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The Cozy World of Jeffrey Alan Marks

A hot Hollywood designer shares his secrets for creating an intimate, inviting home.

Marks lives in Hollywood in a 1938 home built by architect and set designer Leland Fuller. (Fuller was the production designer responsible for the iconic sets of many classic 1950s Hollywood films, including How to Marry a Millionaire and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) He studied architecture at Arizona State University, and studied design in London, Paris and Milan. He was recently named one of House Beautiful magazine’s "America’s Top 100 Interior Designers." Here, Marks explains the five factors that go into creating a uniquely livable home:

I notice when I entertain that regardless of who it is coming to my house–whether it’s 25-year-old friends or my parents’ friends–they all gravitate toward cozy spaces. They want to be in my game room or kitchen because it feels comforting. I just don’t think people want to be in these vast rooms any more.

I like to plan little quirky areas within areas, rooms within rooms, more intimate spaces. My living room is big so I created cozy places in that room with several intimate seating arrangements, including a table with two comfortable chairs and a chess set that always sits out ready for play.

I love taking traditional pieces and making them not only comfortable, but sassy. In one home I put powder blue linen on two wingback chairs, and I took an old French banding that I found and used it for welting on those chairs, which was very crazy and no one really understood what I was doing. The blue linen had nothing to do with the colors in the room; it was sort of a surprise. But the welting worked quite well with the blue linen, and the combination made the chairs very comfortable. I just made them funky wingbacks.

I use color a lot but I use it sparingly, in jolts to sort of psychologically jar the eye a bit. In my living room I have a Kelly green sofa, which everyone can’t believe I chose in this day and age because it’s such a ‘70s color (pictured, above). If jolts of color aren’t used right, they’re very obtrusive to your eye. The secret is to balance the color out to make it seem more harmonious. I have a green runner on the stairs about 20 feet away from my sofa that balances it. The runner is bright green with thin orange stripes. And I have a big jar, probably two feet round, of baby tears on the coffee table that are exactly the same color green as the sofa. What that’s doing is making people think the green is a neutral.

I love beads and trim. You can put them along the edge of a sofa and it changes the whole feel. Ceramics, glassware, pillows, throws–they really give a room punch. I use a lot of long pillows on sofas, with contrasting color, or a surprise color of welting. I love using jeweled boxes to punctuate a room, or even things that are a little funky weird. I was just in a town in Colorado where I found an amazing little store where everything was less than $20. I bought some beautiful vases that look like something from an antique store that would cost $500. The worn patina of old objects adds interest. I love to add houseplants, too.

At least a couple rooms should have a little telephone table, a writing desk with a comfortable chair, ample lighting and hopefully a pretty view on to a garden. It’s so nice to have a space you can go to write a note or talk on the phone.

I don’t think many people realize that if you don’t get the lighting right, nothing works. I’ve had five houses now, and every time I’ve sold a house it’s been because someone has been to my house in the evening and seen it at night with the candles and the chandeliers and all the lighting. They just fall in love with it. Good interior design is great, but unless you use the right lighting, it never works. A lamp with a 100-watt bulb just flattens a room out.

Put dimmers on all your lights; you can buy them at Home Depot for ten dollars. (My friends joke that I’d put a dimmer on the garbage disposal if I could.) Dimmers and candles create an intimate setting. I create a lighting triangle. So if I have an eighteen-by-eighteen square library, I will always have three light sources going. I’ll have maybe two table lamps and one floor lamp. Those will all be dimly lit. Second I’ll have something hanging from the ceiling; a chandelier on a dimmer. Then on the tables I have candles. The three sources of lighting make the room.

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