This month Latique had the pleasure of visiting with Dallas-based designer Margaret Chambers, of Chambers Interiors and Associates, in her lovely shop in Dallas’ prominent Design District. Margaret Chambers is not only an accomplished local designer, but her work has been published in numerous design magazines across the country. She has been featured on HGTV, and the list of her work in print is a long one. Some of the highlights of her published work are covers of Dallas Home Design, DFW House & Home, and articles in Traditional Home, D Home, and Better Homes and Gardens.
Margaret developed a passion for antiques when she was only a small child in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of her early recollections of collecting is a blue satin glass vase she was given when she was just 5 years old. She began visiting the two antique shops in Las Cruces and developed a love for old things. Her calling as a designer came very early when she designed her own room at age 17. Later, she waited tables to pay for her design school education as well as the education she received backpacking across Europe. Her destiny in the interior design world was cemented as she toured museums and cathedrals, absorbing the architecture and culture. This passion led her to the successful design career she has established today.
Jeff Garrett of Latique sat down with Margaret to talk about her design philosophy and how she incorporates antiques into every design project.
JG: We know you started in the business as a designer; what made you open an antiques shop?
MC: My husband and I bought a warehouse near the Design District and needed to fill it! It evolved out of an empty building. I thought it would be fun to have a shop, plus it gave me a reason to go to Europe to explore and purchase. I only let clients come to my shop if they’re interested in traditional design. If they want something different, I will meet them at another location.
JG: Please elaborate on this mantra: “It's all about helping people express themselves in their surroundings.”
MC: I feel like that’s my job--it’s what I do. I find out the look they want to live with and help them create it. Many times they have a hard time knowing what they want-- as far as flow and color scheme. Their home needs to reflect their personal tastes, their loves and their interests. If it’s not the way they want it to look, I haven’t done a good job.
JG: Please tell us about your awards including your “True Legacy of Design” award.
MC: I have won several of these Texas-based awards, ASID awards, and the Design Ovation award. I love winning those because they are so fair, totally subjective, and the judging is anonymous. There is a very strict judging criterion…you have to follow that exactly or you’re disqualified. The ASID awards are judged out of state, and are also really fair.
JG: How would you describe the Chambers look?
MC: My look is whatever the client’s look is. I don’t pigeon hole myself into any one look. My favorite looks are Country French, Country English and I love Swedish furnishings. Things that are handmade by country craftsmen-- they just have a “soul” to them. I enjoy high French and English, but those are more formal. They don’t touch my heart like the more classic and warm styles. No two homes are the same because the client’s taste and preferred look is going to come out--- my look is always different...different furnishings, different fabrics. Most of the time clients will show me photos of rooms they really like and I try to bring design that reflects them and what they want and not dictate what I want. They are never forced to buy anything, but they are excited to buy. Once we have researched their look and know what they like, they say “I can’t believe you know us so well”. They feel like they have a say in what they get--as it should be--and I want it to look great too!
JG: Would you take on uber-contemporary projects?
MC: I would do a contemporary high rise project, but if the client only wanted a few antiques I think it could be very cold and have no personality.
JG: How have your designs evolved over the years?
MC: My eye is more refined. I can see quality now and recognize and appreciate finer pieces and investment pieces including fine art. Design is a growing process. You pay your dues, your views are different now than when you were in Design School. You learn and grow as your clients become more sophisticated with bigger budgets. You become more refined and more sophisticated in your design.
JG: Tastes have changed in the past few years. More and more young people like the minimalist look. How do you mix and match traditional pieces in with this?
MC: I think you mix them evenly. For example, a contemporary sofa and an antique armoire for the TV, some contemporary tables with antique accessories, a modern table with antique chairs, less accessories and lighter fabrics-- all more pared down and understated. It’s the antiques that add the soul; it must be kept even. I might use a beautiful antique chest in the entry to set the tone, maybe country French or neo-classical, and a beautiful antique hutch in the dining room or an armoire in the bedroom. Speaking of TV armoires, a flat screen TV is not art! I always want to hide it and would never hang one over a fireplace.
JG: What advice do you give young marrieds who have limited budgets but want the best of everything? In other words, what types of pieces are worth saving for and what kinds of pieces can they "fake it" with to get the look they want?
MC: Both need to be flexible—I try to find a common denominator, like with color. Again, it must be a mix and be even. Contemporary with traditional, if you will. I try to encourage them to have an open mind and find the “in-between” that makes them both happy.
JG: How can you effectively mix high-end pieces for comfortable, real-world living?
MC: I think it’s more about aesthetics, charm and functionality. It's about the look you want and how to achieve it. People shouldn't fear having nice things or worry about messing them up. This is another reason antiques are so great for real-world living-- they can take the wear and tear of real life.
