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  • Deborah Emery

A Designer’s Life Story as Reflected in Her Renovation



One of the many things I have learned in the course of my career is that design inspirations can be as simple as a feeling, a color, a vibe, or in the case of my own renovation, as complex and meaningful as one‘s personal story, a reflection and repository of one‘s life and memories.


I am the daughter of an American father and a Persian mother. Theirs is a fairy-tale, love-at-first sight story, lasting over 50 years. But one that was also forced to withstand the pressures of a revolution and with that, a loss of connection to culture, family and country. This loss has reverberated down the generations to me, who was born in Iran and whose first language was Persian, and even to my college age children, who have never stepped foot in Iran, but have both been showing an interest in learning more about Iran and the Middle East in their respective university class selections.


This is particularly surprising because unlike a lot of Iranians who came to this country, our family did not necessarily seek out other Iranians. And even though my father speaks fluent Farsi (thanks to a stint in the Peace Corps and my grandmother’s insistence) we did not speak it regularly at home. In fact, after the hostage crisis(1979-1981), my mother was very concerned about possible backlash, which may explain why she succumbed to the pressures of adolescent kids who wanted to blend in and not have their friends question the strange language they were speaking.


I could write a book about how the revolution affected our family, but it wasnt until the pandemic, when I spent many hours trying to recreate the Persian stews I remember from my childhood, that I truly understood how food is one way of connecting to one’s history and background. And perhaps it should not have been surprising that upon embarking on my renovation, it became clear that design is another.

Wallpaper from Zoffany, Jaipur Peacock Garden

This wallpaper from Zoffany, called Jaipur Peacock Garden, perfectly captures some of the distant memories of my childhood that have inspired me - lush gardens full of fruit trees, arid mountainous landscapes, the distinct smell of water as it hits the hot pavement, food fragrant with exotic spices, the soothing sound of a courtyard fountain. These are just some of the many inspirations I drew from for my home. This paper’s beautiful colors were also appealing to both my husband and me. In fact, it was so appealing that I am treating it like a piece of art and framing a panel of it rather than using it to paper a while room.


Here are a few of the other things I have been looking at and thinking about in designing my own space:



I grew up with and have always loved Persian rugs and one of my favorite types is the Heriz style shown here. I love the rich range of blues and reds and the geometric stylized design is appealingly less formal than some of the other Persian rug types. Once my living room is ready, I plan to borrow on approval a few rugs like the one pictured here and try them out in my home before making a final decision. This is the only way to know whether the rug will work in your space with your particular conditions and is critical for such an important purchase




At the very beginning of our project, we were visiting my parents and my son was asking them about Iranian artists. Out of curiosity we started looking through 1st Dibs for some of the artists they mentioned and discovered one, Sofie Swann, whose work spoke to all of us. She has found a way through her paintings to capture the complicated feelings of loss of home and childhood connections, by translating her memories into abstract shapes and symbols. I also love that she stains her canvases before painting using Persian tea! Here are a couple of her pieces. You can see how they complement the rug type, and the neutral colored furniture I have selected for my Living room will make these unique and colorful pieces pop. You can read more about Sophie: http://www.sofieswann.com




Photo of me at a heritage site during a trip to India

Beyond that, while I have not been able to return to Iran since before the revolution of (’78-‘79), I have been fortunate enough to visit other countries in that region, like Turkey and India. Apart from the design inspiration I have drawn from those trips, they have been both meaningful and emotional for me, as there was always some intangible feeling I had while there that I was close to home. Obviously there are some cross cultural, language, food, and art and architectural similarities which felt familiar, but it was also the knowledge that physically I was so close to a place I could not access. In fact, I distinctly remember one trip home from India, I was sitting in the middle of the plane and when I got up to stretch my legs I happened to look out the exit door window and saw a vast and snow capped mountain range. I asked the flight attendant what it was, and he said it was the Alborz mountains of Iran.

View of the Alb0rz mountains, Iran

I fought back tears as I headed back to my seat. This mountain range sits just north of Teheran, the city of my birth, and this was the closest I had been since I was a child. How serendipitous it was that I chose this moment of a 15 hour flight to look out the window.


Glass mosaic from Artistic tile, guest bathroom. Reminds me of a Turkish hammam


Block print found in Calcutta, used for a roman shade in my son's room


Finally, my apartment has always felt like it could be in Paris- a city my husband and I both love and have spent extensive time in. So I also drew inspiration from Parisian apartments I had been in and seen, particularly those whose art and furnishings allow their majestic scale and architectural details to be honored. In making decisions for my own apartment, while I wanted and needed to modernize and update, I have tried to keep the traditional details that made it special.



Stay tuned to see how I pull all these elements together...





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