Some best friends take road trips together, some have shared Pinterest boards, and some have weekly movie nights. For Tamara Stephenson and her best friend Susan Young, their version of bonding is launching a highly successful textile line. Root Cellar Designs, the result of two interior designer besties using their skills collectively to make something great, has been producing high-quality wallpaper and fabrics since 2015. As an experienced blogger, Stephenson has amassed over a million followers on her design firm’s editorial site, Nest By Tamara, and, in 2008, honed her writing skills into a historical fiction novel. Meet Tamara in our interview below, and learn more about her manuscript, musings, and trips to Maison et Objet.
A Root Cellar Designs-clad powder room.
Andrew: What is one thing no one knows about you?
Tamara: I wrote a novel in 2008. I’ve always been an outgoing person but twelve years ago after my mother suddenly passed away, I went through a difficult two years where I became more reflective while mourning her loss. I have no idea why, but I had a sudden urge to write this story that I began dreaming about which is completely fiction but it has a mix of different characters/people from my mother’s family in the novel. My grandmother was an avid reader and historian and during my childhood, she told me a lot about my roots. I think I was afraid I’d eventually forget the details of these stories, so I channeled them (but morphed and changed them) and put a lot of my energy into writing this novel. It’s a tale of two families coming together through marriage, and it takes place in modern-day (2010) during the recent financial crisis but I told the story going back in time from each family’s perspective as they struggled to make it in America- both from divergent socioeconomic backgrounds and heritages- one a wealthy, wasp banking family in Manhattan, the other a blue-collar, Irish family from Brooklyn. It’s historical fiction about issues today and there is a financial crime, a mystery and family conflict all with these two different families as the backdrop. I finished and edited the novel in two years and today it’s a 600-page manuscript called Tarnished Armor. I’ve never attempted to publish it or send it to agents but I feel a lot of satisfaction for writing it and maybe someday I’ll pursuit getting it published.
Andrew: Dream country to work in? Or dream project?
Tamara: I’d love to live in Italy and design a small bed and breakfast/boutique hotel on the Amalfi Coast. The design aesthetic, the lifestyle is perfectly suited for me. I love the casual, laid back, simple approach the Italians have for food and life. The Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place- the rocky cliffs overlooking the water, the lemon trees, the small village towns, lend itself well to my root cellar designs’ textiles and my way of designing/decorating.
Andrew: You are stuck on an island, you can pick one food to eat forever without getting tired of it, what would you eat?
Tamara: The perfectly al dente spaghetti marinara with fresh basil (although I’m not sure they can achieve the “perfectly al dente” on a desert island- HA!)
Andrew: Favorite city to recharge?
Tamara: PARIS- my favorite trip to take annually is to Paris during Paris Design Week where Deco-off and Maison Objet coincide. It’s a combination of design events taking place mostly in the cobblestone streets of historic Paris in small atelier shops where my creative energy is charged for the year to come. I love the history of Paris, the way they put things together (for lack of better words), and how they layer both in fashion, interior design, cooking and how they live so beautifully making the most out of every experience, nothing is wasted. While there, I also spend time with other designers so it’s a great networking/collaboration for future projects. I take several days to visit the museums, the restaurants, the Paris antique market and the various cultural neighborhoods in and out of the city to keep myself inspired when back at home. To me, it’s one of the most interesting cities in the world.
One of many bold and bright selections from Root Cellar Designs.
Andrew: Vintage or new?
Tamara: Off the cuff, I’d have to say vintage. I love things with a past, they tell a story about where they’ve been, where they’re from and they feel more meaningful to me and how they’ve worn a bit. That same vision was the thesis for our fabric and wallpaper company, root cellar designs. Both Susan and I are avid collectors of dishes, antiques, and vintage textiles and lace. Many of our designs came from our love for our own collections- like our fabric patterns Minton Branch, Willow, Crackle. The idea of taking something old with patina and giving it a new, modern vision is like paying it forward. I love all things modern too, they show us where we are headed, so to me, it’s a perfect combination to take inspiration from the past and channel that into something new– like with our textile and wallpaper designs where we are kind of like creating antiques for the next generation.
Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Tamara: Lived In, Layered, Edited. My interior design work is a conglomerate of my painting background (where we learned to layer paint, wipe it away, add texture, then edit it yet again), my mother’s love for vintage and my need to create a beautiful, welcoming home. Creating a home that is interesting, beautiful and with curated pieces has been my passion since I was a kid. My mother was a single parent who struggled to make ends meet while earning her Masters Degree in Social Work. She loved to decorate but there was a very limited budget. One of our hobbies together was to drive around different neighborhoods to look at homes and styles of homes we loved. My mother painted inexpensive pieces of furniture she found at flea markets and yard sales (before it was hip like it is today) and thought outside the box on how to decorate. Even though money was tight, we had beautiful chandeliers in every room, pretty painted and wallpapered rooms, and a combination of old and new together. We had a vintage lace tablecloth on our table every night at dinner. This way of growing up influences me every day in my own home, the homes I design for clients, when writing my blog about design and when working with Susan on our design collections for root cellar designs. Decorating is only the start in a home, and no matter how well you design a home, it only starts to feel beautiful when it’s lived in, the stuff is used every day. I set the table well every night for my own family, I bring out my collections, I make it creative and I’ve taught that to my kids. No rooms or items are off-limits because it’s only stuff and to use it is to love your home. Keeping with that idea, we create textiles that can be put in the washing machine and we choose durable yet quality textiles to print on with beautiful, vibrant colors that do not fade and can be used every day. Our wallpaper can be wiped down, it’s easy to maintain, install and takedown. That idea keeps with my philosophy of living in your own home where nothing is too precious- it is artisan and American made, unique designs but for a modern home and life.
About The Maker | Tamara Stephenson and Susan Young are long-time friends, a design duo coming together to work on interior design projects in Tamara’s design firm in New York City and the surrounding areas. In 2015, they launched their women-owned company root cellar designs, LLC to create and manufacture quality and beautiful American-made wares for the home. They channel the artistry of women hundreds of years ago who canned fruits and vegetables to sustain their community while creating unique and modern wallpaper and fabric not seen elsewhere in the market. Utilizing Tamara’s astute and trained design eye, her sense of color and demand for quality with Susan’s fine art skills, background in manufacturing and attention to detailing, they are inspired by their extensive antique collections, fashion and nature when making their designs. They proudly emphasize special attention to custom design work and provide timely and stellar customer service. Recently, the root cellar designs’ collections have expanded to include many textile and wallpaper grounds both for residential and commercial applications and a line of ready-made table linens, pillows and fashion accessories offered exclusively through several interior design trade showrooms around the country.
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