Clients run the gamut. Some clients agonize over paint colors and marble samples, while others step back and say, “Just have it done in time for our big anniversary bash.” Sometimes a designer feels like a therapist, sometimes like a new best friend. But like the design process itself, the designer/client relationship is rarely smooth sailing from the get-go.
Two years ago, Louisville designer Natalie Officer got a call from a gentleman looking to surprise his wife with a gift of her design services. Months passed and things had not progressed beyond that initial conversation. Sensing that her potential client – Deborah Cohen – was “change-averse,” Natalie made an overture by presenting her with a box of choice fabrics, wrapped in tissue and ribbon.
That simple, stylish gesture got things going, but Natalie wasn’t home free yet. “This was a woman with a great eye who could have done this on her own,” she explains. “She didn’t have to hire me; she didn’t need me. So, it took a while for her to become at ease with me.”
“The relationship had its ups and downs,” admits Deborah. “When you have several creative minds weighing in on many decisions, there is bound to be a bit of volatility. Some decisions I absolutely deferred to Natalie, some were a collaboration, and some were me overriding her. Our relationship finally reached a place of trust and respect.”
A world-traveler who was comfortable surrounded by the treasures she and her husband had acquired over the years, Deborah wasn’t interested in utterly reinventing her environment. But she was open to new colors and fabrics, to creating a fresh envelope around the things she loved. Natalie’s effort to do just that is most evident in the dining room, where she covered the walls in a deep hue – Studio Green, from Farrow & Ball.
“This is a Georgian house with a contemporary addition at the rear,” explains Natalie. “It is very open and when you walk into the living room, you are immediately drawn to the big windows of the new addition. So, with the dining room – which sits literally at the heart of the house – we wanted to stop you in your tracks, to have you appreciate the furniture and art gathered there, and the weight of this paint really does that.”
Working in a home where the architecture combines the traditional with the contemporary requires a sure sense of balance. In the foyer – bounded by the front door and a staircase – Natalie papered the walls with Zoffany’s Verdure, a landscape inspired by a late 17th-century pattern. She outfitted the casual living room at the rear of the house with a streamlined sofa she designed specifically for that space. In the formal living room, she hit a note somewhere between these two extremes, redoing the homeowners’ Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs in Maharam’s Big Stripe by Paul Smith. “That was me pushing her, wanting her to have something interesting, something that made it worth hiring me,” relates Natalie.
In the kitchen, Natalie sought to please both husband and wife, respecting his preference for clean, uncluttered spaces and her desire for an inviting area in which to cook. With its stainless steel island and minimalist stove hood, the space sports a soberly functional air, while the blue-painted cabinets are a happy accent, an eye-pleasing reminder that making a meal is more art than science, that coming together over a plate is so much of what home is all about.
Looking back at this two-year adventure, Natalie expresses a deep sense of satisfaction, as well as an appreciation for a process that she and her client experienced together. “I have always been a really good listener when it comes to clients,” says Natalie, “but this was a project I was never sure would get off the ground. Deborah taught me a lot about client care. And this home is a testament to that.”
Photography by Whitney Neal.
We recently checked back in with Natalie on her creative process when designing this Louisville home. Read the interview here.
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