Lighter and brighter
Interior designer daughter helps couple redecorate downsized house for a bit of coziness and drama
Everywhere Annie White looked, all she saw was brown: brown floor, brown cabinets, brown furniture.
She’d been telling her daughter — interior designer Nikole Starr of Nikole Starr Interiors in Richmond — that she wanted some new things, and after years of talking about it, Starr persuaded her mother to pull the trigger.
For starters, White said that even though her patio home in Sugar Land’s Telfair community was just 2,500 square feet and had plenty of windows, it felt dark and cavernous. When people came over, it could be so hard to have a conversation that the echo sent people out to the back patio.
“She had been talking about wanting draperies for so long, and finally I said, ‘Let’s just do it. Let me have my drapery work room come out to measure.’ I took the first step, and it rolled from there. She just needed a push,” said 33-year-old Starr, who opened her business in 2016.
White found a painting she liked on Houzz and bought it. It brought new style and color to the dining area, and adding plantation-style shutters and triple-lined silk draperies made an initial dramatic change. The draperies also got rid of the echo.
When White’s husband, Lee, 59, saw how much better the new window treatments made the home look and feel, he adopted a new mantra: “Whatever makes you happy.”
The mother-daughter pushpull dynamic was at work throughout the yearlong process, but in the end, Annie White was glad she took her daughter’s advice, and wished she had listened to her a little more.
“It was overdue, and instead of finding excuses to put it off, I suddenly wanted it all and I wanted it all right now,” said White, 57, who learned to fear change a little less.
Time to move
This month, the Whites will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary. The couple married later in life, and already she had two kids and a house, and he had three kids and a house, and when they bought a big home in the Quail Valley golf community in Missouri City, they made everything fit somehow.
That house had been built in the 1970s, and when it was time for some remodeling, they knew it would require new plumbing and wiring to bring the house up to code.
They decided to start with the kitchen, and Annie White guessed they’d spend $30,000 to $35,000 and move on to another room. Then came the sticker shock: a contractor’s quote of $72,000.
Lee’s reaction was swift: It would be cheaper and easier to just find or build a new house. Annie saw a sign in the Telfair area for a patio-home neighborhood, and the idea of a place with less yard to take care of sounded like a great idea.
She drove to the area, saw an empty lot on a court that looked out onto a small lake, and that was that.
“Lee told me at 8 o’clock one night to find a new house, and at 9 o’clock the next morning, I called him and said, ‘I found it,’ ” she said.
The new production home — only a tiny bit smaller than their Quail Valley home — took six months to build in 2011, and they took the interior walls out of what would have been a fourth bedroom to create a larger dining room that had space for a study.
Starr helped them edit their furnishings when they downsized, but even then some of the new things they bought were brown: a brown leather sofa and chair and dark-brown bed for the master suite. On top of it, the kitchen cabinets and floor are dark brown. And red and gold rugs were in every room.
All of that matters because the dining-study-kitchen-livingroom area is all one big space — one big, brown space.
White was falling in love with the casual French style she saw in magazines, on TV and in stores and wished she had a lighter, brighter and prettier home. So when her daughter’s nudge toward new window treatments worked so well, she was all in.
When she’d go shopping, she saw things she liked but couldn’t put it together in a cohesive way. She summed up her hesitation honestly: “I didn’t want to make an expensive mistake,” she said.
Starr brought confidence to the package, even if White didn’t always want to take her daughter’s advice.
They started with public spaces that visitors would see and then shopped for bedrooms later.
That big main space still has the brown sofa and chair, but a pair of crushed blue velvet highback chairs add rich color. Tan and blue pillows and a tan/blue rug helped lighten things up, too.
White already had a glasstopped table in the dining room, and Starr got new, off-white upholstered chairs to surround it. A big new floral painting and silk draperies got a final flourish with a new chandelier over the table.
The previous light fixture was cute but simply too small for the space. Now, it lives in a breakfast area that has gotten a new life of its own.
When the Whites moved in, they put a small black china cabinet at the back of the breakfast area and crammed all of their china in it. A brown rectangular table and chairs were so uninviting that the only thing the table ever got used for was folding clothes because it sits just off of the laundry room.
With a lighter round table, a pair of off-white chairs and a bigger white china cabinet where their dishes and things can really be displayed, the Whites have a small area they love.
What was a dead-end passthrough area is now a destination: the Whites’ spot for date night, when they put their electronic devices away, have dinner and connect.
Two guest bedrooms were full of odds and ends, and White’s solution was to shut the doors and ignore them — unless any of their seven grandkids were visiting, and they really didn’t care what the rooms looked like.
One at the front of the house had a daybed and an awkward window on an outside wall. They shiplapped over the window, added crown moulding and bought a larger bed. Soft bedding, new nightstands and lamps all made the room prettier.
“I didn’t realize how mismatched it was. I always kept the doors closed, but now I keep them open,” White said.
Another guest room at the back of the house proved to be a learning moment for White. She wanted a twin bed; her daughter urged her to buy a pair. In the end, the room has just one twin bed, a small acrylic writing desk, a nightstand and a cute chandelier. And, now that the small bed is no longer available, White really wishes she had listened to her interior designer.
When Starr scheduled a photographer to take pictures of the finished home, it was a signal that she and her mother needed to hustle on the accessories that would finish each room.
They’d spent months shopping in a way White had never done before. Some things were custom made, with people coming to the house to measure windows and spaces for beautiful draperies or other things delivered just for them. Other items came from Starr’s regular trade-only vendors, and accessories sprinkled throughout — including an out-of-reach art niche in the foyer — were found on clearance racks at Star Furniture. Starr likes to scavenge the shelves at the Home Goods store, where a keen eye can spot great bargains now and then.
“I love mixing high and low. I found bedding for the guest room at Home Goods for $29,” Starr said. “When I find something that I know is quality, I just buy it and find a client for it.”
The Whites aren’t getting rid of their brown living-room furniture, at least not for a while. They’re content with the improvements Starr has helped them make in the past several months.
“I call this the new traditional. It’s lighter and brighter, with creamy upholstery on dining chairs,” Starr said. “My mother has always had that ornate style; we just updated it to 2018.”
Though the Whites kept their glass-topped table, the dining room got a big makeover courtesy of window treatments, chairs, a chandelier, rug and painting.
The chandelier in the breakfast area used to hang over the dining table, but it was too small for that area. Now it’s perfect in this cozy space.
A guest room in the front of the Whites’ home had a daybed and mismatched furniture. They put shiplap on one wall and used lots of soft colors in furniture and bedding.