An Environmental Design Firm Specializing in Interior Design and Landscape Architecture

SHERRI JAMES Interior Designer

About Us

The design profession is about passion. It is an artistic endeavor that combines a lot of knowledge, engineering, and creativity. The passion of Michael and Sherri James is the thrill of implementing designs that bring joy to other people. Both are graduates of UC Berkeley. Michael studied landscape architecture, and Sherri studied interior design and art history. They formed MJDT, an environmental design firm, 25 years ago and have designed numerous residential estates, private homes, executive offices, and historic buildings. They can work within your existing architecture and your personal style to provide your family with living spaces tailored to your way of life. Or, they can remodel to a new look! Michael makes the garden an extension of the home. Sherri makes the home “green” and more comfortable. She does this with the harmonious use of colors, fabrics, furnishings, and accessories. Having raised 5 children, they are qualified to provide a safe and pleasant environment for your growing family.

Drawing of the Travolta's Great Room with his plane framed in the curved window

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PERSONAL STYLE - PART THREE–– Is my style in good taste?

There's another point that people sometimes fuss about. Some people are concerned that if they are too free about using their personal style, someone will think that they have bad taste. If taste, or the lack of it worries you, please keep in mind that taste is a matter of opinion. The sense of what is proper varies with cultures and customs. As we become more global, cultures mix and taste evolves.

Not all designers would agree with my opinion that “tasteful” is an idea that is past its sell-by-date. And even I object to interiors that are too over the top to be comfortable. But I prefer the fun styles that stretch the envelope of good taste to those that take themselves too seriously.

There's nothing comfortable about the stuffy houses that try too hard “to demonstrate the owner's faculty of making discerning judgments in aesthetic matters.”

You might more comfortably break the rules of good taste if you know what they are. Or it maybe that your personal style is best expressed by adhering to the generally accepted rules. But if these rules conflict with your self-expression, feel free to disregard them.


Think white.
Use white linens, sheets and towels, without monograms although some white on white embroidery is acceptable. I'm not sure what the problem with monograms is, but white linens do have a practical aspect. You can bleach out stains and wash in hot water without fearing fading.

The white rule also applies to candles, soap, plain paper towels (No printing or pattern allowed.), tissue, toilet paper, tablecloths and napkins.

The same kind of thinking applies to tableware. It's okay to have ornate silverware, but never gold flatware or silverware with gold on it. In fact anything that is too shiny is suspect --see the rule regarding “too” below.

Glassware can be a solid color although clear crystal or glass without ornamentation is preferable. Never multi-colored. Etched ornamentation, that is frosted on clear follows the same rule as white on white -- if not overdone and not a monogram it will likely be acceptable.

Use natural materials.
Fabrics and carpets from natural fibers such as wool, silk, linen, or cotton only. No synthetics. I kinda like this one if you include fibers made from renewable sources such as bamboo, but solution dyed synthetic carpet is by far the most practical, durable and cleanable carpet for families who wish to have wall-to-wall carpet. Area rugs are generally considered in better taste than wall to wall, and are certainly more paractical.

Think simple.
Lose the ruffles, fringe, and frou-frou. Keep it plain, simple, no frill, soft colors. No sequins or shine. (Except that outrageously expensive shiny chintz that's coated is probably acceptable because of its English roots. Which brings us to the next rule.)

Anything Anglo-Saxon in origin is acceptable.
Anglophiles rejoice. Anything Anglo is correct in America. Even if it breaks all the other rules, although if its truly Anglo-Saxon and not some corrupted derivative, the item will most often be within the rules.

Avoid anything that is “too”.
The too gaudy, too colorful, too cluttered, too over the top, too flashy, too shiny are all in dangerous territory. And lead to the next possible infringement.

Guard against being too matchy-poo.
I have to admit I agree with this one not out of concern for tackiness but because rooms in which every element matches perfectly don't feel artistic. There's no fun in a room that looks like the furniture was bought as a suite. But the reason it's not tasteful is probably more along the lines of if all the wood matches, the furniture looks cheap as opposed to unique, custom or antique.

