Take the basics: a roomy house with good bones, in a great location. Combine these elements with a couple of savvy interior design professionals who have eyes for their clients’ needs and tastes. Toss in a willingness to hew to a budget and still provide beautiful and livable interiors, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for the successful decorating that everyone is looking for in these value-conscious times.
The clients—a busy couple with their four young sons—had some practical requirements. For their large, active family, they wanted comfort and ease of maintenance. At the same time, they sought an aesthetic that would align with their somewhat minimalist tastes, and harmonize with the traditional architectural details of the classic Colonial house they had just purchased in Greenwich.
Enter Lauren Muse and Christina Murphy, a pair of design talents for whom this new project would be another point of intersection between their parallel career paths, which began in the nineties at a Manhattan advertising agency where they were co-workers and became friends.
With her first child on the way, Lauren had decided to opt out of the grueling hours and travel requirements of the ad business and take up a career in design. Inspired by the process of decorating the home she and her husband had built in Connecticut, she made the leap by enrolling in the New York School of Interior Design.
Christina, who grew up in Palm Beach and counted the designers Mimi McMakin and her daughter Celerie Kemble among her childhood neighbors and friends, was inspired by Lauren’s decision, and wrestled with the idea of a switch.
“I endured a few sleepless nights until I was forced to address the nearly audible inner voice telling me that interior design was a true passion of mine as well. Within a week, I was in my boss’s office giving notice,” recalls Christina.
Once they finished their studies, the women’s paths diverged. Christina worked for several years at Kemble Interiors, by then a red-hot New York design studio. Lauren, who also jumped into the Greenwich residential sales market, found design clients among her real estate customers. Their word-of-mouth praise helped expand Muse Interiors—her design venture—into a going concern.
When Lauren brought in the Greenwich project—a large new home with grandly scaled rooms—it needed interiors on a tight schedule and finite budget. Lauren, who has an encyclopedic command of local Fairfield County design sources, called her friend, wisely figuring that a team approach could get it done. Christina, who, by the time the project appeared, had moved on from Kemble to her own studio, had files full of resources in New York. Together, the pair produced results—on time and in the black—that are the definition of every client’s dream.
Of course, it’s always good to have a dream client. “The homeowner was wonderful,” says Christina. “After we had a basic plan in place, she gave us almost complete free rein to pull together the components.” Adds Lauren, “She was very decisive and trusting in our vision. There wasn’t a lot of waiting around for the client to make up her mind. A lot of the credit must go to her.”
The underpinnings of the design plan are an outline for almost anyone wanting to fill a new home, or redecorate one that needs updating. First, invest in good upholstery. “The homeowner brought a few things from her previous home,” says Christina, “but we filled in with upholstered pieces of sufficient scale for the large common rooms and the master suite. When you invest in high-quality furniture, updating just means recovering.” Well-made sofas and chairs will last a lifetime while undergoing multiple changes of color, pattern and texture that suit a household’s evolving requirements.
“The family members are big readers,” says Christina, “so there needed to be lots of places to curl up with a book.” With the wear-and-tear potential of four young boys, all the seating also demanded “sturdy” in the adjectives that describe it. The designers chose from respected lines such as Hickory Chair, as well as custom work; eye-pleasing textiles from a variety of to-the-trade sources provide the beauty part.
Another principle earmarking the project was to mix it up. The combination of new and vintage pieces, with sources ranging from catalog merchants to custom ateliers, will give any room a lively quality that is personalized and pleasing to the eye. “We were working with a budget,” says Lauren, “so we used a high/low approach to furnishings.”
Lauren relied on some of her favorite local shops for many great objects and accent pieces. Among her go-to sources are the Antiques & Artisan Center and the Hamptons Antique Galleries in Stamford, as well as Westport’s Bungalow, and J. Pocker & Son in Greenwich. She also recommends online shopping for “when you can’t leave your living room.” Favorite keystrokes include 1stdibs.com, blinkdecor.com and mecoxgardens.com.
The pair splurged on objects chosen as stylish punctuation, particularly lighting fixtures. Because the home’s ceilings are high, providing lots of vertical space for display, Lauren and Christina found some showstopping pieces, such as the handblown globe chandelier from Remains that anchors the dining area in the round-themed kitchen. For a first-floor powder room, Lauren found a shimmering crystal drop fixture at one of her Stamford haunts. Art for focal points—in the kitchen’s dining area and over the sofa in the master suite—is dramatic in scale, leading the eye to the most appealing angles of a room.
Not to be overlooked, great wall coverings find their place in the plan. Using distinctive patterns selectively seems to be the key. In the dining room—an elegant and glowing confection of creamy textiles and golden accents—the designers chose a dramatic, large-scale floral paper from Osborne & Little to grace the walls above the wainscoting. In the powder rooms and master bath, thoughtful pattern choices make each space distinctive and memorable.
Combining all of these ingredients for good house dressing, the designers have achieved interiors that reflect not only their professional discipline and creativity, but also a comfortable fit with the clients’ needs. It’s a recipe for success worth passing along.
Antique & Artisan Center, Stamford, 203-327-6022; stamfordantiques.com
Bungalow, Westport, 203-227-4406
Christina Murphy Interiors, 212-842-0773; christinamurphyinteriors.com
Classic Carpet & Rug, 203-359-3622; classiccarpetandrug.com
The Drawing Room, 203-661-3406; thedrawingroom.cc
Fig, 203-227-8669; figlinens.com
Hamptons Antique Galleries, 203-325-4019; hamptonsantiquegalleries.com
Hoaglands, 203-869-2127; hoaglands.com
J. Pocker & Son, Greenwich, 203-629-0811, and Westport, 203-222-7800; jpocker.com
Muse Interiors, 203-869-0097
Osborne & Little, Stamford, 203-359-1500; osborneandlittle.com
Remains Lighting, Greenwich, 203-629-1000; remains.com