The Nightmare of Doing Long-Distance Interior Design Work

Last year I did something I vowed I would never do.


I took on a long-distance interior design job.


Oh, you’ve probably heard the stories…

I mean, you can’t exactly drop everything and fly out 3,000 miles if there’s an emergency. Right? And the thought of having someone screaming in my ear or sending threatening emails isn’t very enticing either. Of course, that could happen, with a local client, too. But at least with a local client, it’s easy to bop over to see what’s going on. (BTW, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been screamed at. It’s very rare.)

It takes a special kind of person to make what could turn out to be a total purgatory, into a fun, rewarding experience.

A very chill-type-person-who-won’t-get-too-worked-up-when-the-chair-arrives-and-the-back-leg-is-broken.

That type of person.


Well, in the summer of 2015, out of the blue… I got an email from such a person; a woman named Jenn.


Of course, I couldn’t tell that she was that kind of easy-going individual in the email.

But I certainly could after chatting to her on the phone for quite a while a day later.


You know that feeling where upon meeting someone for the first time, you know that you’re going to be friends?


Well, that is the feeling that I got after speaking to Jenn. Warm and bubbly and not only that, a woman with superb taste. AND, a woman who knew exactly what she wanted. But in a not-pushy-way whatsoever.

A couple of months earlier, I had done a long-distance paint consult for her parents. (who as an aside adore their Benjamin Moore Cotton Balls oc-122 one of my fave white paint colors.) They were so happy that they told Jenn about me and that is how she happened to contact me in May 2015.

Jenn, her husband and four soon to be five (!) children were just about to break ground on a custom-built home in the blue-grass state. Well, they weren’t the ones bull-dozing, of course. But they did have an experienced master-builder who they loved and trusted to do a great job.



Jenn sent me some photos to show me what she was in the process of cooking up.



Tim Barber Design - paint color Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee

Tim Barber


Inspo for the exterior. I do know the paint color. It’s rather divine, isn’t it?

Oh, you want to know what it is? It’s in the laurel home paint collection. ;]

Okay, okay… I’ll tell you. It’s Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee oc-45. It’s like cafe au lait that’s really the lait with a whisper of warm coffee– a very yummy cream.



Above and below beautiful traditional architecture and interiors by Aaron Daily.


Damn. That’s pretty gorgeous!


Her dining room. Well, not hers– yet. This one is by the fabulous Beth Webb.


The one above and the next two many of you will recognize as the stunning kitchen and Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles winner, created by Frank Neely



Jenn told me that they were copying the dining room AND kitchen.

Okay, I’m in. Geeeee… hope she wants to hire me!

Well, I guess I already gave that one away. haha.

First on the agenda for this exciting long-distance interior design job was the floorplan for the first floor.

I was to help with the main living space and husband’s office as well as paint colors for much of the home.

Jenn said, “if you see something to say something– don’t be shy.”

Who me?




Here we have exhibit A – Le Floor Plan–


This shows the GREAT room which is one BIG living, sitting, kitchen with a dining room appendage.

In our convos, Jenn said that they were casual and they want a timeless, traditional, stylish and cozy family home.

I love that. Just one big problem.

There’s nothing cozy about a room that’s 19.5 feet wide X 45 feet long.

That is a swimming pool.


And I had some other problems too.


  • I didn’t like the location of the gorgeous kitchen fireplace, kind of shoved behind the side of the island.
  • The island is too narrow
  • There’s only one wall to put anything on in the living room.


And the biggest problem is that we have this big barn of a room.


Then, it came to me.

Let’s move that wonderful fireplace around the corner and create a wall between the living and sitting area with two doorways and the fireplace between them.

That way, we kill several birds. There will be a wall in the living room. The needed separation while still maintaining an open, light feeling and the fireplace will be a focal point to enjoy for those hanging in the sitting area.


Jenn loved all of the ideas and got the okay from the builder.


I ended up redrawing the entire room! But I love doing that sort of thing.


Fast forward – one year later.

Here is the sitting area with four wonderful swivel chairs from Lee Industries

And that chandelier. I bet you want to know where that came from.

Me too. lol

I plum forgot the woman’s name.

Oh wait!

She’s in Laurel’s Rolodex!!! I know I say this a lot but that thing that I created for you guys, has saved my life more times than I can count.



Eloise doesn’t have a website. It’s all word of mouth, but you can read more about her fabulous hand-made lighting here.


A 180 degree turn back towards the island and range.


