From a perch on the living room sofa, it may seem like Danielle Colding found design stardom this past summer. The 36-year-old former ballet dancer did beat out 11 hopefuls to earn the top spot in HGTV's annual reality competition; but for those who knew her previously (and for HuffPost, who got to know her during a three-hour shopping trip around New York City last month), Colding always was a "Design Star."
"I knew you'd win. I was following along the whole time," said a store employee at Area ID in New York City, who abandoned her post behind a computer to make her way over to Colding through the tightly packed vintage furnishings.
Colding not only finds adoring fans at the 436-square-foot shop at 262 Elizabeth St., but also discovers a selection of mid-century modern treasures and lavish, custom-made fur throws, like the indigo fox piece awaiting approval by rapper Kanye West.
"I wouldn't use her for everyone. There are certain people who are going to get it," Colding said of Area ID's collection and its curator, Inga Davidsson. As Davidsson accompanies Colding around her shop, the fashion designer-turned-collector muses on her trips to Morocco and France and her studies in millinery at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.
Davidsson's reference to fashion brings the shopping trip full circle, ratifying Colding's fashion-inspired approach to interior design. "I'm a lover of fashion," Colding declared earlier in the day, walking through the newly expanded studio of Leah C. Couture Millinery, where Colding goes not only to purchase new additions for her collection of royal wedding-esque fascinator hats (one of which she plans to wear when she hosts HGTV's "Celebrity Holiday Homes" later this year), but to add to an arsenal of fanciful ideas for the homes she designs.
"I like a layered look and something interesting," she said, recalling her first purchase from Leah C. -- a black beret with a leather tassel that she paired with a striped dress for Russell Simmons' "Art For Life" event four or five years back. "It was a great fashion moment for me ... The same thing goes when I'm designing a house. My clients have ten different sides to them ... I try to bring out those layers," Colding said.
Her muse, Leah C., a character just as colorful as Inga (minus the poppy-red lips), chimed in. "Enough with this casual stuff. You can look good and be comfortable at the same time," she said, describing precisely the kind of easy elegance Colding found at the final stop of the day, Clic gallery and bookstore.
Proprietor Christiane Celle exudes that offhand stylishness. In her thick French accent she explained the evolution of Clic from a bookstore spin-off of her Calypso St. Barth brand to what's now a hybrid of the two. "I was a fashion stylist before, but thought it was better if I did something related to photography and books. I started in 2008 with a little bookstore around the corner and then from the bookstore, the gallery. Every month we have something different," Celle said, rattling off the gallery's rotating lineup of photographers on exhibit.
A new boutique-style annex harkens back to Celle's fashion-styling roots and offers an opportunity to wrap up the shopping expedition.
Colding, on the other hand, wraps up a black-and-gold feather necklace in another successful day of scouting.
PHOTOS: HGTV "Design Star" Season Seven winner and interior designer Danielle Colding demonstrates how she gets ideas at three of her favorite New York City shops.
"I wouldn't say I have one specific style but what I love about fashion is the texture, the layers. I am such a sucker for great fabrics. I love the perfect linen or a sumptuous velvet, and those are the kind of things I look for in the things that I wear."
"I like really ladylike things. It's lovely when you look like a lady."
"I think people are more open. Because of the economy crash, people are looking backwards to things they already have, which is lovely. This trend towards everything new ... it's boring."
"It's nice to be cutting edge in certain regards, but when you mix it with something old, it's so much more powerful."
"I love the use of all different textures, I use textures a lot in my work. I love the use of feathers and lace and all these different elements and I like to carry that through."
"The emphasis on being a lady ... is really refreshing."
"I like the '40s and the '50s ... The full skirts and pumps and pencil skirts. I've been doing that for a while now."
"For me travel [is a source of inspiration.] If you go to Paris, you see women walking out of their house looking like a million dollars, and they're wearing combat boots and a leather jacket. French woman do combat boots like no one else! They also shop so differently. They buy like one or two things, one amazing piece per season and then they rock it; it becomes part of a collection. That one piece they have is like the best ever."
HGTV "Design Star" Season Seven winner and interior designer Danielle Colding demonstrates how she gets ideas by visiting Leah C. Couture Millinary shop in New York City on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)
"The reason I love traveling is people are always thinking of ideas I could never think about. Culturally they come up with ideas that are unique and so different."
"We have this certain way that we live, and we think this is normal. We design homes with a big great room that has to connect to the kitchen and that is the trend. You go to Europe, they don't have great rooms, they have tiny little bathrooms, tiny little sinks, they solve storage things in a different way. The amount of stuff they have is so different. It opens my mind to different solutions."
<em><strong>What are you inspired by?</strong></em> "Other creative people. Creativity in any medium. I love people who are great at cooking. Great food, great art -- just anything that is expression in that way. And fashion, of course."
<em><strong>What are you challenged by?</strong></em> "I'm challenged by how to deal with everyday life. Business and billing and stuff that's not fun and pretty. All that regular stuff."
<em><strong>What are you wishing for?</strong></em> "To be more comfortable in my own skin. To continue on this path of being very creative and inspired. Really just peace. I want everyone I know to be doing well. I'd like things to be calm for a while, it's been a little crazy. I'm wishing for a plane ticket or a great international project with a limitless budget!"
<em><strong>What are you tinkering with?</strong></em> "My apartment. I've been there since May. Painting, hanging lights. I have a chandelier from Italy that I have to get my handy guy to hang up."
A visit to Area ID in New York City on August 29, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)
"I use books in all of my designs. I try to get books that are in line with what my clients like. Some people are into fashion, some are into architecture."
"I think people are more comfortable mixing. I think they are getting comfortable having confidence. I know when I first started designing, I worked for a firm that was very traditional and the clients wouldn't dare say anything. It's like you get what you get and you're going to be happy with what you get. Old-school New York design. Now ... people are savvy, people read all the same stuff. They know what they like and they want validation and help with finishing it."
"One of my clients got the medium. It's perfect for her because she feels like a phony if she put a jazz poster up."
"I'm a big reader, but I cannot tell you the last time I read a book. I think it was during 'Design Star,' I read 'The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.' I read a lot of magazines and blogs. I like everything that's beautiful and photography-inspired."
"There's this book called 'Searching The World For The People Of Africa,' which I love because it's this guy Chester Higgins and he goes all over the world and finds people of African descent. The photography is all black and white and it's super strong ... These people are wearing these long caftan pattern-graphic things and he does this pattern behind them. The portraits are incredible."
A visit to Clic bookstore and gallery in New York City on Aug. 29, 2012. (Damon Dahlen, AOL)
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