DESIGN: True Colors
Carmen Victoria cringes when she recalls the initial reaction she had to her freshly painted living room during its renovation four years ago.
“For the first three days, I was nauseous,” says the fifty-year-old, surveying the vibrant fuchsia walls of her cozy pied-à-terre in Housatonic, Massachusetts. “I would look out from my bedroom, see this pink, and I felt like I was inside a candy wrapper. On the fourth day, I woke up and it was totally different. I saw the elegance and richness of it, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh! I get it now.’”
Carol Diehl had a similar experience after coloring her bedroom a cheery acid-yellow during a total home revamp in 2006. “I wanted gold in here,” says the artist and art critic of her Housatonic haven. “I bought fifteen hundred dollars of paint without trying any … I went nuts when I saw this! I thought it was impossibly bright.” Now, however, she’s happy to report, “It’s my favorite room in the house.”
These sorts of scenarios tend to unfold when one invites interior designer Jeanette Maguire to transform a living space through her signature bold use of color. Feng shui and an intuitive sense of functionality play roles in her work, too, but Maguire is unabashed in that she isn’t afraid to break the rules.
“There’s the energy of the client and the energy of the space—how do we put the two together?” Maguire asks. “There is an intention and then there is a color for me that associates with that intention within the context of the client.” Of the ten or so paint chips she sticks to a wall during a consultation, one will make itself known—or none at all. “I feel this internal barometer,” Maguire says. “I feel that the color is the vibrational match to what the intention is.”
Maguire, a feisty, curvy redhead who has a habit of closing her pale green eyes and pausing mid-sentence to better elucidate her thoughts, calls this process “see-feel,” which, she cautions, can dig deeper than one might expect, clarifying life goals and helping to evade potential roadblocks to success.
“I’m interested in moving your life forward, so it’s not unusual for me to suggest things to people that are outside of their comfort zone,” she explains.
It’s not surprising, then, that Maguire, who celebrates her forty-sixth birthday in November, has been called by admirers, “part-decorator, part-therapist, with a splash of magician thrown in.” Upon meeting with new clients, Maguire listens as they describe what they want—perhaps it’s a new kitchen. “But there’s always something more than just a kitchen that they want,” the designer asserts. Often, beneath that material desire is unease with a partner, struggle in a career, or a difficult life transition.
As Maguire explains it, the way in which we arrange our furniture and belongings—what she calls our “ten thousand things”—is a physical manifestation of how we view the world. “Because what someone likes is associated with their belief system, and beliefs have to shift in order to open up something new, it is difficult,” Maguire says softly. “What is it that you want, and how do we breathe that energy into a space—through color, through moving things, through furniture, through walls—so that we create a new possibility?”
Carmen Victoria was only seeking advice on flooring when she met Maguire at a free home-design seminar at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A self-described “homey nomad” who first came to the area a decade ago to study at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Victoria bopped around to various apartments before buying her own place in a former mill building. “It was a dump,” she says with a toothy grin and a lighthearted cackle. “I just needed to do something. I didn’t know what I wanted until [Jeanette] described how she worked.”
Maguire and the client develop a lens through which to make design decisions. Victoria, for instance, sought a place to recharge after traveling; Maguire added power and passion as directives. So, here in Victoria’s deep-pink living room, the designer hung gilded mirrors to either side of each wall, creating a “barbell effect” and reflecting light from the room’s low windows. Between a deep-plum upholstered sofa from Paul Rich & Sons and a plush, pale-pink couch from Pine Cone Hill is a round glass coffee table; to the back of the room is a small octagonal glass dining table with mint-green velvet chairs. A vintage Italian brass chandelier hangs overhead; a lamp with a snazzy gold shade sits in the opposite corner.
“These twos that set off against each other are all over the place,” Maguire notes of the balancing effect. “And the glass tables—we didn’t want anything to block this.” She points to a vibrant, Kelly-green area rug. “Picking the carpet was a hard moment for me,” Maguire admits. “I knew it was going to be green. I could feel it, but I was terrified of it—”
“—because it looked like a putting green!” Victoria squeals.
“My mind kept saying, ‘Pick a safer color, pick a safer color,’ but I couldn’t,” Maguire continues. “I would stop, open my eyes, and think, ‘Nope, it’s that one.’ It was so powerful. That was a real lesson for me in that I just trust that voice.”
And go with the flow. When the pale-pink couch was moved here from another room during painting, Maguire and Victoria agreed that it had found its place. “There are these amazing, happy accidents.” Maguire chirps. “It’s like divine intervention.”
Always an artist, Maguire grew up in Madison, Wisconsin—the daughter of a feng shui consultant. “I resisted everything that my mother is,” Maguire states firmly. “She worked with energy, and I was not interested in that. I wanted a ‘normal’ life.”
