Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taste.


Why are some people good at putting a room together and others aren't? Did any of you have clumsy (or downright horrible) style in clothes or design and somehow find a way to sharpen your eye and get better at the whole game?

Are some people born with good taste?

Thoughts on the subject, please.

73 comments:

Tamstyles said...

I think some people think money equals taste/style which is not true of course. I think some people look at things according to how they grew up and what was "nice" to them at the time lingers on. Just like women with gold teeth. WHO would think THAT WAS NICE? or STYLISH? Only someone from a certain background. It just depends what your eyes see..IMHO

Mango Gal said...

I honestly believe that there are some people that are just good at putting colors and fabrics together, they know what works. However I also believe that you can learn it, you just need to be open to trying new ideas.

Lolo said...

It's subjective, depending on what you absorb or react to as you develop and then it gets modified by what's in fashion or what you have to actually live with. I remember being relieved when Pottery Barn and Target popped up because at least "average" people had some sort of template of something to shoot for. And yet now, I'm sick to shit of cookie cutter rooms with too much mass produced trends.

It's like the american version of What Not To Wear vs the BBC version. Trinni and Susannah's victims fought to hang on to what made them feel good and gave a hearty fuck off when backed to the wall, whereas The Shrillingtons pummel their makeovers into looking like they stepped off the pages of J.Crew/BananaRepublic/AnnTaylor et al. While they're no longer hideously offensive they're no longer unique. Fuck that. I would rather see someone heroically fail at giving actual thought to what they want to project than to be bored by yet another bland "look".

There are people who have an inherent sense of proportion and balance though and that is something that I know I could use help with. Taste is just what you like, after all but style is what more of us should strive for.

Petra Voegtle said...

I do believe that you can learn everything that can be written down, explained with words or other means, can be heard, seen and touched etc., everything where a human sense is involved. But you cannot learn a feeling. Taste has something to do with a feeling for certain things, no matter what the trends may show or what fashion tells you.
Taste is something beyond the 5 human senses - a "6th sense" which is capable of creating a composition out of all other 5! Taste depends on a certain sensuality that needs to be fostered during childhood which does not mean you need money for it - just a certain awareness and this can be taught in every social environment.

magnaverde said...

I'm sure there are people who are born with perfect taste, just as there are people born with perfect pitch. I just don't happen to know any of them.

The good news, though, is that taste can all be learned & it has nothing to do with money. OK, it has a little to do with money, because if you don't have taste & you don't know anybody to go out & get it from, you have to go out & buy books, lots & lots of books, and look at everything, good & bad. I know, because I grew up in a bunch of small towns in the Corn Belt & all I had to go by were books from the local library & the issues of House & Garden from the 193Os & 194Os that were piled up in dusty stacks in my grandmother's attic. Thanks to them, I was the only kid on the 7th grade softball team who knew who Elsie De Wolfe was, but I was no dummy, and I knew if I wanted to hang out in front of the Dairy Queen with my teammmates after the game, I'd best keep my trap shut. Now, of course, I realize that although I was the only 12-year-old closet decorator in Clinton, there were lots of other people like me in the same situation, some of them growing up in far worse circumstances than I ever had to deal with.

I remember a short memoir--and, unfortunatelty, I can't track down the piece or even remember what magazine it was published in, or when--that the 8Os superstar designer Robert Bray wrote about the horrific childhood Christmas when his mother tried to kill herself, and I remember asking myself what the chances were that the poor kid could overcome all that kind of pain & squalor to become the person he was when the article came out. Whatever it was that he had--either that natural taste or the determination to escape his wretched surroundings--worked for him.

Another designer once said--and again, I cana't remmeber who--"Taste: you're either born with it or you go out and get it." Anyway, everything can be learned.

Emily said...

I think it's inherent. Well, I think the desire to be good at it is inherent and from that - because it's an interest - you develop the skill. You learn what looks good.

It's like any other DNA. Example: I inherited my grandmother's Green eyes, auburn hair, and interest in style - both fashion and interiors. My sister inherited my grandfather's blue eyes, some random persons blonde hair, and our great-grandfather's ability to learn and retain languages. The style interest gene passed her right by.