This view looks a lot like the inspiration kitchen. But over-all, while very similar it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy to me. That is what I was saying in this post about getting inspiration from designs we see.


pretty brushed nickel faucet. Love the detail of the marble backsplash.

Another Eloise Pickard creation and below in the dining room.


Whoa! The dining room is stunning and nearly identical to the model. I designed the window treatments, but Jenn’s workroom did the work and wrought iron rod. I suggested a heavier linen and a fuller treatment than in the original. Trim from Samuel and Sons and linen fabric from one of my best secrets (in Laurel’s Rolodex) The chairs are new from me, from Phillips Scott.


The cozy, warm living room.  I had a hand in everything except for end tables and lamp. Furniture is from Lee Industries. Jenn already had the chairs but we chose a simple ticking to have them reupholstered.


The drapes are made from Bird and Thistle cotton chintz from Brunschwig and Fils


The view towards the fireplace.


On the other side of the kitchen is the back entry and mudroom.


Kid’s lockers. Love this!


Jenn’s office painted in Benjamin Moore’s Puppy Paws 1152, a lovely, soft, pale-dusty-pink. Oh, in addition to being the mom of five, building a house, Jenn runs a non-profit located half-way around the world!


Jenn and family outside their new home.


The back. Nice!


The exquisite, bucolic property most likely just after dawn.


Well, long-distance interior design work could very well be a nightmare; but not this time.

Jenn is one of the most delightful clients I’ve ever had. Every step was a pleasure. And when she sent me over these photos a couple weeks ago, I seriously couldn’t believe that we did this.

It was a true collaborative effort of homeowners, builder, designers and trades.

Jenn and her husband are thrilled with their new home and I’m so happy to have been a part of it and to be able to share it with you. I forgot to ask until this afternoon who took the photos, but as soon as I find out, I’ll give credit.









91 Responses

  1. Wow, Laurel, that is one of the most outstanding renovations I’ve seen in a very long time! Congratulations on a beautiful job!

  2. Hi laurel, beautiful home. I am a fellow designer looking for an architect for a similar project. Can you share the name of the architect?

  3. Laurel, I love this. The rug in the living room…would you be able to remember where it was purchased? I tried to paste the image in Google, as taught, but there’s not enough rug showing. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kelly,

      Actually, the client bought the rug on her own because it was too difficult long-distance to help her select one. But we already knew the palette. And after she selected it, it became much easier for me to figure out the fabrics.

      Sometimes if you put in the description of what you’re looking for, that helps find something similar. I find if I see something close, I click on that image and then go to the images that are similar to that one. If you keep doing it, you might find what you’re looking for eventually.

  4. Beautiful home! I would enjoy seeing more of it.

    Many ideas to ponder in both the inspirational photos and the home you worked on. It looks like a really lovely place to call home and not a show house.

    When I win the lottery you will be my designer of choice.

  5. Absolutely beautiful home…’home’ being the key word… something I always see and find so refreshing in your designs…you want to walk right in and live there! 🙂 When you do marble on kitchen counters, do you recommend a honed or polish finish to your clients?

    1. Thanks so much Denise! I prefer honed marble because it looks older and warmer. And also any etching that might occur from acidic foods like lemons, for example will not be as noticeable.

      1. I truly do enjoy your aesthetic, your designs have such simplistic, livable elegance to them. 🙂 I was hoping to hear you prefer honed, I’m doing a new build, and that is the finish I selected. I’m curious, have you seen or even used the new thin porcelain slabs by NEOLITH that look like marble, but, because they are porcelain, don’t etch or stain? I recently saw them in person in a showroom, the polished is very realistic, but, does scratch, therefore, not recommended for active areas such as kitchens, but, the silk finish, more like a honed, has no worries. Again, just curious if you or any of your readers are familiar or have first hand experience with the product. There was a part of me very intrigued, but, there was also a part of me that thought if I want the marble ‘look’ I want the real deal, including every little etch mark we make on it along the way!

  6. Laurel, Lovely home. I love your taste.
    The drapery rods in the dining room are stunning in that they wrap around the room. I also like they way they match the windows. Very nice contrast to the creamy white on the walls. Do you know who makes the windows?

    Stunning home.

  7. Hi Laurel. What a beautiful elegant home! I really love the warm, cozy and welcoming living room. What wall color and trim color was used in this room?

    1. Hi Susan,

      The trim and cabinets are Benjamin Moore Ivory White 925. The walls might be Farrow and Ball Joa’s White, but that’s very close to Benjamin Moore Manchester Tan hc-81.

      I say might be, because originally, they were to be the same and then her husband wanted a contrast. I told her that I’d leave that choice up to her. Obviously, they went with two colors. She was looking at F&B Joa’s White.

