When Hillary Littlejohn Scurtis moved her family from Miami to a 1970s colonial in Highland Park, the final mix of modern and traditional furnishings shouldn’t have worked, but it did. A neutral palette and perfectly scaled furniture are keys to the designer’s success, but Scurtis was kind enough to give us even more detail on where to edit and where to add to design a functional home.
The right colors are key, especially when dogs and kids are involved.
“Black can hide things and white you can bleach. There’s strategy in that as well because those colors become a palette for everything else in the room.”
Don’t be afraid to mix and match eras and aesthetics.
“You have better genes when you mix disparate ethnicities, and that’s what I think of my rooms—they have better genes!”
Never show too much leg.
“The one thing I’m aware of is how many [furniture] legs are in a room. Too many feel like dancing! In a more formal room, you can show more legs; in a casual room, use skirts to make it cozy.”
Don’t go crazy with color in kids’ spaces.
Scurtis designed with natural fibers, white linens, and monochromatic art pieces in her son’s room. “Sometimes people take color in children’s rooms to the extreme,” she explains. “Because most are a cacophony of color just by virtue of toys, I like to create some sort of serenity or order by designing more neutral in kids’ rooms.”
Don’t put art in expected places.
“One client I had was all about the artwork, and I deliberately left the art off the walls behind the master bed and sofa. I feel like it dumbs down the art if you are putting it in the places where people expect you to hang it.”
Avoid following the trends.
“You have to get beyond what people think is current, like Venetian plaster or a Sputnik chandelier. If you see it in more than two magazines in a month, then don’t do it. It’s going to be a yawn in a few years.”
Design with one unexpected piece in each room.
In the master bedroom, Scurtis repurposed a Chesterfield sofa that was previously in her son’s room. “You’d think that a buttoned up sofa like that would only belong in a study. Furniture doesn’t have to be so typical,” she says.
Forgo the dining room table.
When designing a room, think about scale. For Scurtis, her dining room table was too “stubby” to fill the space. Plus, the family doesn’t need a formal dining room, so they turned it into an art gallery and entertaining area. “Just because someone has a preconceived idea of how the room is supposed to be used, I don’t go along with that,” she says.
Add modern moments to a traditional space.
Scurtis masters the art of mixing eras and styles in the formal living room—the Dutch tile perfectly complements the contemporary art piece by Gert Johan Manschot. “I believe you have to express the beauty of time,” she says. “If you just take a snapshot from the same place, provenance, color, and characteristic, it becomes banal.”
Minimize visual clutter with a monochromatic paint palette.
Scurtis covered the walls in the family room a neutral shade of gray—even choosing to paint the brick and paneling. “It makes it more calming,” she says.