Penelope Daborn on Understanding Beauty

Photo credit: Randolph Ashey
Photo credit: Randolph Ashey
Photo credit: Darren Setlow

“Beauty comes in many forms,” interior designer Penelope Daborn says. Growing up in East Africa, she learned to love the way the light enriches earthy colors like greens and ochers. In India, she appreciated saturated jewel tones, and in New York, calm grays and neutrals. Now based in Maine, the colors in her rooms often merge with the blues and greens of the ocean. In today’s edition of MH+D Inside Out, Penelope Daborn tells us how her understanding of beauty can change to reflect her clients and their surroundings.

Q. What interests you about interior design?

A. I think it’s to do with relationships, not only those between color, form, space, and light, but also the relationships between my clients and their spaces. Psychologically, it’s interesting to try to reflect people as I come to understand them in the spaces where they’re living and working. I try not to impose a style of my own, but to help my clients define their own aesthetic.

Q. What do you like about adapting your style to your client?

A. It’s just eternally interesting. Everybody’s different, right? It’s also a way of finding beauty in different ways, of creating beautiful spaces that are nonetheless tailored to those different personalities and needs. I think that’s what I like best about it.

Q. It seems like neutral colors are prevalent in your designs. What do you like about neutrals?

A. They provide so much freedom for everything else. It’s almost a blank canvas with which you can then do a lot. The most interesting neutrals are complex; they pick up on the hues of the objects around them, and they often appear different depending on the style of the room or the time of day.

Q. What’s an example of this?

A. Well, there’s a Sherwin-Williams paint color called Muslin, which, in some light, can look almost like a warm white. In other light, it verges on taupe, and in other light, it has a slightly green hue. I like the fact that, if it works in the room, every time you look at it, it will look ever so slightly different.

Q. What are your favorite colors to work with?

A. Because of the light here, I like a lot of the blues, grays, and greens. I do find that I’m using them a lot. The light in Maine is very pure. It’s very white, I suppose. In East Africa, for instance, the light is a lot warmer.