  8. What a lovely, warm, gracious and comfortable family home. Excellent job. And I love the fact that the client was open to changing the layout of the great room, and that you proposed it to her. I think the end result made it so inviting and more personal. I loved this post.

  9. What an amazing renovation! Thanks to you and Jenn for sharing the details. Your style always shines through, Laurel, and I admire your work immensely! Curious to know, though, did you enlarge the island?

  10. Yummy! Beautiful home and design! What is the finish on the lighting and hardware, oil rubbed or black? It is hard to tell in the photos but it goes lovely with the ivory paint color. Bravo Laurel! Love your blog! Michelle

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thanks so much!

      I’m not sure about the finishes because Jenn worked directly with Louise Pickard. If you click on the link in the post, you can read more about her process.

      And except for the size of the island and repositioning the fireplace and fridge and adding cabinets, I had nothing to do with the kitchen. Although Jenn did run the larger aspects such as finishes by me.

  11. Re Envy (or maybe it’s really yearning for more beauty): I honestly believe nearly anyone can create a house pretty much like this if she has patience and a plan. The plan is the thing. One can employ many good designers by the hour, and if she presents a designer with pictures such as your client presented you, explains her desires and situation, the designer can give her something from which to work. If the idea is to create comfort (and not to out-do someone else), she can do it one room at a time. Haunt antique and used furniture stores. Know what you’re looking for; don’t just go “looking” in general. Having architecture is nice, but architecture can be created. I really believe that by reading this blog and studying it, a person could achieve a high-quality comfortable look and feel. Laurel as a teacher, Benjamin Moore,a good discount fabric store that sells quality furnishing fabrics, and a plan—it could be done. and it could be fun. Simply doing the painting oneself would save lots of money. Wish some reader would undertake such an effort. When I look at this blog, I am always reminded that simplicity and practicality give comfort and peace to rooms and houses. So nice to see a home that looks like a home, Laurel.

  12. The house is very serene … of course that is without 5 kids running around LOL It is very pretty and I noticed one of the table lamps actually has a cord, you don’t see that everyday in photos – makes the room look real, I love that it is has a cord cover on it, they’re so pretty. That is the one thing that drives me nuts … what to do with the electrical cords (sigh). I’m also working with an adorable designer in another state and so far, so good. I love his ideas and combined with ideas from your blog I am happy with what is happening.

    1. Hi Leslie,

      The rooms are beautiful staged, but if a stylist had been on board, they would’ve brought in a truckful of plants and flowers.

      Nothing like a hit of chartreuse and/or green to wake up a scheme like this.

      But some folks won’t like it, no matter what, just like Jenn didn’t want a lot of color.

      It really makes a difference!

  13. Great post–and project–as usual Laurel! I’m about to start a design project for a client wanting a very neutral, calm, timeless result and am going to use this project of yours as my inspiration! And from now on, when I think of you, I’m going to think of that lovely lady on the swing. She made me LOL.

  14. Incredibly calm and relaxed but oh so elegant home. Amazing work.Just wonderful.

    Most of all I admire the change of the floor plan, because I get incredibly dumb even when looking at blueprints..
    So I can’t even grasp how people do it with relative ease.
    My husband is very good with it though-the moment he sees a plan, any plan, his face brightens up:) So I understand others can do it..theoretically..
    But this ability amazes me every time. You’re so talented!!

    Love, love the colors.

    If that house was a melody, it’d be something very mild and extremely beautiful. Like “Scarborough fair”..

    1. Hi Jenny,

      Thank you so much!

      I was trained to create and read architect’s floorplans. Even though designers aren’t licensed to create buildings, we can add walls or move openings.

      A lot of what makes it confusing are all of the little lines. Those are telling the builder the measurements of a particular wall. Sometimes there’s something that will indicate an item that is higher up. The floorplan is a horizontal slice looking down about three feet off the floor.

    1. Hi Carey,

      It’s supposed to be seagrass but she did not get it through me, so I am not sure what it is because in both that room and the living room it looks like something similar but not quite.

      I guess you can tell that I don’t make my clients get everything from me. But it was my recommendation.

  15. When I see your blog in my Inbox I get giddy with anticipation! I can hardly contain my enthusiasm as my finger nervously opens the mailbox, just saying.
    You are a decorating genius, you inspire me and you’re FUN!

