Long-time readers of Lauren Liess’s popular blog, Pure Style Home, have followed the home decor adventures of the interior designer, her husband and their growing brood through two extensive home renovations. Lucky for us, she’s put everything she’s learned along the way into her first book, Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating. The title is a play on her unique style of fusing her two loves, interior design and the great outdoors.
A practical guide for any aspiring home decorator, Leiss’s book is chock full of gorgeous photos from her own home and her clients’, handy checklists and useful information for every room in the home. Not only does she talk through the fundamentals of design, but she also addresses the more intangibles of designing a space, such as discovering your own aesthetic and creating a mood.
We happen think her family friendly approach to home design and distinctive style of incorporating earthy neutrals and natural elements into every space is right in step with our own Ballard style. So we contacted Lauren Leiss to talk to her about her new book. Read the entire interview below.
Ballard Designs: Give us the scoop on your new home! We can’t believe you bought a new house and left the “dream home”referenced in your book.
Lauren Liess: I probably seem like a person who likes to move, but I actually don’t! We moved because of a school situation. The new house is actually completely different from the old house — it’s a Cape Cod, so it has more traditional bones. The first thing I did was take down a lot of the existing woodwork, and right now I’m working on simplifying it and making it more clean and more primitive, if that makes sense. I want to bring it back to how an old, old original Cape Cod would have been versus a Cape Cod Revival, which had a little more fluff and trim and curves. I’m straightening it out a bit and giving it a more modern feeling.
BD: Will the outcome be very different from your last home or are you driven by the same inspiration?
It’s a similar concept in a very different house. My aesthetic is still what it was, so I just have to apply it a little bit differently, because the style of the house is different. But my goals are similar: I still want to bring the outside in, lighten it up, make it feel fresh and airy and relaxed and natural. We’re adding windows and doors where there weren’t any and working on getting the backyard where we want it to be, since our views are focused there.
BD: One thing that struck us was what a diverse range of styles there is in your book. Readers of your blog are very familiar with how you’ve decorated your last two homes, but there are examples in the book of clients’ homes that look vastly different. How do you decorate for clients with tastes different from your own?
LL: I ask them a ton of questions. I want to help them figure out and verbalize what their aesthetic is and their style is and then we pare it down and create a marriage of the two. I think it’s really fun. I love getting to do so many different styles and living vicariously through them. I would never want to live in some of the houses, because they’re so not me, but they fit my clients so perfectly. I love making them feel like they have something tailored to them and not like I’m just doing Lauren Liess’s style in every single house. I get to help them figure out their style.
BD: Some of the most “a-ha!” moments in your book are when you’re simplifying design decisions, such as classifying a home’s architecture as curvy or straight, thinking in terms of shiny or matte finishes or determining the pace of a room by the number of patterns versus solids or varying heights of furniture. You have this really practical approach that’s useful — and it makes the process feel so do-able.
LL: These are thoughts that I have, almost on a subconscious level, as I’m making design decisions. But what was fun for me was writing the book and verbalizing what it is I do. Because I don’t actually sit there and say, “What’s the pace?” and count up the patterns and solids, but I do recognize that a room is a slower feeling room or a faster paced room. The book was great in that it forced me to break everything down. I was writing it as if a new employee was going to come on with my firm and it’s a brain dump of all of the information that I would want them to know and why we do what we do and how we come to the conclusions we come to.
BD: You really encourage making decorating choices — whether it’s a finish, paint color or piece of furniture — based on what speaks to you rather than following trends. Why is that and what are the best strategies for avoiding trends that come and go?
In this day and age of blogs and social media, decorating trends are passing through so much more quickly than they once did. We’re getting inundated with images and we’re getting tired of things more quickly and looking for things that are new. I think that is so exhausting and time consuming to try and keep up with — and there’s no way that we can. So I just always want to stress to people to pick things you really, truly love, and then who cares if it goes out of style? Of course, making timeless decisions is important, too. If you really assess something and look at the details, you’ll end up with something more timeless. Take a builder brass doorknob, for example. You’re feeling it and it’s got that sort of tinny quality and it doesn’t feel good in your hand. I think very few people would actually say, “This is what I love, this is my favorite.” Because it’s not really good design. So when people put enough time into choosing something they love, it usually is more special and then they’re happy with it over a longer period of time.
