It's Those Drapes! Preventing Design Blunders in Common Areas

Allegedly, on his death bed and with his last breath, the great writer Oscar Wilde said, “This wallpaper is dreadful; one of us will have to go.” The quote conjures a mental picture: Wilde, pale and bedridden, propped up on massive Victorian pillows, surrounded by his dearest friends and loved ones. And on the walls, perhaps wallpaper with monochromatic flowers on it, or maybe wilting ferns (both popular at the time).

Dazzling...or Disastrous

Whatever the design was that Wilde found so offensive, the quote might also invoke other memories of all the unpleasant interior design choices we see in our lifetime. From that first apartment you rented where the landlord inexplicably thought glossy yellow paint would be ideal for the stairwell (causing the walls to look perpetually wet) to the dusty fake flowers sitting for decades on the hutch in your parent’s foyer; interior design can be dazzling or disastrous. And when it applies to the common areas like lobbies, hallways and community rooms of a condo or co-op building, good taste is largely subjective.

That's not to say that it's not important to make smart design choices when it comes to your building's common areas; a shabby, outmoded, or tacky entry hall or lobby can impact how both residents and visitors—as well as potential buyers—feel about your building community. Just like a classic Chanel jacket or an iconic pair of Levis, there are a few tried-and-true choices and guidelines about what is understood to be “good interior design” as well as some design choices that are never a good idea no matter where the building or what the era. We asked a few veteran interior designers about what constitutes 'good design' and how to avoid costly (and embarrassing) design blunders in your building's common spaces.

“If people walk into a building and are turned off by the aesthetics, they are not going to want to live there,” says Susan Lauren, a principal at Lauren & Chase Design Group, Inc. in Manhattan. “Design is important, because if it's a 'wow!' lobby and a beautiful common area, it's emotionally appealing to people and all of a sudden, they're going to want to live there,” says Lauren, a state-licensed, NCIDQ-certified and LEED Green-certified interior design professional.

It's About Time

While you might think an oversized, vintage eye chart from Restoration Hardware would look amazing in the elevator lobby of your building; your condo board president might think that space would be better suited with a Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster. And really, while neither of your personal tastes are 'bad,' neither of them really belongs in a public, common space either.

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