Warm & Cool

In recent design projects, we have been finding ways to warm up the cool palettes of the last few seasons. Traditionally, either warm or cool neutrals predominate a space. Cool grays, silver, and washed wood tones still find favor with many homeowners due to their modern and understated sensibilities.  Even so warm neutral tones are making a comeback from their several year hiatus.

 We remember looking through resources during this peak in cool tones and wondering if everything warmer than taupe had  become extinct. Embracing warm tones comes naturally to us as they add a wonderful comfort and richness to a space. We love encouraging a mix of neutrals as we have found that it creates a sophisticated and unexpected palette that our clients love.

Cool Warm Mood Shot

One of our favorite examples of a piece that bridges warm and cool wood tones harmoniously is our beautiful Tusk table.  Don’t underestimate the power of accessorizing to reenforce the striking balance of warm and cool as well. (above). From rugs and gimp tapes to wallpaper, we find that this trend is really taking off within the design community. We had fun arranging a group of our favorites below.

Warm & Cool Collage

Warm & Cool Collage

Here at MakeNest, we love a confident mix. Just like wood tones and accent peices, try mixing neutrals in other materials too! We are looking at you, gold and silver.

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Design Checklist: Guest Rooms

As of this writing, I’ve determined to overhaul our guest room this fall.  It won’t be an easy project because the floor needs to be replaced as well as the bittersweet work of painting.  However, it is exciting to me because the room has become an island of misfit pieces over the years.

In its way, the guest room is charming, an attic of disparate pieces, all storied and meaningful.   Nonetheless, as a designer, I also know the value of allowing a guest room to be a simplified take on the rest of the home.  This is one of those rooms where you can allow fantasy and beauty to take the lead.  Here you are not beholden to the placement of the television set, nor must you consider how a light rug will withstand the march of daily traffic.

So how do you unpack an over-furnished room, laden with mementos from the past, to make it a soothing oasis for guests, even an afternoon retreat from the rest of the house for yourself?

Start with a checklist of needs only.  For the guest room, it should be as simple as: settle in; sleep; freshen up.

Settle In:

This would have been merely unpacking clothes in the not so distant past, but today it includes making sure your friends know where to plug in their chargers and have your wifi password.   We have guests who need a moment each day to check in on the rest of their world.  And while the etiquette-keepers will remind us that in company we should turn off our phones and shut our laptops,  I feel that whatever my guest wants to do once they retire for the night is purely their concern.

In the vein of more traditional unpacking, however, it is good design to provide a space adequate enough for a guest to open their toiletry bag and loot through it to their heart’s content.  This may be a dresser that is not over-done with accents, or a desk or console table equally uncluttered.

Sleep:

This is not where I opine about bed size or style. The most important thing is to make the bed both cosy and easy to use.  After years of “pillowing up” the guest room, I’ve learned that guests want pillows for two things: head support and snuggling.  No one wants to cuddle up with a pillow they assume is irreplaceable to you, so opt for comfortable, washable goods on the guest bed.  That thread-worn antique bolster is charming, but stressful when a guest is looking around for a place to stuff it during their stay.  And resist the urge to put out too many pillows.  When in doubt, the perfect sum is five: two fluffy ones for sitting up to read, two sleeping pillows, and a small accent pillow for color and snuggling.

A bed without bedside amenities is as senseless as a dining table without chairs.  An important part of enjoying the bed is feeling like you’ve arrived once you’ve gotten under the covers and arranged things just so.  This means provide bedside tables and lighting. Even if your room is a tiny New York apartment, you can hang a wall shelf beside the bed large enough for a book or a glass of water. And a wall-mounted sconce will serve your company perfectly if they need to catch a little Jane Austen before sleep.

Another important component to guest room design is knowing that privacy and light control are hugely important to many people.  If you have windows in the guest room (and we hope you do), make sure you’ve dressed them to moderate noise and light from outside.  There are many shading systems and options for drapery that will not only shut out the glare of a street lamp or the morning sun, but also blanket noise to provide a better oasis.

Freshen Up:

The best practice regarding “welcome” setups is to opt for less is more.  I’ve been placed before baskets so laden with travel-sized lotions, sanitizers, and mouthwashes that I’ve felt more like an impulse buyer at a Rite-Aid checkout line than a guest in a friend’s home.  And that pricy lotion you bought at a boutique may please one guest, but turn off another with its posh lavender scent. Trust that your guest has brought their preferred toiletries with them.  It is sufficient to lay out clean towels and wash cloths and to show guests where they may find emergency toiletries (out of plain sight) should the need arise. There is a fine line between charming a guest with your attention to detail and overwhelming them with just plain stuff.

