Design with Depth: Shawn Henderson's Layered Looks

In my design posts on this blog, I talk a lot about layered looks and eclectic design (mostly because my favorite designs are layered and eclectic). Sometimes the word “eclectic” gets confused for “eccentric,” and they’re two very different things. When I define a space as eclectic, I’m describing a room that looks collected and varied (think contrasting concepts of old/new, high/low, traditional/modern) yet purposely chosen so that there’s an obvious relationship between the architecture, furnishings, and finishes.

I discovered an excellent example of layered, eclectic design when I stumbled upon this photo the other day:

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This is the apartment of New York-based interior designer Shawn Henderson. Despite being featured on Maine Home + Design’s website, his apartment is located in New York City—tricky, eh? The decor looks perfect for a quaint little cottage tucked away in New England’s northern reaches. The original caption states that Henderson’s goal was to decorate in keeping with the apartment’s early 1900s construction date, and according to this article, I’d say he hit the nail on the head.

While Henderson’s own home incorporates a mix of classic and contemporary styles, his portfolio shows a mostly urban clientele with polished (and perhaps more formal) taste. His projects outside the city appear to incorporate his penchant for blended interiors, though. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from his portfolio.

In this first photo, I adore the simplicity of this space, from the architecture to the kitchen cabinetry. The bones scream “cottage” while the furniture and lighting say “I’ll never move out of the city!” The combination of country and midcentury styles is really fun.

Next up, the addition of shiplap on the wall of this room adds to the country charm, although the view is certainly making its own contribution. The midcentury furniture makes the space look relaxed and comfortable while steering it away from any shade of shabby chic. It is a chic room, but it’s not pretentious or stuffy at all.

The stone fireplace takes center stage in this next room. Notice how clean the architectural lines are—the ceiling openings and cased doorways are very minimal. The texture of the stone provides a lot of warmth and contrast, further supported by the rustic beams visible in the next rooms. The furniture skews modern but not cold, with natural woven seats on cantilevered bases.

Everything about this next design is stunning. I’d love to eat meals in a sun-filled room like this. What I first thought were long benches lining both sides of the table are actually individual sculpted metal chairs. Quite the mix of materials at play here!

This is a different room in the same house as the previous photo. The juxtaposition of various materials continues in this living room.

Last but not least, the next house is in Montana, and again we have a window framing a breath-taking view. There are plenty of rustic elements in this scheme, but in no way does it veer toward campy. The striking statement chandelier along with the metal staircase and black steel-framed window give this country retreat an edgy flair. I really love the stool with the metal base and what appears to be crushed velvet upholstery.

I appreciate the way these interiors embrace multiple styles of decor to achieve an eclectic look that isn’t strictly cottage or farmhouse or mountain lodge. For Shawn Henderson, layering retro with farmhouse or rustic with midcentury brings together contrasting styles that, in these examples, compliment each other nicely and create visually interesting spaces.

Check out more of Shawn’s work here and here.

All images taken from shawnhenderson.com. Click through each photo to visit his website.

Making Waves: Beach House Style

Is beach brain a thing? I think I’m suffering from it, especially with all the hot and humid weather! All I want to do is go to the beach and park myself there with a good book, soak up some sun, and splash around in the ocean every so often. That’s what summer is all about, right? Hot days and warm nights and hopefully a little bit of time cooling off in the water.

Needless to say, envisioning a dreamy beach house is part of the very serious beach brain condition. What I love about beach style is that it can take so many different forms: surf style, shabby chic, cottage, rustic. Whether you choose to keep it casual or dress it up, it’s a look that can be infused with tons of color or mellowed out with pale hues.

I recently found some designs that put a twist on typical beach style—some perhaps intentionally, and others perhaps not! One of them is this entryway by Seldin Design Studios of San Francisco, which also happens to be where this residence is located. San Francisco may not immediately bring the beach to mind, but its water views and access are a big part of the landscape, so it’s not an unlikely influence. This space is vintage beach chic—the wallpapers above and below the chair rail are the perfect balance of casual and formal. The woven details on the mirror and table drawers add extra texture, and the subdued wood tones make me think of driftwood and sand. The vase of wildflowers brings to mind the random flora that sometimes grows along the beach in patches of grass. It’s possible that the beach had nothing to do with inspiring this design, but I could definitely see using this space to inspire a pretty beach house.

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This dining area by Helen Bergin Interiors, based in Marblehead, MA, is full of natural elements and sandy colors that are totally beachy but far from stereotypical. The whimsical fixture over the table is a subtle nod to the home’s seaside location.

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In Manhattan Beach, CA, Waterleaf Interiors used a bright peacock green wallpaper with metallic accents on the inside of this bar cabinet. I love the formality of the elegant barware, traditional kitchen cabinets, and marble countertops combined with the retro, midcentury colors. It’s grown-up but with a touch of surf style.

