A Worldwide View to Interior Decorating
Monique Duarte Brings Cultural Influences to Her Clients
by Diane Capuano Franklin
If there ever was a place to develop an appreciation of culture and tradition, it is during the annual celebration of Carnival in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. From an early age, interior decorator Monique Duarte delighted in attending the country’s Carnival festivities on a regular basis. Trinidad and Tobago is her mother’s home country, so she naturally felt an affinity toward this nation’s vibrant and exuberant pre-Lenten celebration.
“I started going to Trinidad when I was 12,” Duarte reports, “and now I go every year. It’s a huge inspiration to me.”
Duarte uses this inspiration as one of many cultural-based influences that she can bring to her clients as the principal decorator of Duarte Interior Decorating, based in Plainsboro, N.J. Her upbringing allowed her to experience many different cultures on a firsthand basis. Both her Caribbean-born mother and her American father were in the military, so Duarte became used to moving around quite a bit during her childhood. While growing up, she lived in England, Italy, France, Germany and Greece as well as in several cities throughout the United States. She continues her lifelong of traveling to this day.
“I’ve traveled extensively, and I’ve been able to infuse my decorating with a lot of different ideas based on the many different cultures I’ve experienced,” Duarte reports.
However, since her heritage is tied to Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean culture is particularly close to her heart. Duarte particularly loves the beautiful colors and fabrics that are on display during the country’s Carnival. In her pre-teen and teen years, she had the unforgettable experience of participating in the “mas camps,” the pre-Carnival gathering of costume designers and seamstresses. It is these artisans and craftspeople who give the color and visual vibrancy to the ensuing “mas” (short for masquerade) celebrations that are the centerpiece of the annual Carnival.
Since she travels to Trinidad so often, Duarte is able to avail her clients of the beautiful fabrics that are unique to the country and that she otherwise could not obtain for them.
"As my grandmother and great grandmother used to make all of their children’s clothes, they became very close with the local fabric stores and even had their own seamstress,” Duarte explains. “They have since passed that legacy relationship down to me, and now I have the opportunity to provide my clients with custom-made window treatments, pillows or whatever they want made up of exclusive Caribbean-influenced fabrics. All I have to do is take the measurements and send them to my sources in Trinidad, and then they ship the final product directly to me.”
A Full Cultural Gamut
Caribbean décor and coastal living are only the beginning of Duarte’s extensive list of residential decorating styles that she can provide to her clients. Her specialties run the cultural gamut from traditional to contemporary, from American Southwest to Mediterranean, European, Asian and African.
Duarte is quick to point out, however, that her cultural preferences are not the key consideration in her decorating process. Rather, it is what the client wants that guides her most.
“ One thing that inspires me is getting to know my clients and finding out what inspires them,” Duarte says. “I get to know the client’s cultural background because that may be the inspiration for how they want to decorate their home.”
Duarte works primarily in central New Jersey—specifically, the Plainsboro, Princeton and New Brunswick areas. She also does work regularly into the New York area as well as in Florida and the Caribbean. One of her goals for growing her business is to cultivate more work on the Jersey coast.
“I love working on coastal projects,” Duarte reports. “I love the beach, and I love the water. I’ve traveled so often to the Caribbean that I’ve found myself greatly inspired by these surroundings.”
Since she knows so well the cultural origins of the looks she creates, Duarte is able to adapt specific decorating styles to her client’s specific circumstances.
“What I like about cultural decorating is that you can create the look no matter where you live,” Duarte explains. “You can have fun with bright colors, and it doesn’t look strange if you present them in a Caribbean style. If you want to create a beach look in a New York apartment, then it’s perfectly okay to do that.”
One of the most fulfilling aspects of Duarte’s profession is interacting with clients, which allows her to discover her client’s personality and explore the full range of possibilities that exist in each and every space she develops.
“I love to work on projects and in environments that inspire me,” Duarte says. “I always get to know my potential client upfront before I take on their project to make sure that we’re a good fit for one another,” Duarte says. “I never want to take on a client with an expectation that I can’t deliver.”
A Six-Phase Plan
To ensure that she can deliver, Duarte has developed a six-phase decorating program. Phase 1 is the initial consultation. Then, Duarte proceeds to the other phases of the program, which includes gathering information, developing a decorating plan, pre-shopping, the formal presentation and the final install.
“The program entails a lot of listening to make sure I know what the client wants,” Duarte explains. “Sometimes clients have in mind what they like, but they don’t always know how to articulate it. They might say, ‘I like this color and this texture.’ It’s my job to interpret what they are saying and put it all together for them.”
For anyone looking to work with an interior decorator, Duarte stresses the importance of having a clear understanding of your individual decorating style.
“We have a whole section on our website about decorating style,” Duarte reports. “It helps me as a decorator to know what style works best for my clients."
One of the most important things that Duarte asks her clients is: “How do you live your life?” As she explains, “It’s their home. They have to live there and own that space. It should be right not only aesthetically but functionally as well. At the end of the day, it’s important that it reflects their needs, desires and personality.”