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A person's fashion style is quite individualized, and often well developed. One's interior-design preferences are less developed because one generally does not have the desire or opportunity to explore interior styles as opposed to wearing a variety of clothing styles.

I encourage readers to think about their preferences in creating a personal environment, how to identify a style that supports them functionally and esthetically, and how to collaborate with a designer if they would like help developing their vision. Whether large or small, all effective spaces begin with a plan.

Throughout history, politics, geography and religious beliefs have created the expression of cultural styles. Many styles have become formalized and furnishings continue to be reproduced for appreciative buyers. My interior-design studies have included the study of each style, original designers, the dates created, and the woods, metals and other materials used in the cabinetry, furniture, lighting and other decor. Historic examples can be seen locally in the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University, and the Legion of Honor, De Young Museum and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

By simplifying styles, we can group them into "Traditional," "Contemporary," "Transitional" or "Eclectic."

How do we know what is best?

We all have definite likes and dislikes and that is the beginning of creating our style. But without editing, a home becomes a mismatch of disparate elements. A good guide to styles is ArtSparx. It gives brief descriptions and visual examples, providing a basic understanding of the character of various styles. There are many blogs and online guides, but most emphasize trends.

Seeing examples is a good way to start.

When you look at furnished rooms online, such as Houzz, or in magazines such as Architectural Digest, Interior Design or Sunset, take note of your likes and dislikes. It may be a consistent color or shape or texture. You may find that you identify with examples of function or lifestyle. Many people are influenced by the pleasing aspects of their youth in any city or country. These memories are embedded in us and give us a sense of place and comfort.

Our personality is key to interpreting our style.

We inherit furnishings, artworks and ideas. Our environment can influence how we live and work. It can make a statement about who we are and how we express ourselves. Understanding ourselves is the key. If we have a very stressful job, with a great deal of stimulation, we may benefit from a calm, clutter-free environment in our homes. If we grew up in another country or culture, we may wish to incorporate colors or elements from our heritage to create a visual link. Sentiment can be contained to family photos or become a dominant theme. If we are energized by surrounding ourselves with family members or friends, an environment that allows for social interaction is important, including ample seating, outdoor areas, and interactive games and entertainment.

Working with a design professional

Identifying how you would like to live, with an idea of your style is a good way to start your project. A designer can envision the completed project and help guide your through this process.

Don't be confused by the "style" dictating how you want to live.

"Traditional" furniture does not mean formal. This is a label to suggest that older furniture is based on traditional designs. The furniture may have a sense of warmth or character that lends itself to an informal setting.

"Contemporary" isn't cold and uncomfortable. Many newer furnishings are designed by architects and are sculpted to the body. The lines may be less conventional but more comfortable. Some people view them as functional art objects.

"Transitional" represents designs based on history but softened and simplified. Sofas and chairs may be longer and deeper. They can be easily paired with other styles. Many popular catalogues show furniture in this category.

"Eclectic" is one of the harder styles to identify. It is not the culmination of a weekend shopping trip to the flea market. Rather, it is a balance of function and comfort with a theme of personal storytelling. It may include edited examples of travel finds, hobby elements or bits of whimsy. Unless contrived, it can be an honest way to live and share your personal life.

Whether large or small, the best style is one that pleases your eye and supports your personal needs.

-- Risë Krag, ASID, associate AIA, IESGG, is founder of RKI Interior Design, a full-service interior-design firm. She can be reached at 650-854-9090. Design problems can be sent directly to rki@rkiinteriordesign.com.

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