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This bathroom, also by Waterleaf Interiors, is refreshing in pink and blush hues. I’m not sure I would think to use pink in a beach-inspired bathroom, but it makes so much sense. There are pink sand beaches, after all! The classic subway tile in this shower has a lovely sheen to it that reminds me of mother-of-pearl, and the pattern on the wallpaper echoes the shape of both sea plants and pebbles. Even the knob on the drawer has the texture of an urchin shell.

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I’m always drawn to spaces where a mix of styles are used, so naturally this powder room by Nicola’s Home, a designer based in Yarmouth, Maine, appeals to me. This is such a thoughtful combination of modern and vintage mixed with elegant and casual. And it’s topped off with that fantastic oyster shell mirror, which is just perfect for a home that’s close to the ocean.

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This bedroom by the same designer has a similarly eclectic look. The yellow and citron accents bring a lot of warmth to the space, and the room has a distinct seaside feel to it despite its minimal use of blue. It’s a great example of using texture and pattern to evoke a sense of place.

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Tracery Interiors, a design firm located in the Florida panhandle, also chose citron for this beach-side bedroom. When you stop to consider how sunshine plays a big role in a good beach day, it’s no wonder that shades of yellow can successfully evoke a beach vibe. The decor helps reinforce that idea with the tortoise shell on the wall and items on the sand-colored nightstand. The geometric patterns in this room give it a formal look, but the bright colors and natural linen fabrics on the bed and lamp shade help keep things feeling cozy instead of stuffy.

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All of these interiors are imaginative and distinct. They do, however, share some common elements such as weathered wood, woven baskets, uplifting colors, organic accents, and a mix of punchy and subtle patterns. If you had to choose one of these photos to jumpstart your beach house design (and potentially cure your case of beach brain!), which one would it be?

Color Story: Earthy, Rich, Bold + Textured

I went to Providence the other weekend for the Festival of Historic Houses and toured a handful of incredible homes in the city’s Paterson Park neighborhood. What a treat! It’s a tiny area made up of just a few streets, and it’s bursting with charm and personality. Every house in the neighborhood, whether it was on the tour or not, oozed curb appeal. Colorful front doors, inviting porches, creative gardens—there was something to admire about every single house!

Given my background in residential interior decorating, I was excited to see the inside of the homes on tour, as well. My favorite house was drenched in color and pattern. I could tell that the owner had done her homework. Each room had a color story, and she had installed some fantastic little surprises in the form of patterned draperies in several rooms, an antiqued mirror backsplash in the butler’s pantry, and playful wallpaper in a tucked-away powder room and hall (oh, and on a ceiling, too!). Walking from room to room felt like a treasure hunt because there was so much to discover and admire.

The decor reminded me of projects by some of my favorite designers like Katie Ridder, Bailey McCarthy, Steven Gambrel, John Robshaw, and Seema Krish. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful it was to see someone embrace color instead of painting every room white! Don’t get me wrong—white can be wonderful, and it has its place. But using color (and using it well) requires planning and coordination and commitment—the things that make up a thoughtfully designed space.

I left the tour inspired to find more designers who decorate this way. I had to wade through a lot of white walls and shiplap to find them, but I was successful! I thought I’d share my findings here for those of you who might also be craving rich colors and texture.

First up is Indigo + Ochre, a design company based in Brooklyn. Their tile game is on point. That kitchen backsplash is so vibrant and cheerful. In the powder room photo, notice how much texture is apparent in the floor tiles, the sink and wall surfaces, the hardware, and the mirror frame. Even the hand towel is made of beautiful dyed linen threads.

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Isn’t this sliding door incredible? It’s such a refreshing take on the oh-so-ubiquitous barn door. First of all, it’s blue—YAY for saturated color! Secondly, the lattice screen and carvings give it visual interest beyond the bright color. I would take this door any day over a standard Shaker-style barn slider! It’s a work of art. I also appreciate how it forges a connection between the two rooms in the photo. It really allows the rugs to stand out, whereas they would be lost and look pretty bland if this door was plain white.

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Robin Henry Studio is another designer I discovered in my quest for colorful interiors. Her portfolio reveals a knack for combining eclectic design elements with both bold and subdued colors. The result is rooms that feel timeless yet very much of-the-moment.

The room below features some classic midcentury furniture against the bones of traditional architecture. The pouf and side table are decidedly Moroccan while the lighting spans a variety of styles. The wallpaper, while bright and intensely patterned, nearly reads as a solid when you stop to analyze all of the other elements working together. The design is exciting yet also completely seamless.

