Gender continues to influence residential design, but not necessarily in the conventional or stereotypical ways. "Gender is still something that clients bring to the table, whether overtly or stumbling into it without even realizing what they're saying," says interior designer Alene Workman in Hollywood, Fla. "It's the designer's responsibility to listen to these sometimes clear or unclear directions or subtle clues, and then incorporate those requests."
Designer Molly McGinness of Falmouth, Mass., experiences similar situations with her clients. "When someone says, 'I don't really want feminine or masculine details,' you have to figure out what they're saying," she says. In one instance, a client told McGinness she didn't like black, modern-looking sofas, which she associated with her husband's former bachelor pad. Instead, McGinness selected a warm brown sofa with a tufted feel done in leather – a choice pleasing to both wife and husband.
What's more, couples are making many of the design decisions together, a shift from years past. "Design isn't the way it used to be where the wife was the one decorating the home," notes Cleveland-based designer Dawn Cook, who reports that in the last 18 months she has worked with four men who are completely involved in their projects. The collaboration between men and women often means compromise – gender neutrality in some spaces, gender influences in others.
For those gender-specific rooms, the key is to design them uniquely, according to Cook. "It's important to incorporate interesting color palettes, textures and accessories that reflect the person who's using the room, while still having that gender-specific slant."
Cook, McGinness and Workman share their favorite projects where gender played a role – whether explicitly or subtly – in color selection.