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Home Design with Kevin Sharkey

Q & A with Deborah Needleman

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Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Needleman, the founding Editor-in-Chief of the much-loved Domino magazine. Currently the Editor of WSJ. magazine, Deboarah has written extensively on design and has been published in The New York Times, Slate, and House & Garden. Snippets from her new book The Perfectly Imperfect Home: Essentials for Decorating and Living Well inspired a story in the November issue of Living, which is on newsstands now. Read on for Deborah's answers to my questions.

The whimsical cover of Deborah's book.

The whimsical cover of Deborah's book The Perfectly Imperfect Home.

How do you find the rooms and homes that inspire you? Is it a matter of being lucky enough to have friends with great taste?

Ha! It’s more having a job that gives me license to go poking around in other people’s houses. I’ve actually never been in many of my most favorite rooms and I don’t love them any less for that–I’ve seen them in books and magazines, and still feel like I know them well.

An illustration from Deborah's new book, featuring...

An illustration from the book, featuring a bedroom in Mathilde Agostinelli's Parisian apartment. How glamorous is the Madeleine Castaing rug ("Rayure Fleurie" pattern) that is laid in every room?

What are a few items that you’re coveting right now?

I really only covet things I cant afford! I feel like you have to always keep mixing it up and I’d love some strong modern pieces now.  I prefer vintage modern over a lot of what the newer designers do, much of which seems overly tricky and pleased with its own cleverness. I’d be happy to give a nice home to a Serge Mutens light fixture or one of those footed John Dickenson African side tables from the 70’s.

John Dickenson African Side Table (

A John Dickenson African Side Table (, one of the designer's most famous pieces.

What do you have on hand at all times for entertaining?

I’m a big believer in having a ready arsenal. 
The less I have to think, the more likely I am to have people around.  I keep a steady supply of nuts and cheese and champagne. I buy cheap glass votives by the case, and always have a box of candlesticks on hand. There are linen napkins and tablecloths at the ready, and the drinks table is always set up—it just needs ice and limes. If there is some kind of national crisis I may not have enough canned goods to survive, but I’ll be able to lay a nice table and serve cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for a while.

I know you suggest indulging in the bedroom–buying the best bed linens you can afford. What are some of the other little luxuries that make your house a home?

Good lighting and good scent are essential to homeyness. Lamps whenever possible for their flattering light instead of overheads, and the unique fragrance of your own home, which comes from a mix of things going on inside it like the coffee brewing, a fire going, a scented candle burning, the bath products and linen sprays you use. Oh, and it never hurts to have a nice cashmere throw to pull up around you either.


Fresh flowers, a bold lamp, and a cozy candle really warm up and personalize this side table. I really find this cluster of purples both energized and also approachable.

What are a few easy ways to make sure a house gives a good first impression?

Not having the entry hall look like a lost and found for coats or a sorting station of the post office. The lazy person’s solution (i.e., my solution) to many domestic problems is baskets, followed close behind by hooks. Small baskets for mail, tall ones for trash, big ones for toys, low ones for invites, square ones for woolens (stuck in closet shelves), etc. And hooks, especially on the inside of closet door, hung low to incentivize children and higher for totes. I feel happy just thinking about these things! I feel like we’re discussing all the fussy things in the book when mostly the book is about not worrying so much about neatness and perfection. But it is true that it helps to get a bunch of things in order, so that then you can forget about stuff and just get on with living and having a good time.


Easy organizing! This basket is accessible, orderly, and versatile.

In the article in our November issue, you talk about “jollifiers”–sentimental things that spread a little joy every time you see them. What are some examples of jollifiers in your home right now?

Now the easy fun bits! Animal figures are always super jolly. I’ve got a small leather cow my husband and I bought in Paris (so nice memories, too), cartoon figures drawn by son on the fridge, a collection of ceramic objects made by my husband in the 7th grade (a glazed doughnut that opens like box, a whale spouting water) on the bookshelf, a plaster cast of my daughter’s hand mixed in with nice objects on the coffee table. I could go on and on. I love having little talismans around that are meaningless to anyone but me.

