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