My “Entrance” into the World of Design

My “Entrance” into the World of Design

When I was around eleven, my parents bought an old farmhouse on five acres, directly behind the trailer park where I was born. It was my dream come true—a house without wheels! We planted a large orchard and an enormous vegetable garden, and we also started to raise chickens and goats. With our own homegrown veggies and fruit, fresh milk and eggs, we were way ahead of our time in being nearly self-sustaining.

matthew-white-designAs a teenager there was no question in my mind that I would someday become an interior designer. With my dog-eared copy of Billy Baldwin Decorates, I felt I could take on the world. And as my mother proudly pointed out, I was “good with my hands”. Able to draw, paint, sew and make things, I was never happier than when I was doing exactly that.

As I went into high school, I found a job delivering furniture for Hughes Home Beautiful, the best furniture store in town. Surrounded by fine furniture and oil paintings and mixing with people who loved design as I did, I was finally in my element. Within a few months I was doing the windows and store vignettes. I learned a LOT.

Around this time my parents wanted to add an entrance hall to the house, so Dad asked me to design it. Design a room from the ground up? In a heartbeat!! In no time, I drew up a sort of neo-classical addition with a mansard roof and a colonial door surround flanked by brass lanterns. Inside I designed a tray ceiling that reflected the exterior shape.

For the decoration I chose a large-scale green and white lattice wallpaper, making the room feel like a garden pavilion. From the ceiling hung a simple brass and glass lantern. The curtains on the one tall window were made of a highly-polished cotton chintz with bright yellow birds in a verdant bamboo grove. Rather than a console table, my mother wanted a desk so this room could double as her office. I chose a white lacquer desk with faux bamboo details and a white, tooled leather top.

To me this foyer was the height of elegance. What it was doing stuck onto a Texas farmhouse is another question entirely. But I must admit, I still love this room. In designing it, I took to heart everything I learned from seeing designers like Billy Baldwin or Albert Hadley in the pages of glossy magazines. I longed to create timeless spaces that were livable and elegant, and this project was my first serious effort.

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When rummaging through my attic recently, I found my tiny designs for the room, dated 1976, a few months before I graduated from high school. I also found the before and after shots of the exterior that I took on my KodakInstamatic camera.

The moral of the story? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Being reminded of one’s dreams and not being totally mortified by the result is a very good thing. On the other hand—how did I get to be so old?!

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