Lauren Liess is one of those people who seems to have more than the usual 24 hours the rest of us get in a day. In addition to helming her interior design firm Lauren Liess & Co., Liess is the author of two books Habitat and Down To Earth, with a third on the way next year. She designs furniture, fabric, lighting, and more and recently opened a shop of her own in Great Falls, Virginia, where she lives. Liess and her husband Dave even have their own television show on HGTV called Best House On The Block. Oh yeah, she’s also mom for five kids, ages three to thirteen, who’ve been remote learning this fall.
It’s no surprise that everyone wants a piece of Liess’s signature style: her interiors find that magical balance between sophisticated and totally lived-in and down-to-earth. When Southern Living magazine asked Liess to design an entire house in a tight timeframe, Liess didn’t beg off because of an already-full plate: She jumped at the chance to collaborate with the publication in such a big way. For Southern Living’s 2020 Idea House, Liess created all the interiors in a new-build home in Asheville, North Carolina. Liess and her team filled the house with her trademark mix of vintage finds, colors drawn from nature, and pretty patterns to create an ideal of laidback living.
In the latest installment of House Rules, Liess shares her tips for how to make the most of your own home:
All house photos courtesy Southern Living, a division of TI Inc. Lifestyle Group, photograph by Robbie Caponetto. Southern Living is a registered trademark of TI Inc. Lifestyle Group and is used with permission.
Start with a beautiful mess
When Liess designs a home, she starts by pulling fabrics, paint chips, finish samples, and tiles. “It’s just a bunch of materials that I really love to develop a palette,” says Liess. She lays it all out on a seven-foot table in her office where she can touch and see the materials. “I start pulling from that beautiful mess on the table to make something that makes sense for each of the rooms,” she says.
Ignore the design trends
“The trends are changing so quickly these days, it’s just silly to even try to keep up,” says Liess. Instead, figure out what it is you really love, and use that to steer your design decisions. Liess says her design is always rooted in the architecture and location of the home. For example, in the Southern Living Idea House, Liess channeled the house’s farmhouse-meets-Victorian aesthetic and drew on the surrounding pine forest for her palette. “Look to the architecture of your home and make choices that feel appropriate to the house,” she says. “I see a lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, I love shiplap and barn doors’ and will put it in a house that it just makes no sense in,” she says. “Do what you love, just make sure it fits with the character of your home.”
Don’t try to compete with mother nature
In a space with incredible views, like this dining area, Liess says, “I want people to feel like they’re almost outside.” So she opted for a deep green paint (SW 9530 Momentum) on the window trim that echoed the pine trees beyond and a jute rug underfoot. “I loved how earthy and textural the Auricula Woven Jute rug is,” says Liess. “It has that down-to-earth vibe that I love.”
Mix old & new for a modern take on traditional
“I love incorporating vintage and antique pieces for a sense of history—that collected feeling, the patina, the character,” says Liess. However, Liess always strives to counterbalance them with something modern. “In the foyer, I was looking for a rug that had that natural edge to it, but that was graphic, like the Hexile Hand Knotted Jute Rug, to make sure that I didn’t take it too old lady,” says Liess. “I needed to wake it up and get a feel a little bit more fresh with something more graphic and modern.”
“It’s hard to tell from photos, but this color has a little bit of green in it,” says Liess of Sherwin-Williams 9521 Simple Stone. Liess used the color throughout the Southern Living Show House to blend into the house’s natural setting.
Stripes keep a look from going too ‘granny’
Liess says her inspiration for the main bedroom was George and Martha Washington’s bedroom at Mount Vernon. “Their bedroom there has a canopy and a striped rug, and I’ve always loved it so much—it’s just the prettiest pairing,” says Liess. In her modern interpretation of the historic room, the Melange Stripe rug keeps the room from going too “granny.” “I love a good striped rug, and Dash & Albert is my go-to striped rug source,” she says. “I’ve been dying to do a lace canopy for years—not a lot of clients would have gone with it,” she laughs. “The stripe just freshens it up.”
“This indoor/outdoor rug feels more like a regular rug to me,” says Liess, who jokes, “My bedroom is like Grand Central Station with all the kids and dogs. So, I like durable rugs in my main bedroom: Maybe other people don’t need it, but I do!”
Natural fiber rugs work in every room
Liess often designs the kitchen first after she has made her initial pull of materials. “I think of the kitchen as sort of a microcosm for what’s going on in the rest of the house. At that point, I generally know what the fabrics will look like throughout the house.” Here, an Ipswich Jute runner sets the tone for natural fiber rugs that appear throughout the home. “A rug is a great way to soften a kitchen and to make it feel cozier and warmer,” says Liess, who paired this rug with our floor-lock solid rug pad. “That’s the one we always use. It’s non-slip and it’s thicker. It became our favorite years ago, and I think it’s the only one we ever order.”
Wallpaper creates a feeling of nostalgia
“I love to use wallpaper in a smaller upstairs bedroom, especially those that have almost an attic-like feeling,” says Liess, who used a William Morris design that dates to 1876 here. “Wallpaper’s just one of those nostalgic things that feels like, ‘Oh, my grandma had a room like that!’ There’s a yesteryear quality that I love.”
Consider a counterintuitive color for kids’ rooms
An almost black hue might seem like a surprising choice for a kids’ room, but Liess says, “That super-dark charcoal hides everything. As a mom, I know what it’s like with fingerprints on white walls. I thought Forged Steel would be a very practical solution in this bunk room, and the green-y beige color (SW 9521 Simple Stone in a gloss finish) is also so pretty against it.”
Use bedspreads in a modern way
Cast in lightweight, textured linen, a bedspread becomes a fresh style element on a bed. “That Savannah Linen Gauze White Bedspread is one of my favorite bed spreads ever: I have it in my own home,” says Liess. Against the intense, almost masculine green of the walls, Liess says, “I thought it would be a really nice juxtaposition to have that softer, more romantic bedding.”
“I tend to go pretty classic with bedding,” says Liess, who opted for white and shades of ivory in the bedrooms of the Southern Living Show House, including our Seta Semolina Quilts in natural and our classic white hemstitch pillowcases. Indeed, you can’t go wrong with simple, timeless bedding.
As for that moody green, “I’ll do a dark color when I’m trying to make a space feel more private,” says Liess of Sherwin Williams Momentum green. “The darker walls kind of cut you off and make you feel enveloped and separated from the rest of the house.”
Layering gives small antique rugs more impact
“A lot of times, I’ll start with a new jute or seagrass rug, and then layer an antique piece on top, to get that collected look,” says Liess. “I love layering to add in that natural texture.” Liess also uses layered rugs as a tactic to cut down on costs. “Vintage and antique rugs can be super-expensive—and the larger they go, the more expensive they are. So, I will often use a natural fiber new rug to kind of increase the size of the antique or vintage rug.”
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