The Art of Layering

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 1, 2016

Interior by Drummond House, Photography by Chris Bartol

Interior by Drummond House, Photography by Chris Bartol

In this do-it-yourself world we live in everything has been given a name. The latest one I have come upon in interior decorating is “layering.” This surprises me because it is basically a look of an effortless design style that reminds one of a room or home that has been put together over time with a collection of different elements, colors, fabrics and accessories. This was what I was taught that design was all about, creating a home full of love, joy and history for the family that lived in it.

My first apartments in New York were furnished with furniture from my family’s attic, finds on the streets of New York, and the start of my blue and white porcelain collection from antique barns in Maine during summer family vacations. I also worked in the design department of a large New York department store, B. Altman & Co.; they had an amazing markdown for store employees only and I was able to pick up some wonderful finds there. As well as being an assistant decorator, I was expected to work on the furniture floor, both selling and helping with the furniture displays. They did wonderful room settings! The thought behind these settings was to make them look as much like lived in spaces as possible. Here I learned from the best, not only working with senior decorators and clients, but also through the display department, which always added a note of sophistication and glamour to each room setting. We never used the word “layered” but it was considered always to be the most important part of the design element.

To define layering today means that your rooms should have a depth of color and design to them. Color, pattern and texture all layered to complement each other, and combined to make an interesting and personal whole. Even in a minimalist design, having prized possessions brings the room to life and makes it personal. For those of us who love to collect things or come from families where furniture and accessories have been passed down from generation to generation, the layered look is the result of having all these precious and beautiful things.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

When using patterned fabrics you want to have the different patterns have different scales and different directions. I love using a large scale pattern on a large piece of furniture such as a sofa, in long curtains or as wallpaper. Then the medium and small scale patterns can go on the other furniture and pillows. Rooms used to often have a print such as a floral or toile, a plaid or check, a stripe as well as some plain textured fabrics. The stripe and the plaid give you the different directional patterns. If you try this yourself buy a half a yard of each fabric first and play with them, your eye should tell you what is harmonious.

If you prefer plain fabrics then you need to get the layered look through different textures. A rough linen in a gorgeous color, a finer linen fabric in another color, perhaps a plain chintz to bring in some sheen and reflect light. There are many textured fabrics available today. The hardest room in which to layer is an all white one. It is so easy to get it wrong and takes great talent to get it right. If you have lusted after a white room then get some help and advice to do it right, but don’t ever take it as the easy way out.

A most pleasing way to decorate a room is to aim for balance instead of symmetry. Too many pairs of things in a room look stiff and overwhelm your eye. However, a balance of widths and heights, light and dark, complementary colors and pattern, are all very pleasing to the eye. If you have multiple objects of like proportions, such as pictures, then arrange them in a different way rather than symmetrically.

When arranging you accessories on tables place collections and like objects together rather than scattering them around the room. They have more impact this way and tell a better story.

A layered look is an effortless look, it incorporates your own sense of style and your story. It tells who you are, how you welcome your family and friends and what is important to you. It is a rich and happy place in which to lead your life.

Gillian Drummond has her design studio, Drummond House, in Tryon, N.C. Visit to view her portfolio and design philosophy. Contact Gillian at or 828-859-9895.