And Tamstyles is right - it depends on what you see. And money does not always equal taste.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Taste cannot be taught but it can be refined to a reasonable simulacrum. One has to apply oneself. Read. Explore. Broaden one's mind. Experience trumps everything. The more you experience and explore, aesthetically speaking, the better your eye will become, whether the subject is fashion, interior design, or architecture. Learn the difference between cheap fabrics and expensive ones, even if you cannot afford the latter, for example; once you recognize quality, you can then make incremental choices on the lower-priced scale. Most of all, taste is confidence. You must have confidence in your own viewpoint.

The Nervous Degenerate said...

Good taste is what you see after all the mistakes have all been fixed or covered up.

Echo Design said...

As for taste and money: taste is knowing where to spend the money you have, however much that might be.

alishagwen said...

"Flair is a primitive kind of style. It is innate and cannot be taught. It can be polished and refined. When a person has flair, a grounding in the principle of design, and self-discipline, that person has the potential of being an outstanding designer."
~albert hadley

Anonymous said...

"Learn the difference between cheap fabrics and expensive ones"

Disagree here. There are beautiful simple fabrics out there (cotton duck, plain linen, etc.) that are cheap as hell. Look at John Derian's furniture: It looks like it's covered in burlap, and you wouldn't want it any other way.

On the other hand, there are probably Versace fabrics that cost $350 a yard and look like gilded vomit.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Anonymous, As usual, you jump to conclusions and get hot under the collar. You read too much into what I stated. What I was trying to state (and which I hope I have stated more clearly here) is to learn the differences in quality. An expensive fabric isn't better than a cheap one; I merely say learn about the expensive stuff, even if you can't afford it. You can make your own judgments on whether or not it's worth the price or belongs in your life, but while you are learning, you will add to your knowledge, understanding why some things cost what they do and why others do not. I only use cheap fabrics; that's all I can afford. But due to applying myself I now know all the work that goes into the creation of grander ones I cannot afford even a yard of. I am aware of workmanship and artisans and how some more conventionally costly fabrics are made. Taste is knowledge.

Anonymous said...

"Taste is knowledge"?

I thought "Taste is confidence."

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, people are raised with taste. My grandmother and mom are fabulous decorators and I'm not saying I'm fabulous, I'm just saying people say they like my taste. So maybe it is passed through your genes. Oh and I agree that money does not buy taste.

I love your blog by-the-way!

Anonymous said...

Lolo,

Your analysis of the two versions of "WNTW" is brilliant.

A lot of makeover shows are about bullying people into conforming and fading into the crowd: Cover up your fat parts! Don't wear colors that make you stick out! If you've got an odd shape or size or face, put on these clothes to distract people from noticing!

In that sense, the implication of "good taste" is "not making a scene."

Designerbee said...

I'm a designer by trade and I believe that I started with natural talent for putting things together. A room, a collage for school, an outfit etc.. but "taste" can be learned. In my professional experience, I know that I've become a better designer than when I started.

Anonymous said...

It's like artistic talent. You can't explain it.

Suzanne said...

Style is the expression of one's taste and you need confidence to express your style. I think I have good taste but I'm not very stylish nor does my home accurately reflect my taste because I'm clueless (or perhaps just too fearful) in putting all the elements together in my own home. Make sense? I know the theory but can't apply it. Some people claim to not know the theory but whatever they apply, works. It's effortless for them. That has to be innate.

I think that taste (or a good eye) is nurtured from a young age. You have to be observant and care about such things. Some people don't seem to even notice their surroundings while others are very sensitive about them and the wrong wall colour can practically trigger a depression. We've lived in our house for six years and until last week, my husband thought our bathroom fixtures were white. They're not. (No worries, a reno is in the works.)

Suzanne said...

Forgot to add: "Gilded vomit" is a perfect expression.

Anonymous said...