JG: Can you suggest some money saving techniques that people can use for a fast fix or quick update?
MC: One change may be to rip off old wallpaper, then texture and paint the walls. Remove old, heavy draperies, and add more simple grass shades. This would create a more updated, clean look.
JG: How much does the character of the architecture of a home influence your interior design?
MC: I think sometimes people can let it dictate their preferences and often oppose it. Most people want to go with the existing architecture; that’s what I prefer and usually recommend.
JG: How does art fit into your interior design scheme? Do you work with the art your clients already have or do you suggest different directions?
MC: I try to work with what they have as much as I can, but quality and scale dictate where it ends up. Often times it might be sentimental or a favorite piece, so a different location will usually keep everyone happy. I don’t think there is a rule of thumb when it comes to art. If it’s a large wall, I love collections, like prints or masks. I also like one large piece with other items hung around it. There are a few rules, but rules can be broken…some of the best designers break all the rules! Based on reputation, the client should trust the designer and let the designer be creative. Designers are artists in three dimensional spaces; we’re in it to see our passions come true.
JG: What do you think is the most important room in any house?
MC: Today it’s the den or breakfast room/kitchen-- that’s where folks really live. Many other rooms are so seldom used. Most people are tired, want to come home, eat dinner, plop down on the couch and watch TV. It’s about comfort.
JG: There is a misperception about "traditional" and yet you seem to mix and match it very well with contemporary. What are some of the tricks for making this work?
MC: One might outweigh the other, but it has to be a blend. The same is true with color schemes-- I could never do one room all contemporary and the other all traditional…it must be blended.
JG: If you could buy only one new piece every year, how would you decide what it should be?
MC: I think it is wise to buy one or two quality antiques every year. In ten years, you could have 20 great pieces. I find I never get tired of good antiques, where I do get tired of new pieces. There is something enduring about really good and really old pieces.
JG: These are the pieces with "soul", right?
MC: Absolutely. I love to watch my clients fall in love with neat items that have history.
JG: Describe your typical client?
MC: I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical” client. They’re all different and all unique. I’ve never had two alike in my whole career, and that’s what makes this business unique.
JG: How should people articulate their design goals?
MC: I find what works for me is to ask them to show me photos of rooms they really like or pieces in the room they are fond of. I ask them to show me a “feeling” they like, such as “light and fresh”, “layered and cozy”, or “lots going on”, etc. Each person has a look that appeals to him. If I can see something-- a color, a piece, or style, then I have something to build from.
JG: What trend do you see becoming the next rage?
MC: I think Asian. I see it coming back in accent pieces, fabrics, and Chinese accessories. Chinese armoires add great flair to a room. I like to mix in ethnic things too; I love a library with African masks or a Chinese table in a room or an old blue and white collection. I love collections. I like to get clients started collecting-- like antique copper for a kitchen, maybe blue and white Delft, some Majolica, oh-- and I love tortoise shell pieces.
JG: What is your favorite city for antiquing?
MC: Paris, for obvious reasons. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world and of course, there is so much selection. It gives me a great excuse to travel to Europe…but if I had to choose a domestic location, there is no city in the country that can compare with Dallas for great antiques. There is as much quality and selection on Slocum Street in Dallas than any city in the country, in my opinion. It’s nice as a designer to be able to find anything you might need only blocks from my own shop.
JG: What is your favorite style and why?
MC: Swedish. I love it because the Swedes adopted the styles of French and English, but put a whimsical twist on it with lots of character and charm. You wouldn’t want a whole house full of it, but it mixes so well with French and English. I love that they created their own style by emulating other classic styles.
JG: What piece from your personal collection is your favorite?
MC: My favorite piece in the shop is the Swedish grandfather clock. At home, it’s a 400 year-old English coffer that is beautifully carved and has a patina to die for. Again, one of those pieces that adds real “soul” to my house. As I mentioned my love for collections, I also love my 27 bird and botanical prints I collected from 3 different dealers.
JG: What project or client has been your favorite job?
MC: I’ve had many clients and loved working with them all. I can’t single just one, but all have been great and very loyal. One special client’s home appeared on the front cover of Villa Decor and took several local design awards. It was really the design job that put me on the map. That client has not changed even one thing in 11 years. I think that’s an example of doing a good job and making a client very happy.
JG: What is the biggest misconception about traditional antiques?
MC: Some people have a problem with things being “old”. They worry about functionality and need educating that these pieces have been around for hundreds of years and will last hundreds more. Wood is very forgiving. Distress marks and that less-than-perfect finish adds charm and character.
The Chambers Collection is a line of traditional classics that are custom made by Margaret. The collection includes traditional country French and English upholstered chairs, settees, and sofas.
To learn more about Chambers Interiors and Associates, Inc. visit www.chambersinteriors.com