DESIGN SCHOOL: Kevin O’Gara of Thou Swell



Kevin O’Gara of Thou Swell blog and Kevin Francis Design hails from Atlanta but is currently an undergraduate student at Cornell University. I love getting to know areas of the country better through following design bloggers in different states and Kevin makes the south look very, very good! This emerging designer named his blog Thou Swell after an old jazz standard by the same name. He focuses on showcasing an avant-garde mix of modern and traditional design.

He has also just launched his first product collection! A gorgeous series of rugs called LABYRINTH made of wool and bamboo at different pile heights. They are quite chic and I can see them working very well in a variety of interiors from traditional to eclectic to modern. Here’s more from this talented college student, who I think we will be hearing much more from!

The most difficult aspect of my job: The balance between being a college student, having a social life, and running a blog and design business with plans to expand into product this year is my biggest challenge! Something more specific to being in the design blogosphere is really finding unique projects and inspiration beyond what circulates through social media and press.

My secret styling trick: I once heard that every room should have something red in it, and since I often work more with cooler colors, the addition of something red can have a surprisingly powerful effect! It brings a lot of vibrancy and personality to a vignette even if it’s as small as the spine of a book.

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Color Therapy: We’ve Got a Crush on Powder Blue

powder blue bedroom wall color

We have seen pastels popping up in fashion and interiors in a big way over the last five years. Different shades of our favorite colors always flow in and out of home decor trends, BUT one we feel that has particular staying power is Powder Blue. Some might consider this chalky hue a safe alternative to all the grey out there (we agree!) and really respond to powder blue when it’s the statement color in the room! Here’s more on decorating with powder blue.

Designer: Isabel Lopez Quesada, Source: AD

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Centered City Guide: Northern Michigan


If you are new to the blog, you may not realize I have several CENTERED CITY GUIDES – don’t miss these suggestions if you’re traveling anytime soon to one of these USA destinations!

My family has been traveling up to Northern Michigan since the 1980s. We were introduced to the Traverse City area by my cousin’s Grandma, who purchased a cottage in the town of Elk Rapids, MI back in the 1950s (she actually named the street the cabin sits on!). Over the past 10 years Northern Michigan has become quite the trendy area for vacationing families and couples. I’ve been lucky enough to spend many childhood, teenage and adult summers up at the lake, and my parents now own that original 1950s cabin (some updates have been made over the years, see pics below).

We love to get up to the cabin for summertime vacation whenever possible! This year, we had a full week up north and explored some new areas. Here are a few of the highlights and some of my favorite cities (all which I’ve visited multiple times!) that I recommend you visit for day trip, long weekend or find a cottage rental. Enjoy this quick northern Michigan travel guide!

Gorgeous Lake Michigan near Old Mission Peninsula.

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Chicago Design Alliance + St. Jude Fundraiser

chicago design alliance

Chicago Design Alliance + St. Jude Walk/Run 2018 Fundraiser

This is a personal post, but also a post topic that impacts so very many people. Cancer is prevalent in the lives and families of almost everyone I know (everyone you know too). During 2017, our immediate family was hit very hard by the shocking diagnosis of Leukemia in our littlest family member. My 2.5 year old nephew Oliver was very sick and needed to begin treatment for childhood Leukemia right away. It was hard on everyone, but of course, toughest on my brother and sister-in-law.

st jude walk run chicago 2018

My sister-in-law with my nephew Oliver.

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Window Treatments: Roman Shades & Drapery Panels

One of my very favorite ways to transform a room is window treatments. When I started the blog back in 2015, I wrote about different styles of window treatments and shared basic terminology such as roman shades, inside mount, outside mount, drapery panels and cornices. The original post content below, has become my most read blog post to date. Lots of people must be searching for window treatment advice on the internet! SO I wanted to update this post with some new window treatment ideas from our design portfolio.

Windows present unique challenges in almost every home and there are so many creative solutions. I suggest looking at pictures of interiors you like and noticing how the window are treated. Thinking about the space you have around your windows will also help inform the best decision. Here are some updated pictures from our Centered by Design Portfolio, along with brief explanations to help you see window treatments in a new light!

Also, don’t forget you can use drapery not just on windows, but as a canopy in bedroom, create a room divider or even hide an ugly wall or strange architectural feature. Two of my favorite designer/ bloggers have also shared more on window treatments. Follow the links if you want to take a deeper dive into everything windows and drapery!

CHECK OUT French & French Interiors (Sante Fe) and Megan Pflug (New York State).

Let’s first take a look at decorative drapery panels. Decorative panels frame a window and can create drama and add color, but they aren’t actually functional. In our Luxe Lakeview Dining Room, these plaid panels are decorative, while the sheer inside mount roman shade is functional. 

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DESIGN SCHOOL: Summer Thornton Design

There’s no better time than the first day of SUMMER to share my interview with Chicago designer Summer Thornton. I’m really thrilled to have Summer on the blog! She was the first designer I ever really “followed,” long before I even new what an Instagram account was. I am continually mesmerized by her creative use of color and pattern, high and low finds and fearless use of the fifth wall.