I found exposing myself to loads of photos, editorials, articles and the like helped hone my style. I believe that style in fashion and home design go hand in hand and should be an expression of that person. There should be a certain symmetry between their wardrobe and the furnishings and colors they choose. That said, the most stylish people I have seen have a definitive and original style: they are not afraid to be themselves and risk what others will think of them or their home. Ultimately, we must be comfortable with ourselves to express ourselves fully.

amy said...

I treasure bad taste over mass taste.

hello gorgeous said...

I love this quote by Marshall McLuhan: Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last-ditch stand of the artist.

And I love how she is rockin' those shades.

Iheartfashion said...

I think almost anyone can learn to mimic the sort of "good taste" rooms presented in furniture showrooms, but style involves putting an individual spin on things and having some unexpected elements. I think it can be learned to a certain extent, by reading and looking and absorbing everything, but like a great singing voice, some people just have it.

vicki archer said...

Some are born with original style and taste and they are always the trendsetters. I believe taste can be learned and honed over time but it will always be a reflection or copy of someone else's.
PS Having good taste and personal style is never ever about money. xv

Orsalia said...

It's the old nature vs. nurture question, and just like in most other applications, I believe that NURTURE wins.

Suzanne said...

Anne Slater has made those blue shades her signature look but I think they detract from her appearance. She has gorgeous hair and a beautiful mouth, but the first thing we notice is those glasses. I don't think she's rocking them, I think they're rocking her. In my opinion, her good taste fails her here. For a peak at Ms Slater's good taste in decor, here is a slideshow: http://nymag.com/realestate/vu/2006/16651/

Decorina said...

I believe that taste and style can be learned.

A client of mine had very pedestrian taste when we started working together. Then he teamed up with an Italian partner. After working with his new partner in Europe he had an appreciation for much finer finishes and furniture than he started with. He learned to appreciate these things by being exposed to them during his time in Europe.

And I know my ability to combine finishes/colors etc. grew up during the time I was in the design program in college.

THRIFTY GIRL said...

As I have gotten older, Im able to express my ability to design more and more. I believe it is in the genes, but knowledge is the key to allowing it to be seen.

Jill said...

I think your born with it. Short, but sweet tart.

Anonymous said...

Yes (some people are born with good taste). It's interesting to me how many professional decorators and designers don't seem to have been born with it.

Habitually Chic said...

In my case, I think it has to do with the way I was raised. My entire family were art lovers so I spent much of my childhood going to museums and historic homes like Fallingwater. I was encouraged to draw and paint and read. I watched my mother redecorate our home on her own and strip wallpaper and make curtains. I also agree that money doesn't buy taste. Look at all the great homes that are filled with amazing flea market finds.

As for fashion, I also had a mother and grandmother who were into fashion and taught me about YSL and Chanel even if they couldn't afford them. I also don't spend a lot but I enjoy dressing well and take pride in looking nice. I put forth an effort but there are many people who just don't care or are too stressed or tired or lazy to bother or try. But it really doesn't take much more time to put on a dress than it does to pull on a droopy bummed pair of sweatpants.

Anonymous said...

I get a kick out of people answering: "Well, in my case, my excellent taste and exquisite style came out when..."

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking the same thing. I suspect some revisionist biographies are being written here.

Anonymous said...

I had to make some terrible mistakes in decorating before eventually getting thing right (or closer to right, anyway).

"Having taste" is often a matter of navigating your way through various eras of "having less taste."

Christina said...

I think everyone can be trained in what is artistic and tasteful. Just as anyone can be trained in music/art appreciation. But some people have "flair" that is inborn, just as some people have inborn musical or artistic talent.
If anyone thinks money and taste are somehow linked, they should go on the annual Aspen home tour.

Alice said...

My sister and I are perfect examples of coming at the style/taste thing from opposite angles.

My sister was born cool, evidently just knowing what looked good, and how things should be arranged, and what to wear. She's also a fabulous artist, and her house is gorgeous.

I, on the other hand, was born with the quirky gene that means I don't have a natural talent for design and composition, but I do know what I like. What I like is sometimes not what everybody likes, but it's interesting to me for one reason or another.

It's only in the past 5 or so years that I've made any kind of effort to be better at understanding how to create a nice space, and how to pair colors and textures to get something interesting AND aesthetically pleasing. I read a lot of design books, and look at lots of pictures.