Adorable ceramic monkey illustration from the book.

Adorable ceramic monkey illustration from the book.

A drawing of children's artwork. I think this illustration really clarifies Deborah's vision, that these pieces are part of a highly refined whole.

A drawing of children's artwork. I think this illustration really clarifies Deborah's vision about jollifers; is there anything more joyful than children?


So many cozy patterns and colors. Nothing says home like being able to put your feet on a table.

I love how you arrange functional items that are out in the open by color to style them a bit–namely the pottery and vases in your kitchen. What are some other items you would suggest leaving on display and styling by color?

First of all, that’s really nice of you to say, as someone who can arrange things a hundred times better than I can! I love an honest display of useful supplies. I would never hide a TV even though I don’t like how they look. Too often we squirrel everything away and very often supplies are attractive, they show what we use, who we are, and of course, they are much easier to get to if left out in the open. Weirdest one first: I love toilet paper piled in a pretty bowl or in a basket on back of toilet or even lined up on a shelf. I think it’s kinda ugly hanging off a bar on the wall. Love piles of towels on a chair or in a basket. Again prefer that to them hanging on bar on wall. Plates and glasses in the kitchen are so much easier to get to on a shelf. And a tray set out on counter with salts, oils, teas, etc. makes it quicker to get to that stuff.

A lively assortment of hats on hooks, as much a part of the arrangement as the tabletop and paintings.

A lively assortment of hats on hooks, as much a part of the arrangement as the tabletop and paintings.

In your book you write about having a bedside command center–what does yours contain?

If the design world  can be divided between people who like to stow it and people who like show it, in general I like to show it—except for when it comes to the area by the bed. I want to wake up and see only pretty things, so I have boxes by the bed that hold pens and post its and other visual undesirables. I cant even bear to have the remotes near me so those live in boxes on husband’s side. I’ve got a pretty plate from John Derian on which to set a drink, a lamp and a few books.

A delicate arrangement of pieces garnish this bedside table. You can almost feel the light from that window!

A delicate arrangement of pieces garnish this bedside table. You can almost feel the light from that window!


An assortment of stripes keeps this room breezy and alive. Don't you think Deborah captured the mood in this room perfectly?

Furnishing the bathroom is such an overlooked idea. What types of furnishings to you suggest and why?

The bathroom is such a missed decorating opportunity! Bring in even one piece of real furniture and see how quickly it turns into a real room: an old mirror, a table lamp, an armchair or bench or garden chair or even a table if you have room. Why not art and wallpaper? This room can easily be as charming, and reflect your personality, as much as other rooms.


Speaking of baskets, this woven bathroom table works like a catch-all. Easy access and high style.

What is an emerging design trend you’ve seen recently and become obsessed with?

Well, of course the design trend I’m most obsessed with is the move away from perfectly appointed uptight houses that aren’t actually inviting toward an aesthetic and a way of living that embraces real life and real comfort, a bit of mess, chaos, patina, the peculiarities of the household and the personality of its owners. The trend of the perfectly imperfect home!

What are your favorite design blogs and sites?

Yours, of course! I really prefer expertise to come from experts, so a lot of the passionate amateur sites don’t do much for me. I’m a snob about taste, but think it should be open to all of us. Martha was the ultimate pioneer in that area—bringing good taste to all. Now there seem to be a lot of websites bringing mediocrity to all.

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Comments (4)

  • Hi I really like this color but don't have the paint number..

    Purple Gray
    This pale grayish violet seems to change hues from left to right -- depending on the amount of light it receives.

  • I saw her article in November digital issue, I enjoyed reading her 11 rules very interesting and informative. I like your questions and her honest answers. Looking forward to purchasing her book. Thank you Kevin

    PS I did not see you in November digital issue :(

  • The painting with the hats gave me agood idea for our hats at home. What kind of hooks do you recommend for hats?
    Thank you very much!

  • I love the large baskets in the photo above and on the show today. Where are they from? How can I get them?

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