His style may be easygoing and laid-back—even undecorated, if you will, but Michael S. Smith is one of the hardest-working designers in the business. After all, it’s not just anyone who’s asked to design the First Family’s private residence or the Oval office. He’s done both, in addition to authoring three design books and designing several furniture lines. Most recently, he was named creative consultant for Brunschwig & Fils. We had the opportunity to ask Smith a few questions about his approach to design, its importance in the larger scheme of things, and a few more odds and ends.

HOW HE GOT WHERE HE IS NOW: I’m just lucky, I guess, but I also worked so hard without any distraction. I still have many a sleepless night worrying about a wall or a ceiling color, or the right sofa. I am constantly, constantly challenging myself.

ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD DESIGN: I’m sure there are some people who would argue that it’s not as important, but to me, it’s important. Living in rooms that I love and think are beautiful does change my life. It’s a great luxury, and I feel very fortunate. But I think there’s only so much that decoration can do. It does inspire you to be conscious of beauty all around. That’s why I try not to be closed about things. There’s beauty everywhere.

WHETHER HE HAS A TRADEMARK STYLE: I’m sure there are people who would say I do. I think it’s really more about the mix, and I am always really interested in a kind of balance. It’s sort of like the four food groups of decorating. If it’s for a very, very traditional or very, very formal project, I always like one odd element that comes into play and is unexpected. I always want to create a space that someone can fill it with their own life. I don’t want to overdecorate or be overly specific.

WHY HIS ROOMS NEVER LOOK LIKE THE DECORATOR HAS JUST COME AND GONE: Nothing should be so constructed or so designed with a capital ‘D’ that you really can’t live in the space. This is something that I always strive for. It’s like the old adage that a well-dressed woman should take one accessory off before leaving the house. You should under-do it to some degree, so that there is more room for a child’s finger-painting or a vase you bought at a tag sale or something that a relative leaves you. Have a house that is a living thing and not completely stiff and frozen.