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Sara’s House: The Design Process…Part II (Time to Pick Some Furniture)

design by amber interiors | photo by tessa neustadt

Welcome to our latest blog experiment where one of my designers (Velinda) became the official designer to Sara, my head of production. Sara and her boyfriend Mac bought a house and frankly needed help. As a reminder, I thought it would be fun to really show you the design process from both sides. I also knew it would be great experience for Velinda as she builds her portfolio for her own future clients. So we (including me, Emily) get to sit back and watch…today, it’s the design board presentations. Let’s go.

Velinda here, and welcome back to Sara’s house. After a bit of gutting and lots of measuring, we’re about to dive into the fun part!

Residential design collaborations are usually fun because they’re so intimate. And they’re challenging because they’re so intimate. Unlike many commercial projects, the spending of every dollar is felt, so each decision is under severe scrutiny and debate. Often there’s more than one person fighting for a presence within this space they call “home.” It’s not uncommon to get 10 pm, worried texts from a second-guessing client. (Note: Sara, this isn’t permission to do this.) The faint of heart sometimes deem residential clients “not worth the hassle.” But each project is as varied as the client, so the job stays spicy. And in the end, you get to hand over a finished canvas to someone who cares passionately about the space and sees themselves in the details. That’s what we’re hoping for here, as we delve into visual concepts and sourcing.

When I initially met with Mac and Sara for a full low-down of wants and needs, I learned art has been their biggest fight (to mix or not to mix styles) and in their last apartment, Sara won. (She’s a stubborn one.) But they both love mid-century lines and vintage rugs. Sara described wanting a “fresh, traditional, warm, curated, minimal space.” Mac is hoping for a space that’s “inviting, intentional, sharp, comforting and lit.” I’m pretty sure he actually means “light,” not “drunk (or maybe it’s just what the youths are saying?),” but just to cover our bases, a bar of some kind is definitely in the works! They really see themselves using these two spaces as entertaining areas for playing games with friends or cuddling by the fire.

One of the first things we did together as designer and client was scroll through inspiration images they had both approved of and previously pinned, and I had them talk me through what from each image they were drawn to. I think it’s important to note that while a client might pin a room it doesn’t necessarily mean they love everything in the room; they might like airy feel, or the color palette, but not the actual furniture in the space. Here are some pins from their “Dining Room” board:

Sara&mac Pinspirations Dining Room 1
from left to right: design by carter design | photo by joe schmelzer, design by katie hodges | photo by haris kenjar, design by amber interiors, design & photo by the lisbonas

From these pins, I picked up a lot of traditional vibes, a pretty stark lack of color (they both tend to lean very minimal in their color palette), and a bright fresh, organic feel overall… but with punches of black.

Moving onto some images they pinned for the living room:

Mac&sara Inpirations Living Room 1
from left to right: design by amber interiors | photo by tessa neustadt, design by Catherine Kwong, design by unknown

They seem to both be drawn to images where textures are mixed in rather than mixing lots of different colors or patterns. And again, strong traditional aesthetics with hits of minimal modern.

I kept their boards open to refer to throughout this phase of the design, checking back frequently to see if concepts felt on track, even if they presented new spins on their own ideas. And I always want the finished space to fit their desired description, so I checked back in with their questionnaire along the way, too.

Again, there are great samples and explanations about creating initial boards in our recent “Design Process” post, so I won’t go into a ton of explanation on what we’re doing in this step of the process. In short, here’s where the shopping starts. I immediately turned to some of our favorite go-to sources (Article, Lulu & Georgia, AllModern, Rejuvenation, Amsterdam Modern, Clad Home, and Sunbeam Vintage to name a few), hunting for pieces that fit the vibe and that I thought might excite my duo. Since Mac and Sara aren’t planning on repurposing much of what they currently own for these two spaces due to size constraints (don’t worry, all previously loved furniture is going to good homes), I approached concepts by seeking high-impact/anchoring pieces first to build the rooms around. I also knew two important things:

  • Mac and Sara are both Team Vintage Rugs (and, like me, they like a dining room rug! Gotta protect those new wood floors)
  • Sara had already picked out two pieces for the dining room: A bar cabinet and this pendant light (which she bought months ago)

