Lauren Liess on interior design and her business | Home Front

Jan 16, 2014

Decorator and textile designer Lauren Liess writes the popular design and lifestyle blog, Pure Style Home. Lauren'€™s work has been featured in many print and online media, including Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Country Home, Luxe Interiors + Design, Living Magazine, Victoria Magazine, Home and Design Magazine, and more. She lives with her husband David (who is also her business partner) and their three young boys in Oakton, Va. Lauren and David recently opened Lauren Liess & Co., a design studio and shop in Great Falls.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Today, designer Lauren Liess joins us to talk about decorating, design and opening your own design store/studio. Lauren, who has a popular blog called Pure Style Home,  is the talent behind one of three new design shops we profiled today in the Washington Post. Here is the article. Lauren's new shop is in Great Falls. She has lots of great ideas for you so get those questions coming.

Hi Lauren- I have been following your blog and career for quite sometime. I noticed that you had a similar decorating situation in your new home. I live in a late 50's- early 60's 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 as well as electrical . I had several painters look at the ceilings initially 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. Thank you Lauren- Angela D.

Hi Angela!  Thanks so much for writing.  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 & 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 down.  It took them 3-4 days to do the sanding alone in our house.

I think you are very talented and love when you discuss decorating, your accomplishments and your fabrics, but I am confused as to why so many talented decorators talk so much about their personal lives, children, husband, snack foods, etc.... it seems these two things should be separate and they can be a diversion from your purpose. At times I wished you had 2 blogs, one personal and one professional. These are two distinctive sides of your life and while they are both valuable, I believe they should be for two separate audiences.

I completely understand what you're mentioning! :)  For me, as public of a platform as a blog may be, my blog is a personal outlet first and foremost.  That's its main purpose.  I do not take advertisers or receive any money for writing it;  I write my blog the way many people write a journal.  I share thethings that I'm thinking abnout or excited about, be it personal or work-related.  There are lots of websites & blogs out there that have strictly design focuses but mine isn't one of those.  It's more just my place to muse that some people enjoy visiting.  I realize that that dichotomy isn't for every reader though.  Thanks so much!  

Hi Jura, Do you have any insider scoop on this weekend's show? Specifically, do you know if Alison Victoria will be at any of the local big box stores to 'crash' shoppers' kitchens? Because mine NEEDS crashing! Late 1960's kitchen - falling apart (some cabinets missing kickplates and interior base), repainted multiple times ... with uneven spanish tile flooring to boot! If you know but she doesn't want it publicized, I'll email you separately with supporting pics. I AM DESPERATE! Signed, please crash me!! :-)

That would be fun wouldn't it? I just checked with someone at the Home + Remodeling Show which is Friday through Sunday at the Dulles Expo Center. They say there are no plans for Alison Victoria (whose show Kitchen Crashers is on the DIY network)  to tour any big box stores - but then you never know if she might make a random drive by.  If you go to the show, you can talk with personally to Alison on Saturday or Sunday - bring your plans and you can ask her questions. Here's the link to the show with the hours and the personal appearance schedules.

Hi Lauren, I've always admired how your business runs and how young you are. I'm a designer and I work for a company but my ultimate goal is to start out on my own (soon!). How did you know when it was time to go out on your own, how did you do it, and obtain so many clients? Thanks so much!

Thanks so much!  I always knew that I wanted to work on my own too 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'llprobably 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 website 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 (it's usually 1-2 years behind due to trying to get things published) and I send certain projects into publications in hopes that they will like them and publish them.  

I also started my blog which has really helped in attracting the right clients.

Good luck!!! :)

I've followed your blog for years. Your business and work has come so far. What do you think has made you grow and improve as a designer?

Thank you!  I'd probably say getting older and getting to know my personal aesthetic more, continued exposure to others' great work over the years and studying photos of great houses for hours on end...