BD: In your book, you outline your design process. You do a lot of work up front with the floor plan and to-do lists, so by the time you go shopping you’re looking for very specific pieces of furniture and rarely stray from your list, even if you do see something different you really like. Why does that work and do you recommend that for anyone who’s shopping for their home?
LL: I am a huge to-do list person. Clearly, I like to write things down! So that is what works best for me. We’ll put a general plan together and do a floor plan and if something really special comes along that shakes things up, I’m good with that, but it’s important for me to pop it into the plan immediately to see what that’s changed, so the new things I’m buying can now work in. I do think there’s room for things you see and have an emotional connection to that may not have been originally in your plan, but, in general, I think doing all of that homework of front makes the decision making process go a whole lot easier and more smoothly.
BD: What are the best ways to ensure you’re not overstyling or over editing a room? In other words, how do you know when you’re done decorating?
LL: When I first started out decorating, I never really felt done because I was always picking things here and there and always tweaking. But once I started creating a plan and vision and being able to see the room in my mind’s eye before it was finished, there’s a really clear stopping point, because I know I’ve finished when I’ve enacted my plan. I can say, “It’s done.” Of course you can always have fun with the seasons and freshen up pillows and switch out artwork, but when you get it right and follow through with your plan, it feels really good to be done. Before we moved, the past year or two in our old house felt so relaxing. I could sit in the room and it felt amazing. Nothing needed to be done to it. When you feel that feeling, you’re done.
BD: One of your best pieces of advice, and an overarching message in the book, is to decorate slowly and to collect things with meaning over time. In your own home, do you leave blank spaces — on the wall, on a console or in a furniture arrangement — until you find the right something?
LL: I do, yes, I just leave it and let it happen. I like my house to feel good all along in the process, so I will do a lot of rearranging and work with what I have to make it look its best. I may think, “There’s no way that couch is going in the basement when we’re done, but it works for now.”
BD: You talk about creating juxtaposition in a room for added interest, which is something we talk a lot about on the blog. For example, adding a leopard print stool in a very neutral, staid interior. What are some great ways to achieve that twist?
LL: There are so many. I would say a lot of it is finding what you love — a real statement piece — and pairing it with something almost its opposite. You may think, “this isn’t really me,” but when you put the two pieces together it sort of sings and actually makes you notice that piece you love even more, because it’s next to its opposite, if that makes sense.
BD: You recently posted on your blog that you painted the floors in your new home white. That’s a huge decorating risk, which is something you talk about in the book. What advice can you give to your readers about having the confidence to take risks in decorating?
LL: I’m never as happy with a room as I am when I was little bit nervous about doing something. With great risk, comes great reward. There were some rooms where I didn’t worry at all about the outcome, and they’re nice. But there have been rooms where I was afraid to actually do what I was planning on doing and in the end I think, “That’s the best part of the room. It made it.” So you want to have a little bit of fear, but not so much it makes you sick, but a little bit of fear can make you excited. Walk the line a little.
BD: It’s so exciting for us when we find out that interior designers we admire love Ballard too. Do you have any favorite Ballard products?
I do! I’ve used the Parsons Chair covered in Suzanne Kasler’s linen. It’s a great basic piece that I really love. Off the top of my head, I also love the Durham Tables.
BD: What’s next for your business, family, and blog?
LL: Right now we’re doing the book tour, but I’ve also got some new patterns for my textile collection coming out. The hardest part of that is getting it photographed and on the website, so that’s my next goal. And for my family, I’m looking forward to getting the house settled and enjoying being there.
Thanks for talking with us, Lauren!
Come to Lauren’s book signing at one of our stores: