There is a comfortable luxuriousness to a room designed by Nam Dang-Mitchell. Think highly polished metal set against warm wood, mirrored surfaces paired with grass baskets. The Globe asked the Calgary interior designer to reveal her favourite colours, paint and materials, and the secrets behind her style.
Most important element of a room: An authentic point of view is the most important thing in a room. Tell me what your utopia looks like; is it minimal and serene, only occupied by natural, tactile materials? Is it moody and luxurious, sexy but aloof? Is it bookish yet devilishly naughty? Your space should reveal and enhance your particular charms. The worst rooms are filled with middle-of-the-road art and furnishings that offend with their lack of commitment to any ideals.
Favourite paint colour: Lately, my favourite paint colour is Pratt & Lambert’s China White, probably because I am in the mood for some clarity and sharpness. White rooms are particularly good for those who want fewer, more curated items in a room. This is no primer white; it is a rich and elegant white, one with real depth and gravity.
Favourite front-door colour: I am quite fond of a deep grey called Durability by Pratt & Lambert. It’s very chic done in an ultra-high-gloss finish, all hardware looks amazing on it. But obviously, the best solution is one that suits your home’s exterior.
Favourite tile: I love these Moroccan-style tiles from Icon Stone that have a handmade feel but are actually made of concrete; very hip in a Brooklyn sort of way. And of course, I never tire of a subway tile. It’s the denim of tile: classic, timeless, goes with everything.
Best way to make a room feel more spacious: People always think they have to paint a room a light colour to make it feel spacious, but it’s simply not true. The only thing that matters is that you keep the largest pieces in the room, say the sofa, in a similar or even the same colour as the walls. Blending the larger items in keeps the room from looking cluttered and claustrophobic and lets the eye focus on the accent pieces.
Your design rule: Don’t try to make something it is not. Good design should enhance the inherent architecture of a room. It’s silly to pretend a 1990s condo is the court of Louis XV; you won’t be fooling anyone. This doesn’t mean you must abandon your love of all things rococo. Instead, try mixing your beloved ornate chairs with a sleek white Parsons-style table. Not only will the contrast make the chairs sing, but it will root you and your room firmly in the 21st century.
Design pet peeve: Anything phony: cultured stone, ceramic tile that looks like stone, linoleum that looks like tile, laminate that looks like wood – you get the idea.
Favourite lighting trick: Hire an electrician, it will save your marriage. If you’ve ever tried hanging a light fixture with your husband, you know I’m right.
Best DIY project: I am usually hopeless in the DIY department but I recently impressed myself when I put together a DIY light fixture by hot lighting designer Lindsey Adelman. Her gorgeous custom-made fixtures can easily cost more than $10,000, but she also offers a kit through her website called the Make It Yourself fixture for $145! I enlisted the help of my 10-year-old son who, having built and wired a lamp recently in his science class, had more experience than me. The result is a very cool fixture that comes complete with bragging rights.
Best use of $500: A fresh coat of paint will always be the biggest bang for your buck, whether on walls or on cabinetry. Once you’ve gotten rid of the honey oak in your kitchen, just add new hardware and a new backsplash to complete the transformation. Home Depot has a nice selection of Bianco Carrara tiles that look great with cabinets painted a classic white, a sophisticated grey or a glossy black.
Signature room: My Living Room, Calgary. After nine years, I still love this room. When we moved here and renovated in 2005, I was so daunted by all the possibilities; the freedom in designing my own home was terrifying. In hindsight, it was such a good exercise in figuring out aesthetically who I was and what I loved. These things still inform my work today.
I am attracted to rooms that are classically grounded with a sense of permanence, calmness and authenticity. We installed the antique Napoleon III marble fireplace mantel to anchor the room. Its gravitas contrasts well with the Ed Ruscha piece above it and the 1970’s stainless steel table found on 1stdibs.
I like earthy materials that age well and gather patina. I am not a huge fan of drywall because it can be so soulless so I covered the walls in a handmade Mexican bark paper meant for watercolour. I had it cut into squares and mounted, in a nod to Jean Michel Frank, a design hero.
I like contemporary art because I think it’s important to participate in the cultural discussions of your day. Above the gray banquette is a photo-based piece by Josef Schulz of an overpass. I am attracted to art that walks the line between the banal and the sublime.
I like to mix things from different genres and eras. People are generally too concerned about whether things “go together.” If something embodies the qualities that you admire, it will usually work regardless of provenance. I fell in love with these little bronze tables in Chicago and made my family lug them on our flight home as carry-on luggage. Go with your heart because the mix is where personality is revealed.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Kathryn Hayward.