Michelle Beamer
Paul Wellman

Organizing and decorating your home needn’t be a daunting endeavor. We asked two of Santa Barbara’s top interior designers to dish on their successful strategies. Here is what Michelle Beamer had to say. Click here for Kisha Gianni’s interview.

First of all, tell us about yourself. I’m originally from the Midwest, but spent 17 years on the East Coast, where my husband and I had three sons, and I got my master’s degree in interior design from the Corcoran College of the Arts & Design in Washington, D.C. I started MB Interiors in 2005, but when we moved to Santa Barbara, I managed the interior design services for Restoration Hardware on State Street, where my team and I furnished whole homes in the U.S., Hawai‘i, and internationally. I’ve also worked as a designer in the construction industry, and in the last few months, I returned to working solely with private interior design clients as MB Interiors. I’ve always wanted to live in California, because the light is better and so is the weather, so when my husband’s PR career pulled us West, we didn’t argue.

Can you recommend any helpful apps or online design tools? I can’t get enough of Pinterest or Houzz. It makes it so easy to pin different categories all in one place, and share them.

The best thing for people to do is to look at all the images at once. The act of culling through images is so important — it trains the eye. One reason that a good designer can put a clever room together is because they never stop looking at images and cataloging ideas and design solutions. By analyzing groups of photos, you start to see patterns in your “likes.” Some are easy to spot like wall color or preferences in furniture.  

Examples of other patterns to look for are: Furniture legs: do you prefer dainty tapered legs or block feet, or furniture that goes all the way to the floor? Floors: smooth, rough, dark, light? Contrast: high drama (lots of lights and darks), or monochrome (same color, with slight variation in shade)? Heavy furniture, small furniture?  

The list is endless, but I can figure out a lot about what a client wants from a series of photos. I also suggest scrolling through design-oriented hashtags on Instagram and searching for new accounts to follow.  

I want a stylish house, but I don’t want to worry about my kids and pets ruining everything. What should I do? Everybody is messy. It’s just the way things are, and it’s so much easier for everyone if you just relax about your light-colored sofa, or else you’ll turn into a nag. I’m referring to myself — I have a white linen sofa, and three kids and a dog!

I like leather for chairs and sofas, because it gets better-looking the more worn-in it gets. I also like outdoor fabrics on indoor furniture! The choices have exploded in that niche, and many retailers offer performance fabrics in many textures and colors (like velvet and chenille!). When you touch them, they are not rough and utilitarian-looking. You’d never dream that you could practically hose it off after little Jack attacks with a Sharpie, or Big Jack spills a glass of Pinot.

I was just at the Design Center in L.A. a few weeks ago, and the new outdoor fabrics I saw were as yummy as cashmere. The performance fabrics are going to be more expensive, but the ones offered by the furniture chains are pretty reasonable and so worth the peace of mind. You can always go more luxe or custom in that category with a designer’s help.

As far as non-upholstered furniture is concerned, you can’t go wrong with stained or treated wood. Now, many rustic/farmhouse-style coffee and dining tables are untreated wood, which looks cool, but people stress about the care. If it’s going to turn you into Mommy Dearest, concerned about every oily salad dressing drip and juice box misfire — again, talking about myself here — I would seal with a colorless stain or wax so you don’t have to worry about liquid stains (test first on an area that’s not visible).

Alternatively, you can skip sealers and sand out eventual spots if the table is meant to be uneven and rough-hewn in style. This might be obvious, but I would also stay away from a lot of glass furniture, as the corners tend to be hard and sharp on babies/toddlers and then when they grow up, it’s still made of glass (!), and you still have to deal with fingerprints.

As for rugs, wool is great, because it actually repels stains and is easy to clean, or have them professionally cleaned.  I would recommend low-pile rugs, rather than high- or shaggy-style pile. Natural fibers like sisal and jute are really pretty and easy to clean, but use these in high-traffic areas mostly; they have a pretty rough texture, which kids don’t love. I like to layer these rugs; place a natural rug and then a softer, smaller one on top of that. This is good also if you don’t have a huge budget, as they are fairly inexpensive.  

I want a singular theme, but don’t want to take down personal items and family photos. How do I balance memories with style? Here’s the deal with the run-of-the-mill posed group family photos: They are mostly interesting to you and your family, because they evoke great memories for you. To anyone else, the images look like a group of perfectly nice people, but they are boring to look at. Also, the subject matter is at the same scale, so when you step back, squint, and look at a bunch of family photos on the wall, you see a bunch of small-scale blobs of people. This scenario lacks graphic interest and variety.  