    1. Oh thank you Connie! That truly warms my heart! I went to the farmer’s market yesterday as I’ve been doing every Saturday this summer. It was such a gorge day, that I sat on the stoop as the farmer’s were cleaning up. One guy asked me what I was doing (later on) and no, lol, I don’t think he was trying to pick me up.

      I told him that I was “working” but I love it.

  16. Laurel,

    Beautiful design!

    I find the dining and living rooms particularly interesting. What color did you use for the trim and woodwork? Is semi-gloss or satin (or other)?



    1. Hi Wayne,

      I think for the board and batten, it was definitely satin and it might be for all the trim. Not sure. I usually specify semi-gloss for cabinets and trim unless it’s more rustic. There isn’t a huge difference between semi-gloss and satin. Just depends on the way the light is hitting it.

      The trim is Benjamin Moore Ivory White 925 which is the same as Acadia White ac-41- It’s my favorite cream, but it just happens to be the color that the designer used as well.

  17. I love this house! So clean yet warm and open. I too love the puppy paws and am wondering just where I will use that color! Thank you so much for your inspiration. I look forward to your posts. I have a confession. I bought your book of paint colors but not the rolodex because somehow, I misunderstood and thought they would be local places to buy things from and not over the internet, etc. Silly me!

    1. Hi Meghann,

      The sources are all over the lot on the rolodex. Many of the sources are in stores and many are both stores and the internet as well as retail/trade. Lots of options these days.

      But the idea is that for nearly every vendor (except for a few that are not public), you can see their product line, online. But even the ones that are “trying” to be secretive, just google the company, hit images and you should see many of the items for sale and where you might find them as well.

  18. Laurel I love this post. In my heart of hearts I think this is my style. However I moved to the California desert a few years ago and started acquiring mid-century pieces because that is what they do here. So maybe I’ll rethink the direction of my furnishings because I’m so drawn to the look and feel you’ve shown us today. Would you be so kind as to share the paint colors for the living room walls, ceiling and trim? Love your blog and I own the rollodex and favorite paint colors. Thank you and please keep it coming!

    1. The cabinets trim are Benjamin Moore Ivory White 925 or Acadia White ac-41. Same color! The ceiling is ivory white and the wall color in the living room I’m not sure. It might be Farrow and Ball Joa’s White but that’s very close to Benjamin Moore Manchester Tan hc-81 which is in the beige-khaki section of the paint collection. It’s a great neutral beige that doesn’t read too pink, orange, green or gold.

  19. Cheers to you, Laurel and your client for pulling off this long distance collaboration! It’s a very grand project and you have created elegant, comfortable and approachable interiors for them. Take a curtain call!

  20. STUNNING! Laurel…you have a tremendous gift! Don’t ever doubt it! And you are brave and generous with your gift…you cared enough for your client to give her what she needed – not what she wanted but in the end she got both! Thanks for sharing this adventure with us. It was inspiring!

    1. Hi Karen,

      Sorry this out of order. Thank you so much for such a sweet comment! I have to say this. About 5 years ago or so, I used to comment occasionally on Vicente Wolf’s blog. And I shared something on my old website or maybe pointed to an image in my portfolio that tied into my comment. I forgot about it but about a month later, went back to check to see if there were any other responses.

      There were.

      Someone saw it and told me that I needed to go back to design school! wtf? (even if he thought my work was awful, was it his place to say so?) I was mortified. I looked at his portfolio which I hated. Ultra modern and plastic looking. I told him that my clientele were young families in the burbs who have mudrooms and soccer balls and that they were happy with the young-traditional designs I did for them.

      Someone else came to my defense, but I never went back to that blog. If I had been the owner, I would’ve removed those hurtful words. I got past it but it took a little while because a small part wondered if maybe he was right. And then I realized he is undoubtedly a sadist who gets his jollies out of putting other people down to boost himself up.

  21. Love, love, love everything about this home! Do you have a list of paint colors used in all of the pictures of Jenn’s home? I am especially interested in the trim color, cabinet color, wall color in the living room and the exterior color of the house and shutters? I have your Essential Paint Collection but I am still having problems picking out white paint colors!

    1. Hi Peggy,

      The only one I don’t remember is the living room wall color because they changed that and it wasn’t my specification. I didn’t think it would make much difference because there is so little wall space but Jenn’s husband wanted to see a little contrast. The other white is Benjamin Moore Ivory White 925 and the island and kitchen fireplace are Farrow and Ball Hardwick White.

    1. Hi Dana,

      I was waiting for someone to ask! I realized that I forgot to say and then figured it would come up. It’s Benjamin Moore Ivory White 925 which is also the same color as Acadia White ac-41! Yes, they are the same formula! The kitchen island and fireplace are Farrow and Ball Hardwick White. These were the colors used in the original kitchen!

