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The Last Word with Thom Filicia

Thom, describe your basic approach to interior design.

I try to design rooms that are sophisticated and stylish, but also approachable and inviting. A room should have personality, a sense of place and a sense of authenticity. I don’t like rooms in which everything matches! I see my role as connecting the dots in a creative way. The dots are the architecture of the home, its location, my client’s taste and his or her lifestyle. I’ve done up to four projects for the same client, and each project ends up looking unique because I take cues from the site and the architecture.

On walls and floor alike, subtle grey stripes unite a client’s living room.

You’ve designed classic rooms and contemporary rooms with equal aplomb. Describe your approach to each style.

I like to cool down a classic interior by editing the elements, so that it’s clean and concise. That ability was something I learned from Albert Hadley, who has been a big influence on me. By the same token, I tend to warm up a modern interior by layering rich materials. I don’t like it when a modern interior feels one dimensional and slick. “Warm” and “sophisticated” are not opposites.

Is it important that rooms be fun?

No. But individual elements that are playful or offbeat can help create a sense of ease in a room. The room is just a stage for living, and people bring their own fun to the space.

You believe that simplicity is a virtue in design and decorating. Why?

It’s visually stronger—not to mention more calming—to highlight a few exquisite pieces in a room than to live with many pieces of lesser quality. Put another way, your furnishings need to breathe! Simplicity is also best in architecture. I especially love barns because they have architectural honesty and purity.

In Filicia’s own country house, layered rugs warm up the modern décor.

What’s your pet peeve in home décor?

Design by checklist, which feels off-the-rack. Rooms should have some uniqueness and be visually interesting. Even if it’s created from a blank slate, a room should look like it evolved over time.

You’ve said that every room should contain a surprise. Give us some examples.

An interesting ceiling treatment, such as wallpaper or high-gloss paint, is a delightful surprise. I also like to pair contrasting furnishings, such as a modern dining table with Chippendale chairs lacquered in oxblood red. It’s safest to push the design envelope in a dining room
or powder room because you don’t live in them; the element of surprise retains its freshness. You can go pretty wild with a powder room and not regret it!

His ikat-patterned, hand-knotted rug for Safavieh has a rugged, tribal look he admires.

How do use rugs in your room designs?

I think of rugs as connectors that bring together the disparate elements of a room. I love to layer rugs - for example, to start with a plain sisal rug and lay a bold patterned or textured rug on top. Layering creates interest and ease.

You’re designing your third rug collection for Safavieh. Tell us what you hoped to accomplish with the first two collections.

A lot of the rugs feature riffs on ikat or tribal patterns, and are hand-knotted using vegetable-dyed yarn. So the look is elegant but also a bit rugged, and the rugs work equally well in modern and traditional rooms. My goal is always to design rugs that are both timely and timeless—that feel fresh at the moment they’re introduced to your floor, and will look just as great 70 years from now. I guess you could say I’m designing modern heirlooms.

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