A Designer Guide to Buying Upholstery

Upholstery is perhaps the most hard working furniture in the home, providing enduring comfort and helping to establish the personality of the room through its stylings and fabric.  In my years in design, I have discovered that clients particularly appreciate my guidance when it comes to these important home elements.  No one wants to regret this choice either on delivery day because the fabric doesn't compliment the room or a couple of years down the line because the sofa hasn't held up to wear and tear.  Here are some insights on how to make satisfying upholstery buying decisions. 


First Comes First

Designers plan out the color palette of a room before any purchases are made. We generally start with the largest pattern and color influencers first. This might be a graphic rug or wallpaper; sometimes it might be drapery fabric, if the room has a lot of windows and a patterned fabric is desired. Selecting the largest or most impactful pattern first establishes the color palette for the room. Because I typically prefer subtly in window treatments, the typical order of decisions in my process is rug first, then upholstery, window treatments and pillows.  Only after the rugs and fabrics have been chosen do I selected the wall color.  This is because textile choices are limited compared to paint color, which can be matched and manipulated with infinite outcomes.

Always bring measurements of your room when selecting furniture. Having a sketch of the layout that you desire will make the process much more focused. Make sure that you document doorways or access points that might limit access for larger items. 

What Lies Beneath

Learning the basics of furniture anatomy and how it is constructed will lead you to make the better purchase for your lifestyle.  

For the homeowner who wants lasting performance from their upholstery, it's important to know what's going on under the wrappings of a sofa.  A well-built piece of upholstery should be constructed of solid, kiln-dried hardwood, with dowelled joinery and additional corner blocks to reinforce the frame.  In the best case scenario, the springing is constructed with eight way hand-tied coils, which provide the most even weight distribution and long-lasting comfort. The alternate system, called sinuous coil construction, is commonly used by even some better furniture makers, but not all sinuous coil systems are alike. Look for thick gauge steel and rows of springs packed tightly from left to right; generous gaps between each sinuous coil mean less support and are a sign that the maker is cutting corners.  The clips that affix these coils to the frame should be screwed into the wood and not stapled so that they remain firmly in place.

Functional Details

The stylings of a piece can influence how well the furniture will perform.  Upholstery with fixed seat cushions and attached back cushions can seem appealing because they stay in place and seem more tailored. However, the ability to flip cushions over is what helps distribute wear and tear on the fabric and cushioning. By flipping-and-fluffing sofa cushions, the fabric will last doubly long and the inserts will retain their shape better.

Tufting is a traditional detail that looks great on classic and modern upholstery, but it does inherently stiffen the feel of the seat and back.  Use tufting for accent chairs and ottomans, but when fluffy seating is desired, leave the buttons off.


Tufting on upholstery is gorgeous, but you must know when it is best to apply it (or when to leave it off).



As a designer, I am as likely to break rules as to follow them, which comes easy to be me because I am trained to see the big picture.  All the same, there are some general rules of thumb for selecting fabric that I think are invaluable.  The largest piece of upholstery in the room should typically be an interesting texture with no discernible pattern.  Save the fun, expressive graphics for accent pieces and pillows, but make sure that a fabric with a large repeat will show sufficiently in smaller applications. 

Your fabric must be well suited to the application. Stripes are not ideal for sectionals because on the corner cushions, the pattern will run perpendicular to one of its neighboring cushions.  Similarly, rectilinear patterns like stripes and plaids become chaotic on tufted pieces, as the folds of the fabric distort the pattern.    

Avoid details like colored contrast welts on large pieces because a work horse piece like a well made sofa will often outlast your color preferences. Stick to classic neutrals or desaturated hues for the biggest pieces. (Unless you are fearless, in which case, commit fully to a color choice that you know you will love a long time, like a bold red sectional. It isn't for everyone but I love to encourage expressive and joyful choices in home design.)

 A pair of boldly floral chairs add personality to the living room in our Tudor Creek project. Notice, too, a tufted ottoman, and in an appropriately scaled texture for the application.  

A pair of boldly floral chairs add personality to the living room in our Tudor Creek project. Notice, too, a tufted ottoman, and in an appropriately scaled texture for the application.  

 Also in the Tudor Creek home, the sofa checks all the boxes for classic style and enduring performance for the family. 

Also in the Tudor Creek home, the sofa checks all the boxes for classic style and enduring performance for the family. 


I encourage all furniture buyers to buy from American manufacturers. Not only is it a great way to support the national job market, but there are standards in place that require furniture makers to responsibly source wood used in their pieces. Sustainability is important to me personally and should be an important part of the decision making process for anyone who thinks that environmental stewardship is part of being a good citizen.

 A snapshot from inside one of our American makers in North Carolina. 

A snapshot from inside one of our American makers in North Carolina. 

For the discerning buyer, the most successful furniture purchasing does not happen online.  It's important to be able to sit in upholstery to know whether or not it suits your own frame. The process of selecting fabrics with a skilled sales and design professional can be fun and educational. 

By supporting a furniture provider in your area, much more of the revenue stays in the community, which is a benefit to everyone.  However, your local retailer should be fully versed in their upholstery lines and able to help make custom choices that will personalize your furnishings to your home.  As your advocate, a salesperson can provide research as needed to make sure that you wind up with unique style and high performance.  