And- this is  probably not the best-sounding answer but it's extremely true-     larger budgets to work with.  With larger budgets things like architecture, flooring,  mouldings and other architectural details can be manipulated and changed to affect the overal design.  When budgets are smaller, more focus needs to be on the furnishings and "decorating."   

I believe great results can be attained on budgets large or small so I'm not saying money is everything, but there were many things I wanted to do when I first started out (thinking of my own home) and couldn't because of my budget.  When architecture is beautiful- which can be an expensive undertaking-  the overall finished feel of a space is at a higher level.

Lauren, Why the sleepy town of Great Falls to open your design studio?

Great question! We looked all over Northern Virginia for a place for our new design studio and I wanted something charming and architecturally interesting.  When I was just about to give up looking and keep the studio in-house longer, a client mentioned that I should check out the Great Falls Village.  

When I saw it, I was in love!! I called the number on a "For Lease" sign in the window of my favorite building and you know the rest ;)

How did you choose the vendors you use?

We usually go to the Market at High Point so we can manufacturer's work in person.  We talk to the people in the showroom to get a feel for the companies, and from there, I simply go with my gut and open accounts with the companies whose things I love.  We only continue to work with vendors we trust and who provide consistent, quality workmanship.

Just a random "Thank You!" to the Washington Post email and tech team for sending me my Washington Post at Home email BEFORE the chat this week! It's so easy to click the link and get to this chat instead of navigating the web myself.

Thanks. Will pass this along to the digital team.

Long time reader and admirer here. I love every one of your client reveals! 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?

Thank you!  I would say that 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 picking a piece or two for some great pattern.  I hang curtains at the ceiling and love using natural woven roman shades just under them at the ceiling. (Home Depot and Lowes sell nice noncustom matchstick roman shades that can work... best kept stationary or low-use though as over time they can wear out.)  

I love 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 casegoods.  Lighting can be fairly basic but maybe find one really special piece or a great pair of lamps your client loves.  

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!

Good luck & thanks!!

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 like exposed beams, wood windows that can be painted black etc. 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?

You can make a white space feel cozy by adding in layers and lots of textures.  Natural elements, especially, instantly warm up a space.  Think baskets, warm wood finishes, natural woven rugs, bamboo & matchstick shades.  Also, art work 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.

We are painting the rooms in our house - going with a neutral palette. Just painted family room BM White Dove (one wall has all windows) so it's very light and bright. Love it. Entry way is small and dark, but I want a white-ish backdrop. Afraid to paint BM White Dove b/c not enough natural light?? Do you have another paint suggestion?

You might try the old stand by Benjamin Moore's Linen White, which is a warmer white that might do well in a dark hallway.

Hi Lauren! Just looked at your blog, what a great resource it is, I look forward to finding out more about what you do. Anyway, my question is about fabrics. In a few months I'm going to be moving and have the chance to purchase new upholstered furniture. I also have pets. I really want a velvet sofa, custom made, but am worried that it would be destroyed by my pets. Do you have a suggestion for "luxurious" looking fabric that can stand up to cat claws and dog paws?

There is a great-looking velvet out there that is actually a microfiber!!  I don't know the name but many manufacturers carry it. I hope this helps!

First, I love that you combine your personal self with your business self. It's very hard to separate the two, especial in such a personal business as interior design. And it's one of the reasons that I and so many of your followers love you. You make it real. Second, what are your favorite local spots for finding vintage treasures? I am in Fairfax. I miss Upscale Resale but haven't found a replacement. I've also been looking on ebay for vintage oil paintings... purchased one that I love but with others I'm hesitant because I'm not sure of the undertones in the paintings. Thoughts?

I absolutely LOVE the Lucketts Store in Lucketts, VA for amazingly priced vintage treasures.  I've had both good and bad luck with Ebay paintings (some have arrived and aren't actually originals which is disappointing :/ ) but I still find great art there.  

