Home Decorating Secrets of a Great Room with Kristy Woodsen Harvey

Secrets of a Great Room with Kristy Woodsen Harvey

A novelist who moonlights as design blogger breaks down the formula for her beachy-chic dining room.

What makes a room more than just pretty, what are the elements that make it memorable? In our Secrets of a Great Room series, we ask designers to tell us how they created their signature rooms. From decorating advice to the practical nitty gritty of furnishings, we get their insider advice on crafting rooms to remember, like this dining room in the home of novelist Kristy Woodsen Harvey.

Kristy Woodsen Harvey started her blog Design Chic in 2010 when she and her mom were both redoing historic houses. “It was a fun way to share things we liked with each other, and learn a new skill,” Kristy says, but they never expected the project to still be going strong a decade later. Decorating has also worked its way into Kristy’s fiction writing: In her Peachtree Bluff series, the protagonist is an interior designer.

Today Kristy lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband and nine-year-old son, in a home the couple had originally bought as a weekend and summer vacation escape from their homebase of Charleston. However, when their son was in preschool, they decided to spend a year living at the beach and they never left. Built in 1903, the house is old, but not by Beaufort standards (the homes on either side date to before the Revolutionary War!). Because they’d imagined the house as a beach house, Kristy devised a relaxed style that is pretty but not too precious. “We wanted it to be okay to have sand on your feet,” she says. Here’s how she pulled together the beachy-chic dining room:

The secret to a subtle beach theme

“You want to feel like you’re at the beach,” says Kristy of her quiet nautical theme, but she notes that that aesthetic can get kitsch-y fast. Her trick is to look to nature to give her home a beach-y look: Oyster shell lamps and a sand and sky-inspired palette—not a palette of Palm Beach brights—make it clear the house is near the seaside.

Focus in on an inspiration touchstone

“Find a room that you love and see what you can find to make it your own,” says Kristy. For Kristy, a spark for her design came from the bamboo director’s chairs in decorator India Hicks’ Bahamas dining room. “India’s dining room was just the look we wanted,” says Kristy, who notes that the goal is not to recreate the entire room, but to hone in on a “vibe” you like.

Mix old and new

For a fresh-yet-collected look, Kristy likes to mix antiques with new purchases. Her trick to using older furniture and art in a modern way is to use them sparingly and in dynamic pairings. For example, a huge coral bowl sits on the antique sideboard and antique prints hang over a brand-new bar cart. “There’s a little bit of juxtaposition there,” says Kristy. “I wanted to keep that room really fresh.”

Rugs give rooms personality

Prior to Hurricane Florence, Kristy had a natural fiber rug in her dining room, but after storm damage she had to replace it. “I wanted something that pops a little bit more—more pattern, more color,” she says. A longtime fan of Laura Park’s work (they both attended UNC Chapel Hill at the same time), Kristy was drawn to Park’s collaboration with Annie Selke, and this rug – aptly named Chapel Hill – in particular. It has that beautiful pattern and lots of color, but it’s a little bit muted, so it fit in with our palette” she says. Kristy was amazed by what a big effect it had on the room as a whole. “It adds so much personality to the room.”

Limit your color palette

When Kristy was first designing the house, her father-in-law, who is a retired architect and builder told her, “You can have two, maybe three colors.” He was joking, but she says there is some wisdom in that thinking (and that she mostly followed his dictum). “A limited palette is very calming and cohesive,” she says, noting that she ended up using one color (Sherwin Williams “Greek Villa”) on the walls throughout most of the ground floor.

When it comes to blue: Sample, sample, sample

Kristy sampled dozens of paint colors to settle on the perfect ones. The walls are “Greek Villa,” which she describes as “a cream color that goes more to the tan” (rather than yellow or gray). But the blue on the backs of the bookcases was even harder to get right:  “I cannot even tell you the number of blues that we went through,” she laughs. They finally settled on a very pale blue, Timid Blue from Sherwin Williams, which passed the ultimate 2020 test. “I’ve been doing a lot of my Zoom calls in that dining room: At least once a week somebody asks, “Can you send me that paint color?” she says.

Take the time to get your design right

“Design is much more accessible now,” says Kristy. “You can have a favorite designer and follow and find out where they find beautiful things.” But she says, “there’s some trial and error” in design. For example, Kristy had to try three different dining room chair designs before finding ones that were attractive, sturdy, and comfortable. “Those things do matter, and it can be tricky to get them right,” she says.

For more inspiration, see:

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