Enjoy the Journey

Buying furniture is daunting but also exciting, as new upholstery will change the look and functionality of your space.  It will also likely set in motion changes that will alter the wall color and floor covering. With the right preplanning and attention to detail, the results can be a stunning transformation. Change is good and educated decisions make the journey more surefooted. I hope my designer insights make your next purchase a satisfying experience.

Paul Miller

Design Solutions: Furnishing The Modest Living Room

After almost two decades in design, I have become an expert at intelligent space planning, but as the owner of a modest home, the tricks I've learned for making the most of tight spaces are particularly close to my heart. 

There are a number of ways to furnish a small living room, but let's start with the most important thing not to do. There is a temptation to look for modestly scaled furniture so that one can fill the room with as many pieces as they might in a larger room.  Why this doesn't work is that it creates what designer's call The Dollhouse Effect.  The tables tend to look spindly and fragile, the seating upright and narrow.  Overall the space has an appearance of clutter and often feels more unsettling than comforting.

Below is an image of a client's modest living room before we designed it. In a small space it is often hard to capture the whole room without a wide angle lens, and this photo is from a series we took in the the discovery stage that was meant only for our reference. Nonetheless, the image shows about half the space, so it isn't hard to see that the room is modest in scale.

Flood Living Room Before.jpg

What I immediately responded to were the pleasing proportions of the mantle and the generous number of windows.  Sightlines through windows can open up a room and add depth.  Although not visible in our photographs, the room also features a handsome set of slender fluted columns in the wide center hall entry that force a perception of height and airiness. 

At little more than two hundred square feet, both the furnished and unfurnished layouts of the room are shown below.  The hearth is the central element and an essential rule of space planning is not to block a reasonable sightline to the focal point.  Placing one of the sofas across from the hearth would have blocked egress from the center hall and further closed in the space.  Early on the process I determined that a pair of sofas would be the best way to comfortably seat six people.  The dominant spatial challenge was a diagonal traffic pattern that cuts from the center hall and crosses to the dining room.   While I would normally give this lane a wide berth, providing adequate seating for family and guests was a high priority, so I pushed the envelope just a little. 

  Left , the unfurnished layout and,  right , the version I proposed.

Left, the unfurnished layout and, right, the version I proposed.

There were a number of professional tactics I used to add volume to the space.

To keep the eye moving, I opted to treat the windows with crisp, classic venetian blinds.  Drapery would have required needed floor space and drawn vertical lines that break the visual flow.  Another tactic that maximizes the apparent scale of the room is the rug, which adds warm texture without introducing a graphic pattern that might have been too dominant. The woven interest of the rug is echoed in grasscloth-textured wallpaper which contrasts very subtly with the trim color.  

The strongest furniture elements in the room in both scale and impact are the matching sofas. Here I wrapped the outside of the frame in a wipeable white recycled leather, while choosing a durable dark blue for the rest of the piece.  Not only does this combination of fabrics create a bold and unexpected contrast, it provides a livable solution for a living room that doubles up as a second family room.

 Photo: Matthew Lofton

Photo: Matthew Lofton

On the wall entering into the sunny dining room, a pair of open and airy etageres provide display without weighting the corners the way solid wood shelves may have done.  With minimal metal framing and glass shelves, these furnishings make the most of the space they occupy and add a much needed layer to the sightline of the adjacent area. 

 One enters into the dining room through a doorway flanked by a visually unassuming pair of etageres. Photo: Matthew Lofton

One enters into the dining room through a doorway flanked by a visually unassuming pair of etageres. Photo: Matthew Lofton

There are many creative ways to make the small room a charming oasis without compromising functionality or style.  In my next blog in the Design Solutions series, I'll tackle the opposite problem: a space so large it needed to be thoughtfully organized into zones for comfort and functionality.

Paul Miller


Design Solutions: Zoning Large Spaces

When you strip away the frills, my design expertise essentially revolves around recognizing and solving problems. Large rooms are usually considered ideal, but they also require smart space planning to assure comfort and functionality.

My client's custom home at Mason's Neck was designed to make the most of its proximity to a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River. The homeowners value intimacy and relaxation in their daily lives, but they also entertain frequently, sometimes throwing dinner parties for six and other times inviting dozens of people into their home for the holidays.  An auxiliary cooling system was designed to kick in during their widely anticipated summer barbecues, when guests stream in and out constantly to cool off inside or catch the sunlight on the water.  My clients are researchers who sweat the details so that in this instance their guests will not have to sweat literally.     

Below is a side by side comparison of the living area both furnished and unfurnished. At about six hundred and fifty square feet, this space extends from the shady front of the house to the river view in back.  It was important to create a functional seating area at the heart of this room, while still making the outer portions useful and inviting.  The homeowners did not want space for space's sake; they envisioned a house that didn't feel empty when they weren't entertaining large. 

  Left , the large living room unfurnished, and,  right , the space imagined as three distinct zones.

Left, the large living room unfurnished, and, right, the space imagined as three distinct zones.

By dividing the space into useful subparts, I was able to determine the best furniture scale and map color and pattern for visual harmony.

The space was divided into primary seating, an intimate dining and gaming area, and a front bay for extra seating and bar service during larger winter events.  In the primary seating area, the hearth and television are located on the central wall.  Placed side by side, they allow furnishings to honor both the architectural and media focal points.  A pair of swivel chairs help define the parameters of the area, but easily pivot for relaxed viewing of the sun dappled back terrace and sparkling water.  Generous entrances from the front and center halls allow the sofa to span the space between a pair of columns without limiting access to the room. 

