us a bit about that time in your career.
Interior design is my second career. I was a publicist in New York and then in Paris for nine years after I graduated from Yale. Paris is the most beautiful city in the world (next to St. Simons and Sea Island!), and if reincarnation exists, then I’m coming back to work in New York by day and commute to Paris every night. New Yorkers are all workaholics (I am, too) but Parisians live the best lives – they really enjoy every day and have fabulous social lives.
Please describe an average day in your life.
I’m a morning person (to the chagrin of my husband, who is not), so I’m up between 5 and 6. During the day, we handle client projects and whatever else that’s cooking for us – it could be working on a morning TV segment, handling media inquiries, doing research or shopping for a BH&G makeover or another BH&G project, or any of the 42 other pies we have our fingers in at the moment; we’re always zooming around. I check in with my husband Michael, who is a psychoanalyst, a gazillion times a day via e-mail to stay in touch. We always have dinner together when we are both at home; if I’m on set or on location, he waits up for me to say goodnight, in person or on the phone. And I call my mom in Brunswick to say hi almost daily (like all good Southern girls do).
Congratulations on completing your first book, Design Rules. How long was this book in the making? Will there be more books in the future?
Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator, launched in November 2009 (Gotham Books), and it took about two years to do, soup to nuts. It’s meant to be The Joy of Cooking for home decorating – it arms you with all the rules, proportions, tricks of the trade that professionals call on every day to create beautiful homes, but that most “civilians” don’t know.
We’re in the planning stages now of Book Number Two! More on that to come.
Define your signature style.
The one design rule I never break is that rooms should look like the people who live in them. So while I don’t have a signature style that’s as immediately recognizable as some of my other colleagues (because if a client wants modern, we do modern, and so forth), what you’ll always see in my work is warmth, coziness (even in an igloo), color and texture, and an interesting (I hope!) combination of patterns, texture, finishes and styles.
What are some of your favorite finishing touches when designing a room?
Every room should have a collection of objects that look like they were accumulated on travels around the world. Note I said “look like” – because I believe in hitting stores with fab accessories like HomeGoods to get those objects, if a client has been too busy to get to “take world tour” on their “to-do” list! Without the personalizing little things that say “so-and-so lives here,” rooms look like elegant, sterile hotel suites where no one permanently resides.
Also, coffee table styling can be hard to do, so here’s my no-fail formula: a pretty tray, a stack of 2 or 3 coffee table books, a sculptural object like a seashell (5 – 8” tall max), a decorative box, and a small bouquet of flowers or little house plant somewhere like on top of the tray. With at least three of these or more, depending on your coffee table’s size, you’re golden!
Now that Fall is here, what changes have you made to your home’s decor?
I removed my window unit air conditioners!!! LOL (Pre-war buildings in NYC still use them.) Otherwise, my changes for the seasons are subtle: I changed my mantle display in the living room so it’s a little less summery; I changed my fragrant candles from beachy to a little woodsier; put out darker, heavier throws on the sofas and changed my bedding.
What is your ideal work environment?
Creative, quirky, encouraging and cute! I believe in the power of the creative collaboration – I want to hear what everyone is thinking so we can run with the best idea. We’re selling style, so I want oodles of that around me, as well. And finally, I laugh constantly, so my team does, too.
When not designing, I am…
Exhaling. Creative people should always take time to rejuvenate, even when we live and breathe our work.
SO many! Great design legends like Frances Elkins, Renzo Mongiardino, David Hicks, Peter Marino (for whom I used to work); the great women of style like Coco Chanel and Babe Paley; great black leaders like Harriet Tubman (whom I’d sit next to me at my fantasy historical figures dinner) ; my mother, who taught me to accessorize . . .
My mom walked into the Southern Accents showhouse we did at Hampton Island, near Savannah – it was the first time she’d ever gotten to actually SEE one of my projects first-hand – and said, “Nice job!” Although she then made me move two foyer chairs to better locations.
After attending the New York School of Interior Design, I sent out ten letters to the 10 industry figures I most wanted to work with. I got one response back, from Peter Marino’s senior architect, who was looking for an assistant. And the rest is history.
Realizing that God’s “not right now’s” don’t necessarily mean “no,” and that His “no’s” are always in my best interest (which still makes them a kind of “yes,” no?), even if I can’t figure out why.
Looking forward to…
Getting started on my next design book! We’re lining everything up now and that’s the exciting part! The actual writing of a book can be a chore – like a term paper that seemingly will not end.
From Oprah, who told a group of teens we’d done a Good Works Makeover for at their group home: “Go after what you want in life, because what you want is never going to go after you.”
…and speaking of advice. Check out this video from a series where Elaine gives great decorating advice in 30 secs or less! You can also find the others here.
I found Elaine’s interview to be motivational and so inspiring. One of my favorite answers she gave was regarding her “Eureka Moment.” What was your favorite part of the interview?