Berkeley fashion designer Erica Tanov, known for her floral and graphic prints, went with whites for many of the rooms in her spacious Berkeley hills home. "When I open my eyes in the morning, the bright white clears my mind. It feels like a fresh start for the day ahead," she says.
With a mix of funky flea market finds, fine textiles, mismatched paintings and Asian touches throughout her 1930s-era home, Tanov has created what she describes as "casual elegance," which also aptly describes her clothing line of feminine, flowing tops and dresses.
Home decor expert and author Christiane Lemieux calls Tanov's style "flawed beauty," and includes the home in a new book, "Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design." ($40, Clarkson Potter). With all the interior design bloggers and TV experts urging us to have fun with throw pillows and lamps, eclectic home decor has come into its own. Just as wearing that real Chanel jacket with a yellow cotton skirt from J. Crew makes perfect sense, so does pairing an 1850s family heirloom piano with a midcentury sofa from eBay and a handwoven Beni Ourain Moroccan shag rug, as Tanov has done in the living room.
Lemieux's criteria for the book: Interiors that bear no stamp of being "done" by a professional; rooms with a mix of high and low furniture and art, and where imperfections shine. "Undecorated is following your instinct, even when it's telling you to do something a little crazy, a little different, something against the rules," she writes.
Tanov once ripped out a stained-glass window in a former home to let in more light. She's still breaking rules, most obviously the ivory living room furniture and rug - given that she and her musician husband, Steven Emerson, have two kids and two dogs. Lemieux devotes 16 pages to the Tanov home in a chapter titled "The Imperfectionists."
"I definitely take that as a compliment," says the personable, easygoing designer. "When things are too perfect, they're not that interesting." Like the peeling plaster in a small front room, which Tanov leaves as is. "It's part of the history of the house; I just can't cover it up."
But other rooms will get a full makeover. "I have grand plans for the powder room," a half bathroom downstairs. "I'm going to plaster the walls with pages from a 1904 book called 'Know Thyself.' It's all about marriage, sex, family, life."
Tanov began her career here in 1994. She now has three artfully decorated Bay Area boutiques and one in NoLita in New York that carry her clothing and bedding made from prints of her own design. Lemieux was a frequent customer in the New York store and sought out the designer for the book.
Downstairs, the Tanov home is neutral and serene. Upstairs is another story.
There, Tanov indulged her wild wallpaper side with bold oversize Deco and floral motifs in flocked emerald green and gold, or citron and platinum. A loud cream, brown and orange '70s-era floral fabric from the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire became a shower curtain. "I can't imagine not going to the Alameda Flea Market every month and can't ever imagine going there and leaving empty-handed," she says.
But they all pale in comparison to the spectacular chinoiserie hand-painted silk, silver leaf and decoupage bird wallpaper by the English firm de Gournay, behind the bed. "The big splurge," Tanov calls it. The silver has tarnished naturally over time to a dusty rose. On the windows, plain roller shades. "I just love the juxtaposition," she says.
Also upstairs is her studio, with a sloped beamed ceiling and windows looking onto oak trees and flowering bushes. Surrounded by yellow and orange swatches, art books, ribbons, leaves, photos and other inspiring ephemera, she's currently sketching out designs and fabric patterns for spring 2012.
"All of a sudden I'm feeling yellow ... but don't hold me to that," she says with a laugh.
"Put your personality first ... and follow your instinct, even when it's telling you to do something a little crazy.
"Great style is an ongoing process, not a finished product.
"Weathered furniture and aged books can give a room a comfortable, lived-in feel.
"Furniture can be repurposed ... an old industrial cart can stand in for a bookshelf, a credenza can be converted to a proper bar." - From "Undecorate" by Christiane Lemieux