Home for the 21st-century family with designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey | Home Front

Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey
Sep 22, 2016

Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, owner and lead designer of Alexandria-based SCW Interiors, has had a lifelong passion for design with nearly 20 years of professional experience in the industry. She designed a beautiful family home in Alexandria that is the cover of our Washington Post Magazine Fall Home and Design issue.

Cavin-Winfrey’s an expert on family-friendly design, kitchens and everything else that goes into making an individual and comfortable home.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, owner and lead designer of Alexandria-based SCW Interiors, has had a lifelong passion for design with nearly 20 years of professional experience in the industry. She designed a beautiful family home in Alexandria that is the cover of our Washington Post Magazine Fall Home and Design issue.

She's here to answer your design questions so let's get going.

Hi Jura, 

Thank you for having me today!  The article on the 21st century family home is a great inside look at how young families are shaping their homes.  Looking forward to answering some design questions.

How do you avoid a house from looking too decorated when using a designer such as yourself?

This is such a great question and one that I think about quite often.  Outlined below are the three F's that I believe yield a great design without feeling over decorated or over done.





Good design requires the designer to ask the tough questions.  It is really important to learn about the client's lifestyle, their entertaining preferences, and how they will live in the house day to day.  I am very partial to designing a home around how you live 95% of the time versus the 5% of the time you might be entertaining guests or have an overflow of family for the holidays.  I believe in 100% utilization of a home and that means making sure that every room gets used most of the time.  Knowing the client and discussing the realities of their lifestyle is much more important than inserting selections that don't necessarily reflect the client's history and their comfort level.  There is nothing worse than being worried about something being ruined with spills and everyday use.  Bottom line if something is off limits or is "saved" for special occasions it is not a functional part of a home.  Homes that seem over decorated are often those that appear to be untouched and perfectly poised.




Nothing brings me more joy than to visit a client and see that they are using pieces and moving them around as needed.  I say this because the best design is one that is flexible and we often design with this in mind.  Let's face it nothing in life is stationary and your home should maintain flexibility to address your changing needs.  Adding art, treasures you procure while traveling, and the addition of hand me downs is what makes a home relevant and not overly decorated.




Your home is your personal narrative as well as a place for respite.  A good designer will give you the framework to live comfortably while also exploring how to have your home reflect you.  This is a very specific passion of mine and a thread I try to use in all of my projects.  Some people come to the table with a lifetime of collections and we help incorporate them into the project.  Other times, we push the client to explore their past in order to help them more fully understand what has shaped their taste.  In almost all of our projects there are pieces that have a story.  You may pass over them casually because we have shaped them in a way that makes them feel seamless with the interiors and that is our objective.  These elements are not only a tie back to their past but an entree to their future.  Bottom line if the house reflects the inhabitants and not necessarily the designer, the house will never feel over decorated.  


The image I have included below is a wonderful example of incorporating a piece of the past.  This black coral hung in the homeowners parent's house and this large wall presented a perfect opportunity to incorporate it into their home by using a custom shadow box.  


The wall in our family room where are couch is against is a long wall, 19 ft in length. I have about 20 black and white family photos on the wall but not enough to cover it. What can I replace or add to the wall? It still looks very bare.

19 feet is a very large wall indeed.  A couple of things come to mind in solving this dilemma.  The first idea would be to try framing your photographs in larger sized frames with large white matting to give them more impact.  Pottery barn is an excellent source for this type of frame and the mat is included.  More negative space around the images is always pleasing to the eye.  


Another strategy is to use a series of brackets and incorporate small objects into the schematic to give the wall some dimensionality as well as more clearly define the area around the sofa.  Flanking the sofa with floor lamps would also help more narrowly define the wall behind the sofa and its expanse.


The last idea might be to use paint to create blocking on the wall and allow you to divide it up with the use of color blocks.  


Large walls are always tricky.  The story on the 21st century home has a few of these ideas that we employed to break up the larger spaces.

What do you think of black and gold wallpaper for dining room?

LOVE this idea.  Make sure that it works or plays off of some of the other spaces so that the drama is not limited to this one particular space.


Dining rooms are a chance to take some risks but always consider how light plays out in the space during different times of the day.  If you are mainly using this room for dinner, make sure it will set the mood you envision. 

Most of us have heard of or used the more popular kinds of indoor/outdoor fabrics such as Sunbrella or Periennials. What is your opinion of some of the lesser known fabrics such as Crypton? What is the difference in terms of wear and ease of cleanup? Do you have a favorite?