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I adore the use of the color in the following spaces. This kitchen is awash in soft green and blue hues with shades of red in the floor and woodwork, which provide a counterpoint for the cool colors.

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Things are amped up quite a bit in this space with a much bolder blue and shimmery gold-green backsplash. This butler’s pantry feels modern, but it’s actually grounded in quite a bit of traditional detail.

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In a totally different room, this leafy green gives the impression of being nestled in the treetops.

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Here, a library is painted a similar punchy green. It’s both vibrant and soothing—enveloping the space in one color creates a cozy atmosphere. Consider how different this room would feel if the green had been used sparingly against a white background. Such contrast would have created a livelier, more charged space. Instead, we have a room that feels very intimate and relaxed.

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At some point, I came across the Instagram account of Reath Design, and before I knew it, I had tumbled down the rabbit hole of scrolling through their entire feed plus the whole website. I mean…wow. WHOA.

These interiors feel so organic to me. I know for many people, “organic” conjures images of white rooms with big windows, light wood tones, and streamlined furniture. For me, it means earthy, grounded, and inspired by nature. There are undertones of William Morris in the wallpaper with hints of Anthropolgie-esque bohemian decor fit for both a laid-back surfer’s beach house or an English gardener with a penchant for Farrow & Ball. In other words—it’s about LAYERS! I am forever in awe of designers who are able to successfully combine two seemingly opposite sensibilities.

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Reath Design’s outdoor spaces are just as special as their interiors. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I want to read each and every one of these short stories.

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All of these designers have woven color into their interiors in fun, surprising, and elegant ways. What do you think—do you have a favorite among these three designers? Have you recently discovered anyone doing amazing things with color, texture, and natural elements?

Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.

The Whole-House Color Palette

Painting is often one of the first tasks people undertake when they move into a new house. It’s an easy way to make the space feel like your own, and for that reason, most people aim to do it fairly quickly. A lot of times, people get hung up on color selections because they’re not sure what to do with all the rooms.

Do a search on Pinterest for whole-house paint color palettes, and you’ll get as many results as there are paint colors that exist in the world. When looking for inspiration, this might seem like a convenient shortcut for choosing colors—someone else has already done all the work and coordinated a dozen colors that work well together! Don’t be fooled. Choosing the right paint colors depends on a ton of factors that are unique to your space—the lighting, the decor, the function of each room. What looks beautiful in one person’s home may end up looking like a total disaster in another’s.

Picking paint colors is a time-consuming task, and there’s so much more to it than looking for inspiration online. Buying and testing samples takes a lot of effort, and for many people, the thought of going through this process for every room in their house is overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure to get the colors right, especially when you plan to hire someone to do the job. The last thing you want to do is feel as though you’ve made a mistake and wind up paying your painters twice because you’re unhappy with your initial selections. Add to this the desire to paint as soon as possible, and it’s hard to strike a balance.

Create a Color Strategy

So what’s the best thing to do when you’ve just moved and want to freshen things up with a new paint job? Consider one of these approaches to help simplify the color selection process:

Paint all the rooms in the house a single neutral color

Why people do it: This is an easy way to eliminate the stress of choosing multiple colors when you intend to paint every room at the same time. It’s also an economical approach to hiring painters. Rather than painting your first floor now and your second floor later with the intention of picking unique colors for the second floor, choosing one color and painting everything in one big job instead of two smaller jobs will cost less in the long run.

When it’s the right choice: When you’re hiring painters for a big job and want to get it done quickly and economically. When you need an efficient way to freshen up a house and create a blank canvas. When you want to take your time choosing paint colors but can’t live with the previous owner’s paint job.

Things to consider: The results can end up feeling bland. If you plan to change the paint colors in certain rooms eventually, you’ll end up paying twice to paint the same rooms a second time.

Repeat two or three neutral colors throughout the house

Why people do it: To achieve some variation in color but stay neutral in their selections. This is a good idea if you plan to add color to your rooms with your furniture, rugs, pillows, and accessories.

When it’s the right choice: When a single neutral color would be too plain but many different colors would feel chaotic. When you switch up your accessories often to update a room’s color scheme and want a background color that will go with anything.

Things to consider: Choose warm neutrals (beiges) or cool neutrals (grays), but don’t mix.

Paint every room in the house a different color

Why people do it: This approach to painting is perfect for design-savvy individuals who want a custom look and aren’t afraid to commit to color. The goal is to create a highly personalized aesthetic, and coordinating paint colors with each room’s specific decor achieves exactly that.

When it’s the right choice: When you want each room of your house to have a unique look. It’s most successful when you’re comfortable coordinating colors from room to room. Working with color tends to be trickier than working with neutrals, so it helps if you’re game for repainting in case you’re not satisfied with the end result.