Rugs felt like the best “design-guiding” place to start, due to Mac and Sara’s love for them. It can be hard to find a vintage rug in the right colors and size needed, much less two that work together. Another aspect that makes shopping for vintage rugs tough is the fact that they’re often odd sizes and listed under general broad size categories (i.e.: “Area Rugs” or “Large”). We knew the exact sizes we needed (thanks to spatial planning!), so I started by shopping Esmaili Rugs because they have a site feature that lets shoppers sort by exact sizing. I made a rug options board within a couple of minutes.

How did I do this? Am I a Photoshop magician? No, my friends. While I still use Photoshop skills for final presentations, back when I started at EHD, Brady (uh EMILY actually) taught me the trick of using Keynote or Google Slides to make fast vision boards for the designer as they home in on designs. It saves so much time (and money for my clients) because it’s easy to just drag and drop/easily crop, without spending extra time cutting out backgrounds in Photoshop for every object being considered. Keep in mind these aren’t the final boards, just process concepts. Photoshop comes back into play to make things pretty to present to the client.

Speaking of, remember when I said some designers avoid taking individual clients at all… well, I couldn’t get away from mine! My “client” (boss) was always just a pane of glass away (and was often sending me links to stunning sofas far too large for their space). And stubborn lil’ Sara couldn’t resist peeking over my shoulder. No pressure. So this (typically private) part of the process got a little incestuous. Normally clients would see two, maybe three design concepts with everything perfectly cut out to really help them visualize. But it didn’t seem fair that Sara was getting all these sneak peeks while Mac was all the way in Culver City everyday, so if Sara was going to get to see these so was Mac. In the end it wasn’t actually that bad, and I was able to get pretty instant feedback on my initial directions, which looked something like this: 

Concept #1

Design Options 1 New

Concept #2

Updated Option 2 Sara & Mac Design Process 1

These first two options both present a dark rug in the dining room and lighter in the living. The dark green square in the dining room area serves as a reminder of the moody color they’re leaning towards painting the TV room, which will be visible from both the living room and dining room. It’s a small house and the design should all speak to each other, even if there are variations. Concept #1 has a smaller sofa and really is suited to the space. The longer, leather sofa is low and lacks an arm, so it’s not as visually heavy as a lot of larger sofas. I already knew Sara wanted a rectangular dining table big enough for six, so I made sure to source big tables perfect for game nights (concept 1 & concept 2) It was already determined through layout planning that we wanted a bench and I loved the one in these boards due to the fact that it has a back (comfort), minimal lines (sleek) and a lighter tone to speak to the hutch and lighter rug tones. Concept one’s dining chairs have a mid-century feel. In concept two, I choose chairs that are actually vintage and bring in a lot of warmth.

Feedback For Concepts 1 & 2:

Sara and Mac agree that they like the green pops of both designs and were open to something bold like a velvet green sofa, which I wasn’t sure would meld with their request for minimal (but liked a lot given it’s a craftsman house). Mac didn’t love the blue tones in the rug of Concept 2 as much as Sara did. The very simple/neutral living room chairs in Concept 1, while pretty, didn’t end up feeling like their vibe. If we went with a layout that includes chairs, Mac would prefer something dark. Sara, at this point, still leaned slightly toward a chaise/daybed. They both dug an arched mirror but leaned towards the more modern metal framed mirror.

For these next two boards, I swapped rug tones and placed a darker rug in the living room with a lighter rug in the dining room. Since they rarely eat at the dining table and board games don’t often stain fabric, I feel pretty safe about going light in the dining room:

Concept #3

Design Options 3 New

Concept #4

Design Options 4 New

In Concept 3, knowing Mac would be excited by as much black as possible, I explored black chairs in the dining room. However, seeing the dark chairs with a dark cabinet and a dark pendant was a lot of DARK. The white sofa in the living room is actually a chaise, which I love, but it’s really more to show the concept/feel. It’d actually be oddly deep for their tiny space. If they loved the idea and feel of it, there’s always the option of something custom. But how cool are those chairs in concept 4? They’re wood and leather, so I can’t imagine anything more “sharp,” for Mac. Plus, they’re narrow and low, providing plenty of visual flow space between the living room and dining room (which is what a chaise would provide).

