Feel-Good Design

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Human Experience

Recently I was inspired by a documentary about Ilsa Crawford, a British design visionary who’s approach to interiors prioritizes the ‘human experience’. This concept resonated with me because in my view, design is about much more than visual interest, symmetry, and color. It’s about whether a space speaks to us on an emotional level. It’s not about being fancy, or show-casing expensive materials and possessions. Good design is about enhancing the experiences of daily life, and it can be enjoyed by each and every one of us.

Over the years there were instances where it became clear that interior design affected me on a different level than most. When I made a career leap from high-tech to start my design business, I said to my husband ‘I am so excited that I can finally contribute to society in a way that feels meaningful.’ Not wanting to be insensitive, he sort of chuckled and said ‘Are you implying that interior design is a humanitarian service that benefits the world?’ I looked at him puzzled, like ‘Well... duh!’

It's Personal

There are also times when I felt completely affected by a space and was shocked to learn that no one else felt the same. For example, there was a Christmas when my young boys surprised me by putting up the Christmas tree. I came home to find our furniture arranged in sort of a giant circle, with the tree and TV as the central focus for all of the chairs and sofa. Despite being thrown off by the arrangement, I appreciated the thought and tried to welcome the fresh take on our living room. After 5 uneasy minutes of sitting and pretending to watch TV, I finally jumped up and said ‘Okay! Is NO ONE else disturbed by this!?’ I had to re-arrange things before I could actually sit back and relax.

‘Feel-good design’ means different things to each of us. For some it is about freshness, organization, and efficiency. For others, it’s about quality and comfort. I would argue that interior design is not just a visual art, but that it taps into all of the senses. It’s about touch, smell, and texture, as well as form and function. Can you think of a moment when you walked into a room and it just felt right? A restaurant? Hotel? Friend's house? Pay attention to that feeling and try to identify what about it felt good to you. Are you a minimalist? A maximalist? Are there certain fabrics that make you say "ahhh"...? Some of us are drawn to open spaces flooded with light, and others a speak-easy lounge with leather and stained wood. I have friends who love to be surrounded by books. For others, that would be their worst nightmare.

The End Goal 

One of my primary challenges (and greatest joys) as a designer is to determine which qualities of a space will strike that special chord for clients, when they might not know it themselves. Each project is a unique puzzle, and every outcome a custom solution. Home is where you come to relax, recharge, and let your guard down. The more you know about yourself, the more easily you can create that haven you'll want to come home to.


Metal Finish Finesse



It’s happened a few times. A client says ‘I want everything to MATCH’. I respectfully say ‘Hmm. We are not going to do that, but I promise it will be beautiful and everything will COORDINATE’. The client looks confused, and I can tell in that moment he’s not sure about me. I remind myself that in time he'll gain trust, and the proof will be in the end result. 

So let’s dig a little deeper. A safe interior ‘matches’. A room from Rooms to Go ‘MATCHES’. What you want is something that feels rich, stylish, and well done; a thoughtful and elevated interior reflecting quality and your personality for years to come.


So here is a strategy I follow regarding metal finishes. First, I choose a primary finish. This is implemented throughout the architecture of the home in areas such as door hardware, hinges, and stair railings. Next, I select a secondary finish. This might show up in select light fixtures, cabinet & drapery hardware, and maybe some decorative accents. Lastly, I like to have fun in a few individual spaces, such as powder rooms and bathrooms. Here I might mix it up a little. There will still be a primary metal finish, but it can be different from the rest of the house. Sound weird? It’s not. It prevents that moment of “Oh crap – polished brass is out of style now and I have to replace everything in my house!”. It’s subtle, intentional, and slightly unexpected.


Now see how our strategy plays out in two case studies below. In each project we used at least 2 or 3 different metal finishes in various areas of the house...