The indoor outdoor fabric options on the market are amazing.  I am personally a big fan of perennials and also use sunbrella on occasion.  Depending on the end use, the thing I most enjoy about perennials is that they have options for textural weaves- almost a linen look.  I would use a perennial on an indoor sofa any day.  Sunbrella and Crypton are great for outdoor cushions because they are very tightly woven and the color options are amazing.   The main thing to consider in using any fabric that is high performing is the green factor.  

My house is in need of top-to-bottom updating: new paint or wallpaper, some new furniture, new flooring - (need to decide between hardwood or carpet), new window treatments, the whole deal. How do I start picking colors - flooring first, and let other colors come from that? And then once I've picked the individual elements, I assume the order of business would be paint first, flooring second, new furniture goes in third, and last would be new curtains, etc. Is that the most efficient order? I feel like a need a lot of unified guidance through the process, to get good results and to stay on budget.

YOU NEED A PLAN!  The best projects have a very organized plan and are implemented in stages as you suggest.  


First order of business would actually be your flooring.  Installing new floors is a messy proposition and you'll likely need to paint after the installation of new trim pieces if you go with wood flooring.

It is a good idea to put together a preliminary budget for each room and outline each item so you get a sense of the numbers and how to stage completion.

Typically, you can make decisions on windows and furniture after the structural items are underway. I would definitely start with the floors and lighting, then move onto the walls, furniture and windows.  


Once the foundation of your home is in good order, the business of furnishings will be easy.  It is never a great idea to start with the fabrics and furniture since these items can easily tip your budget and jeopardize being able to finish the essentials of good floors and walls which are the real added value in your home.  

When I purchased my home a stager had chosen yellow for the living room and sun room and greige for everything else. A decorator told me it was exactly the right yellow. Others have said they find the greige very appealing.  Three years later, I am bored and considering dark grey for the living room and white for everything else. The other idea is to pull the greige into the living room too and make it a clean sweep. Or do I just give up and paint the whole place white? Shooting for a masculine overall effect. Do you like any of these ideas or do you have something else to suggest. It's a craftsman bungalow decorated in an eclectic style.

Greige is here to stay but it certainly is not a one size fits all color.  The main thing to consider is continuity.  I am not sure the yellow and grey are easy transitions from room to room, but I might not go too dark if you don't have a lot of natural light.  

If your style is eclectic the all white might be the perfect solution to let your personality shine through.  I love Linen White by Benjamin Moore because it is soft and goes well with any color combinations.  

I often say that paint is not a problem solver when people get caught in the paint conundrum.  In your situation, it sounds like the real solution is to keep the colors or lack thereof in the same family.  Happy Painting!

Morning! I live in an older home with a decent-sized attic. Of course, the walls up there are sloped, making a lot of it unusable. I recently came across AtticMaxx, and like the idea, but wondered if anyone had any experience with them? Or if not them, anyone have any other recommendations to use the space better? Thanks!

Posting this to see if anyone has experience with AtticMaxx?

when reupholstering, is it a good idea to update by removing the sofa skirt and changing the arms from rolled to track?

Updating a sofa by removing the skirt or changing to a waterfall skirt is always a good idea.  Be sure you take a look at the legs on your sofa before making the commitment to remove the skirt.

You would be essentially modifying the frame however if you tried to change the arm and it would likely be more cost effective to buy a new frame.  I am also worried that this change would diminish the stability of the frame.

In the end, run a cost analysis as reupholstering is not always the cost savings you might think.  

How can I avoid a boring style without looking chaotic?

Find pieces with classic lines

There is really nothing boring about anything that is a classic.  If you like a simpler format for your interiors without a lot of pattern and color, focus on pieces with clean, crisp and tailored lines in neutral fabrics.

Keep the accessories to a minimum

Some people find comfort in surrounding themselves with books and objects while others prefer a more streamlined interior where things are tucked away.  If less is more is your mantra, try mixing in some fun pillows and lamps.  

Anything old can anchor a room

Choose pieces of high quality and mix in a few antiques to make the space interesting and layered.  A few pops of the unexpected in an otherwise neutral setting might also be the key to reducing the chaos.

Go bigger than you normally would

One thing I see over and over is the lack of scale in rooms.  Pick a couple of pieces that have a big presence such as larger lamps or an antique armoire and you'll be surprised how unboring the room becomes instantly. 

Thank you inspired home design devotees!  It has been a pleasure answering so many thoughtful questions.  Jura, thank you as always for being the bridge to all your readers.  

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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Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey
Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, owner and lead designer of SCW Interiors, has had a lifelong passion for design with nearly 20 years of professional experience in the industry.
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