Perfectly Imperfect
February 12, 2014

A colleague of mine emailed me from Las Vegas to tell me Pantone just spoke about the trend of "Perfect Imperfection," a topic she and I had recently discussed in earnest. It came up because I was trying to describe the atmosphere I try to create in a room. Any decorator can create a "perfect" room. We've all walked into that room that looks as flawless as a show room, but feels as mechanical as one as well. Those rooms look great in pictures, but they aren't places I'd want to live in daily.

The concept of perfect imperfection is not new. Deborah Needleman, the former editor of Domino, published a book a couple years ago titled The Perfectly Imperfect Home. If you search for the term it comes up on a multitudes of blogs (except usually in reference to modern motherhood and messy love relationships), and Wabi-sabi, the notion that quirks and anomalies add beauty and elegance to an object, has been around since the 14th century.

The Pantone seminar described "Perfectly Imperfect" as being a reaction against mass-produced solutions to individual needs. I like to think of it in a more nuanced way. We regularly customize items for our clients' homes. Whether it's simply altering the dimensions on something, adding or subtracting details on a piece, or creating a piece that doesn't exist yet, we depend on a craftsperson to actually make the item by hand, to meet a client's needs.

What makes an item wonderful though is seeing the "hand" in the product. It is the unique evidence present when things are custom-built rather than mass-produced. Finishes are not sprayed on in a production line; they are applied with a brush, layer by layer, over the course of several days. What makes custom goods compelling is the quiet signature that you find when you look twice, and the beauty of these pieces do ask you to look twice.

Perfectly imperfect also reflects a level of patience and confidence on behalf of the end-user because it requires a willingness to be part of a conversation; as much as an item is customized for the client, the expertise, inspiration, and artistry of the maker are integral to creating a successful piece. Perhaps imperfectly perfect might be a more apt description, because at the end of the day, the item is perfect for the client, made special, by hand, and it shows. Bespoke furniture reflects the confidence of the owner: it's easy to make a "perfect" room; it takes trust to make a custom one.

When I think of our most successfully designed rooms, aside from being tailored and expertly edited, what sets them apart is that they include elements that convey a sense of confidence, of ease. And once the room gets a dose of it, suddenly the feel of the space relaxes: it becomes more inviting, the pieces start to speak to one another, and an atmosphere is created that invites you in and will only get better with age. For example, we did a sunroom for a client that actually required very few furnishings. With four identical chairs facing one another, the center table was the natural focus. The client and I happened upon a handmade bamileke table that conveyed the perfect tone for the room. The table is slightly askew, the lattice design is not perfectly lined up, and the surface of the piece has the perfect patina that comes only with age and wear. With hand-blown glassware that sits on a nearby bar cart and a hand-woven basket in the corner that collects weekend's worth of well-read newspapers, this room easily becomes one of the most inviting in the house.

Being open to the "individuality" of handmade items does make some clients nervous. But that's why we're here. Once they see that collaborating with a craftsperson can yield ever more fantastic results, most people are sold. Putting quality above machine-made precision suddenly takes precedence, and that ease and confidence starts to affect the whole atmosphere of the house. Being surrounded by unique objects made with materials of integrity help us to connect to our world, especially when those items reflect our own taste and specifications. If you want to create an interior background that reflects ease, taste, and understated elegance, all it takes is a few thoughtful pieces in a room to get you on your way.