Feedback For Concepts 3 & 4:

Mac was obsessed with the lounge chairs in Concept 4. I showed him an option with the leather in a lighter caramel tan, too, but he was hooked on black at first sight. He also loved the black dining chairs. And the dark rug. Basically, if it all could be black, Mac’s in. Sara also loved the chairs, but I positioned her to be on my side with “it can’t all be black.”

Concept #5

Design Options 5 New

Concept #6

Design Options 6 New

These two concepts are where I wandered the most. “But…do you like yellow? What about a really modern pop of color for a coffee table?” The bench/lounge in Concept 5 is a perfect size, but ultimately, our power couple (Mac + Sara = “Sarmac?”…sounds like an ointment. “Macara?” Let’s just round up to “Mascara”)—Mascara had become pretty obsessed with the chairs from Concept 4. Which meant we finally had a layout decided on! Sofa across from two chairs it is. Finally, in Concept 6, I explored all neutral rugs since they specified wanting “fresh and light.”

Feedback For Concepts 5 & 6:

Sara nixed an all-neutral rug concept and while she loved the yellow sofa in style, she would prefer to stick to blues and greens. Mac reiterated his leaning away from blues…and then he broke my heart. That gorgeous, theoretical “we gotta find this vintage piece” photo displayed in most of the boards? He let me know he doesn’t want anything that “solid” for the bar area. Instead, he’d prefer a cart. I pushed back a baby-bit, pointing out a vintage “cart” doesn’t take up much visual space, so it doesn’t quite serve as the “vintage heart” of the room in the same way. I love modern and I love new, but I think we gotta have that unattainable quality that comes from something that’s seen some sh*t, too. So we agreed that we’d still look for a vintage bar cart option and find other way to bring in a bit more “old” in some of the remaining details (like original art and accessories).

Just for fun, let’s examine the varying styles in communicating preferences:

Mac: “I’m actually into this vibe, not sure if it is too big to bridge the gap between living and dining rooms, but I like the utility—don’t like light gray.” … That’s incredibly helpful, Mac, I hadn’t considered how much you care about utility before, but now know exactly how to adjust. Brilliant!

And then Sara: “LIKE ALL CHAIR OPTIONS” or “NOT AS INTO THIS”…uhhh, Sara that’s…equally helpful? Sara’s worked in production too long, and really knows how to cut to the chase. ::palm slapping face emoji::

The slab of clay has been tossed, the general form carved out and now after all the peeking over the shoulders, I think I know how to adapt. It’s time to start carving in the details, hopefully with a balance of his and her preferences.  But you’re going to have to come back to see the final design choices…next week! In the meantime, let’s look at all options all together in case you wanted to, I don’t know…study them?

Design Options 1 6 Updated Grid 1

See you next week for the final design board. ::waving emoji::

Catch up on all of Sara’s Makeover Takeover: Sara Buys A House Part I: Six Tips For First Time Home Buyers | Sara Buys A House Part II: The Renovation | The Designing Begins: A Floor Plan Design AgonyThe Final Design Plan | A Fireplace Design Agony | Sara’s Moody TV Room Plan | How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer: The Final Tally Of Sara’s Project 


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79 thoughts on “Sara’s House: The Design Process…Part II (Time to Pick Some Furniture)

  1. I would love to know where these coffee tables are coming from! I’m shopping for a round coffee table and some of your finds are awesome. Enjoying seeing this project develop. xx

    1. I’m not sure where the first round coffee table is from (the brass and white one), but the other two I believe are from Bludot!

  2. omg, this is why i would be a terrible client – i would find it soo hard to go over that many options that all kind of look the same to me. it’s so hard to imagine these in a room and thin about how a slightly different rug would change the vibe of the space. any adivce on how you do that?

