Real Simple October 2012
Credit: David Prince

My assistant, Ann Savarino, saves my life a little bit every day. She knows how to tell an entire story with just a look; how to find me when one of my children issues an SOS; how to intervene gracefully when my computer and I are having a fight to the death. She knows that no matter what I get for lunch, I will think that what she got looks better. And, most magical of all, she knows that any bad day can be saved by a good decorating magazine. When one of my very favorites—the genius, wacky, heavy-as-a-phone-book The World of Interiors—arrives in the mail every month, she carries it into my office as if she were delivering a birthday cake she baked herself and announces, “Now all is right with the world.”

And for the time I am reading that magazine, all is indeed right. There is nothing like looking at pictures of rooms full of beautiful objects to transport me to a better place, where there are no smudges on the walls, no chips in the china, and no dirty socks on the floor, discarded by husbands and children who don’t know about hampers. The challenge, of course, is how to transform your very own smudged/chipped/sock-strewn (i.e., real) rooms into spaces that can transport you in that same way, every day.

Enter the interior designer. Part of the unique brilliance of interior designers is their ability to take objects that to ordinary mortals may look completely bizarre and combine them in a way—and with the mismatched things you already own, no less—that suddenly looks harmonious. If we all had the interior-designer gene, we could troll magazines and websites, antique stores and flea markets, for just the perfect object to make beautiful music with our existing possessions and take our rooms from blah to stunning. (And maybe the dirty socks would suddenly start moving to the hamper. Hope springs eternal.)

This month, in “The Wow Factor” (page 170), we asked interior designers across the country to tell us which pieces—furniture, lighting, decorative objects—do this best. The result is a wonderful, eclectic mix of the sleek and the ornate, the modern and the classic, across a variety of price points. The one quality that unites these various objects is that they are versatile enough to work with all sorts of decor, and powerful enough to transform a room.

I will never possess the interior-designer creativity to look at a room and see possibilities instead of, well, stuff. I’m not even sure that I will ever possess the smarts to understand The World of Interiors fully. But with the help of this month’s issue, I can begin to imagine my own little corner of the world a bit differently. No smudges, no chips, no dirty socks—just harmonious rooms that I want to live in forever.