Southern Charm Brings Newark Family Comfort and Conversation
This family of four gathers in the family room to listen to music, read, and watch birds, rather than television.
Dianne Reeves has always had an eye for detail, the unique elements that give a home a gracious, finished look.
“I love furniture and accents with strong colors and a commanding room presence,” she says. “Rooms with color, texture and meaningful personal accents are most comforting to me.”
Reeves lives with her husband, Wayne, and two small children in Newark, in a two-story, traditional home in an idyllic wooded setting near White Clay Creek.
In decorating the house, she was inspired by the refined rooms of the South she came to appreciate when she was a student at the University of Alabama. Her mother was an influence, too.
“My childhood home was always comfortable for our family of six, but also always ready to entertain family and friends,” she says.
To interpret her aesthetic vision into a warm and welcoming home for an active family, Reeves turned to designer Kate FitzGerald-Wilks of Timeless Design in Landenberg.
Collaborating with a pro was the ideal solution for a working mom with lots of ideas but limited time.
“I didn’t want to commit all of my family’s time completing what felt like an endless project to-do list,” she says. “Kate brought her skills, sourcing for unique pieces and connections for custom woodworking, drapes, upholstery and was able to handle all the details.”
Truly a Family Room
In the Reeves home, the family room is a gathering space.
“We read, listen to music and talk with whoever is cooking in the adjacent kitchen,” she says.
That means there’s no TV. The couple and their kids congregate on a comfy sectional sofa, teamed with a rustic coffee table that is large enough for playing games on. A small bench by the doors leading out to the deck is the perfect perch for birdwatching.
“The family room has a great open view of trees and White Clay Creek, which remains the central focal point and influenced the choice of natural elements and colors for the room,” Reeves says.
A wooden garden trellis is transformed from an architectural element to a piece of graphic art when it is mounted on a wall above the sofa. The lattice work also masks a utilitarian air conditioning vent without obstructing the air flow.
Repeating elements throughout the space creates a subliminal cohesive thread. Watercolors of birds are matted in burlap, the same material that lines the baskets under the coffee table. The turnings on the wood curtain rod echo the frames on a pair of spool chairs.
FitzGerald-Wilks also looks for ways to artfully enhance objects. A black metal tray gets a glint of glamour with a few strokes of gold-tone paint.
She added batten boards to an asymmetrical fireplace wall to create an architectural element. She incorporated a wood carving from China into the mantel. Corbels mounted above the mantel showcase chunky candles that look like wax but are actually wired for electricity.
“The candles are timed to automatically flick on at 6 p.m. and go off at 11 p.m. each night,” she says.
In keeping with the homeowners’ appreciation of nature, a glass-fronted cupboard displays birds’ nests, antique nature guides and wood carvings of mushrooms. Full-length cotton-blend draperies are printed with fanciful renderings of birds and branches.
The walls and moldings are painted mossy green, in harmony with the outdoors. The sectional is upholstered in soft, leaf green.
“Velvet pillows and a big faux fur throw are so cozy and snuggly and also add more textures,” she says.
Here’s a designer tip from FitzGerald-Wilks: You can get the look and feel of a custom sofa by supplying your own upholstery fabric to the manufacturer, then specifying other details.
“You get to pick your arms, your feet, the depth of your cushions,” she says.
The Home Library
A small, underutilized home office is now a clubby library. To make the room appear larger, FitzGerald-Wilks suggested breaking through a wall and connecting the library with the adjacent sitting room via a pair of French doors.
“It adds grandeur and also treats people to a view of the library from the foyer,” she says.
Reeves envisioned a tranquil retreat with the aura of world travel. Bookcases display vintage, tooled-leather volumes, as well as the homeowners’ collection of magnifying glasses and sculptures and renderings of birds.
“Dianne is especially fond of owls and so we found ways to include them throughout the space but without getting too theme-y,” the designer says. “The little finials on the lamps are owls.”
The room is dressed in finely detailed layers. Fringed swags and applied moldings frame the windows. There’s a leopard-print carpet underfoot. A quartet of chairs upholstered in classic stripes surrounds a round ottoman, topped with a large, hammered-brass tray imported from India.
“Finding unique pieces requires shopping the world,” FitzGerald-Wilks says. “That can mean anything from a local auction or estate sale, to eBay, to scouring the Internet for items in Asia.”
Warming Up to Red
In the sitting room, the starting point for the design was a high-quality sofa and loveseat the Reeves already owned. The pieces are upholstered in a bold red print, which made them the automatic focal point of the room.
To create the more cohesive vibe the homeowners wanted, FitzGerald-Wilks painted the walls in Dressage Red, a deep crimson made by Ralph Lauren, that is an elegant match for the sofas.
That rich color also provides a striking backdrop for a collection of original horse brasses, the fanciful plaques that decorate the harnesses of parade horses in Britain. FitzGerald-Wilks showcased the brasses two ways, mounting some directly on the walls and matting and framing others.
Corded tassels are another subtle reference to the equestrian theme.
“They look like the tassels on a horse’s bridle in a parade,” she says.
Instead of sewing red-and-white striped draperies with the stripes running vertically, FitzGerald-Wilks’ design calls for the pattern to run horizontally. It’s a fresh twist on a traditional fabric.
“It’s young and modern, just like Dianne,” she says.
A tufted bench was reinterpreted as an ottoman. FitzGerald-Wilks replaced the original fabric with black leather, painted the legs to match and added brass nail heads as an accent.
Matching brass lamps were relocated from the family room and outfitted with new black shades.
The room is anchored with a vintage Heriz rug in varying shades of crimson, claret and gold.
“We knew that it would take a very special rug to complement the reds in the room so we shopped at a place in Virginia where we had hundreds of carpets to choose from,” FitzGerald-Wilks says.
A single small chair can make a big difference in a room. It provides extra seating, plus flexibility wherever you need it.
Painted black, a petite, wood-framed chair looks just right for the space. But it also came with an unforeseen complication.
“When someone moved the chair, we would wind up with a black smudge on the gorgeous red wall,” FitzGerald-Wilks recalls.
The solution was beautifully simple. Dianne Reeves added a black leather harness strap to the collection of horse brasses. Instead of rubbing the wall, the chair frame is now cushioned by the strap.
“It looks wonderful and it solved the problem,” she says. “I think that is what design is all about.”
Being a good steward of your resources is always in style, says interior designer Kate FitzGerald-Wilks.
Before you head out to shop for furniture and accessories, take stock of what you own. The lamp in the guest room might be just right for the reading nook in your family room. The dining room rug might feel more at home in the family room.
Also look for hidden treasures in unexpected places: the attic, the basement, the garage, a seldom-used room.
Start by taking inventory, compiling a list of resources you can use for years to come. Here’s how:
- Begin with long-term storage space. FitzGerald-Wilks predicts you will rediscover pieces you had forgotten you owned.
- List each item with a brief description, including its origin and its measurements. And if you are a pack rat, don’t forget to note where you are storing it. (If possible, also list how much you paid for the item and when you bought it. That will come in handy if you ever have to file an insurance claim.)
- Photograph each item. If it’s an importance piece, take detail shots and pictures from several angles.
- You can maintain your inventory electronically or rely on paper safely stashed in a fireproof box. Update your list if you donate articles, pass things along to friends or relatives, or replace a piece that has worn out.
- Enlist an extra set of eyes to get a fresh perspective. A designer or a stylish friend can help you to see Aunt Millie’s rocking chair or Grandpop’s walking stick collection in a new light. An added benefit: Taking inventory is an opportunity to weed out articles you no longer need or want.