 Fawn colored velvet on a pair of swivel chairs provides a soft visual transition from the primary seating zone to the smaller dining and gaming area. Photo: Matthew Lofton

Fawn colored velvet on a pair of swivel chairs provides a soft visual transition from the primary seating zone to the smaller dining and gaming area. Photo: Matthew Lofton

In the bay area, the oval table is scaled for board games or small dinners or breakfasts. On this waterside property, catching the shifting light and movement of birdlife is a joy for the homeowners, so having more than one spot for sharing a meal means getting to experience all that a day on the river offers.

Large spaces lend themselves to mixed motifs and pattern scale, although maintaining consistency with color is crucial to ensure a cohesive final aesthetic.

Because this room is so generous in scale, I chose high contrasts between upholstery fabrics.  A glass top table with a whimsical and elegant silhouette allows the eye to meander over the patterned heirloom carpet. In a large room and open floor plan, a patterned rug can be a grounding element to help delineate the primary hub from the related areas.

 Bold patterns and vivid color are given plenty of room to hold their own in this large and sunny space. Photo: Matthew Lofton

Bold patterns and vivid color are given plenty of room to hold their own in this large and sunny space. Photo: Matthew Lofton

In the front hall, which was zoned for additional seating and occasional use for temporary bar service, I flanked a beautiful alter table with a pair of ottomans in a dynamic flame stitch motif.  The ottomans are generous enough for extra seating and fit easily into the larger area during parties.  Their fabric is repeated elsewhere, detailing the arms and base of a statement wing chair that grounds the front corner of the main grouping. 

Large rooms come with their own challenges, but by using furnishings to establish zones, even a vast area can be transformed into a comfortable and livable heart of the home. In my next blog in the Design Solutions series, I'll tackle the opposite problem: how to furnish a smaller space for optimal comfort while creating a sense of greater space.

Paul Miller


Furnish Your Life With Nestology

 As a designer my point of view is different than that of a buyer for a furniture store. We offer custom, sustainable, and made in America upholstery.

Our designer shares what makes Nestology the best choice for your project.

When we developed our Nestology collection this year, our goal was to provide quality upholstery solutions for my design clients and for patrons creating nests through their own vision.  As a designer my point of view is different than that of a buyer for a furniture store.  Quality construction should never be sacrificed for a bottom line.  Stylings must be fresh but timeless to outlast the latest trends.  Our fabric collection was developed with lifestyle-friendly textures and expressive accent patterns to keep things interesting.

We live in a time when a lot of things are being homogenized to make it easier for consumers to buy things quickly.  In order to ensure that there is always good stock, factories offer less choices so that they can make pieces in advance of orders.  As a designer, I know how important options are for creating outstanding furnishings and comfortable spaces.  From the start, it was my goal to buck the trend of less choices by providing more.  Rather than offer greige groupings that one sees everywhere, I want my upholstery to allow patrons to get creative as they select the perfect details for their space.

Funk Threads: Counterculture & Fashion

On my last trip to New York, I visited the exhibit of counterculture fashion currently at the Museum of Art and Design at Columbus Circle.  This beautifully curated collection of vintage hand craft clothing shows the creativity of an emergent generation of free thinkers in San Fransisco's Haight Ashbury district and New York City's Greenwich Village during the 1970s.  

Rejecting the consumer culture of the day and yearning to express their individualism in a time of political and social unrest, the youth of the era used inexpensive craft store materials to transform thrift store clothes into witty and rebellious works of art. Drawing on influences from around the world, outfits expressed the motifs and handiwork of South America, East Asia, and First Nations Tribes.  This exhibit is an exciting experience with so much to enjoy for people who love fashion and intricate needlework.  It is also a reminder that individualism and free will are at the very heart of our shared humanity.  - PM

See out take on another exhibition (this time at Virginia Beach) here.

Design Muse: Spring Garden Color

The vibrant spring blooms in my garden inspire a host of color palette ideas for the home.  Some recent puttering coupled up salvia with dwarf azaleas, an analogous mix of fearless pinks and purples grounded by a range of vibrant new greens.  Peonies harvested before the storm are right at home in a red glass vase that is a staple in my home; perched on a just-painted antique piano bench in Benjamin Moore's 'Pennies From Heaven' they help create a warm, playful color story. Fading raspberry tulips play chameleon against a Kelly O'Neal table cloth of over scaled vintage flower drawings. Wispy yellow blooms add a brisk, lemony note to the mellow pumpkin hue of the front door; just outside the back of the house, lime-bright Wandering Jenny stands out in sharp contrast against dark, still damp hardwood mulch.  It would be my delight to render any of these garden-inspired palettes in a future design project. - PM

Design Snapshot: Loudoun Row

Perhaps one of my greatest passions is visual composition.  In our Loudoun Row project we employed rugs, art, lighting, and accent furnishings to add drama and warmth.  In the dining room of this historic house, a custom American-made rug softens the acoustics and provides tonal contrast to the pumpkin pine flooring.  The center hall is grounded by a steel and marble accent table with explosive lines.  Cheekily we placed an over-scaled hourglass just outside the powder room.  A found abstract painting from a regional artist in the front entry provides a bold organic graphic and a spectrum of tones to evoke the comforting energy the client gets from the color orange.  We heightened the drama of the dark grey mantle with a pair of limed oak pedestals and dynamic orange and clear glass vessels.   - PM

Our Market Insights

On our trip to the High Point furniture show this year, the MakeNest team focused on education and research, visiting our favorite sustainable makers in between a number of seminars covering everything from the lifecycle of trends to the latest perspectives on color theory.  We rounded out our trip with a visit to the venerable Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library, where the history and craft of furniture and design is reverenced with near monkish devotion.  Here we highlight a few of the big takeaways from our journey and discovery.

