The Design is in the Details

Like the old song says, little things mean a lot. Award-winning designer Maureen Stevens of Austin deftly brought those lyrics to life at a home in the capital city’s tony Tarrytown section...

When Stevens was contacted by a couple in California eager to move into their newly purchased home in Texas, she wasn’t surprised. “A lot of my clients are from California,” she says, crediting Austin’s housing boom with the influx. The young homeowners are truly a product of the digital age, basically buying the home remotely and contacting Stevens after seeing her portfolio page on Houzz, the robust online platform covering home design and architecture featuring countless thousands of articles, photos and designers. Beginning with an email introduction, Stevens and her clients had their first in-person meeting over coffee, which took place when they had been in the house for only a short time. “Their very busy, active lives included tennis, golf, cooking, entertaining friends and family, and their beloved dog,” says Stevens. Love of the outdoors, a laid back philosophy, and the need for a soothing home environment formed the design foundation for the entryway, living and dining area, stairs and master bedroom in the 2,900-square-foot home.

The descriptors that the homeowners wanted their space to evoke, says Stevens, were “inviting, relaxing, comfortable, airy and light.”Nowhere is that more evident than in the master bedroom, where serenity is paramount after hectic workdays. Using heavenly colors like Sherwin Williams® TideWater paint and Milliken™ Delicate Frame patterned carpeting in Muslin, the second floor haven appears to float among the clouds. Just like when getting dressed, adding the details is the final step. “Accessories really make the space pop, and they kind of meld into the overall design,” says Stevens. “If it’s comfortable, calm and serene, then I want the accessories to be the same.” None of which means boring or bland. An eye-catching wooden hand is raised over a jewelry box on the dresser, ready to store and display rings in a charming mix of form and function. Conical wooden sculptures from Objets LTD lend a whimsical bit of movement, wobbling gently when touched. The bedside dog bookends from Objets LTD are a nod to their precious pooch.

“It’s those subtle touches that you don’t see right away, but it completes the design,” says Stevens. A perfect example is the carpet’s geometric pattern — something the couple was not initially sold on, thinking that it might be too much for the room. “I reassured them that once it’s all done and everything melds together it would look just right.” And it did, lending more depth and interest to the space than a solid carpet. “Most people are used to having all solids or all plain and that’s it. I had fun choosing patterns or items that they initially thought would not work. It’s not the designer’s job to force the client to agree with you, but to give them new ways to think.” The stairs and landing feature carpeting by Helios, with an antelope design from their Skins collection. An animal-style print was a bolder move, says Stevens, “but because it’s in that warm brown it’s not too out there.” A complementary wallpaper pattern was added — Rosey Posey Trellis by Anna Spiro from Sydney Harbour Paint in Vintage Linen. 

Without any renovation or restoration hurdles to overcome, Stevens was free to focus on a modern rustic design throughout (“Modern but not too modern, with a rustic feel,” she says), continuing a calming palette downstairs. Nature’s colors of blues and browns are punctuated by spots of warm woods and ever-present elements of nature. The soft blues of the dining room chairs echo the bedroom’s hues with wooden sculptures accenting the tabletop. The living room presented a challenge, says Stevens, in terms of doing double duty. “It had to be comfortable but it also had to be a formal receiving place.” The solution was two floating conversation areas — a casual one centered around the television, and the more formal one with a fireplace focus. The mantel features a display of woven and beaded tribal jewelry from Objets LTD in Austin. Designed as a decorative element, “you could also wear them,” she says. Fabric is another detail that Stevens considers essential. Pillows and throws in velvet, cashmere and faux fur add another layer to the overall design, and can be used sparingly or liberally, depending on taste. “Even in a muted palette, just the play of different textures gives the space life.”

The home’s entryway sets the stage for what’s to come, putting together various natural elements like woven baskets, branches and greenery repeated throughout the house. Terrariums from Restoration Hardware were filled and arranged by a local florist, a leather pouf from Morocco resides under the entry table, and the abstract painting over the upholstered bench was done by a friend. Stevens offers tips on how to best accessorize new or existing décor. First, “don’t limit yourself to just what is thought of as décor.” Jewelry, rocks, dinnerware and area rugs as wall hangings can all be used in pleasing arrangements without buying anything extra. Next, use the rule of three, which extends to groupings in any odd numbers, and use varying heights to grouped objects, to avoid matchy-matchy symmetry. 

Finally, even when working with a designer, use cherished objects such as family heirlooms, vintage photographs and treasured gifts to imbue your space with things that tell your unique story. “Whatever a client loves or likes, we’ll find a way to incorporate it. Design is not just about the space, it’s about the people who are going to be living in it.” Along with, of course, “those little things. They do mean a lot.”

DESIGNER Maureen Stevens
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