Lauren Liess on how to bring nature into every aspect of your home | Home Front

Lauren Liess
Oct 08, 2015

Decorator and textile designer Lauren Liess writes the popular design and lifestyle blog, Pure Style Home. She embraces imperfection and the general mayhem of life with a laid-back approach to design and living. Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Country Home, Luxe Interiors + Design, Housebeautiful.com, and Apartment Therapy.

She lives with her husband and business partner David and their three young boys and new daughter. Lauren and David opened Lauren Liess & Co., a design studio and shop in Great Falls, Va.

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.

It's great to have Northern Virginia decorator Lauren Liess with us today. Lauren is well known for her blog Pure Style Home and her love of bringing the great outdoors into her work. Her new book Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating (Abrams; $35) has just launched. Lauren is sharing all her tips for designing spaces that are serene and unique and full of wonderful naturally inspired objects such as botanical prints, fabrics with woodland themes and found objects. She's got four kids and has more energy than anyone I know. She even designs textiles. The prize today will be a copy of her book - you can win it by posting how you have incorporated nature into your home. We will pick a winner and post it at the end of the chat. The winner should email me their mailing address at konciusj@washpost.com. So let's get chatting. 

Any suggestions for local thrift and vintage shops?

Sure!  

Unique Thrift is massive & has great sales.

Treasure Trove was the place that got me thinking about decorating as a career option.

The Treasure Shop

Finders Keepers

And I love all of the local Goodwills & Salvantion Army Stores.

 

I follow you on Instagram and noticed your new home style is a big contrast from home you just sold being modern to very traditional cape cod.What factors influence your decision in a home purchase outside of budget and location?

Our new house is SUCH a departure from our old house, which was contemporary.  Budget & location were obviously MAJOR factors but so was finding a property that I felt could have character with good architectural bones.  In the beginning, I was only interested in more modern homes, but reality set in and I opened myself up to anything that I thought could be special when we finish with it.  

Code today is HF1960

My house is tiny! What are you best suggestions for decorating a small space without cluttering it up!

In smaller spaces, I like to use larger pieces, less pattern, and  items that can serve multiple functions- such as storage and a seat etc.  Pattern creates energy and "busyness" so use it only in small doses.  Less furniture, but larger furniture is also helpful.  Nothing makes a room feel tinier than a bunch of small furniture, because when you're actually sitting in the space you even feel physically confined.  A sofa with a good amount of lounging space makes people feel like they can really spread out, taking away that tight, "small" feeling that small rooms can have.      

By letting the crickets, spiders, silverfish, etc. nest in my basement, of course! Also, by having two young sons who can't help but hide natural things anywhere they can.

Ha! This is wonderful.

My favorite way to get a flavor of nature indoors is simply opening up the windows to get fresh air and the sounds and smells of the outdoors all throughout my apartment :)

Well, we all do what we can!

Lauren, I seem to be split in to to people when it comes to decorating, and more specifically, picking fabric for my sofa's and chairs.. I use to love the neutral tones and mono-color scheme's. Now, i want color and pattern, but I know that takes skill to pull off, do you have any points about that you could send my way? Melissa Lee Lamy, NM

Sure!  Be sure to vary up the scale & size of patterns so they don't compete with one another.  A large, small & medium pattern will all play nicely together, but multiple large patterns or multiple small ones will fight.  (You CAN always use multiple of the same size patterns but just be aware that it's a really specific look and you'll be making a sort of Boho-like statement... which can be gorgeous!! But it's not most people's thing.)

What are your favorite design Magazines?

I love: Domino, Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living, Southern Living, Venda, Luxe, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest & House Beautiful... okay, did I just about name them all?!! Sorry!!  I really love to read them all though because they have such unique perspectives.  I also work with clients who have a variety of styles & budgets so I like seeing so much variety...  I think it helps with my projects.

I like to display the treasures my kids find on their wanderings. I have a low terrarium for larger rocks and moss, and a printers box on the wall for smaller items. Thanks for your continual inspiration!

Great ideas. I love the thought of displaying things kids find.

Lauren, I can't wait to see what you're doing with the new house--I know it will be stunning--but please tell me you're keeping an eye on the castle house so you can offer your services if someone buys it and wants to renovate rather than tear down. I cannot imagine the things you could do to that place!

OH. MY. GOSH.  I'm STILL in love with that place!!  I really wish it had been feasible for us.  I am keeping my eye on it (it was recently reduced by $200K!) but I have very little hope that someone will fix it.  Tearing it down would be much less expensive and unless the price drops considerably, I think most people considering it would want to tear it down.  It's truly an incredible piece of property and the family who designed has some serious talent & vision.  You never know though!! 

I put a tiny bud vase in each bathroom/powder room. I try to always have something green and fresh in it, even if it is just a tiny evergreen branch or arch of solomon's seal. It seems like there is always something available outside, no matter the season or weather.

Lovely ideas.

My husband and I LOVE the beach. I use shells, beach glass, beach wood, sand dollars, etc we find on beach walks into our decor. I would love to use my collections in a new way. Any suggestions for more unique ways (especially for holidays) to display other than just placing into glass vessels? Thanks!

