Erika McPherson Powell sees life in the details. She was born (an identical twin) in Norfolk, Virgina, but was raised in a handful of towns across the United States. Unlike many of her classmates, Erika spent her high school years following her parents to antique and flea markets and assisting with their endless renovation projects.
She spent a summer in New York City as intern for Victoria Hagan Interiors and for renowned textiles maker Scalamandré before graduating cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in interior design from Auburn University.
At 23, Erika set out on her own and began Urban Grace Interiors in the sleepy coastal town of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Erika is also the mastermind behind a blog of the same name, which serves as a daily dose of her creative, interesting musings for readers around the world.
MyHomeIdeas (MHI): How did you get into design? And who or what influences you?
Erika McPherson Powell (EMP): I can't remember a time that I wasn't into design; I guess I can attribute that to my parents (an advertising executive and an interior designer).
I still find myself doing things I remember them doing when I was a young child -- stopping to pick up furniture, frames, or lamps out of someone's trash, hitting up the local antique shows to check for new items (antique shows and flea markets are my choice of entertainment), gardening, etc.
MHI: What is your favorite paint color at the moment? What do you like to pair with it?
EMP: Shades of ivory and gray. I just finished a house where most of the rooms were Benjamin Moore's OC-32 Tapestry Beige.
It's an off-white color that leans on the gray-green side. It's very nice. Pictured here with it is a bench my client found in an antique shop in Thomasville, Georgia. It's one of those colors that just mixes well with everything.
MHI: How do you deal with combined living and dining rooms?
EMP: Combined living and dining spaces can be tricky. Lighting is the first thing in an empty room that says "dining table goes here," so if you are in a combined dining/living situation, invest in a good light fixture over your dining table.
Then, with properly proportioned furniture (meaning your living room and dining room furniture are similar in scale), a cohesive (but not matchy-matchy) color scheme in both areas, and separate rugs, you’ll be able to differentiate between the spaces.
I would suggest against trying to visually separate the space, such as with screens or drapery panels.
MHI: When you're beginning a project, what's the first thing you choose?
EMP: Plumbing fixtures! Some may find that really odd, but I guess I'm a fanatic for details. Plumbing fixtures are permanent fixtures that relay a distinctive design style, and are, unfortunately, often overlooked in the design process.
Take toilets, for instance. Some will say, "Oh, it's just a toilet," but I think a toilet could potentially ruin an otherwise beautiful bathroom.
I work through a project in this order: First plumbing fixtures, then light fixtures, tile selections, cabinet selections, hardware (for cabinets and doors), paint colors, fabrics and furnishings, and finally, art and accessories.
MHI: Complete this sentence: No kitchen is complete without ...
EMP: A garbage disposal activated by Newport Brass' Soft Touch Air Activated Garbage Disposal Switch. It is a little luxury that goes in every project I complete, no matter if the house is contemporary or traditional.
It's a countertop-mounted push button that activates the garbage disposal, and it is especially handy when a sink is in the kitchen island, where it can be tricky to find a spot for the electrical box and switch.
I mount them right beside the faucet. If the client is right-handed, it goes on the right, and if they are left-handed, well, you know the rest.
MHI: What current trend do you think we'll be so tired of in five years? What current trend do you love?
EMP: I really try to avoid trends. Patterns such as ikat, houndstooth, damask, and brocade all have historic precedence and have, unfortunately, become trends. I still like them in small doses and unexpected applications but would caution people to use them wisely.
That said, I'm a sucker for ikat -- the true woven ikat, not to be mistaken with printed versions of the woven classic. Dedar has an ikat that is too gorgeous for words -- it makes my heart melt. I'm also a fan of Madeline Weinrib's ikat pillows.
MHI: How do you like to dress a bed?
EMP: From head of the bed to the foot: two sleeping pillows, two pillow shams that match the duvet cover, sheets that are usually ivory or white, a bolster or otherwise interesting pillow (in an unexpected and not-already-introduced-in-the-room fabric), a matelassé on top of the sheets (tucked in on all sides with the sheets folded back over it), a duvet in a cover that matches the shams folded across the foot of the bed (in the summer this can be exchanged with a lightweight throw), and a bed skirt with a box pleat. Depending on the formality of the room, it can be pleated every few inches, or, for a more masculine or contemporary room, have fewer pleats.
MHI: How do you deal with televisions?
EMP: Hide them. I prefer that they not be over a fireplace. I recently designed a few custom cabinets where the TV comes out of the top, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the piece. I have also ordered Vision Art systems, which have art canvas that rolls up into the frame to expose the television.
MHI: What challenges do you face when designing at the beach?
EMP: My projects are usually second homes, and as a result, homeowners want to feel like they are at the beach. As a designer, I think nothing is worse than a blatantly "beach house," and at all costs, I try to avoid anything that is obvious.
You can exude beachy without the literal beach items. I have to tell my clients to trust that I will give them a house that feels like the beach without a contrived, themed look.
MHI: What's the most common mistake homeowners make? And how can it be avoided?
EMP: The most common mistake is not letting go of "stuff" often enough. I guess I am biased because I do this for a living, but in my own home, I like to get rid of old things to make room for new things.
I can understand hanging on to heirloom pieces with deep emotional attachment, but sometimes homeowners keep items that really skew the overall vision for their home.
If you are uncertain about something in your home, ask design-savvy friends for their opinions. If you decide it doesn't work, put it on Craigslist,eBay, or in your local paper. Or, even better, donate it to a local charity.
MHI: Do you have any personal design secrets you'd like to share?
EMP: It doesn't have to match. Your cabinet hardware doesn't have to match your light fixtures, which don't have to match your appliances, and so on. If everything matches, the result is flat.
I think the same rule applies to furniture and art. If you buy all your furniture at the same store or buy bedroom or dining room suites, your house will look like it came directly off the showroom floor.
It's far more interesting to mix and match finishes and styles, and it adds character and layers to a room.