Looking a Summer’s portfolio back in 2013/14 was one of things that really spurred me to go back to school and pursue my dream of becoming a designer too. Highly recognized by many media outlets as a rising star, Summer is a Traditional Home “New Trad”, was named Chicago’s Best Transitional Designer by Modern Luxury. She firmly believes that each client’s home should be a reflection of their personal style – their soul, passions, and quirks should be found on the walls and in the furniture throughout the home – so no two projects should ever look alike.


All photography courtesy of Summer Thornton Design

DESIGN SCHOOL Q + A with Chicago Designer Summer Thornton:

The most difficult aspect of my job: Juggling

My secret styling trick: Flowers Everywhere

If I could design anyone’s home it’d be: The Queen’s Estates

When I’m uninspired, I turn to: Pinterest or I take a trip somewhere exotic.

In my college dorm room, you’d find: A purple iMac (whoa that feels dated).

The one design that makes me cringe now: I stand behind my choices even if I wouldn’t repeat them.

You can spot this in all of my projects: A fresh take, a bold stance, contrast, and oftentimes color and pattern galore.

My favorite person to follow on Instagram: @andrealevoff aka ‘the dope ass mom’ – a personal friend and client who helps me know I’m not a terrible parent.

CBD Summer_Thornton_Lincoln_Park_Remodel_Master_Bath_TubMy all-time favorite clients are: Fearless, trusting, comfortable with who they are.

If my style were defined as a piece of furniture, it’d be: Honestly I don’t know – I like to mix styles & eras so I’m not sure I could be just 1…my furniture piece would also probably change depending on the location of the project. For example it might be a riotously patterned day bed for a lake house, but a city project could be a gorgeous vintage chandelier.

The brand you’ll find in all of my projects: I use too many – literally we sourced from over 2,000 vendors last year so no two projects ever have the same thing. Sometimes I get on a wave where I’m using a few vendors for a while but then switch to someone else – I always want to mix it up and choose things I haven’t used before.

My least favorite part of the design process: Reselecting after an antique or original piece is damaged in shipping.

The source you’d be surprised to know I use: I’ll shop anywhere…from dusty flea markets to high end stores I visit them all & I don’t discriminate – if they have something cool I’ll buy it.

I always encourage clients to get rid of: Everything beige, especially beige sectionals!

The future of interior design will most certainly include: Ways to integrate & hide technology.

The best advice I’ve ever received about maintaining a work/life balance: Learn to say no to things you don’t love doing.

CBD Summer_Thornton_Lincoln_Park_Modern_Kitchen
I always tell clients that if you invest in one thing, it should be: The bones of the house – great moldings, architectural details, etc – they are the foundation upon which a great design is built

The project I’m most proud of is: We have several in the works right now that should be quite spectacular. I’m always more interested in the next one than the last one.

The pattern that I’ll never tire of is: Anything Pierre Frey

My favorite up-and-coming designer: We’ve got several stand-out people on our staff who have amazing potential.

How has being from the Midwest inspired your design style? I think people from the midwest have a certain approachability in their work – I don’t choose things based on their brand name, but instead just look for beautiful things that will create a spectacular overall room…whether they’re a bargain or an investment piece doesn’t matter to me, they all work together to yield the final look.

Thanks so much to the Summer Thornton team for making this interview possible! You can follow Summer Thornton HERE. Stay tuned for another Design School next month and check out more interviews in our inspiring ARCHIVES.


Color Therapy: Decorating with Yellow!


Decorating with Yellow:

Chances are you have a specific opinion on yellow, you like it or you don’t. There are so many different shades and they all can evoke different feelings in a space. You’ve got the golden yellow of the 1970’s, the buttery yellow big in the 1990’s, the fashion color chartreuse, punchy lemon, the list could go on. In this Color Therapy post, we’ve pulled together some of the best uses of true yellow in interiors and pinpoint what makes it so successful. Decorating with yellow can be (seriously) FUN and chic!


Home of designer Jorge Vazquez designed by Amaro Sanchez de Moya.

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High Point Market Spring 2018: Tres Chic Cocktail Tables

It’s my last post in the High Point Market series! I participated in a wonderful sponsored blogger trip to High Point, North Carolina this April to tour the 2x yearly furnishing show. If you missed those prior posts, you can read my INSIDER TIPS and COLOR TRENDS posts to catch up. In this last post, I thought it would be fun to focus on one item — a cocktail table, also known as a coffee table or ottoman. 

As a designer, almost every project requires several coffee tables and in the past I’ve really struggled to find unique options for my clients. I was impressed with the variety of materials, shapes and styles I saw in cocktail tables at market, so I’ve rounded up my best finds to share with you. A good cocktail table (or ottoman) needs to be functional and beautiful! It’s a great piece to make a statement with as it’s often front and center in the floor plan of a room.

