How to Develop Your Design Style

An interior designer known for creating posh celebrity homes shares thoughts on personal style.


From glittering musicals to the chic couture that graces today’s red carpets, the notion of Hollywood glamour has come a long way in the last century. And no one knows that better than L.A.-based Michelle Workman of Michelle Workman Interiors, who takes the ever-changing silver-screen aesthetic and adapts it to her clients’ tastes and personalities.

From California to New York, Workman has worked with such clients as Jennifer Lopez, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley to create spaces that speak to the owners’ style and endure through passing trends and fads.

While her professional style runs the gamut, Workman’s personal style is full of color and charm. Having grown up watching back-to-back showings of old films on Sunday mornings, she was heavily influenced by lavish sets of the 1930s and 40s. While she draws inspiration from fashion and celebrity icons both classic and current, Workman uses a blend of modern and vintage pieces to capture her clients’ own styles—even if they’re not quite sure what that style is yet. We spoke with the designer, whose “Color Story: Pink” collection for Joss & Main launches April 25, about the principles that guide her creative process and help her develop her aesthetic in a constantly evolving field.

Know where your style clues are hiding.
Workman believes a home should be just as much a reflection of your personal style as one’s wardrobe. So before starting a new project, she takes time to dive in and discover her her clients’ personal style, starting with their existing décor and fashion choices. “Heirlooms and meaningful pieces can really tell a story,” the designer explains. “As your walk through their house, picking up pieces and asking them what’s important, a pattern starts to emerge.” This pattern can stem from a repeating shape, color, or time period—all excellent foundations to building the perfect space.

Aim for harmony between personality and decor.  
For Workman, her clients’ personality traits are a big clue in shaping the palettes and other decor choices in a final design. Bold colors and patterns can be better suited for a bubbly exrovert, while someone more reserved might gravitate for more muted tones. It’s not always so cut-and-dried, however: Some clients, responding to fashion trends or a fear of going too bold, initially request designs that don’t quite fit their personality. When Workman senses a disconnect—perhaps someone asks for a muted gray palette, but provides vibrant fashion photos as their style inspiration—the designer aims to fuse the disparate elements to create a surprisingly on-point blend. “My ultimate goal is to give them something they love,” she says.

When it comes to design, celebrities are just like the rest of us.
When it comes to her more A-list clients, Workman says she hasn’t noticed a big difference in the work process. “In the end, it’s a personal relationship,” she explains. “Everyone wants that warm and fuzzy feeling when they come home. They want to feel comfortable.” Whether or not you spend your days in character, she believes, everyone deserves a home that reflects their truest self.

—Kate Bisantz

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