Ask Chicago's chicest designer what keeps the rooms she creates looking of-the-moment, and she'll tell you: "What I care about," says Alessandra Branca, "is comfort in a home. I am not worried about what is trendy. I design for my clients and nothing else." Sounds strictly sensible. Yet she's been known to pair racy steel stools with flamboyant red walls. And there's the Branca puzzle: Is she the glossy Ferragamo driving moc of interior design, or the stone-cold statement Prada heel? Answer: Both. Branca continues to build on – and blow up – her aesthetic. Which explains her new collection for Schumacher, including a classic floral so saturated it skews surreal. Keeping her style fresh, she says, is simply a matter of playing gorgeous favorites against a constant flow of new inspiration – and making absolutely everything personal. Here's how:
Find ideas everywhere. "You should be curious about art and culture," Branca says. "You should always be looking for and finding new things that excite you and move you. We put Ikea next to 18th century things, and I love that mix."
Don't bow to trends. "Not everything has to be pale grey end to end. Mirror is in, but it doesn't have to be on every surface. It has to suit you, not your friends or your neighbors. If your home is all gleaming and polished and lovely and shining, it is hollow. You can do soulful, indulgent, whatever you are. We don't all have to be locked into a 'look.' "
Invest in craftsmanship. "What matters is the people who make things. The craftsmen who can create things that perfectly suit that client. I spend my time with them, I am always finding those people and commissioning their work. We need to support the people who make things, because if not there will be nothing, none of these wonderful things."
Know yourself. "Who do you want to be in your home? When you can be honest with who you are, your interior suits you like clothing. Take stock: Who are you? What can you afford to do? Aspire to the things that suit you and your pocket. Too often people buy things for the life they think they should have, not the life they are living."
Edit without regret. "We help clients clean up, detox. You should take inventory. See what you have, what you need, and what you don't need. If something doesn't suit you for whatever reason, unapologetically let it go. Let someone else enjoy it."