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, Maguire worked in the couture industry before starting a small business of her own. After four years, she made her first trip to the Berkshires, to volunteer at the Option Institute in Sheffield, Massachusetts. She fell in love, fell out of love, and wound up designing sets in New York City (where she met her partner, Erica Spizz, whom she married three years ago). But despite earning a decent living in the city, she was miserable. In March 1998, Maguire decided to take a road trip with her mother, Jackie Patricia, who invited her to tag along on a few home consultations before their departure. That decision changed her life.
“I knew without a shadow of a doubt that everything I had done up until that moment had brought me to this place,” Maguire enthuses. “It was really cathartic. I had to let go of my fear of being like my mother.”
Back in New York City, Maguire researched feng shui schools but discovered that educators had shifted away from the traditional master-apprentice model. Dismayed, she called Patricia, who agreed to teach her the art under a few conditions: “You don’t get to decide when you’re done; I decide when you’re done,” Maguire reenacts. “You have to understand that feng shui is not a body of knowledge, it’s a way of being. You have to live with me while you’re training with me. And you have to do everything I tell you to do, even if you think it has nothing to do with feng shui.”
Accustomed to getting what she wanted, Maguire, then thirty-three, agreed enthusiastically, thinking she’d move home to Madison for six months, tops. “It was a real Karate Kid experience,” Maguire remembers. On her first job, Patricia chastised her. “You’re trying to prove that you know instead of being the student you need to be,” she told her daughter, and set forth a regimen of self-awareness. Over two years, Maguire learned “how to hold the essence of Jeanette in while opening up and letting out this other essence—ego. I learned to work from a body of knowledge that’s much larger than my own limited mind. I have to be able to tap into something else completely.” (For this very reason, Maguire is finding the overhaul of the home in Pittsfield she purchased with Spizz this fall especially challenging.)
Though she mastered the craft, Maguire doesn’t call what she does now feng shui. “I don’t function with rules,” she states; the rules contradict one another. “If you were to get thirty books on feng shui to figure out where to put your bed in your bedroom, what you’re gonna find is that you’d have to toss your bed out the window. There is no place to put your bed. Where you put your bed doesn’t exist in a rule; it exists in the energetic of the bedroom.”
Maguire’s clients learn to trust that even seemingly minor details help complete the whole—but it’s not always easy. Diehl, for one, acquiesced to Maguire’s instructions to purchase a headboard. She had wanted an antique, but none would fit her queen-size bed. No problem, Maguire told her, work around it. The full-size piece Diehl found at Great Finds in Sheffield looks fine all the same. “It’s important to have a headboard,” Maguire commands, “something that supports you.”
Another crucial addition to Diehl’s space: top-down/bottom-up shades (custom-ordered from Budget Blinds), which “allow the energy to circulate and yet still create privacy” by blocking the view of the road below.
Victoria’s bedroom, though vastly different—a union of dusty rose, café au lait, bubblegum-pink, and pink-tinted white on the ceiling (a trick Maguire employs often)—exudes a similar feeling of relaxation. An upholstered Pottery Barn headboard is draped with an heirloom silk shawl; the bed is layered with delicate pink throws and coverlets.
“Your bedding should feel as if getting into it is a sensual experience,” Maguire declares. Bedrooms are about rest and relaxation and creating intimacy, either with yourself or with another person. She nods approvingly at twin Lucite lamps on twin bedside tables. “The two tables don’t have to match, but they are equivalent,” Maguire instructs. “The lamps need to look like they could get married.”
A vivid, flower-burst painting by Iwao Akiyama hangs on the wall facing Victoria’s bed, per Maguire’s advice to seek artwork for this room that fits “a spiritual template of what it feels like to feel orgasmic.”
“She really taught me how everything has meaning and everything has energy,” Victoria says appreciatively. “I started looking at things and people differently.”
While Diehl had a clearer concept of what she wanted—a clean, stabilizing, thoroughly modern lower level, achieved through elephant-gray walls, softened by an imperceptibly tinted pink ceiling, which transition gradually to lavender as one climbs the stairs to a stark-white studio on the third floor—she credits Maguire with introducing her to the comforts of color.
“Before Jeanette, I was a white-walls, leather, and chrome kind of person. I had these two rugs in my loft in SoHo—very old, patterned kilims, which offset the leather and glass and chrome—and I thought that was really adventurous,” Diehl recalls. “People would say, ‘You’re an artist. What do you need a color person for?’ But I’m enough of an artist to know that when I meet an expert, I’ll go with it. Jeanette has really expanded my aesthetic. She’s taught me a great deal.”
Maguire beams upon hearing the words. “I’m looking for clients to really understand how their environment is affecting their energy,” she insists. “It’s ongoing—nobody is really ever done. We’re all evolving, and the home is evolving, too.” [NOV/DEC 2010]
Berkshire Living senior editor Amanda Rae Busch rearranged her living space after writing this article and felt her energy soar seemingly overnight. She’s taking Jeanette Maguire’s advice and painting her living room spring green.
Jeanette Maguire Design
1840 N. Main St
Paul Rich & Sons
242 North St.
Pine Cone Hill
125 Pecks Rd.