Here are a few designer tips on choosing the right coffee table for your space:

  • Always measure your sofa seat height and make sure table is not taller than your seat. This can be a challenge with more modern sofas, which tend to have seat heights of 14″ high. A typical seat height is more like 18-20″ high.
  • Circular styles tend to work well when you have a sofa with a chaise, ample room between seating or a set of four chairs placed in the round.
  • Large ottomans or square cocktail tables (40″ x 40″) or bigger are great for bridging space if you have a larger seating area or a bay window that’s elongating the room/seating area.
  • Rectangles and ovals tend to be the most versatile and easy to use!
  • Don’t be afraid to make a custom piece, a simple rectangular ottoman is not very expensive to have fabricated by a local upholsterer and yields beautiful results in the perfect size for your layout.

Custom ottoman by Centered by Design.

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The No Makeup Home Tour

I will be the first to admit that I’m a perfectionist and that my Instagram feed is curated and planned. The photos you see on my blog and feed are not daily life my friends! My interior design photo shoots are ALWAYS partially staged. I want to create beautiful and livable interiors, but “photo shoot” days are often aspirational. Not many of us have fresh flowers in the house all the time, or perfectly ironed tea towels. Professional photography makes any room look 50% better alone.

I am also the first to admit that I LIVE for and love the photo shoot days. Seeing the interiors I design or style come to life is so much FUN! But perfectly styled rooms don’t last long in the real world, and with my first baby nearing 4 months old (even with all my organizing) there is still stuff ALL over my house!

When Kyla from House of Hipsters told me she was getting some blogger pals together for a No Makeup Home Tour, I jumped at the chance to participate. I love when people on social media try to keep it real. The idea behind these tours is to strip away some of that Instagram lifestyle perfection and give you a real look at our homes.

So full disclosure…I took our “real” non photo shoot photos after cleaning the house (cause I don’t want you to see my dust bunnies!) and on my iphone, because I want you to see the difference between a staged/professional photo and just daily life. I will also add that we are both sort of neat freaks in general (meaning I do not like clutter, period) and with a baby who is not yet crawling, we have not had to baby proof, although that is coming very shortly I think!

I thought it would be fun to pair a photo shoot photo, along side my daily life photo. Here’s a little look into our REAL daily life. Don’t miss the other awesome bloggers participating in this No Makeup Home Tour, everyone is linked at the end of the post. Some of my very favorite bloggers are showing you their dirty laundry too. Just remember, no one’s home is perfect. At the end of the post, you’ll see our never before shown on the internet (ha!) first floor bathroom. This is the one room left in the house to renovate (our backyard needs help too) and we will likely wait another year to tackle both the bathroom and yard – because even designers get tired of renovating their own house! : )

THE NO MAKEUP HOME TOUR    ——————————————————————————————————

Exhibit A: Bedroom Nightstand

Photo Shoot Day: Nothing on nightstand except fresh flowers, outlet hidden by books and lamp cord is in the drawer. We do have a hole drilled into top of nightstand to help with cord management.


Photo shoot day

Daily Life: Cord management has gone by the wayside! Baby monitor, computer, hot pad, lamp, cell phone – too many cords! #nomoreflowers

Daily life – cords attack!

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DESIGN SCHOOL: Lynn K. Leonidas

I first came across Lynn K. Leonidas through Sunset Magazine. Lynn’s firm was hired for a complete gut renovation for the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, Irene Edwards. The pictures of the WILLOW RESIDENCE really caught my eye! Lynn seems to gravitate towards adventurous design choices and unique details, many of which I really responded to. I love her tile and wallpaper choices, which always feel purposeful and inspired.

Then I heard Lynn on LuAnn Nigara’s A Well-Designed Business Podcast. I loved learning more about Lynn’s time in the industry and all the different jobs she had worked, and skills she gathered before opening her own firm. It was a very different journey than my own, and I love how so many various paths lead people into opening their design business.

I wanted to invite Lynn onto Design School, as I know there are many newly opened businesses and aspiring designers wondering how young people launch their fledgling design companies. I hope you glean a little insight into the process with Lynn’s interview. I also invite you to listen to Lynn’s story and my story on LuAnn’s podcast, as we both delve deeply into our skill sets and what motivates us to continue to build our design businesses.

Enjoy! And thanks to Lynn for sharing her insights with us!

DESIGN SCHOOL: with Lynn K. Leonidas

Interiors by Lynn K. Leonidas ( with project partner Andrea Faucett ( Photography by Aubrie Pick (

The most difficult aspect of my job:

Running a small enterprise can be demanding, and even lonely, as much as it is equally fulfilling and creative. It is a finely choreographed dance of maintaining a happy and engaged studio team, structured work schedule, client expectations, keeping our contractors responsive, and having some flexibility to drop it all and put out various small fires here and there. Not to mention making time to stay inspired and connected – with the industry, socially, politically. It is never boring!

My secret styling trick:

Art on the walls can be one of the hardest finds to source since taste is so subjective, but it really makes or breaks a room and should be considered from the beginning. We regard an investment in art as an indicator for a client’s willingness to invest in the surrounding furnishings, so this first test lets us know about the project we are getting into.

My childhood bedroom would have this:

I always longed for a canopy bed! I also think every kids bedroom should have wallpaper, for fun.

Interiors by Lynn K. Leonidas ( with project partner Andrea Faucett ( Photography by Aubrie Pick (

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