After a divorce, you start to take stock of your life. Suddenly every aspect of your life seems exhausting and dreary. It could be your mood, or it could actually be your living space.
Whether you stay in the marital home or find a new living space, a new design can help you feel alive, provide comfort and motivate you to rediscover joy.
Gail Green is one of New York City’s leading interior designers. She specializes in creating luxurious and livable spaces for people starting a new life after divorce.
Gail is the founder and principal of Gail Green Interiors. For over 25 years, Gail has used her talent and creative ability to provide clients with a harmonious and stunningly beautiful environment.
Gail’s work has been featured in House Beautiful, House, House & Garden, Elle Décor, Traditional Home, Maison Française, The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Metropolitan Home, and Interior Design.
An interior designer has a wider knowledge base than an interior decorator. They study architecture, decorating and design and blend the three disciplines to conceive living spaces like the elegant homes Gail creates for her clients.
Gail has developed a style that is a coalescence of traditional and modern elements called “Regency Modern”. She is passionate about working with clients to achieve harmony, balance and flow in the place we call home.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Gail about her interior design solutions. She very generously shared her professional and creative insight for creating a unique and welcoming home after divorce.
Do people often come to you after a divorce to design a new living space or for a redesign, if they are staying in the home that they shared with their ex? Are your divorced clients mostly women or do men come to you for help?
Gail: It happens both ways: clients come to me before, during, and after the divorce process to help them design a new home or to redesign their marital residence. It's half and half and sometimes both. If I have worked with a couple when they were married, I have, on occasion, worked with both after. What a man wants versus what a woman wants after the divorce is highly individualistic. However, there are certain patterns that exist. For instance, a man will most likely get a temporary space (a room in an apartment, back with his parents) prior to getting his own space. A woman generally wants to redesign the existing home right away.
You must know a lot about psychology in order to work with people and design a home that reflects their personality. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with an interior designer, how does the process, or your process work from the time someone calls you and asks you to design their home?
Gail: We are both designers/architects and psychologists. We are allowed to peer into the highly charged personal lives of our clients. The major difference in working with a divorced person as opposed to a couple/individual who is not, is their emotional perspective.
A couple thinks in terms, most usually, about what is best for the entire family as to how a space functions. A divorcee comes to a new space with the perspective of "what's best for me." So, when the divorcee calls us, they are not exactly sure what to expect or what they want. They are oftentimes confused. Let's just say, they've just been through a lot and are just now seeking peaceful and happy solutions to their home challenges.
We are both trusted advisors and confidents and professional agents of change – change they both fear and desire, simultaneously. Once we meet in person, they feel confident that I understand their plight, having both personal experience and professional experience with divorcing/divorced couples.
One of their initial challenges is to make a wish list - a personal one, something that they haven't thought about for a long time. I require that when they do this exercise, they remove themselves from the space/home being considered. I do this so that they can be as objective as possible, coming up with ideas or wants they didn't necessarily think possible in their existing home. It is basically a list of phases, words, or sentences that encapsulate their ideal living environment. In addition, I ask them to go through magazines, cutting out pages of entire settings or particular items; any image that will give me a better idea of their "wish list."
Both these exercises sound simple, but truly are not as they really force the individual to think about and envision a lifestyle they never thought they would have to…. Once, their lists/pictures are submitted, I review both with them, helping them prioritize in terms of design and budget. Once a budget is set and basic ideas confirmed, the design process begins and I go to the drawing board.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS EXERCISE IS THE FLOOR PLAN. It sets the feeling and flow for the entire home. Without a plan, rooms stagnant and don't relate well to the whole. Why is this important to a divorced person? Because the last thing they need in their life is more flux, and the most important thing they need in their lives is harmony! A great floor plan exhibits harmony, balance, proportion. It flows, and in doing so, makes the individual walking and living in the space feel really good about themselves. Once the floor plan is secure, the furniture is then selected to create a seamless integration between the outer walls and the inner furnishings.
Color has such an effect on our spirits. Do you find that when people are suffering as they would be in a divorce that they approach color differently? For example; do they want brighter colors or would you have to talk someone who is blue out of the desire to have a home that was decorated in dark colors when you know that six months down the road they won’t be happy in that environment?
Gail: Yes, of course, color affects one's disposition, divorced or not. What is different, when one is divorced, is that the issues surrounding the selection of color are exacerbated. Remember, that at this time, emotions are running high and color evokes certain subconscious responses that are not particularly intelligible.