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Once you start organizing your thoughts around the function of the space, as I’ve outlined above, it’s easy to see that the room really needs simple basics to start: bed, bedside tables, dresser or table top, lamps, and window treatments.

Surely rugs make it cozier, and art adds interest, but lean toward simplicity when adding the decorative elements.  The degree of simplicity is determined by your own style.  If you’re already a minimalist, our list of basics may be asking you to put more in the room than you might otherwise. Conversely, to the collector of many things, the imperative is to use restraint to keep the room from feeling over-saturated with your sensibility. After all, the guest holds you in high esteem, but this space should give them a little neutrality, a time out from one another.  Tone it down just a notch, by curating the collections in this room.

I hope to share before and after pictures in the weeks to come and look forward to practicing what I’m preaching as I renovate the guest room in my home.

Cheers!

PM

Old Loves

At the birthday party of a friend last weekend, taxed from added project hours and feeling not as sociable as one wants to at a gathering, I took refuge in the house, where I was able to capture photos of my friend’s collections.  He is an antique dealer with an eye for handsome accessories. While the party guests talked and laughed out on the lawn, I tried to get the camera on my phone to capture light in these dim, romantic rooms.  Looking back over the pictures kindles that pleasure I feel in old homes with good bones and interesting appointments.

carl's black and white porch

The welcoming side porch of our friend’s house, fresh and crisp with black and white paint.

My first memory of an old house with fine collections takes me back to childhood, up along a winding path where shaggy lilacs and intrepid honeysuckle wrestled together in the heat of a summer twilight.  A small, clapboard cottage with deep porches and long casement windows, it was elegantly proportioned if not grand.  Even then, though the eaves were swept clean of spider webs and the beds jealously guarded against weeds, it was a house in genteel decline.  The paint on the siding was crackled and dry; the tin roof sagged ever so slightly, a sway-backed horse too long in the fields.

It was Mrs. Hansberger’s house.  There was a Mr. Hansberger, too, but somehow it was the wife to whom everyone attributed the ownership of the place.  It may not have been an ownership of deed and dollars, but rather the heart-felt possessiveness of steward to keep.  I only went there once, standing in the dimness of the living room with a handful of other children from the church, come to check in on the elderly couple.

Mrs. Hansberger showed us things from their travels in India and Africa: a pierced fan that smelled of spices; a bentwood screen that cast curly shadows on the wall; the doors of a walnut armoire groaned as she opened them.  Within the case, her mix of fine china gleamed brightly.  It had been a long time since they had a dinner party, she said, taking out a saucer and tracing a finger over the design.  As I recall it, she seemed wistful.  But perhaps her memories warmed her.  A night under a tent in Africa, laughing into a tilted glass of wine while a hand-cranked phonograph played a drowsy waltz.   Beyond the wash of lamplight, there came a rustling from the grass.  Birds called from the tops of trees that melted against the sunset.

The devilish keeper of the flame, rendered in brass, looms from the shadows of the dining room.

The devilish keeper of the flame, rendered in brass, looms from the shadows of the dining room.

I’ve grown poetic, slightly cinematic, in attributing to plump little Mrs. Hansberger memories that more justifiably belong to the life of Karen Blixen.  But that is the romance of old homes, fine old things.  They can transport us to times when there was elegance in the smallest domestic rituals.  It is marvelous to live in an era of medical advancements, social progress, and ever-evolving communications.  Yet the keepers of antiques carry our past into the rooms of our futures, reminding us that even as we download the latest app onto our phone, we might choose to light candles tonight as if it were our only light, to take out our best china, setting the table as if a baroness were coming to dinner.

-PM

Stairway to Heaven

The latest design concept we’re loving is facing stairwell risers with vinyl patterns from Spicher and Company.  These floor covering cut easily with a straight edge and an X-acto knife, so they can conform to just about any curve or twist in the stairs.  The best part is they clean up with lightly sudsy water, so they’re as family-friendly as they are beautiful.

spicher rug mix

Here’s our tip for deciding which pattern and style you like.  Unless you’re a math genius, it may be hard to match the scale exactly with our method, but you can get close enough to help you visualize the outcome.  Simply take a picture of your stairwell in clean crisp lighting (flood with a work lamp if your own light is insufficient) and then use a box cutter and a straight edge to cut the risers out of your printed image. Slide printouts of the patterns that intrigue you under the image so that they appear in the cut away spaces.  We recommend printing the image on card stock to make cutting easier. Below, our own project:

Interior Design, Northern Virginia

Interior Design, Northern Virginia

The vinyl sheeting also makes for unexpected and striking kitchen backsplashes, so you can spread the love to the kitchen, too.  Have fun trying it out yourself!

Happy Nesting!

Snob

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.

-PM

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.

-PM