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With His New Book, Big, Easy STYLE, Bryan Batt Gives Advice to the Design-Challenged (Me)

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Ever since he was a little boy, Bryan Batt loved to decorate and make things beautiful. At summer camp, he remembers preparing his cabin for Sunday inspection, once telling his counselor he'd be right back. "I ran outside, picked some flowers, put them in my canteen and stuck them in the middle of the table of the room," recalls Batt. "What boy at camp would place flowers on a table? The inspecting head counselor thought it was hysterical."

At home he took the same care with his tree houses, creatively sprucing them up. "I tried to make drapes and sconces out of tin cans," he recalls. "It was, 'mom do you need this blanket?' Then you would find it in the tree."

Patricia Clarkson, a fellow New Orleanian, offered her take on her treasured friend. "People who have beautiful style are gorgeous people. And Bryan is one of the most beautiful people I've ever met," she offers. "You walk into his house in New Orleans and it's breathtaking. Not just because of the beauty. It's incredibly inviting and welcoming. I sit down and feel New Orleans -- past present and future." In fact, she kids that she asked Batt and his partner, Tom Cianfichi, to adopt her. "They don't have to send me to school. They don't have to do anything for me," laughs Clarkson. "Just let me live there."

Batt, a Broadway veteran who also played Sal Romano in the hit drama Mad Men, has many irons in his proverbial fire. He and Cianfichi own the elegant home accessories store, Hazelnut New Orleans. In 2010, Batt wrote a sweet memoir and tribute to his mother, She Ain't Heavy She's My Mother. "I firmly believe that life is an 'and proposition and not an 'or' one. If you really love something, you just have to try it. The worse that can happen is that you'll be told 'no.'" Batt explains. "He's a quadruple threat," observes Clarkson. He can really do everything. Who does all that and can be gorgeous at the same time? It's a little bit embarrassing."

With all this design passion, it was fitting that he recently debuted his new book, Big, easy STYLE: Creating Rooms You Love to Live In (Clarkson Potter). "I wanted to showcase young, up and coming and established designers and show these beautiful rooms and why I like them," says Batt. So with great passion and a zest for creativity, he and Katy Danos offer thoughtful tips on color, collecting, patterns and much more along the way. Kerri McCaffety captures the beauty of each room in her inviting photographs.

I love Batt's unique whimsy style. How many of us would think of placing giant decorations from a Mardi Gras float in a lavish dining room? Or how about hanging an ornate crystal chandelier in the kitchen? Or what about painting a Chippendale-style chair mellow yellow. But they all work! Since I am utterly design challenged, I asked Batt for some design tips:

"People are easily intimidated when they decorate their home. They think it has to be one way. But there's no ONE WAY. It's your way, your style. At the end of the day, you have to live there. It's your cocoon, your nest. You have to be happy in it."

"Be fun! I don't like homes or rooms that don't have a sense of humor or have some sense of whimsy or a personality. Your home should reflect who you are, and what you love. I would never have something in my home because it's the thing to have. I have to love it and it needs some connection to me."

"My mantra is don't be afraid of color. What did it do to you? Do a color testing in alternate kinds of light you desire in the room because the pigment will change. And I refuse to believe that pale pale or white colors in a small room will buy you more square footage. Go with color all the way."

"Think texture. Having textures like metallics is so important and creates another layer in the design."

"Know what you like. So many people go through life just not sure. Go through shelter magazines like House Beautiful, Elle Décor and Veranda and don't be intimidated by them. Discover what you like and why. Rip out the page, stick it in a file and use that as a guide."

"Trust yourself. Why? Your eye will tell you. If it feels or looks right to you, 9 out of 10 times, it is right. Your eye will know."

"Don't be afraid to fail. As an actor during the rehearsal process, you have to be able to fall on your face and make mistakes to discover the character. It's going to happen when you design your own home too. You may put a table or couch in the wrong place. Then you move it around, until you say, 'OH! Now it's right.' Or maybe you'll paint a wall and it's not right either so you try again? Mistakes happen. That's how some of us got here."

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