Boho Living Room Upgrade

Finally fixing up that dated living room? Is HGTV just your guilty pleasure? We interviewed Laurel Duff, an interior architect and designer, so we could get the 411 on color, space, and all other elements of design to make the most of any space in your house!

Photos by Hunter Premo

Welcome! I can’t wait to pick your brain. But before we get started, could you introduce yourself? Your name, what you do, where you’re from, how you’ve spent the last 9 months? 

My name is Laurel Duff and I am an Interior Architect and Designer at CallisonRTKL, a global architecture, planning and design firm. I’m originally from Wakefield, Massachusetts but I currently live in Washington, DC with my husband and my dog. We have been quarantining in a 900 square foot apartment for over ten months now, so I can safely say I have never been more aware of how important space is to a happy life. 

What inspired you to start your career as an interior design/interior architecture?

I was working at a small technology startup right out of college as an Employee Engagement Specialist (read: spearheading and maintaining programs that made our people happier at work). As part of our lease agreement, we underwent an office lounge and pantry renovation. The pantry finishes were upgraded and the lounge was expanded to include a video game room and a larger social space where employees could take a break from their screens and unwind. Helping coordinate this process and seeing the drastic, positive effect it had on my colleagues when it was finished planted a seed for me. I enjoyed coming up with ideas about how to make people happier at work through programs, but what if I could make them happier by physically changing the space they worked in? After doing some research and a few informational interviews, I decided to go back to school for a Master’s in Interior Architecture with a focus on Commercial Workplace. 

So today we’re featuring a room designed by influencer Hunter Premo. We love this space...but why? What makes this room so visually appealing?

There’s a lot about this room that works! Between the ample daylight, earth tones, natural elements, and pops of color, it exudes warmth and comfort while still maintaining a level of sophistication. Each individual element holds its own while still sharing commonalities with the rest of those in the room. For example, weaving is everywhere – whether it’s the rattan table or chair with its intricate curvatures, the knitted rug, or even the soft rope of the baby gym – it invokes a sense of ‘handmade’ and intentionality. These are complemented by the other organic, earthen materials in the room, such as the Himalayan salt, the gold leaf in the large painting, the live plants, and the brass of the lamp. These subtle details have helped to curate a cohesive larger picture of a soft, inviting space to relax and play. 

This is a small room with so many personal touches but it doesn’t come off as cluttered. How can I make a small space my own but keep it comfortable?

This has a lot to do with the type of aesthetic you are going for. If you are looking for a sleek, modern living room with clean lines and minimalist elegance, your definition of ‘clutter’ is going to be a lot different than someone who is going for more of a Traditional look. With that being said, being very intentional with the decorative and ancillary elements in your space will help keep your design cohesive. It’s easy to want to add more and more to a space, but you run the risk of overcrowding if you never pare down. Choose things with a story behind them if you can – a piece of art you bought while traveling, a vase from a local artisan. If you’re prone to impulse buys, try to stick to a ‘one in, one out’ rule. If you have fifteen pillows on your couch (no matter how beautiful they are), no one will have anywhere to sit. 

Similar to Hunter’s space, you want to make sure you’re leaving room for circulation – keep your larger furniture and design elements along the perimeter of the room. This will expose the center and make the space feel more open. You can also use mirrors to give the illusion of more space. Bonus – they reflect any light in the room so they’ll help brighten up your space!

Let’s take a look at the artwork she has on the wall. Where do you start when you’re looking for wall art? What makes this piece work? Is there a way to know when you should be aiming for a large art piece vs. say, a gallery wall?

I love to buy art when I’m traveling. It’s a wonderful way to remember a trip, and it has lead to a widely varied collection of styles, cultures, and colors. Sometimes I have an idea in my head of what I’m looking for, and sometimes I fall in love with something completely unplanned. I also like to follow local DC artists on social media to see what they’re coming up with – that’s been a cool way to source art during the pandemic especially. For the art piece in Hunter’s room, what works the most in my opinion is its scale. While the room doesn’t feel cluttered, there is a lot going on along the perimeter. This large, very neutral piece still ties into the natural elements of the space, and doesn’t add the kind of busyness a gallery wall would. Typically, busier art should be above simpler furniture and vice versa. A gallery wall is about variety; multiple elements catching your eye simultaneously. It’s full of dialogue, whereas a large art piece can be more of a self-contained statement. This piece doesn’t overpower the room, but instead provides a calm accent.

One of the most striking elements of this space is the couch! How can you make a bold colored couch or larger piece of furniture work well in a living space?

One of the reasons this couch can be bold is because of the neutrality of the rest of the elements in the room – the only other truly bold colors come from the live plants and the woven carpet. (Live plants are an excellent way to bring color and texture to a space). As the largest piece of furniture, the scale of the sofa combined with its pop of color grounds the room, allowing the other elements to almost float around this anchor. In fact, I think the couch could have actually been even brighter (maybe a coral or an emerald green) and still not sacrificed the tone of the room.

Okay, we’re a bit biased but we love Hunter’s use of our Sand Castle Play Mat. Why does Sand Castle work best? What would have been your back up choices and why?

The Sand Castle Play Mat is seamless in this room – it doesn’t pull attention away from the rest of the room, and accents it while still maintaining its functionality as a mat. Its patterns are very subtle, similar to the other patterns and shapes in the room. They are very textural and have depth but they don’t overpower. The pattern repeats are really understated. The hidden dichotomy of good design is that you almost don’t notice it if it’s done really well, and the Sand Castle Play Mat is a great example. I think this mat in Petal would have worked equally as well, bringing out more of the blush tones. I could also see the Heart of Gold Play Mat work well; whose patterns echo those same concepts of woven and handmade that permeates the room. 

Any advice for people who are currently looking to remodel or redesign this year? Up-and-coming design style to look out for in 2021 that is small space + family friendly?

These are unprecedented times, and people are getting more intimate with their personal spaces than possibly ever before. When we spend so much of our time in one location, it’s difficult not to see all the things we want to change about it. I would encourage everyone (whether you’re considering a renovation or redesign right now or not) to take a data-driven approach to how you spend your time in your space. How much do you sit on the couch? Where does the majority of your natural light come from? What direction do your windows face? Does your back hurt after sitting in your office chair for eight hours? What are your circulation patterns in the kitchen? Are the materials used to make your table from sustainable sources? 

Collecting this kind of information will help you make informed and evidence-based design decisions, which are in my opinion the best kind of design decisions. Your space is your space, and it should be designed to suit you, not the masses. Given that we are spending so much time in our homes, shouldn’t we make sure they’re functional as well as beautiful? 

With that being said, I think 2021 will be the year of personalization. We haven’t been able to express ourselves at social gatherings in the same way, so I think people have been and will continue to turn to their homes as canvases. I imagine lots of custom pieces and loud, bold patterns. One of the Pantone colors of the year is in fact a bright yellow, so I don’t think we are going to shy away from boldness. I also think, similar to the rise in Athleisure, comfort and Hygge will be big this year: think plush, soft textiles and lounge pieces. This in particular is exciting for small spaces, since coziness is often more achievable on a smaller scale! 

One last thought is the idea of sustainable design. It’s growing rapidly in the commercial sectors, and for good reason. When design elements are sourced ethically and sustainably, it’s not just about the environment. It means healthier materials with fewer toxins come into your home, which I am definitely on board with this year and every year.   

Where can our followers find you online?

People can find me @design.duff on Instagram!