I agree wholeheartedly with Aesthe's Lament, that taste has everything to do with confidence. I still doubt myself every time I choose something for my house, but I am getting better. It's a long road for those of us not born knowing how to put things together, but I think taste (or something very close to it) can ultimately be learned.

Anonymous said...

Although we all know of decorators who are full of confidence and not so full of talent.

Rachel said...

I think alishagwen, quoting Albert Hadley, said it best...

Yes, I believe you're born being interested in design and having it come easily to you. I believe you are born with that certain "flair".

However, you can also learn about trends, about quality, about things you like, and about colors too. You can become more educated, and your tastes can change.

But I think those people who have "it" are born with "it".

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so what one person sees as creative style, I may not see it that way! ;-)

michelle said...

Whatever you wear, and however you dress your home, it takes confidence to make it work...you know?...like a hat only looks good on someone who doesn't fuss with it :)

LexyB said...

Being born with good taste could be a curse. That passion for neutrals and Hamptons-esque furniture has to be in the DNA, doesn't it?

amy turn sharp of doobleh-vay said...

some folks just have it- but they prob learned it somewhere along the way. I think I get better the older I get- I also think that taste rubs off and thankfully I have been surrounded by fabulous folks!

The Wisteria House said...

I wonder who decides what is "tasteful" in the first place?

Anonymous said...

My parents lost their good taste when they got old. They had great taste when they were young adults in the 1950s, buying Knoll sofas and all, and then... In the last years of my father's life, he was bringing home fake-brass swing-arm lamps with polyester shades from Montgomery Wards. It was like taste senility. Horrifying.

Nick Klaus said...

I believe it is grown, and not developed. my bedroom at home (designed when I was 12) has many elements that are technically correct for the look I was going for, but I realize now that that look is not meant for a bedroom.
now in a dorm, I've tailored my look to something functional and something that I like.
On a side note, most of us are innately better at critiquing design than coming up with it.

Anne Slater said...

Suzanne:

Oh, I am rocking those shades, sister!

Anonymous said...

I happen to think the ability to decorate is a completely separate skill (or gene or whatever) from fashion style. I LOVE decorating and have since I was like 8 years old, but I have no originality when it comes to clothes/shoes.

btw - Decorno, you should consider hosting a bulletin board or forum where we could talk about this stuff more interactively than simple comments to your wonderful blog. Just an idea.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Perhaps quote from Diana Vreeland will do to sooth the Anonymous-disturbed waters (could it be the same Anonymous from deepest, darkest Kansas?): "We all need a splash of bad taste; no taste is what I am against".

Anonymous said...

It seems strange to me that Habitually Chic would say that she doesn't spend much on clothes and yet all she seemed to talk about on her blog last year was all her purchases from "Bergdorf Goodman or "BG" ? Lets all be honest.

Decorno said...

Did she really? I don't remember that. I know she's posted about events and book signings there, but I don't remember her posting too much about what she bought there. Other than La Mer, which I remember because it IS yummy stuff.

Anonymous said...

I think bad taste is usually a result of excess:

Design:
Excess of color = garish
Excess of neutrals = lifeless
Excess of designer labels = unimaginative
Excess of vintage = thrift store
Excess of knick-knacks = hoarder

Fashion:
Excess of makeup = whore
Excess of retro = dissatisfied with reality
Excess of designer labels = unimaginative (again)
Excess of trends = boring

Life:
Excess of partners = the clap
Excess of alcohol = Betty Ford
Excess of friends = aquaintences, not solid connections
Excess of selfishness = being alone


Blog posts:
Excess of the word excess = Enough already. We got your point.

Balance might be good taste. Or maybe balance with one hint of imbalance. You know, like a stable person with a unique quirk.

Tamstyles said...

WOW this went allll the way...Good way for open dialogue on "TASTE"

Anonymous said...

"I am an ugly, no-talent hag with a red apartment."

--DIana Vreeland

Anonymous said...

