“I love a room of storytellers,” says designer Maureen Stevens of the curiosities and artifacts that bring a house to life.
Stevens, who gradually made her way from physical therapist to designer by blogging and helping family and friends before going into design full-time in 2013, knows that a well-designed space is about conveying the lives of the people who live there. As someone who’s passionate about design and attuned to its nuances, she also recognizes that good design is grounded in detailed space planning, scale and proportion.
The Uptown cottage of physicians Skylar Souyoul and Tyler Plauché is such a space. Originally a shotgun built in the 1920s, the house was purchased in 2017 by a developer, who renovated the existing L-shaped structure and increased its size by adding a mirror-image rectangular volume to the other side. The couple loved the original wood floors and the privacy afforded by the new U-shaped footprint. The master bedroom is on one side and guest quarters on the other with living areas in between. But Skylar’s vision called for adding neutral window treatments, lively pops of color and a mix of both investment pieces and reasonably priced items that were comfortable and livable.
“I love a room of storytellers.”
Skylar also wanted to incorporate a few things the couple already had — the distressed dining table, the bed in the master bedroom and a trio of deer skulls acquired by Tyler, an avid hunter. Lastly, the couple wanted to include art, most of which they find during their travels, or pieces with special sentimental meaning.
Skylar found Maureen on houzz.com and the two went to work.
“The house was pretty much a blank canvas when we started,” says Skylar. “But one of the reasons [Maureen and I] got along so well is that she also really helped the space come together with things that we had and wanted to keep.”
In addition to wanting to communicate the homeowners’ updated traditional aesthetic, Maureen, who relocated from Austin with her husband and their 4-year-old son last year, wanted to make sure the design was functional for the couple’s day to day life, which includes two dogs and a love of casual get togethers such as seasonal fish fries and crawfish boils.
“She also really helped the space come together with things that we had and wanted to keep.”
She maximized the 1,500-square-foot space and made it feel larger by keeping walls and windows light and adding color in the forms of furnishings, accessories and art. She also used creative space-saving ideas such as small foot stools that double as extra seating when needed and a minimally furnished spot near the front door that does the work of a closet without giving up any interior real estate.
A mix of styles bridges the historic character of the house with today’s design ethos. Tufted fabrics, mirrored surfaces and gold accents are at home with rustic wooden surfaces, traditional and modern lighting, and lots of cheerful color, including navy, one of the three colors that Skylar specifically requested as one of her favorites.
“Maureen came up with the original plan and a lot of great ideas,” says Skylar. “She was also good about taking our ideas and bringing it all to life. I had in my mind the way I wanted the final product to look and somehow she got into my mind and did it. She is one of those designers whose projects really represent her clients.”
Maureen Stevens’ infatuation with design began early. For as long as she can remember, she’s loved arranging vignettes around the house, creating pretty gift wrapping and helping friends with beautiful tablescapes. But it wasn’t until she began blogging about her love of design that she decided to make a career of out of her passion. In 2013, she went into design full-time and her work has been in HGTV magazine, Make It Over magazine and on HGTV.com. She also can be found on MaureenStevens.com and on Instagram.
The following are her top three design tips for telling your story at home:
1/ Use pieces from travel and experiences — mementos, curiosities and artifacts as accessories throughout the house. For example, a postcard from faraway travel can be framed and placed in a little nook in your study, a seashell or coral you picked up from a beach getaway can be on top of some books in your bookcase.
2/ Showcase your collection — a lot of us have a penchant for something that’s special to us, whether it’s Victorian china, primitive baskets or depression glass; don’t be afraid to show them off. Me, I’ve started a collection of busts for fireplace mantels and on top of bookcases and I’ve been thinking of collecting oyster plates — I’m planning to do a curated wall with them.
3/ Commission an art piece — this is something meaningful and I have done this for some of my clients, whether it’s an illustration, watercolor or acrylic art. I’ve asked artists to do portraits of my client’s kids, their dog or a scene from their travels.