Decorator, designer, blogger lauren liess offers some tips

Friday , February 28, 2014 - 12:31 PM

The Washington Post

Decorator, textile designer and blogger Lauren Liess was the guest last week on the Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt:

Q: I live in a late-1950s hexagon-shaped ranch house. What I loved about this house was the vaulted wood ceilings, except for the fact that they are really dark. I have both limited natural light and indoor lighting.

I had several painters look at the ceilings, and no one would touch them because they feared if I painted them a light color, eventually the stain would bleed through the paint and would not be worth the cost involved. So I gave up! I would welcome your input as to how to bring this home into 2014.

A: Making this decision really depends upon your personal style, but I would consider having the beams sanded down (so that the dark stain is removed) to reveal the natural wood. You could have the beams hand-scraped for a look with some texture and patina. It’s what we did in our home, and I absolutely love it. Once the old red/brown stain was removed, our home was instantly lightened.

Painting in a lighter color would also be a possibility, but I would do this only after sanding. It took our team three to four days just to do the sanding in our house.

Q: I’m a designer and I work for a company, but my ultimate goal is to start out on my own. How did you know when it was time to go out on your own, how did you do it, and how did you obtain so many clients?

A: I always knew that I wanted to work on my own, and even when I worked part-time for another designer I had my own clients. I would say that you’ll know when you’re ready. You’ll probably feel like you can’t take another minute without having your own business.

What really helped attract new clients was having my work professionally photographed. I had a Web site with my work on it using photos I’d taken, and clients rarely called. But when I had those same projects photographed professionally and posted the new photos, the calls came in.

I also try to keep my portfolio fairly current, and I send certain projects to publications in the hopes that they will like them and publish them. I also started my blog, which has really helped in attracting the right clients.

Q: What do you think really defines your style, and how can I achieve a similar vibe — most likely on a smaller budget than most of your clients? Any areas worth the extra splurge?

A: My style is sort of relaxed, natural and collected. As cliche as it sounds, I love to mix old and new pieces and a little bit of quirk into my designs.

To achieve a similar vibe, you could use seagrass rugs (really inexpensive, and they’re one of my favorites) to define a space.

From there you could layer in mostly neutral furnishings, but maybe pick a piece or two for some great pattern. I hang curtains from the ceiling and love using natural woven roman shades.

Home Depot and Lowe’s sell nice matchstick roman shades that can work. They’re best kept stationary, as over time they can wear out.

I love using a mix of pillows in fabrics that the client absolutely loves and would say it’s a great place to splurge. A great sofa is another splurge-worthy piece.

You can use simple end tables and case goods. Lighting can be fairly basic, but find one really special piece or a great pair of lamps.

Finally, layer in original artwork and accessories that you might find at flea markets or thrift stores. I’m always on the hunt for great buys, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be amazing.

Q: Dated ’80s sheet vinyl flooring covers the floor in my kitchen and entryway. I’m thinking of area rugs or floorcloths to cover most of it. Any suggestions? Something sweepable would be perfect!

A: Wall-to-wall seagrass installed in the foyer could work. It’s extremely durable, and I had it in my old foyer and loved it. And then I’d go with seagrass, washable cotton or indoor-outdoor rugs in the kitchen.

Q: I love how you have designed spaces with whites and neutrals. It seems that most pictures I like that have white spaces also have great architectural details such as exposed beams and wood windows that can be painted black. I think that is why my eyes are drawn to those rooms.

I am afraid to go white because I don’t want the room to look sterile. Other than adding new architectural details, how can I make a new white space warm and cozy?

A: You can make a white space feel cozy by adding layers and lots of textures.

Natural elements instantly warm up a space. Think baskets, warm wood finishes, natural woven rugs, bamboo and matchstick shades.

Also, artwork and accessories with lots of patina and age work wonders. Swap out a newly framed print with an old oil painting and a space completely changes.

Q: My husband and I, along with our three small children, just moved into a Colonial home from the 1960s. My husband has grown attached to the original stone fireplace, which spans the entire width of our family room, so it’s staying for the foreseeable future.

I suppose it’s only fair because I won the “wooden paneling” battle. Otherwise, the room is a complete blank slate, but the fireplace has become my decorating roadblock. I know you are not supposed to “decorate around” elements that you don’t like, but a complete overhaul is just not possible. Do you have any suggestions for selecting kid-friendly furnishings that could complement the fireplace?

A: I would keep the furnishings neutral and fairly strong-feeling. Clean, strong lines, more on the masculine side to stand up to all of that stone. Nothing delicate. You can add some more femininity in the pillow fabrics and accessories if needed. I would keep curtains solid or go with a quieter pattern so as not to compete with the stone. I’d make sure the rug doesn’t feel busy or feminine.

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