To have a successful art wall display, start with thin, gallery-style frames, and alternate arty, high-resolution candid-style portraits of family members (color or black-and-white) with bold graphic abstract or realistic paintings, prints, or photography. Vary the sizes, but stick with the same general color scheme in terms of frames and mats. The mix you create communicates more about who you are as a family, your love, and your joie de vivre, than any group of posed photos on a wall!

I like this app called Social Print Studio, because you can print your Instagram and high-resolution camera photos at different sizes and shapes, and they will also frame them. Minted is also good for framed art in all sizes and styles.

I only have $2,000. What should I spend my money on? I would start with what can be fixed with paint. It’s a miracle worker in that it can transform a space for less than $100. And even if you hire it done, you can get a lot painted for $2,000. Painting kitchen or bathroom cabinets can instantly update your look, and add new hardware and you’ll feel like you have a new kitchen or bath. I refreshed my kids’ bathroom last winter and spent maybe $500 on paint, lighting, and accessories, and it looks really cute.  

Here’s a rundown on what I’d do if my budget’s tight: I love plants. Plants are great because they add beautiful texture and a sculptural presence, and in the absence of actual sculptures, they are super inexpensive. I have a fiddle leaf fig tree ($125), and it’s rather large, five-feet tall, has huge glossy leaves, and it fills out and frames its area beautifully. I also like air plants placed in hanging pots or containers, or succulents — neither of which require much maintenance, and you can find them anywhere. Large or small and colorful, plants can be placed anywhere, and they create an instantly chic vignette.

Floors: If you hate the floor, change it! There are some great laminates and tile that are quite inexpensive. The key is to use large-format tile, or wider planks — it looks more modern; there are some great choices out there. Or, if you have carpet, buy a large rug to cover most of it!  

Paint or wallpaper can do wonders in other living spaces. If you have shelving, you can paint/wallpaper the back wall and it really pops. Or if you’re feeling bold, pick a deep color and paint the walls and trim all that same color. I like to do paint “wallpaper” too — I do stripes in the same color, in two different sheens (eggshell and satin or semi-gloss), so that the stripes are subtle. I just did a gold and white wallpaper effect in my family room, using a “linen” texture tool from Home Depot. In 10 minutes, it looked like super-expensive glam wallpaper.

Layered lighting is key. Recessed cans or downlights are not enough! Lighting your space with downlighting is patchy and cold, and you end up casting shadows on your work surfaces. You need three layers: task lighting (reading lamps), accent lighting (sconces/spotlights), and ambient (general) lighting in each room. The layers of light add depth and dimension to a space. Look at photos and notice the different types of lighting and how they make spaces look richer and cozier.  

This is an inexpensive fix to do in concert with new paint, not to mention that chandeliers and lamps are beautiful and make a style impact before you turn them on. Oh, and use dimmers wherever you can, this gives flexibility on how you use the space. One important tip: Pay close attention to color temperature in light bulbs, especially with fluorescent fixtures, the higher (more cool) color temperatures are more suitable for surgery than dinner parties — not flattering. Stick with around 2700 kelvin.

Buy some art. Find a fine painting you love, or start collecting photography or other original art. Eye training is really important here: Look at a lot before you buy so that you can sort until you’ve figured out your taste. Having a great piece of art in your home is inspiring on so many levels, and really elevates your style.

If you are overwhelmed with the amount of work ahead of you, and/or DIYing is not your thing, then you could spend that $2,000 towards a master plan, one that you can do in phases, as you have the money. Get a designer and/or an architect, if you’re remodeling, and put a plan of action together. That’s not the immediate gratification that some are looking for, but your home is an investment, and you gotta do it the right way for you.

Where do you shop for your home in Santa Barbara? I love all the antique places, and the consignment shops, estate sales, and Craigslist! People get rid of some great stuff here! Plus, buying vintage is very green. But it does take time and multiple visits. I also find many stores inspiring for decor and accessory ideas, like Anthropologie and Wendy Foster — they source items similar to what you can find at great flea markets like Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, which I love and have practically furnished my entire house from there.  

For pieces locally, I like a mixed bag: Indigo, Cabana, Rooms & Gardens, Porch, E. Madison, Diani Living, Reeds, Blue Door, and I love Raoul Textiles fabrics. Restoration Hardware’s new modern line is gorgeous and very glamorous, and I love Mate Gallery in Montecito for their oil paintings, photography, and gifts/accessories.

For more of Michelle Beamer’s insight, see interiorsbymb.com.


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