Legendary designer Athena Calderone on the four things she always does that creates perfect rooms

Influential designer Athena Calderone on the four foolproof ways to create beautiful, relaxed and elegant decor

A neutral living room with a curved white sofa, large French windows, wooden herringbone flooring and velvet orange chairs
(Image credit: Adrian Gaut / Colin King)

Athena Calderone knows so much about how to style the perfect room that at one point she was Livingetc's design advice columnist, answering reader queries abouts their own homes.

She is known for perfect curation of liveable, relaxed and elegant spaces. Soft neutrals, organic materials and curved lines define the style she has honed for her books, blogs and projects. And having had two of her own homes on the cover of Livingetc over the years, it's fair to say that what she does influences how we think about design. 

Her latest project is in collaboration with furniture brand Crate & Barrel. Unsurprisingly, it's a look that's synonymous with Athena's own signature style - fresh, airy, and contemporary yet simultaneously cozy and comforting. If you've always envied her sophisticated decor, this collection now allows you to get the look in your own modern home

Encompassing living room furniture, lighting and dinnerware, the collaboration draws inspiration from the ancient forms and classic designs that Athena has grown an affinity towards over the course of her career. Paired with Crate & Barrel’s rich heritage of modern interior design, the collection has a sense of ease and elegance. 

But just what is the alchemy behind the way Athena puts rooms together? Here she explains her four favourite design rules. 

Athena Calderone headshot
Athena Calderone

Athena Calderone is an award winning author, interiors writer, stylist, designer and curator. A big fan of neutrals and organic materials, her designs are renowned for their soft, contemporary feel which create instantly cozy atmospheres. Her website and Instagram, EyeSwoon, has all the design and culinary inspiration you need for a gorgeous modern home. 

1. Acknowledge the power of fine details 

A neutral sunlit living room with brown sofa and coffee table decorated with books and a small vase

(Image credit: Adrian Gaut / Colin King)

A running motif throughout the wooden pieces within the Athena Calderone X Crate & Barrel collection is the attention to detail. Carved ridges in the legs of the tables, chairs and cabinets introduces a timeless ornamentation that adds visual intrigue to this contemporary collection. 

'There is nothing quite like an object that bears the markings of an artist’s work, the touch of the hand, and the emotion that’s imparted into the object as its crafted is brought into your space, too,' says Athena. 'I knew I wanted to bring this level of detail—ridges, fluting, channels, wire-brushed lines—to every piece in the collection including the woodwork. It’s the small, simple, and refined details that read elegant to me.'

While minimalism and a clean, modernist aesthetic are the most apt descriptors for Athena's look, she highlights that there is a lot to be said for smaller, more intricate details. 'I truly believe these smaller, often hidden details in design are what make a room sing,' she explains. 'You’re not always aware of them visually when you enter, but your senses are. They heighten your experience beckoning you to touch, to sit, to glance a little longer—that is the power of good design.'

2. Introduce textured furniture for added luxury

A neutral dining room with a wooden dining table and boucle chairs

(Image credit: Adrian Gaut / Colin King)

If there's one thing designers are talking about at the moment it's boucle furniture and soft textures, of which you'll find plenty of in this collection. From Scandinavian-inspired shearling chairs to colorful faux mohair couches, the items promise to bring warmth and comfort to your living spaces. 

'Engaging the sense of touch as you’re cradled in a chair with the tactility of sumptuous shearling truly makes for a statement piece,' Athena explains. 'This is also why I chose to use bouclé across my Ceremonie dining chairs, Revival counter stool, and Sinuous sofa. The fabric invites you to sit and experience the soft yet nubby texture.'

One of Athena's favorite pieces from the collection is Le Tuco chair, a petite wingback style arm chair made from genuine shearling for a truly luxurious feel. 'I love this chair and predict it will become the number one seller of the collection,' Athena says. 'It’s timeless, elegant, and perfectly petite!' 

Paired with the rounded wooden legs, this chair is the perfect statement piece to introduce to your home for a Scandi decor style as the colder months set in. 

3. Contrast your materials for visual interest

A bar cart against a pink wall on herringbone floorboards

(Image credit: Adrian Gaut / Colin King)

If you're constantly torn between an industrial interior design with a steely look and a more organic, neutral feel, Athena's collection a lesson in how to embrace both at the same time. Many of her furniture pieces, such as the Rodin collection, pair natural raw materials with 1940s style wrought iron for a contrastive effect. 

As Athena explains: 'I’m always attracted to contrasting elements in a space—slick surfaces paired with rough-hewn materials—to add visual intrigue and engage the senses.' 

This was her inspiration for designing the Rodin chair — an elegant, dressing table style chair with shearling upholstery and a sturdy, black wrought iron base. 'For me, this style represents the purity of materials and simplicity of execution, offering the imperfect beauty of the hand in the ironwork and yet the timeless elegance of a regal, stately piece of furniture,' says Athena. 'Seeing the iron juxtaposed against the cozy shearling creates that perfect friction I crave.'

When it comes to styling a room based around this idea Athena says striking the right balance is all about being open minded with your vision. 'Never lean too hard into the obvious or one specific look,' she advises. 'Sometimes it is really scary to mix materials but I find that something a little harder or edgier paired with something more delicate and soft inserts an interesting tension—it piques your curiosity!'

She suggests pairing a wooden table with a marble vase so that your eye is drawn to something that's warm as well as something cool and slick. 'When something is polarizing or when something is contrasted, it engages the eye, it urges you to look closer to understand what is happening,' Athena explains. 'That is when you have succeeded in design.'

4. Bring the outside in with organic materials

A neutral bedroom with wooden floors, orange velvet chairs, bed and wooden carved bedside table

(Image credit: Adrian Gaut / Colin King)

An interior inspired by Athena wouldn't be complete without beautiful woodwork in contrasting shades of brown. She uses materials in the organic modern style to bring an element of the outdoors into her own home knowing that the warming properties are instantly calming. 

When it comes to retaining sophistication and a modern feel in your design with these softer materials, Athena says it's all about ensuring enough variety in the room. 'Play around with various textures, surface styles, and materials until a room looks right,' she says. 'It’s not always easy to pinpoint that moment but you will know it when you do because you can feel it.'

Hardwood flooring is a staple that underpins many of Athena's designs. From dark, walnut panelling to lighter herringbone patterns, a wood flooring idea offers the perfect base to build a design upon. 'Then there's furniture and decorative pieces made out of wood which insert a magical warmth,' Athena adds. 'Mother Nature is my biggest inspiration so I'm always looking for ways to bring her inside wherever I can.' 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.