Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last-ditch stand of the artist.
— Marshall McLuhan
Good taste is as tiring as good company.
— Francis Picabia
It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.
— Salvador Dali
What is Good Taste?
Folks tend to think that good taste is a natural eye for effortlessly picking out the items that just work in a home. It’s a gift, a talent, a flair, and a necessary prerequisite interior designers must innately possess to master their trade. Welp, none of that is true. Good taste is not a primary concern of the interior designer worth their salt.
Taste, whether good or bad, is a construction and completely subjective. It’s different for each individual, culture, and time period. In short, good taste is nothing more than a passing trend (which a good designer should never follow as a rule). In The Critique of Judgement, German philosopher Kant denies any standard of taste. He states that beauty is not an inherent property of any object but an aesthetic judgment passed by the individual. It turns out beauty may really be in the eye of the beholder, and good taste isn’t a factor at all.
The Problem with Good Taste
Today, some folks are pointing out the problems of taste and suggest it’s time to do away with good taste altogether. Taste is divided into two classes — good taste and bad taste. You can’t have one without the other. The idea of good taste has less to do with how a particular aesthetic serves your personal preferences and more to do with the standards of those in power. Good taste can’t exist without an air of aspiration that can only be attained by a select few. The preppy Hamptons home is in “good taste” because of the priceless antiques, auction house art, and casually hung lacrosse sticks only old money can afford. While items in bad taste scream that you’re not “in the know” of what’s hip or suitable. As we enter an age of personalization, concerns around taste are becoming less and less important.
The Good Designer Forgos Good Taste
We hear stories at dinner parties where people recount how their own “good taste” has led their friends to request their help in redecorating their homes, and thus inspired them to take the leap into a design career. That’s all well and good, however to be a full-fledged interior designer, there is a long road of specialized learning necessary to achieve mastery of the craft. Spoiler — it’s not good taste, alone. While creativity is an asset, creating a successful interior design career takes formal education, on-the-job training, discipline, determination, and strong business skills. The role of a professional interior designer requires communicating with clients to understand their vision, managing teams of tradespeople, coordinating logistics, problem-solving on the spot, and leading my team to a successful finished product.
Substance Over Taste
Good taste is never the end goal of a project. Like a healthy meal, substance is what will leave you feeling content. Substance in a project comes from spending a great deal of time with a client, learning what lifestyle appeals to them and how to incorporate that into their lives. Considering the architecture of their home, their collections, their interests and synthesizing all of that information, along with my professional expertise and experience, to produce a successful outcome that rings true instead of trendy.
Of course, no plan exists in a perfect world free from obstacles. A good designer must also consider the budget, a reasonable timeframe, and how the new space will work with the rest of the home. If you only consider one room at a time, the whole house will become unbalanced. I am of the opinion that it is better to lift up every area of a project together, even at the cost of doing less to the home. First and foremost, function and needs must be met. Then, you can tackle personal aesthetics. Finally, remember to leave good taste at the door. You don’t need it.
If you get all those items right, then you can live comfortably and beautifully.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.