Things to consider: This look can be bold or calm depending on how many colors you use. If you span the entire rainbow, your house will have a lively look. If you choose to stay within one or two color families, your house will have a calmer energy.

Decide where to use colors vs. neutrals

Once you decide how you’ll use color, the next step is deciding where you’ll use color. It’s helpful to map out a plan room by room and create a whole-house overview.

divvy up your rooms into Zones

Think of the rooms in your house as belonging to different zones—public, private, transitional, and central. How do you want to treat each zone? Will your public spaces be colorful or quiet? Do you want your transitional spaces to fade into the background or ooze personality? Is there a central room in your house that connects to all the other rooms and needs to coordinate with several colors?

I prefer using color in my main living areas (public zones)—family rooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and playrooms—because that’s where I spend most of my time and am fully able to appreciate a fantastic wall color. I also like using unexpected colors in stand-alone rooms such as powder rooms and bathrooms that aren’t directly connected to any bedrooms.

Transitional spaces such as hallways, mudrooms, and laundry rooms are great places to use neutrals because they typically connect to more than one living area and they aren’t spaces where you spend long periods of time hanging out. There are exceptions, however—the more separated and closed off a mudroom or laundry room is, the better the opportunity to use a bold color or playful wallpaper.

For private spaces such as bedrooms and en suite bathrooms, I prefer to use a soft, warm color in one space and go neutral in the other. And for home offices, studies, and dens, I recommend rich neutrals (think chocolate brown) or colors that facilitate creativity or concentration, depending on the type of work the space is used for.

Kitchens are sort of a different animal, and they can go either way. They tend to be central gathering spaces (central zones), and with open-concept floor plans surging in popularity, a lot of homes have kitchens that are integral to the dining and living spaces. Kitchens can be customized in ways that go far beyond the paint color—the real players determining the personality are the cabinets, countertops, backsplash, and lighting. In some cases, a custom range hood or upscale appliances make a big impact on the aesthetic. A neutral color in the kitchen allows the primary design elements to stand out, but on the flip side, color can be used to accentuate interesting architecture.

Set a rhythm with color

When a house has good flow, it generally means there’s consistency from room to room. With paint, it also means that the colors relate to one another in a way that makes sense. Alternating between light and dark colors and using harmonious color schemes is the key to creating a whole-house color palette that feels cohesive.

If you’re working with a palette of beiges, grays, or a single color, aim to use a variety of shades within your chosen hue. Consider interspersing whites or off-whites in the transitional spaces to break things up. The idea is to avoid creating clusters of all dark rooms or all light rooms.

If you’re using a multicolored palette, consider what type of color scheme you want to use (for example, complimentary, which is blue/orange, red/green, yellow/purple, or analogous, which is a combination of three colors next to each other on the color wheel), and consider which paint colors will be visible from each room. Many paint companies market color collections grouped by certain time periods, architectural styles, color stories, and moods. You don’t have to choose colors from only one collection, but it helps to be aware that choosing a classic historical color for one room and a retro midcentury color or a pale pastel for the next will make your house feel disjointed and choppy.

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Selecting and testing your colors really is the fun part of this process because it’s the point where you can begin to see the possibility of transformation throughout your house. As you sift through bits of wisdom everyone you’ve ever known has given you (including tips from Martha Stewart that you found online and the random memory of the color your best friend’s neighbor used in her living room), keep these points in mind to stave off a breakdown over color confusion.

Use inspiration photos as a guide

Blogs, books, and magazines are great places to go for inspiration, and you might get lucky and find some great colors with their help. It’s pretty unusual to find a color online and have it look exactly the same in your house as it does in the photo, though. That doesn’t mean these sources aren’t useful guides; it just means that more often than not, your inspirational photos will serve as starting points for exploring color instead of being the final word in your selections.

As for using a color that you saw in your friends house, remember that context is everything. It might end up working beautifully in your home, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. Lighting plays a huge role in how paint colors end up looking, and you can’t expect to recreate identical lighting conditions.

Know When to Fold

Forcing yourself to like a color or trying to force a color to work isn’t worth the effort. It’s tempting to go outside your comfort zone and try unusual colors in an effort to make your house look different from everyone else’s, but unless those colors are ones you naturally gravitate to, you probably won’t end up loving them. Take cues from the colors in your wardrobe as well as home accessories such as rugs and blankets. The colors that show up most often are the ones you should consider for your walls. Artwork, mirrors, pillows, picture frames, and even pieces of furniture can do the work of bringing a funky, edgy, or eclectic vibe to your house.

Choosing paint colors (even just one!) can seem like a tall order, but it is manageable. When your goal is to get it done quickly, a little bit of planning will make the process easier. Happy painting!