Here's Exactly Where a Designer Advises Splurging—and Where You Can Save

Hadley Keller
·5 min read
Photo credit: Read McKendree
Photo credit: Read McKendree

From House Beautiful

Photo credit: Read McKendree
Photo credit: Read McKendree

We've all used the expression "blank slate" when referring to a new home, but for one Manhattan couple, this phrase was extremely true: "They moved in with literally no furniture," laughs designer Stephanie Woodmansee recalling the beginning of the project. Suffice it to say, Woodmansee, founder of Henry & Co. Design, had her work cut out for her: turning a cold, white box into an inviting family home. But, as much as the owners wanted a house that looked to the future—especially given the fact that the wife was nine months pregnant when design began!—like most of us, they didn't have an unlimited budget. And more importantly, the apartment is a rental.

So, Woodmansee's number one goal was to steer them towards worthy investments—both in custom furniture and antiques—that could move with them wherever they end up and offer suggestions on where they could save on items they might end up replacing in a few years. "We obviously wanted to find pieces that fit with where and how they are living now, but also that they could use wherever there home ends up being," says the designer.

Design Concept

When it came to deciding the home's overall palette and aesthetic, Woodmansee looked to geographic influence—to a degree. “She’s from Florida, and as much as they are city people, they are very rooted in Florida,” says the designer. That said, they didn’t want to go full rattan and nautical print in a Manhattan apartment—it would have felt out of place. “It was all about finding the right balance,” explains Woodmansee. That meant subtle references to coastal living in the form of blue tones and lots of greenery, without reverting to kitschy touches like model boats.

Living Room

Photo credit: Read McKendree
Photo credit: Read McKendree

"The first piece we chose was the sofa pillow fabric," says Woodmansee. "It sounds so random," the designer admits, but it plays into a key part of the renovation: balancing (sometimes smaller!) investment pieces with less expensive anchors. "If they owned this home, that would have been the living room curtains," confesses the designer of the Decores Barbares fabric. Instead, it becomes an eye-catching accent—but one that pulls in the colors from all areas of the open-concept living space.

The custom sofa was another worthy investment: "It's a classic piece, so they'll have it forever," says the designer. Plus, the neutral navy shade means it can live in a future home with an entirely different scheme.

Multifunctionality is also key in this space: a pouf on wheels can act as a coffee table or extra seating, and the coffee table, with its double shelves, serves as a substitute for a bookcase. "Being in New York City, you have to thing of every piece serving a function," says Woodmansee.

Save
If you're looking at a semi-temporary living situation, it may not make sense to spend big on window treatments, since custom ones can run up a big bill. Opt for simple silhouettes from big-box retailers—or if you love your views, go bare!

Splurge
Splurging on throw pillows in a favorite fabric is less of a risk, says Woodmansee—and you can pack those up and take them with you to a new home.

Kitchen

Photo credit: Read McKendree
Photo credit: Read McKendree

In the kitchen, Woodmansee drew the shade of pink on the counter stools from—you guessed it!—the sofa's throw pillows, a thread that ties the spaces together without getting too matchy. They also bring a fun pop to the generic backdrop, which the renters couldn't majorly renovate.

TIP If you can't renovate the kitchen, "pick really bright dishware and fun linens that you can keep out on the counter," to brighten things up, advises Woodmansee. Her go-to source for this home? Anthropologie.

Dining Room

Photo credit: read mckendree
Photo credit: read mckendree

"Being that it was such a boxy space, we tried to incorporate more feminine silhouettes," says Woodmansee. That was the rationale behind the dining chairs, which are upholstered in an aqua fabric that, the designer says, "could look totally different in a different colored room" down the line.

Save
Woodmansee opted for an off-the-rack dining table from Ballard Designs—high quality but not exorbitantly-priced.

Splurge
The dining chairs, meanwhile, are custom, since they can more easily change locations. "You don't always know what size or shape your dining room will be [and therefore what table you'll need], but you'll always need chairs," explains the designer.

Bedroom

"She really wanted curtains, and I said, 'don't spend the money on it,'" recalls Woodmansee. To get that same feel in a more flexible way, Woodmansee opted to create a tester (a tented drapery over the headboard of a bed), which makes the bedroom feel luxurious but could be easily moved down the road. To add a little more pop to the blue Brunschwig & Fils pattern on the tester, she covered the headboard in a fabric with touches of pink and red, shaped in a scallop to echo the pattern. "I wanted to give a little repetition because there are so many patterns here," explains the designer.

TIP Adding trim to throw pillows for beds or sofas is an inexpensive way to add a custom feel.

Nursery

Photo credit: Read McKendree
Photo credit: Read McKendree

"She really wanted a yellow nursery," says Woodmansee. "She didn't want it to feel so 'boy' or 'girl.'" Covering the walls and window treatments in the same pattern gave a sense of formality that elevated what's usually a super-casual space. The floral motif also brings nature into what might otherwise be a cold setting—a newly-built apartment building in Manhattan. "It's so important to have greenery in your space," says Woodmansee. "It just makes it happy." And this family home is happy, indeed.

Save
Even the best designers aren't above a good DIY: Woodmansee hot glued the pom-pom trim onto the edges of the Ballard Designs glider for an extra special (and fun!) touch.
Splurge
An ivory rug from Patterson Flynn Martin works in the nursery, but could also serve many other purposes down the line—plus, it's likely to hold up well in a less-trafficked space like a baby's bedroom.

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