We know we like a color, we are in tune with it, but we don't necessarily understand why. Oftentimes, an association with color is closely linked to past experiences. Thus, if we had a green room when very young and our childhood was not very endearing, our association with that color would not be favorable. Having said that and putting these personal experiences aside, there are certain colors that are conducive to serenity, peace, harmony, and whatever other feeling one wants evoked. In addition, some color hues are more light reflective than others, therefore creating brighter, more cheerful auras.
Generally speaking, cheerful, harmonious, and serene are the bywords for describing what the divorced person wants and needs. What are these colors? Soft blues, greens, whites, yellows are among these colors. Again, keep in mind that bright yellows don't cut it, but soft maizes do! And, very essential to the selection of color is its placement. Where is it going? Does light shine on the wall during the day, during the night, etc.? Sometimes, bright colors are not preferred as one just wants to hide under the covers. In these instances, they want dark rooms. Is this best for them? Probably such an environment is temporarily assuaging, but in the long run, leaves one in a rut. As always, gradual evolvement is best.
When someone is downsizing after a divorce, they may want to keep some items that are special, but what if large pieces of furniture or artwork don’t work in the new space?
Gail: Going from "We" to "Me" is a process. Not just downsizing, but upgrading is de rigeur. That is, they shed themselves of painful reminders, but now buy things that are solid investments, with attention to detail and quality workmanship taking precedent. "Less is More" is the axiom by which they buy new things. They are, by and large, more intelligent purchases predicated on their harmonizing with the whole. Pieces are selected to fit into an overall scheme. No more piecemeal selections that may or may not fit based on immediate gratification. Rather, items are bought for their inherent participation into the scheme as a whole. Should they bring with them a piece from their past home that they love or to which they feel an especial connection, we analyze how it works into the greater design. They learn to understand that, in the end, buying items that are not proportionally correct, the whole suffers, including the feelings they derive in living in the space.
The process is an education. Design is not about good taste or pretty colors, though these aspects factor into the selections. It's mostly about balance, order, and symmetry and the overall harmony a space evokes. Again, it's much more important, especially at this time with emotions running rampant, that a home FEEL right, in addition to looking right!
Do you use any systems such as feng shui, or how do you use placement of furniture or take advantage of natural light and things like that to make a home have that comfortable but indefinable ambience?
Gail: Systems, poo! Fung shui is predicated on good design. Good design is predicated on how rooms, spaces, FLOW from one to another. How the whole apartment, house, room flows depends on how balanced the architecture is with the decoration/design. It has to be a seamless integration, a perfect marriage, of the two. The last kind of feeling one should have evoked in one's home is that of dissonance. Poor plans, unthoughtful purchases, impulsive buying all contribute to the chaos.
A good designer knows how things work well together. Like the pieces of a puzzle, not one element overrides in importance. What is important is how the person living in a particular home or space feels. One thing I will stress is that the entry is the most important area of the home. It is the first and lasting impression the home makes upon the individual. That someone is divorced means that good design, great flow, superior integration of spaces are all essential elements to their well-being. Call it what you like….there is no label for excellence in this category.
What is the most common mistake people make when they are planning their home design or décor?
Gail: There are two most common mistakes one makes in planning one's home: not hiring a professional and not having a plan. Not having either of these is comparable to being rudderless on a sailboat in the ocean. One needs a captain and a map, to know both where and how to proceed. What people don't realize or perhaps understand is that design is NOT about buying furniture and getting the biggest discounts. Rather, good design is about buying the right furniture to fit within a proper context. The false sense of confidence given them by HGTV leads people to believe they can design by themselves, without realizing that taste is a minuscule part of the exercise.
Do you have any tips for women who are starting a new life and want a refreshed or new space after a divorce but may not be able to afford to hire a designer?
Gail: My tip for someone embarking on a new design project without a designer after divorce is to save money by investing in a consultation. A designer can give them pointers as to how to proceed without necessarily having to do the whole project for them. Designing rooms and selecting furniture is a difficult process with multiple decisions needing to be made. With life being confusing as it is for them, the divorced woman needs some guidance, someone to help her filter out some of the important decisions. If the designer can do a floor plan so that the client can implement in phases with a goal in mind, then the divorcee will have, at least, some solid direction.
Thank you, Gail! It’s been a pleasure learning about you!
Dear women, did you create a new living space after your divorce or are you still living with those sad reminders? Share your stories in the comment box below.