Erika in her office
Marla Carter

Outside the Box

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.

Sunny, white kitchen with aqua accents
Marla Carter

Style Comes Naturally

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.

Green bench and framed butterfly prints
Erika McPherson Powell

A Neutral Foundation

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.

White couch and chair
Marla Carter

Break It Up

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.

Gray-green bathroom cabinets with stone counter
Marla Carter

Getting Started

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.

Green kitchen cabinets and white marble back-to-back sinks
Marla Carter

Little Luxuries

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.

White sofas and stone hearth
Marla Carter

Buck the Trend

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.

Four-poster bed with blue and white linens
Marla Carter

Well-Dressed 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.

Living room and pool patio
Marla Carter

To See or Not To See

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.

Blue bunk beds
Marla Carter

Beach Chic

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.

Dining room with upholstered chairs and off-white curtains
Marla Carter

Well-Edited Spaces

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.

White kitchen with copper hood and chrome pendants
Marla Carter

Mix It Up

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.

Erika's blog Urban Grace

Contact Information

Erika McPherson Powell
Urban Grace Interiors, Inc.
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Phone: (850) 231-9916
Fax: (866)356-7750



Printed From: