Every holiday asks questions.  In in the Dickensian tradition, the questions of Christmas are of charity and kindness.  On the 4th of July, we ask ourselves what freedom means to us and what it has meant to those who’ve defended it in our names .  And at Hallowe’en, we may no longer ponder on life and death as our Pagan ancestors did, but we at least bite down on the central question of costume: to wig or not to wig.

Thanksgiving asks us to pause and consider gratitude and to count our blessings. There is a great deal of heart in the holiday. In the practice of being grateful one finds oneself grounded and humbled.  There is a quiet joy in feeling appreciation for opportunities, for the love of others, for shared enjoyments and even for personal vision.

At MakeNest, we’ve had a remarkable year of growth, fueled not only by exciting projects, but by the coming together of a remarkable team around shared visions. After ten years of largely flying solo as a business owner, the time had come for my work family to grow.  With this change, we’ve seen our business become more organized; our perspective has broadened; the burdens are shared; and the afternoon brownie is split three ways, showing that in all greatness there is sacrifice.

We’re thankful for our work family, our continued passion for design, and for our community of loyal and supportive clients.  Every day when my staff heads out the door, I tell them thanks for the work they’ve done, because most of the questions that holidays ask should be answered in practice all year long.






I’m a furniture snob.  It comes from nearly twenty years in the design business.  But I’m not a snob in the way that many of my colleagues are.  I don’t care about name brands (although I tip my hat to makers of fine things who’ve earn a deserved reputation) as much as I care about the integrity of the piece.  That is: what is this item trying to be and does it work?

In my dining room – a tiny square where the cat likes to nap, where everyone has to draw in their chairs to pile in around the table – the furniture is a mix of the primitive, cottage-made and the formal and elegant.  Using color, the craft of placement, and a curated mix of art and accents, the pieces compliment the scale of the room and each other.  They function and they please me, two criteria never to be undersold.

However, why the curly French chairs and the boxy little corner shelf play well together is mostly due to their inherent honesty.  As objects, these pieces have distinctive characteristics.  We can change their narrative to a degree by shifting their context, but unless we get out a saw and start lopping away at them (thus rejecting their truth) we must honor the very things that make them unique.  It is, after all, the contrast between the objects that makes for an interesting room.

If a physicist who played fiddle, an interpretive dancer with a passion for soup-making, and a human rights activist who blew off steam at the shooting range were stuck in an elevator together – well, that would make for a pretty interesting dynamic.  Yet if they each felt they should imitate the other, then the highs and lows of their differences would fade away.  In life, we do feel the need to find common ground for brief, sometimes awkward social encounters. Thus, the fiddling scientist, the prancing epicurean, and the gun-wielding idealist discuss the weather until the mechanic gets them safely out.

Design is where ideas and things come together.  The illusive magic of imagination finds expression through tangible goods.   The more sincere the objects, the more truthful the space.  And the more varied and personal our collections, the more compelling and intriguing the design.

If you’re to be a snob about design, it’s better to be one about whether a space is interesting, rather than about what it cost.  Buying quality is important, but purism of influences leaves me cold. We might as well be discussing whether or not it’s going to rain.

The Ten Year Mark

Last night we celebrated a milestone for our design business: the ten year mark.  I spend little time thinking about the road behind, imagine largely (perhaps grandiosely) what lies ahead, and now and again the present stands still, surprising me into a moment of stillness.  There is a magic to those seconds when the essence of the immediate arrests us, reminding us to be out of our heads. For big-picture thinkers and creatives, we are often dualistically both believers in ‘of the moment’ awareness and hostages to the millworks of our own seething imaginations.

hurston quote narrow

Being brought into the moment is a gift.  Light shifts on a street to highlight the overlooked; a song we once had a fling with is playing in the checkout line; a whiff of shampoo in an elevator reminds us of an aunt who passed too young.  In the midst of a hectic work day, we’re transported to the past, to summers spent with relatives.  We recall our aunt’s little rituals, the morning exercises, a smudge of lipstick on her coffee mug as she took her last sip before heading to work.  She left her geranium red mark every day, a seal to close the last home hour before returning to her beloved grind.

There are truthful lessons tucked into our past; they assert themselves in these sharpened moments.  For instance, the aunt.  A newspaper editor who was faithful to her craft for decades, she belonged to no professional meet groups, took no bows at dinner parties, never climbed onto a dais to receive an award.  Small towns don’t award journalism – good, bad, or indifferent.

Yet she loved her work, took pride in accomplishing her constant mission: to draw together the events of the week, yanking the national from the AP, overseeing a small flock of reporters for everything local, checking in with ad salesmen and photographers, finally to work late of a Wednesday while the printer pieced the content together the old fashioned way, by letter press. Along with her staff, she rendered the week of her town and her nation, every seven days, into a package that, when folded twice, could just about fit in a dog’s mouth to be carried up onto a porch come Thursday.

When I opened my design business ten years ago, I was thirty years old, felt invincible, played at being  humble, too, though it comes harder to the young.  My weekly rituals included running two miles every other day and drinking eighty-four ounces of water between sunup and sundown.  In my memory, I was bolder and more lusty in my wants than I was aware of at the time.  I didn’t pause to consider my undertaking: I simply did the daily work needed to keep the wheel rolling forward.

At the five year mark, the economy turned, I had to let go of a treasured employee, and I lopped away at the fledgling business until only the essentials remained: the workings of an interior design firm.  I put aside the part of that dream that included a retail presence, a showroom that shifted with outgoing and incoming inventory, that invited my creative urges to play with each new setup, and that kept an open door to the world and to my street.  And I survived through hard times, watching with empathy as other businesses closed, cheering the adventurers who chose that moment in time to risk their own enterprises.  More than anything, I found in my mid-thirties a deeper humility and gratitude than my thirty-year-old self could have understood.

When the economy strengthened,  I relaxed my bear-mother hold on my company and breathed just a little easier.  I could allow myself to take big-picture stock of things.  What became evident to me was that I wanted to be bold again, to dream as I had done at thirty.  I wanted doors cast open onto the street, I wanted the creative fulfillment of shopkeeping along with the satisfying work of interior design.  They are, after all, twin loves of mine, each stimulating a different aspect of visual composition, imaginative thinking, and dynamic problem-solving.

I wonder how often my aunt paused to audit her progress, to mark her place in the arc of life’s dreams.  I hope it was just often enough to find her gratitude – or to quicken her passion for the next thing.  The trick is not to check in too often, not to trip over yourself as you play sidewalk supervisor to your own journey.  Rather the way is to stick to the work of the day, allowing the weeks to string together until they form a rhythm, trusting that everything in the universe will collide just often enough to make you lift your head and think, “That’s right; I’m here.”  A shifting light, the forgotten song.

Last night,  my energetic staff, my husband, beloved friends, cherished clients and patrons gathered around me, one of those ‘of-the-moment’ moments found me. I came up out of the place in my mind where I  still dissected the little defeats and triumphs of the last week, and I was in a beautiful room, with chatter, live jazz and laughter blending in cool air, fragrant with summer cocktails.  I was forty, bold and bright, happy in my accomplishments, poised for more.


Comfortable Elegance

In the project pictured below, our mandate from the clients was precise: comfortable elegance.  To achieve formal balance, we exaggerated the architectural symmetry of the room through the use of matched pairs in lighting, furniture, and drapery.  Our selections of textiles bore features of elegance, such as embroidery and damask-like forms, but were uniformly soft to the touch and devoid of the pomp glossy finishes might have suggested.

Living Room, Hearth Room Shenandoah Valley

Living Room, Hearth Room
Shenandoah Valley

Using rich, dark woods in flooring and furniture, we suggest the gravitas of age, while allowing that the newly constructed home is of today.  The client’s Persian rug – dramatically figured in chocolate, taupe, and pale aqua – provided us with the basis for a light-handed color palette that keeps a densely-furnished space from feeling cluttered or engulfing.  Custom upholstery allowed us to tailor the sofas for maximum seating.

Lighting, Interior Design Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Lighting, Interior Design
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Perhaps the most pleasing detail of a room filled with beautiful elements, is our selection of four dramatic pendants, a choice that eschewed the architectural draft calling for a single, central chandelier. The quadrant of pendents spreads the overhead lighting more evenly in the space and, resembling to some extent the fixtures in old cathedrals, references the very architecture that inspired vaulted ceilings such as these.  Additional recessed lighting and sconces (not pictured) fill in the lighting gaps, while dimmers on all lighting provide a variety of mood options for any use of the space.

Living Room, Interior Design Detail Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Living Room, Interior Design Detail
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

From the large overview to the smallest detail, we enjoyed finding the balance between elegance and comfort.  A lovely project for lovely clients, this one stands out as a memorable recent exercise in thoughtful restraint.


Graphic Designers Want Your Home

Design today takes its visual cues from graphic designers, one can see when even fleetingly browsing the pictorial reviews of the modern age: Pinterest and Houzz.   Part of this is that we live in an age of design simplicity.  Also we prize artistic flare over a show of wealth, a generational shift away from mannerly elegance and toward Bohemian eclecticism.  Like the perfect marriage of old roots and new interpretations that is hipster folk music,  today’s best designs are a fusion of storied and new elements.


