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Balancing Act: Interior Designer Michael Del Piero

Balance is a word you hear often in interior design. Defining it, however, is not so easy. And, achieving it in a room? Well, that is another thing entirely. Michael Del Piero knows just how elusive balance can be at times, and yet it is the standard by which she judges herself, and all good design. Luckily, she’s had plenty of time to cultivate her finely tuned eye over the last decade — first as a shop owner in Chicago and later as an internationally recognized designer working everywhere from the Hamptons’ Amagansett to Buenos Aires. After establishing her firm Michael Del Piero Good Design in 2007, she quickly earned a reputation for her sophisticated, globally inspired aesthetic and innate ability to harmonize texture, luxury and livability, and the ancient with the modern.

SMALL_MDP_Portrait-IMG_9137_edit_crop_final“Balance is important in my life,” she explains, as she arranges a display at her eponymous boutique in West Town. “I incorporate it into my interiors, my life and everything I do. In design, the overall composition of a space needs to feel balanced. If the room is wooden and warm, then it needs glass. If the room is filled with concrete and metal, then it needs weathered woods and textured fabric. I think when an artist looks at a canvas, he or she is thinking about what will balance it.”

She’s careful to note, however, that balance does not always equal symmetry. “I like asymmetrical things, which for me are also balanced,” she adds.

Previews® Inside Out recently caught up with the shop owner, designer and world traveler to share her insights on mastering the art of the mix.

Previews Inside Out Your firm is called Michael Del Piero Good Design. It’s the age-old question: what is good design?

Michael Del Piero I was trying to describe my aesthetic. What is basic good design? For me, it’s an attitude about interiors that are smart, approachable and sophisticated, but never too precious. It not only looks good, but it feels good and functions well. It’s interesting and sophisticated.

Previews Inside Out What’s your philosophy on mixing?

Michael Del Piero Our whole aesthetic at Michael Del Piero Good Design is based on the mix. Everyone mixes these days, but we see ours as a fresh approach. If you look at our design, the rooms are pulled together with a vast array of periods and styles. I always try to mix with scale and color in mind. The things we mix have a common thread, and they connect.


Previews Inside Out What’s your process for mixing … where do you start? How do you build from there? Do you do a lot of spontaneous “editing” right on the spot?

Michael Del Piero For us, editing only happens with accessories, not with furniture. Mixing is our signature style. It’s more than a process … it’s a natural progression. We are reviewing our selections with a critical eye. We are continually looking at the pieces once in a three-dimensional state as opposed to a drawing. We try to make sure that there is enough old with new, smooth with rough, and we are minimalists at heart. Most often, we’re looking at what can get added, instead of what can be taken away.

Previews Inside Out What kind of mixes work best, in your opinion, in terms of styles or periods?

Michael Del Piero It’s easy to pull different styles and periods together with neutral color palettes. The one style that is least mixable is Victorian, in my opinion. It’s difficult to use it well with other styles. Especially with modern. My favorite mixes are classic fabrics and antique pieces like English chests and French tables. These are all easy to mix into contemporary interiors.


Previews Inside Out What’s your philosophy on high and low?

Michael Del Piero Do it! To me, it’s like dressing. I do this all the time — I’ll pair a tee from Target with a Brunello Cucinelli jacket. The low brings approachability to the high-end, and the high-end elevates the common. In interiors, it’s the same approach. I would not recommend mixing low-end upholstery with high-end art. You want to use quality pieces of upholstered furniture. I like to mix in a flea market lamp or table next to an expensive sofa. Knick-knacks, and even art, can be added in as the low end.


Previews Inside Out I was particularly intrigued by your approach to the 2013 Lake Forest show house. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition, in my opinion, of old and new.

Michael Del Piero It’s my favorite! With show houses, you have more freedom, because you don’t have to consider the client. This room really expresses who we are and how we like to design. We like to take old things and use them in a modern and minimal way.

Previews Inside Out How did you come up with the design?

Michael Del Piero Originally, it was cut up as a bedroom, and the walls were all brown paneling. I thought if they would allow me to paint the molding white, it would be interesting. I like to enter a room with a bed in its center, not to the side. The only way I could achieve that setup was to place a bed along the wall with the fireplace, which was problematic. But I thought I could show off the fireplace with floating twin beds. It has this serene effect.

We are always going for serene in our interiors. We all lead such busy and hectic lives. We all just want to come home and retreat into our bedrooms and relax. That’s the feeling we were trying to create with that room.

Previews Inside Out When choosing antiques, do you look for certain qualities?

Michael Del Piero I like traditional case goods, armoires, chests, and French and English highboys. They are so classic. They bring a certain warmth to a space, plus they’re functional and easy to use. Lately, people have been so into the midcentury style that they’re passing on traditional case goods. More for me! I love French and Spanish long, weathered wood tables. We’ll cut the legs off and make long coffee tables out of them. I’m always attracted to them. I also like primitive, warm accessories with a patina. And I like the look of bold abstract art from midcentury abstract expressionists — both important artists of the period and amateurs.


Previews Inside Out How does your personal style infuse your design aesthetic?

Michael Del Piero I dress in a way that is similar to the way I design a room. I mix high and low, clean and simple shapes for clothing, as well as interesting accessories. I buy a lot of antique bags. I tend to spend on my shoes and boots.

Previews Inside Out How would you say your experiences as a shop owner have trained your eye for detail?

Michael Del Piero I started at flea markets back in 1986. Dealing in antiques eventually lend me to a house in Wilmette, Illinois, one that I cleaned out and restyled by putting together antiques from Europe. A business was born. I’ve always appreciated design, but I’m not classically trained in interiors, so the antiques business opened my world to interiors. I can’t help but notice and focus on details. The details for me on a project are about the art and accessories, and how things play together. It’s more than trims, nailheads and moldings. I have accessibility to these details by having my shop.

Previews Inside Out How would you define luxury?

Michael Del Piero Privilege. Luxury is a lot of different things to a lot of people. We live in a world where many can buy whatever they choose, whenever they choose. This is a luxury. For others, clean water is a luxury.

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Balancing Act: Interior Designer Michael Del Piero

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