Confident By Design

Home interior design professional and Michigan native Stephen Nobel shares how to transform a room into a reflection of you


Growing up in Grand Rapids, Stephen Nobel has always been in the interior design industry. For generations, the area was recognized as America’s furniture capital for fine residential furniture, and at a young age Nobel began working with his family at Baker Furniture Company, where he eventually landed a job in the New York office.

Having been surrounded by home furnishings and design his entire life, Nobel is sought out for his expertise on building a proper business strategy and monetizing the skills of an interior designer. Nobel teaches at New York School of Design, Philadelphia University College of Architecture, and the Design Institute of San Diego. Hour Detroit caught up with him after one of his lectures at the Michigan Design Center in Troy.

Q.What would you tell someone who appreciates good design, but has no idea how to redesign a room themselves?

A. I think good design doesn’t have to come with a big price. Good design is available for anybody at any price point, and professionals are a good investment to have somebody help you evaluate all of the many options. Michigan Design Center is a great resource and holds some of the finest furnishings made in the world, and it’s right here — the doors are open.

When looking to design a room, ask yourself, “Will it be me?” You can just feel if a room has a signature to it, and that’s why I think the process of dressing your house can be fun, if it is a sincere reflection of the way you live and the way you see yourself.

Left: According to Nobel, media has always played a big role in interior design. This look from Scott Shuptrine evokes a mid-century modern feel, similar to what’s on TV’s Mad Men. Right: Nobel notes that windows have also taken a different direction. No longer always fully curtained, unadorned windows let in natural light, as shown in this design, courtesy of Scott Shuptrine

Q.Are there small changes someone can make that have a bold impact?

A. I think the one thing that will make a difference is color — it’s an overarching thing to consider. Paint on a wall is as easy as an afternoon if you’d like, and that’s one of the fun things about interior design. It is adaptable, just by changing the lighting, the art, or rug.

Color, color, color seems to be one of the most important steps, and quite frankly I think the reason you’ve seen so many beige rooms is that people haven’t really thought it through. They are afraid of color and reluctant to make a confident choice.

Left: Nobel says color can make a huge difference — don’t be afraid to choose something besides beige. Designer Gail Urso created this showroom at Michigan Design Center demonstrating the powerful effects of color. Photo by Beth Singer. Right: Create a reading nook somewhere in the home for a quiet place to retreat to, as recommended by Nobel. The Acquisitions Collection is courtesy of Henredon Interior Design Showroom at Michigan Design Center.

Q.How do you find that balance of bold design and enduring looks that can last a long time?

A. I think it comes back to that confidence factor — if that’s you, be that.

You’ll find in many homes, that one room is the stage, and one is the retreat, serene and quiet room. That is a trend in home building and interior design these days. There are rooms being set aside as the retreat. People are balancing bold design decisions by utilizing other rooms as a retreat space for balance.

Windows have also taken a different direction recently. There was a time when windows were always curtained, but then there was a move away from curtaining or covering the window for natural light.

Nobel says shows such as Downton Abbey have brought back a degree of decoration that was once considered stuffy. Over-the-top, rich design — such as dressing room screens and exquisite tables — are now celebrated. Photos courtesy of Scott Shuptrine

Q.What are some popular design trends you’ve been noticing?

A. In addition to all the technology, AV rooms, and screening rooms, there’s increasingly his and hers of everything. The family room is where the balance happens and they come together.

There’s a lot of individuality. I think it’s occurred simultaneously with a powerful evolution where two professionals are the heads of household. He runs a company and she runs a company; he works late and travels a lot, she does too. The design of the house allows them to maintain that individuality when they want it, but there’s his, hers, and “ours” rooms now.

There’s more engagement from the people who live in the home then there ever was before, it used to always come from the nest maker, usually the woman, but not anymore. People are much more aware of how design affects their lives and how they want to live.

Q.Can you discuss other things that have an influence on design?

A. There is a whole body of research that has been done on the effects of movies and succeeding generations of interior design. Movies definitely play a big role in interior design, and always have. Another phenomenon is TV shows such as Mad Men, and that whole mid-century modern era.

One of the most influential places of mid-century modern design is right here in Michigan, which is Cranbrook Kingswood. It’s a temple to mid-century modernism, and one of the most unique places in the country, and Mad Men is now bringing it back.

The other one I’m watching from a distance is Downton Abbey, and I believe it’s brought back a degree of decoration that for a long time was considered stuffy. Now that level of layering, the scale of the room, the texture of the color and furnishings, everything is layered on top of each other, so that over-the-top, rich design is now being celebrated.

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