Hi Lauren! First of all, congrats on your AMAZING success with publications, your store, I could go on and on. I have been following you and your work for a long time now and you have been a great encouragement for me to live my dream (we are the same age so your success has really boosted confidence that I can do it too). I have recently started my own firm (in the DC area) after working for great designers for the past several years. It took a leap of faith but was worth it. I have found that one of the hardest things as a young company is getting your name out there and making yourself known. Do you remember going through that when you first started your company? What was it like for you and do you have any words of wisdom? I hope to pop by the shop next week - looking forward to seeing it! Thanks.

Thank you and congratulations!  Getting your name out there is a challenge (I still feel it! ;) and I think my blog really helped in that area.  I started it on a whim as a personal outlet , not realizing how helpful it would be to my business.  If  you enjoy writing, I'd suggest starting one, sharing bits of your work that might attract future clients. I've made so many great friends through blogging and there's a very real community there.  

Also, always try to get your work published.  Magazines and newspapers are a part of our livelihood.  

Good luck and hope to meet soon!

Hi Lauren, I am a 30-something year old designer and I struggle with whether my family and I should get more space in the country (to work/play around with) or stay in the city, where I'm continually surrounded by inspiration and people. Which do you prefer and why? Thanks!!!

I really love living "out."  We have land and I spend a lot of time in our garden and outside with my family.  We cook, eat, read.. do everything we can outside in our yard.  I enjoy being in a city for a bit, but love coming home to trees and space privacy.  I'm a bare feet type of person and it suits me.  It's not for everyone though!! :)

We're going for a somewhat modern rendition of farm-house style in our kitchen. White cabinets with a simplified bead-board look, white farm-house apron sink, butcher-block counter on the island. With the vertical lines of the cabinets and vertical lines of the post that brings electric to the island, can we still use pendant lights at the breakfast bar, or is that too many vertical lines?

Go for the pendants!  It won't be too much!  (And your kitchen sounds amazing btw)

Lauren, I think you are a real talent and will go far in the world of design. Unlike the previous comment, I love seeing blog posts on your family and personal home- I think it gives you a very accessible feel and makes you seem very real and approachable. My questions is could you give an approximate/average price on how much it costs to hire a professional photographer to photo your jobs- say a whole house?

Thank you so much!  I'm not completely up on pricing but I would say somewhere between $700- $4500 per day of shooting depending upon the photographer's experience/ qualifications etc.  It can take anywhere from 1-3 days to shoot a house well.  (I've seen photographers shoot a house in a couple of hours but couldn't say I loved the results.)  12 photos/ day seems about average but you can definitely shoot more or less depending upon sunlight, etc.  

This is not really a question, but enjoy your blog. I went back to work when married woman with children didn't work. In fact, was the only working mother on my street. From 8 to 5 my job was my life, but after that my family came first. I now have great grandchildren and my children tell me they never felt neglected and knew in my heart they came first. Keep it up. GrGr Aunt Donna

Thank you Great Aunt Donna!!  Love you.

I read your blog daily and I LOVE your style, so this opportunity is so exciting!! My husband and I, along with our three small children, just moved into a colonial home from the 1960's. My husband has grown attached to the original stone fireplace which spans the entire width of our family room, so its staying for the foreseeable future. I suppose its only fair since I won the "wooden paneling battle" :) The room is, otherwise, 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 (seating, rugs, curtains) that could compliment the fireplace? Thanks so much!!

Thank you!  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 and 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.  Hope this helps!!


We apreciate your being on the chat. Next week's guest is Michael Roberson, a designer from Arlington. Bye everyone.

Hi Lauren, I enjoy reading your blog. Can you offer some suggestions on making my living room feel not so dark? All the furniture in the living are dark to medium wood (coffee table, server chest, end tables, etc) and there's a large leather sofa (brown color) against the wall and two slipper chairs (natural color) across. The rug is cream and blue color. The wall paint color is grey/blue. What should I start first? Thank you.

