Face Time: Deborah Needleman

November 3, 2011

As former editor of beloved, now-shuttered shelter magazine Domino, Deborah Needleman helped ignite a breezy decor revolution powered by chic contrasts: Eames chairs mixed with Chippendale chests, femme wallpapered rooms decked with deer heads, Fez-meets-Brooklyn decks. She’s signing her new book, “The Perfectly Imperfect Home” ($30, Clarkson-Potter), Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Room & Board (1840 14th St. NW; RSVP to Roomandboard@brandlinkdcrsvp.com).

What does perfectly imperfect mean?
Perfectly imperfect is a space that encourages a happy life. When I look at people’s houses, I want to know if there’s any fun going on. Would I want to go over there for a drink?

You organized the book in an unusual way, with sections on things you think are important, such as “Nice Lighting” and “Places to Chat.” Why?
I wanted to explain things that, for me, are deal breakers in making a nice home. Like awful, harsh lighting. Or, if your house is stinky.

A house’s smell is important?
Yes, scent is one of the most powerful things. It carries memories and emotions. It’s nice to come into a house that smells fresh and alive.

What’s the key to making a house smell good?
Even in winter, open the windows sometimes and let air breeze through. And pay attention to the signature scent of your home, the combination of coffee, cooking and bath products.

The book is illustrated with watercolors, not photos of pretty rooms. Why do that?
I wanted it to be evocative, not specific. I’m not suggesting you use a particular West Elm chair.

Why can it be tough for people to personalize their homes?
For a while, it was like we were all too busy to keep house, so people became obsessed with organization, kind of the Real Simple model. But what happens is you start to hide all the signs of life in these neat boxes. It’s important to be organized, but it can go too far.

What’s the hardest space in a home to decorate?
The front hall is tough because it’s a hardworking space. You need spots for the mail, trash and coats. In there, I am a big fan of baskets to store things. They’re pretty, rustic objects, plus they’re useful.

Any decorating don’ts?
A whole house of dark brown wood furniture is a big mistake people make. It looks like a hotel! Mix your home up with painted wood, metal, steel or Lucite.

What decor items do people not give enough credit to?
I think rugs are unsung heroes. They can pull a whole room together. And I like small lamps. You can set one on a mantel, a table, wherever. It’s a little warm spot that creates so much hominess.

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Kristen Page-Kirby · November 3, 2011