Keep to one design period.
This point may seem to violate the matchy-poo rule, which makes it tricky and requires some knowledge of design history. It's probably considered tasteful because it takes a professional designer to pull it off. Sticking to one period does guarantee a timeless result. If it hasn't been in style since Louis XV was alive, it's not in danger of going out of style.

If you give your home a timeless style, it won't go out of date. Clichés or the latest trend become passé so I suggest you avoid them --unless you plan to redo your home every few years. Or wait twenty years and the style will return.

Please do not feel that you need to be be so true to the period that you fail to provide comfortable seating. Simple upholstered pieces can be mixed with period tables, side chairs and accessories without distracting from the period style.

Well-done originality in any art form guarantees long-term appeal. And that's what this guide is all about. Please keep in mind that taste is a matter of opinion.

To decide what you want in your house, look for these clues --does it perform a function? Is there a good reason for having it? Does it make you feel good when you see it? Is it beautiful to you? The real bad taste would be to have an item in your house which is neither useful nor beautiful.

Thursday, October 8, 2009



I'm not suggesting that at this point you run out and buy all new furniture. Look at the furnishings you have.

We all have furniture that we just somehow ended up with -- things off the street, or out of Mom's garage or Grandma's attic. As long as you like them and find them to be useful and beautiful, it's great that you have them.

If you aren't so crazy about the pieces, put the useful on your list of things to replace. If you have furnishings you don't use and you don't like them, get rid of them.

If you need the item and are not ready to replace it, the next chapter will give you ideas of how to fix furnishings so that each piece forwards your message. For example, let's suppose that you already have Aunt Gertrude's chandelier. You could “antique” the gold so that it looks like bronze and etch the crystal drops. The light fixture would then fit your message, but if it's a valuable piece, better to give it back to Aunt Gertrude. Or sell it and buy a fixture the suits your style.

Perhaps in looking at what you own, you see that the items you love don't work with your message. This tells you that your message needs readjustment. If you love that gold and crystal chandelier, rustic and outdoorsy just might be the wrong direction.

Your style must make use of the stuff that your family loves.

Use decorations that you like, items that mean something to you. Your children will be thrilled to have their masterpieces hung for art, their clay pots displayed as sculpture.
Photos also provide wall décor. Family photos of fun times together can't be beat.

If the man of the house has a ratty old chair that he loves, work around it or find a way to dress it up -- leather paint is great stuff. If it brings happy memories, use the chair that your grandmother sat in as a child. A painting picked up on your honeymoon, seashells from a fabulous family vacation, the quilt your great aunt made -- if it makes you feel good, use it.

Are you asking how do I keep from having a jumbled mess if I use the items that my family loves? Many ways. The answers to that question are covered in the next few chapters that deal with integration. And here are two simple answers.

One, use the furnishings that each person likes in their room. If the kids don't like the same thing that you do, put what they like in their room. Children's room should be their creation. You gave her the room and said, “This is Sally's room.” so let it be her room. Work with her, allow her to contribute ideas, and let her make it hers. She gets to decide what goes in there.

The second answer is this: have you ever noticed how the things that people like tend to have a similar quality? That commonality is why they work together. Take, for example, Aunt Gertrude's gold and crystal chandelier. I'm willing to bet that if she liked that piece, she has more items made from gold and/or crystal.

In the following chapters we will look at how to tie together your furnishings if they lack commonality.


Mix in your family's prized possessions with one of the following styles
American Country
Casual Country
Romantic Urban
English Country
Formal French
French Country/ Provencal
Southern Plantation
Arts & Crafts
Tropical Colonial
Spanish Colonial
Bohemian Chic
Art Nouveau
Art Deco/Moderne

You can also mix together two styles such as Tropical turned Modern as shown in the drawing on the right. Massive, bold bamboo four poster and cleanlined furnishings are set off by bright, solid fabrics.

Or do Provencal with a twist, such as in this drawing on the left with the modern four-poster bed shown with several hand-painted French country style pieces and traditional rugs. The crystal chandelier accentuates the rustic wood ceiling.

