“Happiness at home is all about adding life to a house,” says interior designer Meg Braff. “Start with what makes it function well: then add something meaningful that gives you great joy.” The first chapter in Braff’s debut book, The Decorated Home: Living with Style and Joy (Rizzoli New York, 2017), speaks to that message directly, but it’s also the underlying theme of her work.
For Braff, that joy comes in the Locust Valley, New York, home she shares with boys (ages 13 to 19). Raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, the designer grew up in a large, convivial family where she learned Southern graces from her mother—a self-taught decorator who introduced her daughter to antiques, collections, and the art of setting a pretty table. “My mother always had a great knack for putting things together. She entertained a lot and always let me help out. Our house was full of energy.”
With a firm foundation of family values and an innate eye for design, Braff attended Vanderbilt University before relocating to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. Taking her Southern sensibilities with her, she found that her Mississippi upbringing served her well when she launched her own New York–based design firm at age 25. “Everybody wants to be heard,” says Braff. “One of the most important things you can do as a designer is listen. And Southerners are good listeners.”
From her first client to her current project (which happens to be her own house), the designer has always put her focus on cultivating personal style. Her top priority is creating a home that reflects and uplifts her client’s lifestyle. For Braff, that means a thoughtful and deliberate approach to design. “It’s hard to create an insta-house and have it look successful,” she says.
To lay the foundation for her designs, she starts with three things: color, pattern, and a timeless mix of furnishings. “Color is a powerful element. When working with clients, I always like to look at their wardrobes to get a sense of how colorful or neutral they tend to be,” she says. Braff also studies locale in regard to color because light plays a big part in how color will look in different regions. Certain places call for different palettes. “What might look good in my office in New York might look dreary in Florida. If I’m working in the tropics, I pull in a lot of pink and coral and stronger shades of blue and green and then contrast them with fresher, whiter whites.” Once she settles on a scheme, the designer deftly uses color as a thread throughout the rooms, treating it as a connector that can help transition spaces, allowing the color to move around. “You don’t want it eye level in every room,” says Braff. “I may use it on a wall in one room, carpets in the next, and ceilings or upholstery in another space.”
Meg Braff's book, The Decorated Home: Living with Style and Joy Rizzoli (2017)
Her book shows that color really is easy to live with. In a Southampton project, she unabashedly splashes blue— her favorite hue—across walls, window treatments, upholstery, and painted furniture in an office. Adjacent rooms maintain the blue theme, but are tempered with white walls and wainscoting and green accents. In a Palm Beach apartment, Braff infuses a living area with a lively orange on a vintage sofa and with bamboo and bird wallpaper. One of her New York apartment projects boldly exhibits heavy doses of black, Chinese red, and yellow. “A room can always take more than you think it can,” she says. “Sometimes I even think my choices are conservative.”
“Every project should have a beginning and an end. The end usually comes when you are about 85-percent finished. You need to leave a little breathing space to layer in that extra level of personal items that takes time to evolve.” –Meg Braff
In addition to color, or in lieu of it, Braff says pattern is a way to bring energy into your home.“Pattern can create scale and presence in a room,” she says. “But you never want to overdo it.” The designer believes in taking cues from the environment and each client’s interests. Her personal favorites include Asian-inspired prints and fresh takes on the classics—something she has perpetuated with the acquisition of the Philip Graf wallpaper archives eight years ago. The collection has since been renamed Meg Braff Designs, and it houses lines by more than 30 artists. “The patterns are classics, but there is no cohesion. It had been out of circulation for years,” she says. “It wasn’t completely unknown but it was something your mother would have ordered 35 years ago.”
To make the designs new again, Braff tweaked scale and color combinations. She reintroduces about five new lines each year. She also takes the vintage papers and customizes them for individual clients, finding great satisfaction in creating something for someone that is entirely unique. Braff considers each client’s personal items and their placement throughout the home to be the final layer to creating happiness. “Whether it is a piece inherited from family or just something you love, meaningful items bring great joy to every room—no matter where you live.”
CREATING HAPPINESS AT HOME
- EMBRACE COLOR: Braff prefers cheerful, uplifting palettes that reflect her surroundings and remind her of places she loves. Her personal penchant for blue and green reflects her affinity for beach and tropical locations.
- CHERISH HEIRLOOMS: Family pieces tell stories of your heritage. Some of Meg’s favorites include her grandmother’s bed that she inherited as a teenager and a grand dining table that seats 18 at her family’s Mississippi lake house.
- BUY THINGS YOU LOVE: Mixing new items with storied objects creates an extra layer of interest. Sometimes, it’s the one-of-a-kind items that set the tone for a whole room. Braff’s fondness for chinoiserie, bamboo, and Chinese-inspired fabrics comes from her love of travel to Asia.