‘Hue and Me’: The Unexpected Rules for Turning Our Homes into Havens
Author and designer Denny Daikeler is responsible for a national awakening on the importance of our homes and the connection between our homes and our hearts. She begins with a simple question: “What’s your favorite object?”
I have a confession. Until recently, I didn’t know I loved home design. But after decades of home ownership, multiple houses and many remodels, it turns out that I do.
And I am far from alone. I’m a boomer, and one of the millions of people HGTV producer Kenneth Lowe was envisioning with the advent of HGTV in the early 1990s. His vision was prescient: The boomer generation was coming of age in the 80’s, and by the 90s was becoming focused on homes.
The timing was perfect. Improving our homes has become a national passion that has taken on even greater significance after the COVID lockdowns and work from home phenomenon from 2019 to today. According to HIRI (Home Improvement Research Industry), our passion in home improvement is a $220 billion per annum industry that is continuing to rise by more than 5 percent every year.
But most of us don’t know really know what we like
We know we want our homes to present a beautiful image, to reflect our lifestyles, be more functional, be better. But most of us — even when we have strong opinions about trends and fashions — have little idea of how.
This is where Denny Daikeler comes in. A three-time author, Daikeler is a 1960 graduate of Drexel University who was “ready to rule the world with her talent,” she said in a recent interview. So following her degree, she launched a night class on interior design. The registration was magnificent, but she was surprised (and a bit crestfallen) when she noticed that many of the students were falling asleep.
On an instinct, she asked permission to move the instruction into individual’s homes. The university thought the idea was crazy, but the move was a stroke of genius. As she entered each home, she would learn about the passions and the heart of the people within the home, and from this she’d help to identify the design and décor they should use.
“People were perpetually telling me and other designers, ’I don’t know what to use, you tell me,’” she recalls. “They didn’t know what to do and they didn’t know what they liked.”
By helping her students and clients to get in touch with their inner heart space desires, she was able to help them create spaces that represented their desires, not designer templates. The homes were beautiful, functional, and most importantly, unique as an extension of the tastes and the personal images of the individuals within.
The designers are generally wrong
The results of Daikeler’s work, in the general market, was the ability to move a growing legion of owners beyond the myriads of homes that may be aesthetically pleasing but are bland or even miserable for the people inside. Beyond this, these discoveries became an epiphany for Daikeler that have informed the work she launched and continues to accomplish today, using the process and principles she outlines in the newest edition of her book on home design that is perhaps unlike any other: “Hue and Me.”
For Daikeler, the journey that began with her home-based classes has continued through not only her professional engagements but has become a constant source of interest at parties, presentations, and public events ever since. Her work begins with a conversation and a process for discovering the heart space of every home and of every owner’s taste and desire.
She begins her work with a single question: “What is your most beloved object in this home?”
“Only one?” is the typical answer. But from here the reactions vary. It may be a wooden spoon used by the individual’s grandmother. A grand piano. Perhaps it’s the view through a particular window, a crystal goblet, a treasured photograph or a meaningful objet d’ art.
Daikeler learns a surprising amount from these responses, such as why the history of the thing is important. She learns why the wear on the wood of the treasured spoon is significant. In this owner’s home, for example, the legacy is a part of the treasure. You wouldn’t want to cover a worn wood stairway with carpet, for example, nor would you want to buff away the history in the marks that it holds.
When the treasured object is the view through a window, the design of the home should translate and amplify the colors, the elements, and the motion of that view into the rest of the room or into the rest of the house.
A crystal goblet may speak to a desire for transparency and shine and to elements of luxury such as silk curtains and etchings.
The result of this work — even in tract home communities — is a spectrum of homes that are unique in every case, beautiful and enriching, and representative of the blueprint to the hearts and humans and activities within.
These “rules” are decidedly different
A typical designer’s work begins with questions such as the trends and designs an owner might favor such as French Provincial or Farmhouse or Modern Industrial. The owner responds, the designer obliges and the results, even when they are pleasing to the customer, tend to be predictable and even benign. They are also inevitably dated to the season and the trend they’re within. White cabinets? Quartz countertops? Highly predictable as a trend created and made popular in 2015 or so, after the yen for wood tones, marble tiles and deeply grained granite had faded away.
But a Daikeler home is different. Yes, the home and the designs may shift over time, but the transitions have nothing to do with the latest HGTV or designer magazine trend. The home evolves as the owner’s interests and desires change. The design keeps pace not with the latest style but with the current heart and soul and the personality of the owner. Athletic. Outdoorsy. Reminiscent. Traditional. The owner’s heart may call for a rich and tactile sensory experience, or perhaps the right result is sleek and modern and spare. The design follows suit.
Some traditional principles still apply, Daikeler’s strategy tells us, such as ample space around important objects and focal points, avoidance of clutter, elements and placement that are pleasing to the eyes, and the mixing of colors and patterns in ways that create intentional harmonies or surprise.
When couples decide
Another element of Daikeler’s discovery process with clients is the exercise of converging the interests of couples or husbands and wives. In these cases, she may hand a set of architectural magazines to a wife and ask her to bring back a collection of the colors, textures, pieces, and rooms she finds pleasing. Then she would hand the husband the same or a similar set of magazines and ask him to assemble his favorites as well.
Now the process takes fire as Daikeler aligns the elements and ideas that speak to the blueprint of both individuals. These will serve as a foundation she can then expand and punctuate with some of the most beloved individual preferences and interests of each.
Design is personal
In my own case, for example, my most beloved object is a ceramic dog acquired from my maternal grandmother and grandfather, who married in the 1930s with near zero funds. They couldn’t afford rings but fell in love with the heavy porcelain figure of a black and white collie at a jewelry shop. They put it on layaway and paid a quarter a week until the treasure was finally their own. For decades it graced their home and was present for every visit I remember. Now it holds a place of honor in my modern industrial home.
In a similar way, the massive gallery of framed photos in my home holds no studio portraits but depicts each family member caught in their moments of joy while engaging in the things they love best. Dancing, ice hockey, and toddlers celebrating in their underpants are the memories that bring joy that a formal portrait can’t match.
How are people changed by the principles in Hue and Me?
Daikeler isn’t shy in her response to this question. Her clients and followers gain self-esteem, greater self-awareness and new pride in the aspects of their lives and their interests that are fully unique. A Daikeler home reflects the fact that every home is a treasured haven. It is a reflection and an amplification of the personalities and the characteristics of the owners themselves.
Yes, the traditional salespeople, designers and assorted authorities may scoff at a lack of adherence to traditional trends in décor. But with the help of Daikeler’s insight and process, every home can be what it is intended to be — a true extension and representation of its owners, a source of joy and a treasured sanctuary for the people within. From this template, what kind of a home and haven could your own ideas create?
Readers can learn more about Denny Daikeler here.