Thanks! I'm not sure if this is a possibility but switching your brown sofa for a lighter one would instantly lighten up the space.    If it's not an option, consider painting some of the wood in lighter colors like ivory or taupe.  I think the sofa would be the biggest game changer though.

Also go with white or ivory unlined curtains hung from the ceiling.  Mix in large white accessories throughout the space like trays, vases, etc. I hope this was helpful!

What mistakes can new decorators/business owners avoid?

Always make expectations crystal clear and keep communication with clients open.  Let clients know in the beginning that there will be issues along the way (damaged or backordered items to name a few) but that you'll be with them to handle it for them and help them through it.

This is a question for Lauren. Assuming you blog at home, how do you not drive your significant other crazy? I've been trying to write at home, but since I could easily be mistaken for slacking off rather than dedicatedly working (looking at a laptop looks the same no matter what you're doing), it's hard for my partner to respect my need to work. How do you get your work done without getting dragged down in the minutia of kids' needs and idle interruptions?

Wow this is a tough one.  (I'm pretty sure I HAVE driven my hubby crazy!! ;) ;)   

I only blog when my kids have another form of childcare or are alseep.  We have a nanny and I start blogging when she gets to our house at 7 AM or I wait until I get to work.  I'm not able to work or write when I'm watching them because there's just too much going on & they want 100% of my attention.

When I was first starting out- and we only had one child- I blogged at night after we put him to sleep.  It was hard for my husband, for sure, but when we started seeing the positive effects it had on the business, he began to see the value & merit in it.  Now he's the first one to say to me, "You need to go blog!"  ;) ;)

As a big fan of the blog and a fortunate past client, I'm wondering if the idea of publishing a book with your fantastic projects could happen. I know how much I enjoy the inspirational pictures in magazines and in books of favorite designers, and so I know that a Lauren Liess book would great to add to my collection. Ever consider that? Lisa T.

Aw, thank you so much Lisa!  

Something is in the works so will keep you posted ;) ;)

Are there particular rooms where you take more design risks than others? When do you choose more quiet, basic design elements?

I always start with a "desired mood" when designing any space so I let that determine how far we'll go in taking risks.  In many cases though, clients are more open to risks in the living room.  I can say that every time a client takes what we all consider a risk at the time ends up typically being one of  his or her absolute favorite elements.  Bold moves spark interest and conversation and excitement.    

I typically choose quieter design elements in rooms where people want to simply relax, sleep, veg...  In my home, it's my bedroom where I have very little color.

For those who dream of taking the leap into starting a decorating business or shop, what financial considerations should one make? How do you start to-the-trade accounts?

I would say that you need to have enough money saved up (or another source of income like a spouse, second job etc) so that you can be prepared to take in nothing in the beginning.  For me, I was just breaking even for a while.  It took me over a year - and a good accountant who told me I wasn't charging enough!- to turn a profit.

Dated eighties sheet vinyl floor 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! -Loretta

Hi Loretta!  Wall-to-wall seagras 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.


I see so many pretty shelter blogs. I keep track of them on BlogLovin (I love that site!). However, since every blog post seems to have at least a few really well-taken photographs, I started to wonder, are there any successful bloggers who are not also good photographers? It seems like bloggers nowadays have to be good photographers in addition to being good writers. Is this always true?

I think good bloggers become good photographers.  I was TERRIBLE when I started!! :)   

Check out this post here for some of my tips for taking better interiors photos and to see some of my WORST photography ;)

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Lauren Liess
Decorator and textile designer Lauren Liess writes the popular design and lifestyle blog, Pure Style Home. Lauren's work has been featured in many print and online media, including Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Country Home, Luxe Interiors + Design, Living Magazine, Victoria Magazine, Home and Design Magazine, and more. She lives with her husband David (who is also her business partner) and their three young boys in Oakton, Va. Lauren and David recently opened Lauren Liess & Co., a design studio and shop in Great Falls.
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