I read some advice from interior designer Vicente Wolf in a magazine interview the other day. He said that a space should have ‘flow’. “Like water flowing down a river. There might be a little rock here or a little bit of rapids there, but the river never stops flowing”. I take this to mean that the eye should move effortlessly from one end of a room to another – and between rooms – without visual obstacles or interruptions. His words struck a chord. The fact is, when you’re exposed to hundreds of photos of gorgeous interiors every day, it’s easy to confuse interior design with the creation of a still life. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how a room would look in a photo, rather than how it would feel to be living in it. I’ve been thinking about the placement of furniture and the layering of textiles and finishes as a two-dimensional composition. It’s an easy trap to fall into when the world of design is influenced by heavily-styled and meticulously arranged images. But it doesn’t make for a truly successful interior scheme.
So I decided to take a closer look at what Wolf means by ‘flow’ and try to learn some lessons from this. First, he uses a lot of white to create continuity through an entire space. He does the same with color by picking up the same tones in fabrics here and there throughout a home.
So far, so obvious (although I’ll admit it requires considerable discipline to stick with the same palette throughout a home – most of us need to express another side of our design personality by experimenting with different looks in different rooms). Wolf also eschews pattern, preferring instead to keep his spaces clean. Oops, having just decorated three rooms with ‘feature walls’ using wallpaper or contrasting paint, I can see the appeal of a ‘clean’ background, as Wolf puts it, allowing the shapes of the furniture to speak for themselves.
Studying his work, it’s clear there’s more to this idea of ‘flow’ than color and pattern though. The way Wolf uses interior space is unusual in that he isn’t at all constrained by structure. He says he likes to avoid putting up boundaries in a scheme, but I think he goes beyond that to create living areas that seem to float within a room while the walls and ceilings seem to melt away, using reflective and transparent materials. Sometimes he achieves this just by the way he places the furniture, refusing to hug the walls or follow conventional layouts.
Wolf mixes up styles and eras fearlessly, which helps create a more organic, relaxed vibe. Thinking again about that idea of flow, if you look at the way these contrasting pieces of furniture are arranged, you’ll see that they’re meant to be appreciated by someone sitting at the table or on the sofa – not just by an outsider looking at the room through a lens.
That’s not to say you won’t find great styling in his spaces though. Throughout Wolf’s interiors you see antiques and artifacts from his store, VW Home, arranged in pairs or multiples. These must be the ‘rapids’ he talks about: they certainly inject energy into a space.
It’s tempting to conceive a room scheme in the same way you’d frame a beautiful photograph, but it helps to remember that an interior must look and feel cohesive from every angle.