Creative Genius: Elaine Griffin

The New York designer champions the power of oil-based paint and the color yellow and shares how to DIY your design.

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Like bottled effervescence, the intensely gregarious, sunny, talented interior designer Elaine Griffin in person makes a convincing case for the power of design to change your life. 

Designer Elaine Griffin

Designer Elaine Griffin

Multitalented NYC designer Elaine Griffin.

Photo by: Mayumi Yoshimaru

Mayumi Yoshimaru

Known for her vibrant, color-drenched rooms and an ability to mix high and low elements to create a unique elegant-meets-retro look, Griffin was a notable speaker full of fun, insider anecdotes and the kind of industry gossip that kept participants on the edge of their seats at this year’s Black Interior Designers Conference in Atlanta. The peripatetic, multifaceted designer is also the author of the go-to design guide Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator and an oracle for the sort of catchy, actionable design advice you can slap on a bumper sticker and use to corral your life into stylish order. 

Yellow Living Room

Yellow Living Room

Sunny shades and a sleek retro vibe define this living room designed by Elaine Griffin.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Sunny shades and a sleek retro vibe define this living room designed by Elaine Griffin.

One of the first things Griffin asks her potential clients is to look to the past and the future to help formulate their sense of style. “Where you’ve been, where you’re at and where you’re going” is critical says Griffin,  “because that informs your design perspective.” A native of St. Simon’s, Georgia who now travels between her stylish New York City apartment covered in New York magazine and regular trips down South, Griffin’s own aesthetic is informed by those early days growing up in Georgia. She calls her formative style “very resort…a very preppy, Lilly Pulitzer aesthetic.” 

Fabric-Draped Console

Fabric-Draped Console

Green is a favorite color for Elaine to work with.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Green is a favorite color for Elaine to work with.

Made+Remade sat down to talk with Griffin during a stop in Atlanta to pick her brain for her best design advice, especially where the DIY crowd is concerned. 

How should people educate their eye?

Back in the day you had to hop on a plane, train or an automobile. Today all you have to do is go to Pinterest. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Colorful Nook

Colorful Nook

A harmonious mix of color on walls, bookcase and chairs gives this nook designed by Elaine Griffin vibrancy and richness.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

A harmonious mix of color on walls, bookcase and chairs gives this nook designed by Elaine Griffin vibrancy and richness.

Color philosophy?

You are either a blue person or a green person, which is interesting. Green is my truest love. Blue I had to learn to love: it’s my stepchild. Now one of my favorite combinations is blue, green, ivory and yellow.

Teal Bedroom

Teal Bedroom

Plenty of color is a signature of Griffin's design sensibility.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Plenty of color is a signature of Griffin's design sensibility.

What can people DIY?

I was on a panel once with the designer Nanette Lepore and she said something that’s super groovy: “not everyone gets to be creative at work. So if you are among those people you should try to create something as often as you can in your spare time. Because being creative is deeply soul-satisfying. We’re hard-wired to want to create stuff.”

Within the goal of trying to create something as often as possible, your skill set, your comfort level and your time availability and your patience level may dictate how often you can create. 

Chic Home Office

Chic Home Office

A chic home office is functional without sacrificing style.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

A chic home office is functional without sacrificing style.

Are you a big thrifter?

I will always be a big thrifter. Interior design is a lot like fashion. Style exists at every level and at every price point. You can find something at Salvation Army, you can find a great vintage look and you can find great pieces of furniture at a Goodwill too. It is not about where you find it but how does it make you feel.

Great items to thrift?

Lamps! A lamp is one of the easiest things to re-wire: it is two screws, a piece of wire and a plug. Lampshades are a different story. I love thrift shops for lamps, I love them for picture frames, I love them for tabletop objects. Furniture can be hard if there is a lot of refinishing involved. If you love the form of something and the base of the finish is OK, meaning that it’s not rotting or anything a light coat of sanding won’t fix, a coat of glossy (oil-based, because it’s a harder finish) white paint or a glossy black paint, as long as the form is good, any piece of furniture looks great. 

Biggest misconception about designers?

The biggest fear or misconception is the dictator that comes in and says ‘No it must be orange, we have to start over and it’s going to cost a million dollars.’ And at the end of the day it’s going to look like the decorator and not your house.

Blue Bedroom

Blue Bedroom

Comfort and style go hand-in-hand in this inviting bedroom.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Comfort and style go hand-in-hand in this inviting bedroom.

What's different about the millennial design ethos?

They are the most DIY of any generation. Because they want the experience. A lot of the work of a professional designer is figuring out what you want…millennials want to be part of the whole process. They’re going to do their own floor plan, and learn AutoCAD.

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

Rich color defines this sitting room designed by New York city designer Griffin.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Rich color defines this sitting room designed by New York city designer Griffin.

They’re more casual and they’re more about comfort. That whole concept  of the perfect room does not exist anymore. They still want pretty but they want comfort. “Look but don’t touch” is over.

How do you know you are in an Elaine Griffin space?

Warm, inviting and as a rule, brightly colored.

Favorite color?

Oh my gosh, Mama loves all her children, but yellow’s my favorite color in the world. It’s a universal bright.

Light and Bright Living Room

Light and Bright Living Room

Comfortable elegance defines this living room.

Photo by: Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin

Comfortable elegance defines this living room.

Something you’ll be happy to never see again?

I’ll tell you something I hope never comes back: puddled curtains. They were big in the Eighties.

Favorite room to design?

My most favorite room to design, I love living rooms, just because they are the soul of the house and the warriors of the house.

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