Coming from a family with inherently bad taste to no taste at all, and having pretty good taste myself, maybe total immersion in bad to no taste is necessary to develop good taste! But seriously, while this doesn't drive me to distraction, I have wondered about it.

Penelope Bianchi said...

I think maybe DV said it.....

Whomever......I believe it!

Taste. (not good; not bad) Just taste.

Know it.....or not.

Born with it? Grow up with it? I have no idea!

Taste.

One can chase one's tail forever. Seeking it.

One who has it.....knows it inherently....and doesn't know he has it......it is second..(.or first) ....nature!

........others..don't...and won't..and can't.

sorry!

Taste!

Penelope

Penelope Bianchi said...

Hi! again!

I am new to blogosphere......may I respectfully ask the "anonymous" people to at least have a nickname....or something.....to distinguish themselves.....?

As in "butch"..."Tex", "Toad"...whatever.........I suspect there are a few "anonymous"......

can't you just make something up....and make it easy to distinguish without heavy lifting?


Just a thought and suggestion......new to the blogosphere!

Penelope

Penelope Bianchi said...

forgot to say!

Anne Slater (with blue glasses in pic) bought something like 100 pair.......when they were being discontinued!

She looks great! She is in her 80's!

Taste!

Penelope

Anonymous said...

taste used to be whatever rich people liked. living with and learning from the rich, and pleasing them, equaled taste.

with each generation, it has gotten more democratic, but probably more from the democratization of wealth (think rappers, models, pro athletes, porn moguls, etc. versus generational trust fund babies) then from anything more egalitarian.

i don't think anyone is born with better taste. i do believe people have more affinities to learning and questioning the status quo. i also think these skill have "survival advantages" in the true evolutionary/survival sense...that learning means more to some based on their situation.

as a big fag, i can say that i've seen a lot of horror in gay fashion, design, and decorating; yet the stereotype of gay as fashionable ( if unelectable and unequal ) still exists. look at all the big nelly celeb decorators. why?

because gays, at least initially, don't like to be outed. after self acknowledging our otherness, we go through a period of trying to blend in and learning what is praised or valued (as our relationships / sexual choices clearly aren't). we prove we can pass or more. eventually we grow tired of this bullshit and question convention. we're forced to find what honestly makes us happy. this brave honesty is a requirement of truly great style. this brave honesty can also result in a hot tranny mess.

it's not about being born with. it is about money and class and otherness striving to fit in before being more then happy with otherness. imnsho.

Anonymous said...

"taste used to be whatever rich people liked. living with and learning from the rich, and pleasing them, equaled taste."

Exactly.

And there are still--still--entire blogs lovingly devoted to those long-dead rich, arguing about where they summered and in what years, the presence or absence of Slim Keith at each of their parties, the paint colors used in their butler's pantries, the precise number Billy Baldwin bedpans they crapped in in their declining years...

Anonymous said...

something I have thought about as well, as I toy with the idea of going back to college to pursue interior design. I can't sketch have no craftiness or artistic gene whatsoever. And no, I don't have the classic story that "oh my god, I was rearranging rooms when I was five!" or "I use to doodle houses and interiors constantly when I was little". I admit I am newly obsessed, but make no mistake about it I am obsessed and passionate and I think I have a good eye. I have heard some people say it can't be learned either you have it or you don't. We all know there are well-known decorators that have no formal training (like Nate Berkus. I wonder do designers have those moments where they just pick the wrong combos, wrong paint color. Does that fuck w/ their confidence at all?

Bromeliad said...

Taste: Hitting the thrift store just as they are putting out new stuff and not rushing the gate because you know that after the mob is done with it, they will have taken none of the things that would interest you anyway.

Eliza Designer said...

I believe that taste or style are a growth process. I didn't really understand my decorative voice until I bought my first home and had a blank canvas that I could do anything with.

Same with personal style. It wasn't until I had gotten older and stopped seeing trends on my body and started seeing myself in clothing as a reflection of more than "stylishness" that I really understood it.

It is about growing and failing. The learning curve is how willing you are to fail over and over until you learn. Like my terrible decision to paint a bathroom pumpkin orange - I had to see my mistake to gain anything from it.