Mass Customization

There are a number of lifestyles for which mass customization in home furnishings can help solve problems and create opportunities.  For the millennial setting up their first apartment and the baby boomer down-sizing from a larger home, modular furnishings can make hard-to-furnish spaces into peaceful oases of organization.  In commercial applications, modular units make office planning flexible and efficient.  

Upon meeting a new resource this market, we are now in the beginning stages of collaborating with an Ohio-based maker who can create modular collections that MakeNest will design in-house, based on our aesthetic style and what we know is appealing to our clients.  The technology that our maker has developed makes optimal use of each sustainably-harvested unit of hardwood, all but eliminating waste and driving down costs to make custom an option for a greater number of clients.

Deco Renaissance

The fabulous Jenna Hall, a legend in international furniture design circles, places Art Deco style on the trend forecast.  Just before the advent of what we generally identify as mid-century design, there was an entirely unique period inspired by advances in furniture production. Mechanized technologies for adhering veneer led to supple waterfall fronts on dressers and sideboards.  Exotic and contrasting hues of wood veneers defined the proportions of doors and drawer fronts.  Then-new developments in plastics allowed designers to produce drawer pull styles that had never existed before.

As with all appropriations of an established aesthetic, the new trend will be interpretive and not a carbon copy.   As a designer, I can imagine how the satin glow of Art Deco finishes would offer a welcome contrast to the cerused woods of recent years - and how those same cerused finishes would compliment the fluid curve of Art Deco's waterfall fronts.  Thinking of the options opened up by 3-D printing, I see designers customizing hardware in ways that will bridge the divide between mass production and the consumer's desire for bespoke details.   

New Colors

At the Pratt & Lambert presentation, four highly-conceptual palettes - each based on a distinctive perspective - revealed dozens of new colors that will play a role in design in the coming seasons.  We studied a palette called Enigma, which embraces the power of deep and muted tones to convey mystery and even melancholy romanticism.  Through a collection named Intrinsic, we explored the use of saturated hues with strong dark neutrals to capture the immediacy and vivacity of nature.  In eight peaceful hues that take their cues from clay and minerals, the Purpose palette studies the use of gentle tones to produce a contemplative space for revery and self-exploration.  Driven by a point of view that celebrates innovation and altered realities, Pratt and Lambert's Convergence palette is a poem of pleasing demi-saturation and complimentary colors.

From my own perspective, and judging by the textiles that have been most inspiring to me recently, I feel that design is veering away from isolated pop colors and into complex blends of hues that exchange energy while creating more layered environments.  Pattern-makers are creating modernized florals and geometrics that provide a variety of tones all in one field.  From a design era that has embraced white space with a singular energy color, we will see a return to the vibrant multiple hues one finds in traditional printed goods.  This shift plays to the idea of environment as expressive and dimensional rather than austerely curated and Instagram-ready.

A new era in design is emerging, one in which the styles of the past are remastered, color looms large and diverse, and technology is bent to offer more options to a greater number of niche markets.  We're excited to be debuting designs we're developing with the many makers that contribute to our Nestology collection.  More inspirations are coming soon from MakeNest, so keep in touch to follow our design journey. - PM

Design Snapshot: Snowshoe Condo

For our Snowshoe Condo project, two chairs in vibrant blue from our Nestology collection are as refreshing as sparkling pools of water. A colorful rug from Company C offers up a contemporary spin on a classic tapestry motif, while a collection of found art pieces over the sofa gives this vacation home the personality of a much lived in and cared for everyday oasis.  The coffee table in soapstone on reclaimed fir wood is a study in natural contrasts.  We worked with one of our commercial furniture makers to add a dining table made from reclaimed barn wood and used graphic pillows from Arnge to give the fabric story a little more edge. This project took us through some beautiful stretches of heartland through West Virginia, so we threw in a few images from the road trip to help illustrate this design journey. Enjoy! - PM

Growth By Design

Paul Miller

How does graphic design, architecture, and interior design strengthen a brand and lay the foundation for business growth? And how did Dolly Parton and Andy Warhol help me find the right balance in a local hair salon design?

In collaboration with architect Leesa Mayfield and graphic designer Emily Christiansen, I set out to answer these questions at this year's Shenandoah University Business Symposium.  The overarching symposium topic was Your Business Legacy.  

One of the uniting themes between interior design and marketing is that both aim to express the point of view of a business.  In our break out session, Emily spoke about her use of positioning statements to help develop a marketing strategy for her clients.  This was an eye-opener for me, because it helped to highlight the intentions in design that I have always called 'telling the story'. 

Howe Hall Astro Lounge

We were approached by Shenandoah University to transform a careworn space into a sleek and inspiring area where students could participate in professional mixer simulations to develop networking skills.  Every square foot of real estate on campus is vital, so the space would also need to function 24/7 as a study area.  From the talk:

Great creative opportunities are discovered in making friends with what we cannot change. Within the project scope, we knew that making large spatial alterations was not part of the vision. We would be changing the skin of this space and furnishing it to suit.

