Designer Stephanie Stokes is known as the closet queen and she has earned this moniker well. During a 30-year career creating beautiful interiors, often in urban apartments long on post-war detail but short on storage space, she has devised an incredible repertoire of clever tricks to efficiently utilize every quarter inch of space. Her new book, Elegant Rooms That Work: Fantasy and Function in Interior Design, just published by Rizzoli, details this “functional elegance” approach. Divulging a host of high-end strategies for creating rooms that perform all that their owners ask of them, while still exuding warmth and sophistication, the book is testimony to the fact that practicality and stylishness are not mutually exclusive. Here she sits down to talk about the book with frequent 1stdibs contributor — and her co-author on the project — Jorge S. Arango.
What led you to write this book?
I had been meaning to write Elegant Rooms That Work for ten years. Many people had urged me to explain my “functional” approach to design. But I’m not good at standing still, so I never seemed to find the time.
Then fate tipped its hand: two former knee replacements (thanks to a riding accident) cracked and came loose. So for the six months leading up to the re-replacement surgery and the many months of healing after, you and I finally finished the book.
How does the book differ from others on the market?
Charles Miers, CEO of Rizzoli, told me it was the first funny interior design book he had ever read. “Well,” I said, “it should be funny. I wrote it in bed on drugs!”
“What?” he gasped.
“Yep, fifteen milligrams of Oxycontin every three hours.”
“Stephanie,” he responded, horrified, “don’t tell people that!” (Charles has an English gentleman’s sense of propriety.)
“That’s not all,” I confided. “There was a gay guy lying in bed next to me and — ”
“Stephanie, stop! You must not…”
“Oh relax, Charles,” I said. “Jorge was working on his laptop, and we spent months laughing and researching our way through the text.” I’m actually flattered Charles read the book cover to cover.
Ah, our bedroom sessions — Although designing functional rooms wouldn’t be considered scintillating pillow talk by many. So it’s funny. But that alone isn’t likely to sell a print run.
True enough. But many interior design monographs are straightforward portfolios. I wanted to teach through visual examples and to a broad range of people, to make it as usable to people in Tulsa as in Marin County. I wanted them to be able to bring my images to their contractor or architect and copy my ideas. I was ready to give away all of my tricks. It’s full of practical information.
How did you come to interior design and eventually specialize in this type of practical-meets-beautiful design?
I believe we all have innate talents. Joshua Bell picked up a violin as an infant and could play it. I designed, sewed and beaded teepees, then made the little boys in my neighborhood wear my costumes and sleep on their saddle blankets. Basically, I am doing the same thing today. Only the “teepee” is a penthouse or a grand apartment, and my “saddle bag” is now full of fabric samples.
You’ve come a long way, baby, as the ads used to say. What do you think is the most important lesson in Elegant Rooms?
If you think creatively, you can always come up with more space. Toe kicks under kitchen cabinets can be converted into drawers for trays and platters, decorative moldings can pull out to reveal jewelry racks, and old radiator enclosures conceal a universe of space that can be adapted to infinite functions.
What is your pet peeve about rooms that don’t function?
I dislike rooms without lamps. Minimalism for minimalism’s sake may look great, but a sea of overhead lights just throws an army of shadows, creating glare on whatever you’re trying to read. Those rooms make you want to wear a visor to deflect the golf course of putting holes in the ceilings.
What’s your favorite source for storage solutions?
The Container Store, of course. And there’s one just a block away from my apartment in New York — hallelujah! We go so far as to specify their inserts and then have cabinetry shops make drawers and cabinets to fit them. I do have a few ideas for them though, as there are some items I cannot find there.
What’s your next book project?
Do I want to do another book? Yes. I have three more I’d like to write. As for what they’re about, I’m keeping my cards close to my chest. The ideas are too good to share until I have time to execute them. And now I’ve been thrown into the digital orbit. It’s been a crash course in blogs, Pinterest, Facebook, et cetera. My assistant and I spent two days this March at the second annual Interior Design Bloggers Conference in Los Angeles. I have forty new friends! And I stand in awe of the speed with which personal recommendations whizz around cyberspace and inform our every decision. I get it. But I still love my New York Times (and its filtered news) and my books, even though I have adopted a new very time-consuming vice: social media.
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