CASE STUDY ONE: In the traditional project below our primary metal finish was antique nickel. It was selected for doorknobs, most light fixtures, and plumbing and hardware. Our accent finish was black, which you can see in the ceiling fan, furniture accents, stair rail, and entry door. Finally, in select bathrooms we went with chrome. It's a perfect finish to pair with marble.

CASE STUDY TWO: In this contemporary home we mixed oil-rubbed bronze (light fixtures, door hardware, windows, and stair railings) with touches of satin nickel (plumbing, cabinet hardware, and furniture accents). The result is a fresh and light interior that remains warm and anchored to nature.

Pretty easy huh? Now go forth and mix metals with confidence. You can DO this blog friends!

Lessons from Experience - Design Mistakes to Avoid in 2018

Remodel with confidence in 2018! (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Remodel with confidence in 2018! (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

At a recent peer gathering I threw out the question “what are some lessons learned and project stories you can share”, and the answers were wild! They included strange pet mishaps, a veggie stocked fridge that stunk up a remodel, and a glass chandelier that almost came crashing down during a simple furniture install. In 14 years of being a designer I've had my fair share of "learning experiences" as well. I’m all about learning from my mistakes, but what better than to learn from OTHER people’s mistakes?  Now take this knowledge and tackle your next remodel with confidence. You're welcome blog followers!

The list is based on stories from clients, peers, and a few first-hand situations. Here goes:

1) Check all dimensions closely when ordering anything, but especially furniture. That includes wall dimensions, ceiling heights, even door widths! I have a designer friend who once ordered sofas for a commercial space and they were too big to get through the doors! She now has some fabulous large sofas in her living room...

2) Read the fine print when placing orders, and document decisions clearly. An associate of mine once selected a sectional fabric, and gave the swatch to the vendor without writing the item number down. When it arrived weeks later, it was the wrong color. She had approved the order trusting that the vendor had documented it properly. It was an expensive assumption!

3) Always do a large paint sample before painting the entire area. Review it in the exact environment where it will be, and document your choices clearly. The first time I ever cried on a job site was when I arrived to see a sample of my sassy green accent paint, only to discover it was almost neon and they had painted it on EVERY WALL!

4) Inspect materials before they get installed. For example – open boxes of tile to make sure what is in the box is what you expected. Natural materials in particular (travertine, marble, etc.) can vary greatly from the sample.

5) On that same note, evaluate multiple samples of natural materials. For example, when ordering tile, make sure you examine at least 4 or 5 different tiles, and try to see a picture of the material installed. I had a client who carried one piece of travertine to every showroom for months. She compared everything to it, only to discover it represented only the very lightest of the color range. Variation is to be expected – be prepared to embrace it.

6) Review large swatches of all fabrics, finishes, and rugs before placing orders. A client told me of a time (she was working with a previous designer - thank goodness) when she had ordered fabric for drapes from a small swatch, only to realize after the drapes were installed that there were little monkeys on the print! Yes, that’s right - MONKEYS!

7) Make sure you see plumbing & light fixtures in person before ordering. I’ve seen sneaky details show up in person that were not visible in online pictures.

8) Inspect items when they are received and don’t sign off without noting even the smallest issues. If an item is delivered to you with a defect, you’ll have very little recourse if you don’t note it upon receipt.

9) Scale is important in general, but especially with regards to lighting. This includes everything from bedside lamps to sconces and chandeliers. If in question, create mock ups of the size with boxes or cardboard to get a better feel for it. I've had pretend fixtures hung with string for weeks while we evaluate if we like it from every angle (keepin' it classy Austin!)

10) Grout color is surprisingly important, and not easily changed. I typically choose a color that will either disappear or contrast to accentuate the pattern. Either way, I’m intentional about it. If there’s any question, have the tile installer make a sample board showing the tile with the grout.

These are just a few tips toward smarter design in 2018. I have often said "can just ONE day go by where I don't have to learn something?". Well maybe now you'll have 10 days.

Happy New Year everyone!