When homeowners can’t specify their aesthetic preferences, strategic interior designers survey the client’s wardrobe for breadcrumb clues. “Quite often I’ll say, ‘Listen, what color do you look good in?’” said Los Angeles designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “‘What makes you feel great when you wear it?’”
Clothes can reveal nearly as much as diaries. Richmond, Va., designer Suellen Gregory took cues from her client’s predilection for the borderline-psychedelic prints of Etro and Lilly Pulitzer clothing before she installed China Seas wallpaper in Paradise Background, a chinoiserie-like pattern in egg-yolk yellow. When faced with decorating a house on Shelter Island, N.Y., where interiors range from quaint Victorian to white-and-glass modern, New York designer Susan Petrie opted to go the traditional beachy route with blue, white and beige cottons for a client habitually swathed in nautical stripes.
Decorators sometimes invoke the clothes clients are wearing when lobbying for a look. Mr. Bullard, in an effort to convince a reluctant client to go beyond “meh” white-linen curtains, turned to the Dolce & Gabbana top she had on, specifically its border of interlocking navy-blue circles. “Look at that beautiful edge on your vest,” he said. “Wouldn’t it change the look?” They ultimately copied the pattern, blew it up and embroidered it on the drapes. Mr. Bullard is not above throwing a shirt over a chair to help a vision-challenged client anticipate an upholstery change.
Bradley Bayou, former creative director of American fashion brand Halston and now an interior designer in Los Angeles, recently worked with a male client whose natty wardrobe leaned toward tailored, earth-toned pieces by Tom Ford and John Varvatos. And yet his penthouse in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood appeared marooned in the ’80s and ’90s, with lots of Italian furniture à la “Scarface.” “It was kind of shocking to me, that you’d dress like that but surround yourself with things that don’t relate to what you look like,” said Mr. Bayou, who spent a year pulling together materials such as charcoal grass cloth, mohair drapes and silk rugs. He selected soft fabrics that upholstered well enough “to make even the most particular tailor happy.” Indeed, when the client entered the transformed flat for the first time, he said, “This is how I should live.”