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Design Like Einstein

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)

Did you happen to catch the recent 10-part series, “Genius”, on the National Geographic channel? The series spanned the life of Albert Einstein from his early days as a patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland to his death in Princeton, New Jersey. It focused more on his life, loves, struggles, and theories than math and physics, although, there were a few fascinating animations to help viewers visualize what he was thinking.

At one point he said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. I don’t remember if he was referring to Relativity or the Unified Field Theory – and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it also refers to interior design. In fact, it refers to absolutely everything: Too many ingredients in a recipe dilute the essence of the flavor. Too many words in a column dilute the essence of the message (I’m still working on this). Too many lines of computer code slow response time. Too many bells and whistles in a car, a television, or a sewing machine can cause more problems than solve.

Einstein was not saying to make things simple but to make them as simple as possible. In his world, he stripped down even his most complicated of formulas. There is nothing simple about them but they are as simple as can be and still prove his point.

I’ll give you a few examples of how you can “Einstein your design” in a moment but I first have more groundwork to lay. When I design for clients, whether it be a single vignette, a room, or an entire house, my goal is to make every item and detail count. If it doesn’t, I eliminate it. The idea is that if it doesn’t count, then keeping it only blurs the final result.

Thinking back to all the Demystifying Design columns I’ve written, how many have advocated that we declutter, establish rhythm and pattern, emphasize one and only one focal point? Many. My reasoning has always been that such actions create efficient, functioning and harmonious spaces. They also create stronger and more confident designs.

You’ve probably heard, “Less is more”. It’s a phrase adopted by mid-century modern architect and furniture designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Like Einstein’s quote, this guideline really does produce the most successful outcomes. So, how can you apply it to your home? First, as you might have guessed, edit and declutter. This will instantly give your space more room to breathe. Also, group similar items together. Instead of scattering decorative pottery, beautiful hardback books, framed photos, etc., gather them into a collection. They will make a bigger impact.

On a larger scale, if you’re remodeling or building new, think about the architectural details and finishes. In a modern house, for instance, keep mill work simple. In a Victorian house, add just enough detail to acknowledge the architectural style – but don’t go overboard. (The Arts and Crafts movement, in fact, was a rejection of the over-the-top embellishments of the Victorian age.)

As you update, upgrade, make over, remodel, or start from scratch, if you design the Einstein way, your final result will be purposeful, meaningful, scaled, and proportioned. Everything will relate to everything else – which is actually the essence of the Unified Field Theory.

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