Elegance is not easy to define, but we know it when we see it—and any interior by designer Jessica Lagrange fills the bill. We asked her to try describing this elusive quality. “Elegance is understated, pure, and natural. It’s simple,” she said. “It looks effortless and timeless. It’s something innate in people. It’s not trendy, flashy, or showy. It’s tasteful, graceful, and it comes without trying too hard.” So of course our next question was: If you don’t have it naturally, how do you fake it? And she gave us some excellent ideas.
Bring nature inside. “Fresh flowers and branches with leaves and blossoms are always elegant.”
Decorate with neutral colors or shades of one color. “Black and white is very elegant, very pure. So is white alone. Bright colors—pinks and greens—are not elegant. A red room can be elegant, but it has to be just red, not a bunch of different colors. Varying soothing colors are fine, but jumpy colors are not.”
Invest in beautiful drapes. “Long pieces of fabrics can add elegance. Use fabrics that are sensual and textural. My drapery guy puts something called bump—a heavy, felt-like interlining—into some of my drapes so they’re very thick, and have a hand to them.”
For upholstery, use linen, silk, wool, or other natural fibers. “Natural materials are inherently elegant and timeless. Layer them in various textures throughout the room. Contrast soft with sleek, like plush wool with silk.”
Display collections coherently. “A personalized space is elegant.” For groups of family photos, Lagrange suggests using frames that have a relationship with each other—for example, all silver ones.
Don’t try too hard. “I hate it when a space feels too decorated. Phoniness is never elegant.”
CONTACT Jessica Lagrange Interiors, 312-751-8727, jessicalagrange.com
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Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp
Jessica’s School of Elegance
1 This understated crystal knob from Nanz (#1107, shown here in polished nickel, price upon request) is undeniably handsome, but Lagrange also appreciates its craftsmanship. The knob was hand-cast and polished using techniques common in the 1880s, when this decorative style became popular.
2 Lagrange avoided strong color and relied on texture and natural fibers to create depth and sophistication in this modern space. “It’s not fussy, frilly, or overdone,” she says. “It’s minimal—and there’s not too much of any one element.” She also paid close attention to the heights of the furniture (“in a contemporary room, it needs to be low”).
Photograph: (2) Tom Rossiter
3 For a traditional room in a Lake Shore Drive condo, Lagrange used a nearly monochromatic palette (“nothing shouts out at you”). Voluminous drapes add sensuality and romance; different heights and styles of furniture create the look of an eclectic Parisian apartment that came together over time.
4 Here Lagrange paired classic black and white, then added one main accent color, a mossy—not bright—green, and paired it sparingly with grayish blue, a hue that’s not too far away on the spectrum. The result is an elegant Gold Coast kitchen, sunny and cheerful without being loud.
Photography: (3) Tony Soluri, (4) James Yochum
5 “For traditional, I love Rose Tarlow. She makes classic pieces with just the right scale, proportions, and materials.” Shown here: the Regency dining table, price upon request, Holly Hunt, Merchandise Mart, 312-644-1844.
6 Lagrange finds The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago to be one of the most elegant places in the city—“It’s sexy, but you also feel comfortable there. That’s elegance, I think. You walk in and you don’t feel put off. You feel at home.”
7 The crisp lines of CB2’s Marta barware ($1.50-$2.50, cb2.com) are simple and timeless. “Elegance doesn’t have to be expensive,” says Lagrange.
8 “You have to understand who you are designing for—this is elegant for a 15-year-old girl,” Lagrange says. While she did use bright color, the space is still soothing because no blocks of saturated hues fight each other. The overall look is young, clean, and understated.
9 The designer has used the tailored yet comfy Kalos armchair by Maxalto (chair, from $3,310; ottoman, from $865, maxalto.it) in several projects—“With slipcovers, people usually think oversized shabby chic. But with a thinner piece and the right drape and texture of fabric, this can be a very tailored look.”
Photograph: (8) William Zbaren