I use old printers trays for "nature boxes" to house our finds (check one of ours out here

Shell/ coral wreaths are so pretty for around the holidays

For a simple table setting- A beautiful shell placed on top a folded napkin on the plate with a name or a note inside to the guest could be special

I also love bits of nature affixed directly to a wall.  It's surprising and can be stunning. (Check out how I used bark on the walls here)  A collection of large shells in a cool design on the wall could be gorgeous.  (As long as you wouldn't mind sanding off the glue if you ever changed it! ;)

 

On December first, I start a continuous rotation of paperwhite narcissus bulbs next to the kitchen sink, five at a time. All winter long I have something green and fast-growing to think about. The blooms last a week or more, and have a wonderful, spicy aroma. The blooms are wonderful, but watching the green stems shoot up every day gives me hope that spring will come.

Paperwhites are indeed one of the joys of winter.

I like using found objects that are seasonal - acorns for fall, pinecones for winter... My favorite thing to use this fall has been pumpkins that my friend grew in her backyard - who knew they were so easy to grow at home?!

Wow. Impressed at homegrown pumpkins on display.

To bring the outdoors in, I like to create simple centerpieces that reflect the season. Right now it would be small branches with clinging red, gold, and yellow leaves, and small pumpkins and gourds. For the holiday I cut armsful of greens from the trees and shrubs outside, stems of rosemary and sage, and pinecones from the ground. Spring is forsythia vines (force the bloom), and summer, well, anything beautiful and colorful from the yard, including herbs.

Very nice.

My favorite place on earth is the beach (any beach and any season - they are always magical and interesting.) Since I don't live close to the ocean, I incorporate my treasures into different rooms in my home. My favorite is sea glass which I use to fill tall glass vases with some random collections and others sorted by color. I even have some in my office. This along with sea shells, starfish and driftwood make me happy and calm when my eyes run across them both at home and at work. Thanks for the chats which I always enjoy!

Love being able to remember those warm summer days at the beach.

I know there have been a lot of questions about the use of white paint. You might want to check out my article on the 2016 Benjamin Moore Color of the Year - Simply White.

Is it a challenge working with your husband? List 3 challenges, and 3 positives????

Wow, good question.  To answer it honestly, I'd say I truly love working with my husband.  

The three challenges are:

1. We have to make a conscious effort to turn work off sometimes.  Both of us know how busy things are at work and so there is absolutely no annoyance or frustration when the other one has to work during off-hours because we totally get it, but as a result, we probably work more than we might (and it probably cuts into quality time more than it would) if we worked separately and had to nag one another to stop working.

2. I'm not sure this is a challenge but from the very beginning we had very different roles to take on at work.  There's really not much overlap, but if there were (like if he was making design suggestions-eeek!) we would definitely annoy each other & it would NOT be good.  We're both very in-charge type of people so we've separated our responsibilities.  I trust that he's taking care of his end of things and he trusts I've got my end covered.  

3.  Remembering to slow down is a huge challenge.  This is probably similar to #1, but we are both going-going-going all of the time and it can be hard to stop, take a breath, and slow down because we are both SO involved with the same job.  

 

3 Positives:

1.  We share everything together- all of the ups and all of the downs and no words are needed to explain what's going on.  I don't have to explain how exciting something is or explain who someone is before relaying a story.  We're already there.  I feel like we really understand each other because we understand each other's jobs so well.

2. While most of our activities are completely separate (I'm in the design end of things, he's in the project management end of things) we do still get to be together more than we did when we worked separately and I love that.  I've never ever once in my life been sick of him (it's probably annoying to my friends ;) so any extra time we can get in- driving, traveling etc.- is great!

3.  We have a flexible life together... We own our own business and can change our schedule so we can travel & work remotely, and go places and do things during off-seasons or hours.  We're able to get quality family time in like this & it's a serious perk.

 

All in all, I really love working with David.  Lol, I hope he never quits!!! ;) ;)

I just looked around the house and realized I have done this in every room--apples in a milk glass bowl in the dining room, late-blooming hydrangea in the kitchen, and pumpkins from the garden in the family room. My sub-conscious is apparently hard at work bringing the outdoors in!

Fascinating! I love that you have something in every room.

We live in a 60s ranch. Oak hardwood floor is throughout the home. The back two bedrooms have an original stain (honey-orangish stain)that doesn't match the rest of the home. Refinishing the floors right now isn't in the budget. Should I just live with the floors with a large area rug? Would painting the floors be a good option? If I painted the floors, how do you think that would transition with the current medium walnut stain? Thank you! I'm a huge fan living in the area!

Thanks!!  I would definitely live with the rug until you can refinish the floors to mach the rest of the house.  Painting (for me at least)  isn't any less because you still have to sand the floors down then do multiple coats of primer and paint. 

I've enjoyed reading your blog and following your design for years now. I remember the post you wrote about "hedge apples"one autumn years ago. I love green as well, and immediately drove out to the country to find some to bring into my home! :) I continue to use natural elements to accessorize in my home-- seashells, fruits, vegetables as well as green plants and snippets from my flower garden. Thanks for all your inspiration!

