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Accessories add the last layer to polished Upper Kirby home |

Accessories add the last layer to polished Upper Kirby home


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Jana Erwin’s Upper Kirby home is finally done.

Not 80 percent done, like she’s had in the past. Completely done, accessories and all.

The Houston interior designer jokes that a decorator’s home is often like the cobbler’s shoeless children — the last in line.

For several years, she, her husband Carter and daughter Madeleine lived in the dream home in Montgomery that Jana painstakingly designed. For all its luxurious details, though, it never felt completely finished.


“I just wanted it to be complete. This was the first time I completed my own home,” said Jana of her recent task. “I always got to that 80 percent stage – it looked good – but those finishing touches are what takes the most time.”

Carter’s job — the 47-year-old is an executive in Schlumberger’s Cameron division — took the three to Aberdeen, Scotland, for two years and when it was time to come back home to Houston, she knew the country life, where nothing was walkable, wouldn’t work.


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“When we moved to Scotland, it changed who we are. I put my heart and soul into the 4,800-square-foot Montgomery home, but it wasn’t who we were anymore,” said Jana, 43. Her now 16-year-old daughter loved the all-girls’ school in Scotland, so that was another reason to move inside the Loop.

A new home and location weren’t the only changes for the family. Just as they were planning their return, Jana learned she was pregnant. Their little girl, Isla, will soon turn 5. And when they went to Scotland, Jana dissolved her business, Classic Designs. Back in Houston, she regrouped to launch her current firm, Nest Design Group, with her friend Audrey Tehauno as senior designer.

Finding the Erwins’ 1930s bungalow the family lives in now wasn’t easy. When Jana looked at homes, each one disappointed. Until, of course, she found the one.

“I was incredibly lucky. This house was already redone, and the woman who did it was a designer. All the details no one else would care about when looking at a house, I did. The baseboards were painted charcoal gray; no one does that, ” she said of the family’s nearly 2,000-square-foot home. That previous owner had also turned attic space into a master suite, making it a three bedroom/two bathroom home.

She placed her slipcovered sofa and chairs in the living room and her table with monogrammed chairs went in the dining room. Coffee tables, buffets and hall tables went exactly where they needed to be.

It was what wasn’t there that bothered her: the finishing touches.

“It’s that last layer of details. I had most of my good base pieces, beautiful things. But that layer polishes it,” she said. “When you walk into my home I want it to be visually appealing, but I want it to feel like ‘ooh this is a place I want to stay, where I feel comfortable, and I can sit in this room and live.’”

So the two women went through the entire home, made lists, shopped for a couple of months and, in a two-day installation, added polish to every room. Anyone can learn from their experience. Here’s what they did:

1. Assess what you have. Evaluate your home like you are a designer rather than a homeowner. Whether it’s the pillows on a sofa, knick-knacks on a bookshelf or dishes in your kitchen ask yourself if you love it and if it works in your home. If the answer is “no,” put it in a separate pile. Later, decide if those things need to be sold or given away for someone else to enjoy, or whether you pack them away to bring out again later.

2. Make a list. Once you see what you have left, consider what’s missing. Do you need new pillows or throws? What about art? Do you have interesting coffee table books? Write it all down and start shopping, online and in stores.

3. Pillows work in nearly every room. Decorative pillows are everywhere right now and look best when you mix them up. Use different materials, shapes and sizes together for a textured and layered look.

4. Bedding should be beautiful. Jana’s bedding had become a hodge-podge of old things. She bought all new, including a fluffy new comforter and shams, and she had a large decorative pillow made from an old chenille bedspread that had been her grandmother’s. Madeleine got new bedding, too, including a detailed Moroccan blanket and pillows with fur, sequins and ruffles.

5. Mixing old and new. A fresh look doesn’t have to mean buying all new things. Keep favorite pieces, and consider using them in a new way or in a new room. If you love them, find a way to make them work.

6. Trays are your new best friend. If a counter or mantel feels cluttered, use a tray to better define groupings or collections. One tray in Jana’s home held ceramic pottery, a stack of coffee table books, a crystal vase and a small bird sculpture. The tray gave them a reason to be together; without it, they would have just looked like an odd assortment.

7. Mirrors are a designer’s secret. They reflect light and brighten every space. Jana and Audrey use mirrors in every home they decorate. In Jana’s home, a trio of old pictures of shells have mirrored frames, and Madeleine’s bed has mirror trim around the edges of the headboard. Outdoors, poolside accessories include three framed mirrors.

8. Kitchen shelves should look neat and organized. Jana’s kitchen shelves are open, so you see everything she’s got in every cabinet. Her shelves felt too white, so she bought metal dishes and charger plates to add a different color and material to them. She stacked old, wooden cutting boards upright, and used some for gathering things. On the kitchen table, a wooden board can hold a container of pretty flatware, salt and pepper shakers or a small pot of honey.

9. Natural things are necessary. If you want your home to feel organic and authentic, make sure you use some natural materials. Leather or animal hide pillows work, as do ceramic vessels like pitchers, vases and bowls. German deer skulls — they’re smaller than American ones — can be hung on a wall or displayed on a counter. If you like to layer rugs, consider one made of natural fibers such as sisal or seagrass underneath an animal hide or silk or wool rug.

10. Hide the clutter. Jana and Audrey aren’t kidding when they say that in every client’s home, the husband’s big request is that he have a comfortable chair and a nice TV. But that does not mean you have to have remote controls laying everywhere. Buy a pretty lidded box — Jana bought a glossy cigar box — to stash the remotes. Nothing like multi-tasking.

diane.cowen@chron.com

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