Alice Almighty said...

I was just born fabulous. Alice

Anonymous said...

You guys all think your knowledge of taste has to be articulated in some thought provoking manner. Like putting the word out there and coming up with some bullshit to make it sound like you've definately got it. Come on....I think we all know intuitively what has an appeal to us and what doesn't. And usually, it is what the press has rammed down our throats. Sometimes being labeled as a tasteful person seems to be enough to establish a following. Case in point...K. Wersler. Decs. did a post not too long ago about her recent Domino article. The room we all seemed to find hideous looked like something out of my parents basement growing up. It reminded me of the Aztecan bedspread they had. Months later guess what's being put out there as the newest trend? Yap, you guessed it. All it takes is one person who has established themself as being "impossibly stylish" and fawned over by the press and people can't help themselves. We are sheep. Unfortunately, most of us consider ourselves to have taste by simply pulling shit they see out of a magazine and throwing it in a room. Taste, this does not make. But I digress...I find myself unexplicably drawn to pink, peach and lavendar as of late. WTF???

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Almighty Alice....you crack me up. I'm guessing this gal has taste!

Anon 9:52

MIMILEE said...

What an interesting and intriguing question and subject. I have often asked myself this and I have come to the conclusion that one HAS to be born with it even though with time and help taste can be acquired. I have a friend who was raised very simply without the "silver spoon" so to speak and she has about the most PERFECT taste I have ever seen. I have another friend whose mother had the most perfect taste and she has none! So go figure! Great post!

Henrietta said...

After slogging through this entire thread all I have to say is thank god for big fags.

Maria said...

Born and styling since 1972. I think sometimes it comes from mostly not caring about how other people dress.

Suzanne said...

Penelope, I agree that Anne Slater looks fabulous - her age has nothing to do with it. All I tried to express was that a signature look does not automatically equal good taste. Someone said that Ms Slater was rocking those shades and while I agree that she pulls them off with aplomb, I think she'd look even more fabulous without them. Would she be as recognizable? Perhaps not and perhaps that's just the point of signature looks: they're shorthand for "Hey, it's fabulous moi"!

Lolo said...

I'm disappointed that not a single one of you coughed up photographic proof of any bad taste.

Fat lot of good you are and so much for being "visual" people.

Nina79 said...

This question is bugging me: I have wanted to post a comment for days but the truth is, I don't know if it's inherent or acquired.
So as I don't know, i would say both.
Looking back I think that I have always been a visual person and I still like the room I had as a teen. Some of the hair and clothes choices I made, not so much. But I think as far as personal taste goes the older I become the more I know what suites me and also what I like or don't like when it comes to interiors, clothes and design. And yes, I often do see people (or homes) where I think they have no sense of style or taste. But then I wonder if they are happy with their home or outfit and if they are, then why should they change it?

Lolo: I found your analysis of the British WNTW very interesting and I've never thought about it like that. But the women on the show were always portrayed as being secretly unhappy about the way they looked and much more confident after the make-over. And in my eyes they were practically all more beautiful after, because the clothes and hair were more a frame for their faces and body.
I guess my idea of style is very simple, clean and understated. I find most over the top looks, be it an outfit or a room, to be distracting and not very flattering.

Lisa Hunter said...

Taste can be taught. Style can't.

Anonymous said...

A person's personal taste are directly related to their social position. Taste is learned. Read Pierre Bourdieu's: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste.

s. said...

I think that developing a certain level of taste is simply a skill that almost anyone can acquire with a bit of time and attention, just like I believe that most people could learn how to play the piano or a decent game of tennis. However, I also believe that there are only a few people who have a necessary innate ability that allows them, with a great deal of dedication, to get to the highest level: to become musical geniuses, brilliant athletes or have impeccable taste. They have to work at it, but they have an inborn ability to go further than the rest of us.

But, surely, taste has many different ways of manifesting itself. Honestly, most of my favourite people live in homes I think are badly decorated and dress with no great style or desire to express a "point of view." But I love them because they are kind, funny, smart, generous, loyal. Surely, those qualities are "tasteful," too!?