White on white is a timeless look. Here, touches of woodsy hues and geometric patterns give this kitchen visual interest. The accents can easily be changed to refresh the room from time to time. Photograph courtesy of W Design.

Everything in this room whispers serenity – the muted colors, the nubby fabrics, the gently rounded shapes. This is a classic room that will be fresh and inviting for years. Photograph courtesy of Maison Maison.

By Rita Kueber
One of the greatest lines in movies or books is the response to the sidekick’s question, ‘what are we looking for?’ The hero answers: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
We can’t think of a better description of timeless design. We know it when we see it. It’s perfectly proportioned white Grecian pillars supporting a grand portico, but it’s also the shortened, angular columns framing the front door of a classic Craftsman bungalow. It’s a fireplace beautifully placed with a black marble surround or a field stone and wood mantel. It’s hardwood floors graced with woven wool rugs, but it’s also original linoleum squares, all oil, sawdust, and grit, standing the test of time. It’s the tone of a room, its colors, its layers, and its vibe.
Currents had the good fortune to speak with three well-known and successful area interior designers, and their answers to ‘what is timeless design’ and additional comments could fill a book. Or three.
“Timeless design is any design that is always in good taste and never goes out of style,” says Kathleen Bliss Goldfarb, ASID the owner and top designer of The Valley Design Team/Decorating Den Interiors. “People’s tastes evolve over time. Your rooms are a hybrid mix of things you love the most. So timeless design is not universal – it’s a little different for everyone. But it represents the best of what you love and building a great room around that.”
Jane Marquard, the co-founder, head designer, and buyer at Maison Maison agrees. “Classic design is individual for every person,” Marquard says. “Look at photos of a Manhattan penthouse or apartment from fifty years ago. They are as beautiful today as they were then. A trend, though, think of mauve in the 1980s. It was in wallpaper and carpeting, see how long that lasted.” A better way to go, she says is to add trendy colors with accessories and other small touches. “I would not invest in any big interior design trend ever,” Marquard states.
“We keep a classic foundation and then infuse fun, punchy things,” says Wendy Berry-Doody, principal designer and owner of W Design. “So if the client likes pink, we wouldn’t use it in a permanent fixture, like a sink, but bring the color in through the wallpaper, a wall hanging, or a curtain. Overall, classic design doesn’t have a time stamp on it, it’s just well done.”
“Trends are quick ideas to refresh a space, and to drop in a twist of a trend is fine,” Goldfarb says. “Design is about the quality of life, not perfection. You should love your space. You never want your room to look like a store catalog – like you went and bought everything from the same place. It should look layered and evolved and reflect your own personal style.”
“We help guide clients by doing a little investigating about how they live and what makes them happy, and this is not a hard nugget,” Marquard states. We show them a few things and they zero right in on what they love and want to live with. There’s no standard design because there’s no standard person. The basics of interior design are creating spaces that are functional, useful, and comfortable. If you have beautiful fabrics but the room doesn’t work for the family, the design has failed miserably. Don’t design your house for someone else’s approval.”
Clients often don’t know what they want, and we’ll ask people for pictures and to describe how they live,” Berry-Doody says. “They might love color, but if everything is a feature, the room becomes chaotic. So we infuse everything they tell us in doses and saturations that are very complementary, and something they won’t tire of. In the end, when they walk in, they say ‘I had no idea what I wanted, but this is it.’”
The designers offer some of their personal tips for decorating with timeless design in mind. “In living areas, it’s best to mix old and new,” Goldfarb says. “Looking back on my fifty years in this business, everything comes back again, just like fashion. Pedal pushers are now capris. Midriff blouses are now crop tops. Always look to the classics, like mid-century modern, and then update. Traditional fireplaces framed by symmetrical bookcases can look fresher by removing some of the shelves and placing fewer items on them. That look is modern but timeless.”
“The antithesis of timeless design is trend,” Marquard states. “If you love your red dining room, and red rooms have been around forever, don’t switch to a gray room because it’s the fashion. You can freshen your classic space by re-upholstering the chairs or changing the window treatments. Bring in new lighting or new art or a new rug. There are many easy ways of changing a look without changing the bones of it.”
“I always want people to be comfortable in the homes I work on. You may really like opulence, but that needs to be balanced with something usable, something beautiful but not so fragile you can’t touch it. You don’t want the house to feel like a museum,” Berry-Doody says. “Put your money into the things that are vital to elevate the design. You might pay for an amazing rug or fantastic fabric or just have great architectural features. Everything single thing is not a feature. Have a focal point and keep complementing it. You want to be able to say in twenty years ‘we still love our house, and we haven’t moved a thing.’”