Thank you so much!!!  It's about time for the hedge apples now!!

I am trying to create a bedroom with the colors white, tan, and spring green, that feels fresh and nature-y (like taking a walk through the woods in early spring). So far, the walls are painted light green, the bedding has been purchased (tan and white geometric pattern), and the furniture is already in place (our existing white furniture). What am I missing here? So far, the room feels very incomplete and doesn't convey any mood whatsoever.

It sounds like you might be mixing some natural textures.  They are key for making a space feel natural.  A natural woven rug like jute, seagrass or sisal and some matchstick shades will really warm up the room and make it feel more interesting, layered and "touchable."  Then, add in some mixed metals...  be it in frames on the walls or in accessories.  I love to mix old brass, silver and black metals for a collected feel.  Also, bring in warm wood tones through accessories or frames.  Textured blankets or pillows...  the layers are what will help bring some charm and mood.  Good luck!!

What color/type of subway tile and grout is best paired with cherry cabinets? I live in a condo with galley style kitchen. I wish to lighten up the space without painting the cabinets. Thanks for any guidance!

I'd keep it classic with white or black.  White subway tile with black grout is classic and the black will bring some of the darkness of the cabinets into the bacsplash and make it flow bettwe.  (The reverse -black tile/white grout- is also true.)

Hi Lauren I love your blog! I was just wondering what colors you like for trim. I know you've talked about your favorite white wall colors, but do you normally paint the trim the same color as the wall or different?

Thank you!!  When I'm playing up the woodwork, I like for trim to be a different color than the walls, but when I don't want to call attention to the woodwork (like in my last home) I will do the trim in the same color as the walls.  To add a sense of "age" to a home, I'll often do the trim a little darker than the walls or in the same color as the walls if it's a deep color.  

What fabric do you recommend for chairs/couches for a family with young kids?

I often do washable slipcovers for families with young kids- including my own!  Custom slipcovers can be made to fit as tightly as upholstery and you often can't even tell that something is slipcovered.  I use twills, linens, hemps... I love more natural fabrics as opposed to the heavier upholstery fabrics.

I want to do a white master. How do I do that without having it fall flat? Also I am in a cape, so the ceiling are very low and lighting is a problem since the choices for flush mount are limited. Thank you for your help

Texture is really key.  (I answered a question about a bedroom with spring green colors a little bit up but that answer applies here too.)  I have a white bedroom too, and am careful to add lots of texture, mixed woods, metals, and quirky objects to keep it interesting.

It was great to have you on the chat and we had so many questions! You have a lot of faithful followers on Instagram and following your blog. Thanks for being with us today. Meanwhile, the winner of your book is the person who said they put the treasures their kids bring home from the woods in a terrarium and also display them in other places in their home. Please email me your mailing address at konciusj@washpost.com. Please join me next week when my guest will be decorator and design blogger Shannon Claire Smith, whose Adams Morgan apartment is being featured in our small spaces issue.

What are your tips for someone who wants to become a self taught interior designer, via a blog? With all the design wannabe's out there who have blogs, how do you separate yourself from the rest of the pack? Or would you encourage that person to go back to school and earn proper training?

I started my business about a year or so before I started my blog and I guess I'd say that a blog won't turn you into a "designer" but it will give you an outlet for your perspective and your work before magazines or newspapers know you're out there & want to publish your work or articles.  I had no formal design training but took a distance learning program through NY Institute of Art & Design (Previously Sheffield- lol WAAAY better name now! ;) and it was wonderful.  It taught me the basics of good design, history, meeting with clients, etc.  To learn what's "good"/ "bad" and in between... I think you can absolutely learn that on you're own.  I'm still learning every day and have so much more to learn.   On a side note, I call myself a "decorator" due to all of the laws on calling oneself an "interior designer" if you haven't had a certain number of years in school/ working for someone else and taking the NCIDQ.  At one point, after my business was going for a couple of years, I enrolled in an accredited distance interior design program but as soon as I received the course load, I decided not to do it.  There was no way I would have been able to keep my business running, have nights with my kids, and take the classes at the same time.  

I think a lot of the blogger-designers do a lot of DIY which is really different from designing, so if you want to be a "designer" or decorator, make your blog about design, and not making over your own house... Show client projects, before and afters, and explain why you did what you did.

Good luck to you!! 

 

Thanks so much to everyone for sending in questions and for a great chat!!  

For all the locals, we have two fun book parties coming up & I'd love to meet you!

Tuesday, October 13th at J.McLaughlin in Georgetown (6-8)

Thursday, October 29th at Varnish Lane Nail Salon in DC

(Details for both parties here with RSVP to cbamundo@abramsbooks.com) 

If you're interested in buying my book, Habitat, follow this link

 

Thanks so much for the chat!!

Lauren

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.

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Lauren Liess
Decorator and textile designer Lauren Liess writes the popular design and lifestyle blog, Pure Style Home.
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