We wanted to work with the brutalist vintage of the building and play to the popularity of mid-century design.

Thinking about things that were fresh and innovative in the 1970s got me thinking about NASA and the space age, which led me to Star Wars. I got to calling this area the Astro Lounge.

Ed's Heads was a natural fit for the Symposium breakout session.  As a locally-owned boutique business, it provided a contrast in scope from the design for Shenandoah University.  And I could offer more than one perspective on the project.  From the talk:  

I am a co-owner and so I thought Ed’s Heads would be a good case study because I know both the inside, business-owner perspective and the outside designer view of the salon.

The salon had earned a good reputation as much because of a warm and inviting vibe as it had for providing quality services.  With a gorgeous historic building on Main Street, we wanted to connect to our local roots, while doing so in a way that spoke to the dapper style of the principal owner, my husband, Ed McKee. 

After all, why hide from being a small town salon with a close-knit group of stylists when what most of us are starving for is meaningful interactions with real people? One of my mantras was ‘Manhattan meets Mayberry’.

That was where the Dolly Parton-Andy Warhol Venn diagram came into play.

Read a transcript of the MakeNest portion of the talk here.

The Dark Side of Color Theory

There are many things to consider at the high level conceptual stage of an interior design, but one of the most expressive fundamentals is crafting the color palette.  Here are two palettes from recent projects that, while distinctly different visually, rely on a similar theoretic principle.  Each palette was based on the decision to promote artistic drama rather than the oft over-prescribed notion that spaces should be made to seem larger.

The Garret Room

When we began to noodle the best approach to a family media room in an attic of an historic home, we rejected the obvious choice of painting the walls in light, bright hues to make the space appear larger.  In this home, we had already created fresh, sunny palettes on the main and second floors, so we felt the attic could be better served is a deeply-shaded and cozy away space.  We theorized that the value of visually expanding the room was not trumped by the greater goal of giving the homeowners a nurturing and even theatrical sense of place. 

Because the house has a classic mansard roof, the walls slant on four sides as they approach a narrow jot of ridge at the middle of the room.  Two dormers - one tasked for window seating and the other for a modest custom bar - provided a fair amount of natural light.  By painting the walls from base to ridge in a dark blue, we promoted a cozy sensibility for the attic.  The rather beaten up original wood flooring we had painted in a green hue equal in saturation and value to the wall color, so that while there was some variation, the floor and walls had minimal visual distinction; our goal was to keep the eye moving fluidly with the architecture instead of the gaze hanging up on sometimes awkward transitions.  A large sectional in dark chestnut leather further promoted the rich palette, while accents in bright yellow and taupe provided points of brightness and chilly contrast.     

The Jewel Parlor

There was something about this parlor in another historic home that seemed to be waiting for dramatic wall color.  And our client has a peaceful and yet magnetic energy that we felt would be nicely expressed in a space with muted variations of jewel tones.  Starting with a jade lamp the homeowner wanted to use in the room, we built an analogous palette that moved away from blue-greens and toward yellow on the color wheel.  The use of a rich plum on the walls managed to serve both a warm and cool helping of wow factor.  

Because the parlor had a large vista onto a sunny, off-white dining room at one end, and a large, off-white builtin at the other, we knew that there was plenty of lightness to offset our wall color choice.  We had purposed a boxy turret space adjacent to the builtin for a handsome Japanese travel bar; we opted to carry the soft whiteness of the trim onto this alcove to further contrast and highlight the plum tone of the primary space - and to frame the bar for emphasis.  Using dark emerald velvet on a tufted accent chair and a geometric woven in chartreuse and cream to wrap the outside back of the sofa, we pinned down our progression of green to yellow-green hues. 

We're big fans of white-wall decor and recognize the place it has taken in contemporary interior design, but our opportunities to work in dark hues are always a welcome change of pace.  The important things to consider when deciding whether or not a room should go to the dark side is how the color choice will serve the overall purpose of the room and how you will construct a palette with enough variation and contrast to not be flattened out by the weight of the main color itself.   


  • Remember that the walls will be the background of the canvas, and the furnishings will create the layering towards the foreground. If larger furnishings have sufficient lightness, they will alleviate the heaviness of the wall color.
  • Darker rooms swallow light, so consider using a paint finish with a bit of sheen to help bounce both natural and artificial light. Know that sheen will highlight imperfections in the wall surface, so we recommend a professionally applied skim coat to make the walls picture perfect.
  • In a room where the wall color is more assertive, the textures of fabrics should be far bolder and the scale of prints riskier.  The beauty of starting from a place of intentional drama is that boldness is welcome and necessary for harmony.
  • Consider how a dramatic paint color will impact the visual rhythm of a space.  If there is a series of awkwardly placed closet doors, it is sometimes advisable to paint them out in the same color as the wall.  The same can be said of a chair rail, which becomes a light belt around a dark room, often cutting the perceived height of the walls and pulling attention away from more important elements of the design.
  • Before panicking when the paint is half up and you begin to waver in your resolve, pull a few pieces into the space and view them against the walls.  You'll never feel more vulnerable about your choice than when the room is without any of the components that helped inspire the color.  

