Our Executive Editorial Director's must-read design advice makes personalizing any new space so simple.
martha and kevin playing cards
Credit: Jonny Valiant

As Martha Stewart's longtime collaborator and the brand's Executive Editorial Director, it's safe to say that Kevin Sharkey knows what's what when it comes to design. Though Sharkey is well-equipped to share advice on everything from floral arrangements to organizing tight laundry room spaces, what we most look forward to are his decorating tips. To celebrate Martha's latest lifestyle launch, Sharkey offers the one design element he thinks every homeowner should include in their space, plus his must-read recommendations for creating a cohesive, beautiful home.

Open floor plans and beautiful master suites are important to many new homeowners, but Sharkey says the one detail your house really needs is far smaller: In his opinion, the most important design feature in a home is having a modern dimmer on each lighting fixture. "Everybody looks better with dimmers. Rooms look better, and it's just a more responsible way to live in a room," he says, adding that it's "essential to a functioning home." Luckily, these are easy to add to homes new and old after you've moved in.

If you're in the process of moving into a new home, Sharkey says you should approach the design process by first anchoring yourself in your locale. That means avoiding pieces or details that seem out of place given your location. "I think if you're designing, decorating, building, or creating your new home, the first mistake you can make is overlooking where you're at," Sharkey says. The most sensible way to create a design scheme that is anything but misguided, he explains, is to actually live in the home before you set any plans into motion. Ask yourself: How do I want to live in this space? "Martha does that, too. She really considers: 'What is the area? What are the surroundings?' And then editing from there or making choices that are informed by the context."

Consider the opportunities for design that are tied to the physical elements of your home's location. Sharkey points out that Martha's Lily Pond residence has access to the beach and "the light, the air, the icons that come with living on the ocean," which is why there are plenty of unique design elements in this space that you wouldn't find in her other homes (including Martha's stuffed fish!). "The reason that Martha still has her stuffed, talking fish hanging on the wall in Lily Pond-and not in Bedford-is because she's living on the ocean," Sharkey says. "That's why you go there and her collection of corals and the color choice selection is so much brighter there than, say, it would be at Skylands."

Sharkey says avoiding this mistake ("Everybody makes mistakes, everybody does," he admits) could help you kickstart a functional home design and enjoy a smoother move-in experience in the end. Whether it's a summer home or a getaway in a winter wonderland, Sharkey says adopting Martha's approach of understanding the home's physical context is crucial in the beginning stages of interior designing.

What does Sharkey personally love most about creating a new space? Organizing. "I love the organizing. It's a type of organizing that you can only experience at the beginning. After you've moved in, it's all about maintaining the organizational structure you've put into place," he explains. Deciding where to keep everything from wine glasses to linens is what he says sets you up for a successful life in your space. "Once you do that well, you're ensuring a happy life there that's organized and can be well maintained."


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