You may know Dallas-based interior designer Courtney Warren from TV (she’s a frequent contributor to Fox 4’s Good Day program and been on an episode of TLC’s Four Houses) or any number of publications that have featured her work — Better Homes & Gardens, for example, and Abode.
No matter where you find her, Warren comes across as your design-savvy BFF. She’s the friend who helps you define your own style without imposing her own, who shows you how to create a home full of meaning and intention — all while staying on budget.
Plus, she’s funny, a little quirky and full of original ideas. When a Star Wars-loving family tasked her with creating a themed media room, she didn’t opt for obvious and overdone posters. Instead, she used wood letters to apply a famous Princess Leia quote — “You are my only hope” — to that big blank wall every media room has, with the word “hope” in lighted marquee letters a few feet high. Another time, she wanted wallpaper for her butler’s pantry and asked a custom shop to create it using an enlarged photo of her grandmother’s famous chocolate cake recipe. That’s Courtney Warren.
Now you can get to know Warren and her approach to design even better through her new book, The Story of Your Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to Designing with Purpose and Personality (written, most likely, with a warm chocolate chip cookie and a Diet Dr Pepper in hand). The book aims to help us all honor and celebrate the stories of our own homes.
We connected with Warren to get a glimpse into what she has to share in that book, out August 22 and available for pre-order now.
What made you decide to write a book? What are you hoping to teach your readers about creating what you call a “you-shaped” home?
After working with Dallas clients for the past 10 years, I realized the things that were creating “aha moments” were usually ideas that anyone could replicate. Not everyone is in a place where a designer can fit their life, and I wanted to give people tools to follow at home on their timeline and budget. I am on a mission to help people create lovely spaces that tell their story so they can use their home to invest in things that matter to them. I love the look I get from a client after we finish their room and they say, “I never thought I would love this house, and now I don’t want to leave.” Design can do that. So if I can bring simple design ideas to more people, it helps me achieve my mission.
Tell us about the importance of connection and the living room feeling like a “belonging space.”
I think the home is the first place that connection with others should happen. If we are doing things right, our home sets the tone that the people who walk through our front door matter, and this is the place they are accepted for who they are. Most people don’t realize that the design of a room can aid in that connection. If we set up our furniture in our living space with that intention in mind, we can help facilitate easier conversation, and when people are talking, the more they are connecting.
For example, in a large living area, there are multiple ways furniture can be arranged. If the couches in the room are on opposite sides of the space, far away from each other and pushed up against the wall, feeling connected is going to be more difficult than if the space is broken into several areas of more intimate seating.
You mention that primary bedrooms surprisingly tend to be the last room to get attention, no matter the season or stage of the homeowner’s life. What are some simple ways to change that and tell our stories in simple and practical ways?
I think the biggest change starts with our mindset. As adults, we need to give ourselves permission that it is not selfish to carve out a space that energizes us. Adulting is hard! We deserve a special place in our home. Our bedroom can be that place.
I see so many clients with unfinished rooms, like their bedroom is an afterthought. Instead of curating the room with things they love, they have gathered the family hand-me-downs and feel too guilty to replace Grandma’s dresser with another piece they really like. In the book, I talk about that guilt. It is one of the biggest roadblocks I see my clients have, and it immobilizes a lot of people to stay stuck in design.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest culprits in the design world: matchy-matchy furniture. Any easy fixes?
Oh, this is an easy fix. 1. Don’t buy an entire bedroom set from the same store. 2. If you have already, simply swap out one of those pieces for something more unique. I prefer nightstands to match, although they don’t always have to. Other than that, the other pieces in the bedroom need to coordinate, not match. Even just swapping out one or two pieces will help the room look more custom.
You’ve got a knack for turning unconventional spaces into showstoppers. How do we take a space with little benefit and turn it into someplace useful?
I encourage my clients to think about how they use the space, and if they can repurpose an unused space, to do so. So many times I walk past a formal dining room that’s only use is [to store] Amazon packages. I have worked with several clients who have spare bedrooms that go unused, so instead, they have made them fit their lifestyle. Workout rooms, grandkids’ playrooms or bedrooms, home-school rooms — there are so many ways to retrofit a bedroom in a way that serves your life better. And it’s OK to do that! I give you design permission.
Loved the chapter on the “wondrous magical delight” of kids’ rooms. How do we honor our children’s imaginative visions in a timeless way?
The magic of childhood: There is no other time in life when things have such promise. I love creating kids’ rooms because we can let them live in that magic in their room through great design. There are things I had in my room as a child that I still remember with such affection. And just like the baby that gets a dozen birthday gifts but plays with the box, it’s easy to make kids happy. So why not try?
To do this in a timeless way, I recommend we limit their favorite “characters” to small, inexpensive items. When they have moved on from SpongeBob, it is easier to replace a simple throw pillow than it is a custom-designed bed in the shape of a clam. If you want to design a room around a character, utilize colors of the character in the room, because color never goes out of style. Then add in small, easily replaced accessories to enhance the character you are celebrating.
Next, ask the kids what they want, then incorporate it in a way that makes sense. One of my tween clients, a budding actress, expressed her vision for a stage with her name in lights surrounded by a mural of a flame. This sounded more like a Harley Davidson store than a tween bedroom. That wasn’t the design aesthetic her mom wanted, but I realized we actually could honor the desire behind it. We installed a small wood riser in an open area in her room, hung velvet curtains on both sides, and she now had her stage. If we had not have asked for her input, we would have never considered this small detail that now gives her such delight.
Making everyone in the home feel treasured, valued and surrounded by love seems to be a theme throughout the book. How do we use family photos and mementos to create that environment?
I try to infuse a spirit of celebration into my work and home. By using photos of the people we love, we reinforce their importance to us. And I don’t mean just our children. Family, friends, awkward cousins — they all get a place!
I also encourage folks to retrieve their special mementos out of the attic and use and display them. Some of our most precious memories are sitting in boxes gathering dust and families of rats, when instead we could showcase them in a way that makes us happy. One example I give in the book is my sister, Melissa. A natural-born nurturer, she loved dolls growing up. In fact, so many years later, she still talks about some of her favorites from her childhood. Every so often, she would come across her favorite doll in a store and be reminded of that childhood magic. She gathered a few of them and displayed them on an unused shelf in her closet. This sweet celebration of her childhood is like a hidden Easter egg that only she sees, and it makes her happy.
The book delves into the celebration spirit of a home. Tell us your secrets! How do we become the “fun house” in the neighborhood?
First of all, make a decision that by becoming the fun house, you are investing in your kids. It’s not about having “stuff,” it’s what the stuff can bring. Mainly other kids. Like the mantra in Field of Dreams, if you have cool stuff, they will come. When you buy the shuffleboard table or newest VR headset, it’s much more than a toy. It’s being the house where you can be a fly on the wall and hear how your child is doing in ways where they are much more open than when you hound them with questions. Then feed them, water them and cater to visitors by making your home a great place to land. And it doesn’t always take big toys to be the fun house. In the book, I talk a lot about the spirit of the home. If you welcome others and love new visitors, your home naturally becomes the place others want to be.
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