Trend Watch 2017

The new year opens up before us like a clean white canvas.  Our wish for the design professions is that we keep what works - negative space, clean silhouettes, user-friendly materials - even as we shape the look of the next chapter.  It can have escaped no thinking person that 2016 was rife with social tensions and polarizing messages.  What we who love the comfort of home know is that there is no greater balm for the spirit than breaking bread with people whom we hold dear in a warm and cared for space.  With a great deal of hope in the power of home to reset and renew the spirit, here humbly is our design forecast for the season ahead. 

Fearless Prints

The return of prints to drapery fabrics and wallpaper is a welcome addition to designs that have been centered around angular geometrics in recent years. Classic subjects like leaves, butterflies, and birds are being colored vibrantly and writ large to pack a punch. Use prints that are deconstructed or exotic in style to create a fresh and memorable space. 

 Lush Scene, Onyx by Robert Allen Home

Lush Scene, Onyx by Robert Allen Home


While open floor plans have justly earned their popularity, they do present challenges, such as allowing noise and food odors to travel through a house unchecked.  Additionally, a home with too few walls can ignore a fundamental human need for solitude.  We anticipate seeing a more conservative approach to removing walls in 2017 renovations and look forward to designing those cozy, tucked away spaces that allow us to escape for a quiet read or meditation.

 Our  Canal Point  project. 

Our Canal Point project. 

 Our Howe Hall project.

Our Howe Hall project.

Toothy Textures

From wall coverings to upholstery fabric, we're predicting densely textured fabrics this year that will rival your favorite cable skit sweater for comfort.  More and more we're spending time in front of computer screens; designs that are alive with tactile experiences helps us to better connect to real space.  Our favorite 'goes-with-anything' fabric this year is striae sculpted velvet.  It feels fantastic to the touch and stands up to the every day tests of active home life.

  Toothy textures  from our resourse library. 

Toothy textures from our resourse library. 


Near and dear to our own hearts, there is a growing trend toward artisan-made home accents and furniture.  Supporting craftspeople who are carrying on traditional skills or developing the classics of tomorrow has numerous advantages, from knowing that your home has interesting and storied pieces, to helping to revitalize industries in your own back yard. 

 A piece from our  artisans  in Indiana.

A piece from our artisans in Indiana.

Jewel Tones

This year isn't the starting point for this journey, but in 2017 we expect to see bold emerald and rich plum move from accent to backdrop, as milk white spaces make room for daring accent walls.  Perhaps the best lesson in color from almost two decades in design is to be a good editor.  Thoughtful placement of color will add spirit and sensuality to any home; white space and negative space - as in graphic design - are important palette cleansers to help sharpen the impact of hero colors.  

 Mixing jewel tones in our  Fairmont Avenue  project.

Mixing jewel tones in our Fairmont Avenue project.

 Plumb walls in our Fairmont Avenue project. 

Plumb walls in our Fairmont Avenue project. 

Warm Metals

The beautiful glow of copper, gold, and brass finishes will continue to accent anything from tabletop decor to cabinet hardware.  This year will see a return of bronze and raw iron to add the deeper notes that have been less present in metals in the last couple of years.  Expect to see metal used in fresh ways, like brass inlaid in marble or copper trimming on earthenware goods.

 Regina Andrew Design

Regina Andrew Design

Our Staff Picks

Our Staff Picks

To celebrate our second annual November fund raising efforts for Literacy Volunteers of Winchester, I asked the Team to share something about a book from any time in their lives that stuck with them.  Here are their picks.


Triana's Pick

“One of my favorite books is Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It chronicles a band of travelers making a pilgrimage to a distant church and the stories they share with each other to pass the time.  I love this book because each pilgrim’s story is told from a different perspective reflecting the teller’s life. Everyone from the knight to the nun is allowed to share their story; some in prose and others verse, some funny and some serious. 

No matter your mood as a reader you can find something to love about the Canterbury Tales.”

Zack's Pick

“My favorite childhood books were the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. 

In the world of Redwall animals are the only inhabitants and almost all are capable of speech. The stories are not told in chronological order and I always loved when a character was mentioned from a previous book.  It took me a long time to finish one volume because to get context I would re-read the book that had taken place when the character just mentioned was alive. 

One of my favorite things about the books were the elaborate descriptions of the banquet feasts that inevitably occurred.  How the table was set, what was used for decoration, and especially the food was so fascinating to me. ‘Did it just say that Mrs. Hubbell made a huckleberry pie? For a funeral?! That is not traditional!’ - And other such inner dialogues. 

Mostly though I liked the adventures and hero stories of the little animals and their different personalities. I haven’t thought about reading these books for some time, and it makes me happy to remember how much I enjoyed them.”


Emily's Pick

"Like all the runners up for the position of 'favorite', A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson was introduced to me in high school English class.  I still am not sure what made me choose this title over the other options on the summer reading list.  Perhaps it was half-listening to bits of 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' by the same author in the car with my mom.  Or the inquisitive-looking grizzly on the cover.

I was enchanted by the history that Bryson injected throughout the storyline.  I was encouraged by the humanity of the protagonists.  I wanted to also have super cool hiking gear.

I suppose that I read this book at just the right time in my life for it to strike a very significant chord of adventure and self reliance.  I haven't laced up my hiking boots or tinkered with my ultra-light jet fuel stove in some time, but the lesson of adapting your expectations while persevering towards your goal was not lost on me."

Paul's Pick

“The book I can’t shake is Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. An unassuming find in a used book store, it was like a Russian nesting doll revealing new layers and stories that belied the slender volume.

This novel follows a couple as they leave behind their urban comforts to take up residency in a remote Mexican mining town. Yet the heart of the story that unfolds is made up of the lives of the villagers, each with an account of personal love and loss.  Doerr’s storytelling is simple and unadorned and I was not fully aware of how much she had drawn me into the lives of the characters until late in the story, when their tragedies and their courage intermittently caused me to feel sorrow and elation. I was surprised that the journey was so moving. ”

Let's Talk Benefits

An In-House Chat with Our Designer on Commercial Design

Lobby, HLSB, Shenandoah University, Photo: MakeNest

You do both commercial and residential design. What are the similarities and differences in your approach to each? 

Our goal in both residential and commercial projects is to identify needs and design solutions. Residential design is inherently more personal - often incorporating heirlooms and meaningful pieces - but both forms of design ultimately must project an identity that represents the client sincerely.

What would you say are the biggest challenges presented in commercial design projects?

In commercial designs, there is the need to consider workflow. Depending on the space, those considerations must align with the image the client wants to project about their business. There are markedly different considerations depending on service or product output. For example, a commercial office space may consume the majority of its square footage for internal operations; clients consult in conference rooms or in key offices while whole departments function out of the public eye. Conversely, in a restaurant, the majority of the space is likely to be front-side, requiring more artful presentation of the brand than back of house areas.

In your work in the commercial design industry, have you observed any design trends that just don’t offer any usefulness to either the staff or the guests?

Sometimes a material may come into vogue that is a poor match to some applications, but a thoughtful design team should disqualify those selections during the planning stages.

Entry, Visitor Suites, Shenandoah University, Photo: MakeNest

What steps can businesses take to avoid this mistake?

It's important to distinguish the difference between trends and fads. A trend develops more slowly and speaks to large cultural shifts - and trends are generally answers to questions about lifestyle. In residential design as an instance, think of open floor plans as a trend that addresses the desire with families to feel more connected. A fad is typically more conceptual and less grounded in how we work and live. Fads are commonly expressed in material or surface elements. To invoke a time-tested design mantra, less really is more. If one uses restraint with faddish adornments or avoids them altogether, the design will enjoy a longer run of relevance.

For the average business needing a refresh, what is usually the first thing that you recommend updating or changing?

We recommend looking at the business from two perspectives: inside out and outside in. How staff experience it inwardly and how customers and clients perceive it outwardly. Typically making a meaningful change to the entry space and lobby can profoundly improve perceptions about the business. Yet in cases where the primary challenges are operational, the budget for improvements might be best served elsewhere, for example the kitchen of a restaurant or the tech spaces of an office building.

What specific benefits does that one change provide to the company?

Updating the entry space of most businesses is a fantastic opportunity to improve traffic flow and strengthen branding. For a company that is serious about growth and a sharpened image, this can be a much needed reset. In addition to boosting morale with staff, thoughtful redesigns improve the way that clients perceive the business. We recommend whenever feasible that our clients introduce us to their marketing provider so that we can factor the messaging goals of the company into our design.

Can businesses expect to see major benefits after a thoughtful redesign and can they compensate for the upfront costs over time?  

When workflow is improved, employees are able to accomplish tasks more efficiently, which improves output and thus customer satisfaction. By sharpening the image of a business through interior design, clients and patrons feel more confident in their choice and more apt to refer the business to friends and colleagues.

Astro Lounge Layout

What about a business on a budget. Are the costs and benefits exclusively correlated?

Sometimes the best changes have more to do with editing than additions. In instances where the budget does not allow for elaborate architectural changes, there are still opportunities to improve organization and refine the appearance. Company goals play a big part in determining budget. Perhaps our best tip is advising business owners to consult with a designer before they sign a lease or purchase a building. Picking a space that can grow with the company while not seeming overly large during the early phases is important. A large retail space with a shallow inventory does not project success in an era of massive online shopping venues and large box stores. Something as simple as a shell partition wall - removed with a little effort and some dust later - can make a shop seem full on opening day, keep down the cost of inventory, and prevent a costly move at a later date should the company meet its expansion projections. A good design factors in the future.

Lobby, Ed's Heads Hair Salon, Photo: Matthew Lofton

You have a retail store and office on a downtown retail street. How do you employ brand supportive design in your own space?

We have the luxury of being a style-related business, so our inventory creates the look of our space, and is driven by trend. We are big believers in the importance of consistent marketing, so we make sure that our brand colors, textures, and images are fluid from window signage to website and from business card to pamphlet.

What aspects of your own office design directly influence employee productivity and client satisfaction?

Our showroom represents an ideal for clients, so we strive for an experience that is pleasing to all the senses. That means the shop smells clean and subtly fragrant, that the spaces are organized for easy use, but not so rigidly structured that patrons feel uptight in our boutique. As our business has grown, the design office has undergone numerous layout changes to accommodate employee task areas. While this can be a moving target in a small but expanding business, we find that maintaining a clear line of communication with staff helps head off workflow issues through design solutions.

Five Designer Favorites Vol.1

Hello, Nesters!