  22. Wow! If ever there was a home I could move right in without changing so much as a throw pillow, this is it. Simply gorgeous!

    1. Thank you so much Kara and interesting. This would not be the “typical” home staging (if they were selling) but I think it’s what home staging should be– warm and inviting- and personal!

  23. Beautiful! Just beautiful! Love your blog Ms. Laurel. You’re helping me to form answers to questions I didn’t know I needed to ask. It’s so true, you don’t know what you don’t know and proves how valuable Professionals are. Keep on inspiring us!

  24. That is one incredibly beautiful home!! As I was looking at the photos I though….”it might have been a nightmare for Laurel but it was worth it”. How nice to find out that it wasn’t the nightmare it could have been!!

  25. I am wiping the drool off my chin and key board, stunning home but it looks so warm and inviting. Plus it has several things on my bucket list #1 an Eloise Pickard chandelier and the Birds and Thistle fabric. Love your idea of moving the fireplace and glad her architect/builder agreed. Thank you Laurel and Jen for sharing her gorgeous home.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      At some point and it was pretty far in, the builder realized that they had goofed in the drawing and had made the living room one foot too big. I don’t recall how we resolved it, but it all worked out.

  26. Laurel, you wrote that it takes a special client to make this work, but it also takes a very special designer to pull this off! Brava to you-it’s spectacular!

  27. What an incredible achievement, you should be very proud!

    I love how you demonstrated so well how an inspiration can be translated into a space to suit your own needs and taste. (I know this is not generous to the person who selected them, but I’m glad you didn’t select the kitchen stools as they are the only thing that is out of scale and character with the space.)

    I also thought I’d comment on fighting envy. I always blamed my lack of (put in anything here i.e. long legs, personality, money, …) on not achieving my dreams. It was only when I looked at beauty without envy and appreciated it for what it does to enhance my existence that I started to create the life I dreamed of.

    So I love to look at these beautiful posts because they are beautiful (like a painting) and do not envy the person who has them but thank them for creating the beauty that we can all enjoy and sharing it with us.

  28. Oh wow! What an exquisite home and I love that fireplace as room divide concept. I have major issues with great rooms just being so hard to furnish and make feel cozy, and that was a brilliant idea. The entire thing looks amazing and definitely not a carbon copy of the inspiration.

    I’m feeling rather inspired now, myself!

  29. Ummm, …gulp….long silence….
    WOW WOW WOW!!!
    Laurel this is so gorgeous! I just love the overall soft glow of all the colors! The way the natural light hits the gorgeous paint colors on these walls is so…ummm…so simple and yet peacefully beautiful! Oh, my…fantastic. Makes me feel such the slouch…no kids at home…much less 5, not running a non-profit…and I still can get my house reno going. Geez…hats off Jenn!

  30. Beautiful home for sure. However I am curious about the creamy white upholstery choices on the kitchen bar stools and dining chairs with so many children?? I realize that soft seating in living and sitting rooms could potentially be off limits to protect but the eating areas?? Did you commercially treat them, and if so does that truly keep rubbed in ketchup or mustard from staining?? Not being critical, just curious.

    1. Hi CZ,

      Good question. I did not have anything to do with the stools, only the four chairs, the dining room chairs and all of the living room upholstery.

      Maybe the fabric is indoor/outdoor fabric?

      As for the chemical treatments. It works pretty well but it rubs off and then it doesn’t work.

      For kitchens, I usually do a nice fabric like a linen or a chintz and have it laminated (matte finish). I realize that it sounds tacky, but there is only the slightest sheen and only in some lights. Mostly what you see is the beautiful fabric and it just gets wiped off!

  31. My goodness, that’s gorgeous. I love how you moved the fireplace. I’ve seen that photo before and think how it’s so pretty but too close to business, too hot in the kitchen.
    I really need to know about the linen drapes in the dining room and PUPPY PAWS!! My entire next house is going to be Puppy Paws. I knew I loved Ben Moore the best.

    1. Hi Jenny,

      I hear you and have to fight that inclination. But something my mom told me when I was a little girl has stuck with me.

      I was envious of another little girl at school who I thought was so pretty.

      My mom told me not to envy for you don’t really know what goes on with them or what may be in the future.

      1. Wise words Laurel! It is so easy to feel bad when you can’t have the beautiful things we see on posts. But we should never want someone elses life. Cherish our own and enjoy being inspired and express yourself within the means that God has given you.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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