The three outstanding features of graphic design-inspired style are: bold geometrics, color blocking and unexpected pairings.  The other phrase often used to describe spaces with these elements is: eclectic modernism.  We are reminded of Dorothy Draper’s modern baroque sensibility.  Bold use of pattern, color and modern silhouettes juxtaposed with extravagant traditional flourishes.

By the standards of the times, we find as much satisfaction in a collection of doodles and postcards, thumbtacked to the wall, as we do in a costly mirror.  This is in part because the emerging generation of nesters, coming of age in a floundering economy, place a higher value on experiences than on material possessions.  That means home is comfortable, not pretentious. It speaks to personal tastes more than to income.

Presentation C12

Winter White Seduction

Day three of snowy weather has me contemplating the allure of white rooms. A few years back I had a client with a three year old who wanted an all-white living room.  Imagining pudding stains and crayola shenanigans, I lobbied for something less pristine.  We compromised on bright sand; cream tones seemed dirty to her eyes.

As impractical as it is, I have to say I get it.  Like a blank canvas, the white room is pleasingly simple.  The people who visit it bring the color in their garb; vibrant brush strokes that come and go at our invitation.

However, on a day to day basis, the all white room may be more satisfying in theory than in practice.  Humans like to be stimulated visually. What I have learned is that we use color to make space more engaging and interesting. When we edit it from the space, the forms and textures that remain have to be all the more dynamic to fill the aesthetic gap. The photo below, from House Beautiful, is a good example of how to keep a white space soft, warm and compelling.  This is a crisp, romantic take on the all white room.

white room best

  •  This is not a ‘color pop’ kind of space; it’s more delicate and soft and less about mod vibrancy.  Using black and white art instead of color [the collection on the wall to the left] and eschewing patterned rugs is a subtle but excellent commitment to detail.  The Lesson: Keep the concept focused.
  • Dynamic installations provide the drama that we otherwise find in color.  The sheer size of the rough hewn door to the rear creates a focal point in a space that’s been blown open architecturally.  The Lesson:  Up the ante on accents and installations for drama, but make sure they’re used to enhance the bones of the room.
  • Form and composition are building blocks to good design.  The massive potted plant and spherical chandelier in this space establish a rhythm of mass that prevents our gaze from getting stuck on the over-scaled central column.  This open space soars when the eye is not grounded in just one area.  The Lesson: Without color to tell the eye where to roam, it’s more important than ever to get the styling right.
  • This room is well-edited and interesting, mixing refined and primitive elements equally.  The whiteness provides punctuation between each piece and the collection finds unity by virtue of its setting.  This is not unlike the art of gallery curating.  The Lesson: Embrace the innate gift of a white space: that it allows and even demands a diverse mix.
  • Texture, texture, texture.  The primitive table in the foreground, the dappled painting over the bombe chest and the organic tangle of branches are all fantastic use of texture to add depth to this design.  Replace the table with its sleek lacquered sister and swap out the art for a gleaming mirror and the room instantly grows colder.  The vase of branches reminds us of nature and is a peaceful connection. The Lesson: Grainy woods, coarse finishes and natural elements offset the pristine elegance of white and keep spaces feeling friendly.

Dark Haven

This room is the kind I’d call preppy bohemian.  The collection implies travel and taste, but the deconstructed arrangement says the person who lives here is comfortable with a bit of chaos.  If the appointments were arranged more formally – no stacks on the floor, no art left leaning – the space could feel dour and heavy.


The styling of the room is pitch perfect.  Here is why it works:

  • The rich red ceiling strengthens the statement of the collections of red atop the wardrobe and in the window sill. Due to the darkness of the room, the reds balance magically being both a color and a neutral. The Lesson: Don’t fear bold decisions like ceiling color, just make sure they support the overall design.
  • The dynamic geometric rug is not crowded with other patterns; textures and organic motifs alone fill in the blanks. (See our first post for more about that.)  In this room the books are textural specifically because their spines are not precisely aligned. Through repetition, unexpected objects become a tactile part of the overall design. The Lesson: Think beyond fabrics and wall finishes when adding texture.
  • Pops of color break the palette like beams of sunlight in a forest. Black, white and shades of honey brown are the primary neutrals here. They establish the rhythm of dark and light, warm and cool.  Editing out the brilliant yellow and blue book spines or the cheery peonies in the foreground would flatten the palette. The Lesson: Celebrate colors that are a little more saturated and playful than the rest. Cleverly woven into the mix, they give design its kick.

Hope you enjoy the photo, which is from Elle Decor and found via Quite Continental.