There has been a lot to inspire me this year - from finding new innovative makers to rediscovering classics that had fallen off my radar.  Not too long ago I would have been steeped in roughened woods with a grayish wash.  Today we have rediscovered the quiet elegance of walnut and cherry woods. After many long seasons of linens that pretended to be burlap, we see the uprising of lux velvets and graphic prints.  Even rusty finishes are ceding the way for a tsunami of molten gold faucets and fixtures.  Design is always changing, always expressive of something about the moment.  Perhaps our economy picking up has whetted appetites for things that lean toward the refined.  Here are just a few of my current delights.   

Sap Cherry Wood

I find the lighter sapwood from the outer portions of the cherry tree so engaging.  When selected artfully, the result is a striking hi-low pattern that adds immeasurably to the impact of understated furniture like our Heartland Table. For many years Queen Anne-inspired furniture cloaked the warm and deep grain of cherry in dark stains that essentially masked the wood's characteristic cathedrals.  Makers now are drawing influences from Arts and Crafts and especially from Mid-Century design, so the grain is left visible by the use of light clear finishes.  This is the way sap cherry is meant to be dressed.

 Photo: MakeNest

Photo: MakeNest

Graphic Pillows

Our collection of pillows from Arnge embody everything there is to love about mid-century design.  The bold retro graphics make me want to binge watch The Dick Van Dyke Show for hours, while the kaleidoscope of colors are a study in harmony with just a skosh of friction.  Having been schooled in the finer points of sewing, I was pleased to see that the patterns match from front to back so that the design moves fluidly around the pillow.  Each one is made to order in the USA without the use of sweatshop labor, which is another reason to tip our hats to this maker.

Wool & Silk Carpets

When I was apprenticing in design back at the turn of the last century, my mentor was a dealer in fine hand-made carpets.  Helping to show her selections to her clients was an education. Peeling back dozens of beautiful carpets was good exercise, but it was also like peering into the pages of a journal from an ancient people.  Combining forms from nature and architecture, the patterns and colors - as well as the art of weaving itself - are part of a cherished tradition.  While wool is still the most common material in a hand-knotted carpets, the addition of silk adds highlights that outline the design and glimmer magically.  

Vinyl Rugs

I discovered the designs of Spicher & Co. a couple of years ago and am still finding new uses for these fabulous designs.  Not surprisingly, these graphics are created by artist designers and not fabricated from a short list of popular motifs.  Drawing inspiration from vintage linoleum rugs that were popular well into the first half of the 20th century, there is something about these rugs that feels simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.  I like using them because they add a strong graphic to a room and because they can exist in spaces where sometimes other rugs aren't ideal.  And these are printed in house in Pennsylvania, so we feel like they come to us from just over the mountain, as they say.

Deco Influences

When I first spotted this chair at market, I knew I wanted to put a whimsical and magical fabric on the frame.  With its graceful arms and deeply scooped back profile, I was reminded of chairs from my favorite 1930s black and white films.  This piece would have existed in a screwball comedy - in the country house of the haughty old aunt who wears a lorgnette, winds up getting a little tipsy on dandelion wine, and eventually comes around to like the mustachioed anti-hero her wide-eyed niece wants to marry.  Her house would have gilded things but also ruffles. For me those Hollywood sets are an escape into unabashed style.  So we outfitted this chair in a colorful Asian toile, trimmed her skirt in velvet, and the rest is history.

Thanks for indulging me on a journey through some of the things that have been in my look book and on my mind this season.



Behind the Scenes

For our autumn home furnishings collection we drew inspiration from some of our favorite design projects.  The coastal oases of Martha's Vineyard and Rehoboth Beach offered us soft colors and buoyant graphics.  The smart simplicity of our urban homes guided us toward mid-century modern forms and artisan details.  And the elegance of the old homes we've designed in our native Virginia reminded us that antique wood and romantic silhouettes never lose their allure.  Creating a collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings was an ambitious undertaking; here are the mood boards we used to define our vision.

The Oasis.  Here not everything has to be 'just so' - this is a home that makes the hours after work and school feel like vacation.  Sturdy iron tables plant themselves where they're needed and the soft linen slipcover on the sofa looks its best when a little rumpled.  Shoes come off the moment you walk through the door and the piece of modern art everyone compliments is the doodle your daughter brought home in third grade.  Here you don't cry over spilled milk; you wanted a cocktail anyway. 

The Modern. This house isn't frilly or lacy or precious.  It is a thoughtfully composed design that favors simplicity.  The chill of minimalism is chased off by rugged textures and natural elements.  Each piece of furniture serves a purpose and everywhere you look there are testaments to artisan craft.  The sap cherry dining table is as smart as a suspension bridge and the custom sofa as handsome as it is comfortable.  This is the home of someone who doesn't believe in filler. Here thoughtful intention reigns.

The Estate.  You may or may not have grown up in this house, but you love that guests feel transported to an earlier era the moment they broach the porch steps.  This home isn't shy about embellishments; the moldings are elaborate and the walls are papered in garden scenes.  This is where emerald velvet doesn't feel too fancy and brass never went out of style because this is the good stuff. And while there may be the occasional new acquisition to add a spark of funk, the table at Thanksgiving is always set with antique china and Irish crystal.

Our design style is to mix more than match.  We use color, texture, and scale to make spaces pleasing, but a close inspection reveals that we don't play by the book when we're pairing objects.  When it comes to composing stylish design, we've thrown most of the rules to the wayside.  While we crafted our collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings with some specific inspirations in mind, we're sure each piece will shine when it finds new interpretations in rooms waiting to unfold.  Visit our boutique to explore the collection.