The following styles could be used to communicate the messages listed above:

cool and elegant--Retro, Modern, or Urban
rich, old money --English Country, Southern Plantation, or Tudor
bohemian, arty --Bohemian Chic, Romantic, or Tropical Colonial
worldly, sophisticated --Beidermeier, Formal French, or Urban
casual comfort --Southwestern, Country, Safari
family home--Southern Plantation, Any Country Style, Tuscan
intellectual, educated --Bohemian, Retro, Tuscan
rustic, outdoorsy --Safari, Mountain, Southwestern

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

PERSONAL STYLE - There's No Place Like Your Home


My design assistant and I watched a jumbo jet land a hundred feet away from where we stood behind a curved wall of glass in the living room of our latest project. We had just put the final touches of plants and flowers in place. Our clients were seeing the completed house for the first time, but we knew they would love it. After all they had been involved in every design step.

We had used black & white line drawings and colored renderings (see sample above) so that they could imagine what the room would look like. They had visited the furniture in showrooms, rubbed the fabric swatches, and walked barefoot on the carpet samples. Every effort was made to make the house their home and not a designer's dream.

Your house and garden above all else should be comfortable for you, your family, and your guests. In addition to comfortable places to sit or lie down, comfort in spaces consists of harmony of color, pattern, geometric shapes, and style. My pointers will help you to achieve your harmony in your own home.

Your house should be your own creation reflecting your style and personality. This does not mean you should never use the services of professional interior designers, landscape architects, or architects. As my husband and I are professionals in those fields, I would certainly not say that! But professionals should assist you in achieving your vision even if they have to help you tune it in.

As a designer, I work to create spaces that reflect the personalities and the style of my clients. I do my best to understand what they want their offices or homes to say to others or about themselves, and then assist them to achieve that communication.

Your personal style reflects that part of your personality you wish to share with others, how you want others to see you. I use the word style as a noun to describe a way of doing something that expresses an attitude or communication.

We can also use style as a verb meaning to give something a particular shape or design. Our goal is to give the elements in your house a style that expresses your attitudes and what you wish to say to others.

This blog will layout simplified steps of the design process for you to follow. In this chapter we discuss personal style. The rest of the chapters in this section contain the steps for putting your style into your home.


Art, the result of creation, is communication. In order to create art you need to say something. This is best achieved if you know what you want to say, or have a message. Therefore the first step in creating artful spaces is to decide on a message.

There can be more than one message, but there needs to be a certain continuity to the messages in order to avoid disharmony. For example, it would be difficult to say both "welcome" and "private, stay out” in one room.

You first decide on the primary message such as "Welcome" then accompanying messages that fit with that such as friendly, cozy, and warm.

Here are some other examples of messages:
cool and elegant
rich, old money
bohemian, arty
worldly, sophisticated
casual comfort
family home
intellectual, educated
rustic, outdoorsy

Or the message can be much more complex. For offices I have had clients request everything from "I am really just a down home regular guy" to "Don't mess with me" to "I am very well educated". Corporations have asked for messages that their interiors "reflect the international scope of their business" or that "even though we are an international organization we cater to local customs,” You can say nearly anything you want with your house.


Write a list of every thought you have about your house. Take into consideration the style of the building. Think about your desired lifestyle. Formal? Casual? Children? Pets? If you entertain business associates in your home, what to you want your house to say to them? The sub messages will be different in the various rooms. While your living and dining rooms will speak to your business associates and guests presumably your bedroom will be more personal. Once you have written down the over all message, write a sub message for each room.

If the other members of your household are interested in this process, this would be a good time to get their input. Once you have agreed on what you want your house to say, deciding what furnishings to use is easier in that each piece can be judged on whether or not it forwards your message.

For example, let's say you've decided that you want your house to say rustic and outdoorsy. You are using rough surfaces, lighting fixtures that resemble stag horns, dark aged metals such as bronze and rusted wrought iron, plaid blankets, natural vegetable dye colors, and other furnishings that would look at home in a mountain log cabin. Aunt Gertrude offers to give you a gold and crystal chandelier. The chandelier doesn't fit your message.

As a note, a few items that don't fit your message can be included to emphasize your style by accentuating it. But accents should never be the most dramatic, strongest element in the room so a big, bright, shiny gold and crystal chandelier wouldn't forward your message. Tell Aunt Gertrude you appreciate her generosity but the chandelier, beautiful as it is, doesn't fit your style.

Drawing of an Estate Living Room in Summer Slip Covers