Q&A with Stephen St. Onge

The celebrity home and style designer opens up to CTC&G about his new book, No Place Like Home: Tips & Techniques for Real Family-Friendly Home Design (Wiley), and provides insights into creating a livable and inviting home

Where does your sense of style come from? I think style evolves with you over time. When you are younger, style might be influenced by what you knew or lived around during that period of your life. But as you grow up, travel, and see a little more of the world, your tastes and interests change and expand. I like to think that my style comes from that progression or journey. I also think it reflects my desire to always create comfortable and inviting spaces for myself, my projects and my clients.

What was your inspiration for No Place Like Home? I wanted to write and photograph a book that was meant to inspire, motivate and empower the homeowner. It’s for the person who wants to make their home better now. It shows them it can be done easily and without spending a great deal of money. Home means something different to everyone and my job is to help the homeowners—no matter who they are, where they are or how big their home may be—to learn to see their home in new ways and get excited about those spaces again.

You have said that good home design has the power to change lives. How so? In many of the makeovers and private client projects I have done, there was the exciting part of revealing the final space to the homeowner. There is a great sense of positive change in the space when something is redesigned and you see how that effects the person who is going to use the space. They gain a fresh perspective on the room they were so used to seeing every day. I love how design can transform your room, but also how it can have an effect on you, your mood and your overall feelings about your home. In the end, if you love coming home to your environment at the end of the day, that’s everything.

What is the first thing to go in a room makeover? Aside from clutter, which everyone tends to have, I would say that it is the things in the room that you always take notice of or make excuses about when you have guests over. “Oh, that old chair, we are going to replace that someday, so don’t sit there,” or, “that headboard is something I bought just to put something on the bed, but it’s not really my style.” Items like this should be moved out of the way as you makeover a space. You want to have “the good things” in the room to play with and move around. You can always donate, store, sell or recycle the items that just do not need to be there.

 

What is your favorite room to design? I love doing kid’s rooms or playrooms because you can use fun colors, and the room can be vibrant and creative. But I do have a thing for family rooms, because that is a room in the home where many people spend a great deal of time, and it is always fun to create something that can work for that family.

You have so many great tips in your new book. Where did you get them? My mind is always racing with ideas, so I’m never short on creative direction for home. I also always try to keep the ideas attainable, and it’s always about pointing out things that I simply take notice of. The voice that I wanted to have throughout my book was something I always tried to stay true to–keeping things simple and easy, almost like a friend talking to a friend. I’m simply sharing the things that I think might inspire or cause a person to see something they may not have noticed before. This is also why I was very excited to photograph the book myself as well; it was another way for me to capture details and share them with the reader.

What is the biggest mistake one can make when designing a room? Not being prepared or having a plan. In the book, I talk a great deal about how to go about planning, how to figure out your own style and also how to develop it for those who do not feel confident about design or knowing what is right for them. I know from experience that the clearer the picture of what I want the end result to be, the better for the project.

What is your favorite part of No Place Like Home? Probably the fact that I could convey how real people live in their spaces. You get to see real people shown in real spaces, not perfectly styled rooms that seem lifeless or overly perfect. I love that. I shot 2,500 images for this book and 300 ended up in it. When I look over the images, I was pleased that I was able to capture the essence of what home stands for, and what the title means to each one of us in different ways.

What made you want to design for the “everyday family?” Aside from being a designer that is on television and in magazines, I’m also a real dad, husband and homeowner. I live the same family-focused life as the families I meet and hear from through my creative work. I’ve always kept what I do real, and focused on helping make our busy lives better in simple ways. We all have hectic schedules—work, getting the kids to school, running to baseball practices, having friends over, making dinner, mowing the law—we all do the same things. I understand that, so I can take what I do and hopefully help others create a home that is good to them at the end of their hectic days.

What’s the first thing you do on a new project? Rely on my first impression of a space. I walk in and usually I know what the end result should look like. From there, I keep that initial vision for the room in mind and it becomes a step-by-step process toward making that goal come to life.

What is the most important tip for redesigning a room? Do not make it about what’s trendy or hot right now. Do not feel that you have to keep up with what your friends are doing, or do something because someone else thinks you should do it one way or another. It’s has to be right for you and your family. You are living there in the end. When I design a space, I am designing it for someone else—it’s not about me. When you are designing a room in your home—it’s all about you!