    1. Haha, just to be clear Velinda wouldn’t show THIS many options to a real client. It was just very hard for her to hide them from me while I walked past her desk 15 times a day. Because of that Mac and I got to give a little more feedback in the early stages than a normal client would. In reality Velinda would show a client 1, 2, MAYBE 3 fully flushed out design ideas.

  3. Too bad about that vintage bar cabinet! I think that closed storage bar cabinet with the surface retaining some of the bottles is the way to go. Keeps things more minimal, and an opportunity to provide a bit of soul to the space. Maaaaaaybe you can still convince him?

    1. We gotta give him a few wins, so he feels ownership of the space too. Velinda and I can be pretty powerful steamrollers otherwise!

  4. I love all of these—great work! Can you share your sources for the coffee tables in concepts 3 and 5?

  5. Option 1 & 4 are my favorites!! That sofa is just dreamy. (and I never say dreamy)
    Leather sofas have always been such a big no for me – is anyone else with me on this??
    Like, don’t get me wrong, they’re gorgeous at times, but SO uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I like fuzzy socks and fuzzy pants and I go sliding right off leather sofas lol. Give me a cushy sofa with velvet or a nice fabric any day so I can snuggle under blankets without sliding around.

    Can’t wait to see the final choice!!! They’re all fantastic, even with leather 🙂

    1. I love a leather sofa too, but also very interested in trying a fabric sofa. Growing up my parents only ever had leather sofas.

    2. The quality and finish of the leather makes a huge difference – cheap (fake) or polished leather sofas are slippery or sticky (hate hate hate that feeling when the backs of your legs peel off of a leather or vinyl seat), but a quality leather that has been left a bit more raw can be beautiful, soft, warm, and NOT slick or sticky! Oftentimes you’ll find this with vintage leather furniture, or right now it’s pretty easy to find if you’re willing to pony up for the steep price tag at higher end retailers like Restoration Hardware. My husband badly wants our next sofa to be leather, and when we bought our last one, we couldn’t afford any that were high enough quality to meet my standards – but I’m bracing myself and our savings account to be able to afford a good quality leather sofa in a few more years.

  6. I agree….modern furniture needs the hint of vintage to give a room depth. Love this look behind the curtain.

  7. Mac!! That solid vintage piece for the bar was my favorite thing in every concept. Stay strong Velinda! ??

  8. I’m sorry to ask it, but I think I need more links velinda. Particularly to that white chaise. Please?

  9. Love that you guys are sharing the “behind the scenes” of the process!

    I found this site a while back that removes the background of an image in seconds, leaving you with a clean png and no hassle. Saves me so. much. time. In case it’s useful, here’s the link:

    1. Hilda, THANK you for a great new resource. Really appreciate it and definitely putting that in the toolbag!

      1. You’re welcome, it’s such a time-saver. I can’t wait to see how everything comes together with this project, loving everything so far!

  10. Velinda you’re an absolute wiz kid! How do you manage to be such a creative designer, skilled writer, AND funny? I really like your thoughtful renderings and am learning so much even though I’m not a designer…just a regular lady!

    I wondered if it’s hard to not get attached to a design that YOU (as the designer) really like. Do you ever secretly roll your eyes when a client rejects something you think is perfect?

    1. She doesn’t secretly roll her eyes, she full on blatantly tells me I’m wrong. It works well for us, because I’m also real blunt. But besides being co-workers and designer/client we’re also friends, so it’s always just hilarious (and she’s usually right anyways).

    2. Kristina, THANK you for just the most flattering comment! It’s great that I can be so blunt with Sara, but yes, as a designer you have to secretly cry inside now and then 😉

  11. That rustic vintage workbench as a bar is my all-time favorite piece in the room, it helps balance the smooth and new. It brings in a nod of masculinity to the space. I love it and vote to keep it. Schoolhouse did a take on that same concept and I’ve loved it ever since!

    1. Lea, I hear your fellow-broken-heart! I’ll definitely have to check out Schoolhouse’s concept. Thanks.

  12. So many nice pieces! Love the leather sofa and the chairs Mac is obsessed with! Also like the black version of the dining chair and agree with him about the bar piece. Bravo for finding a beautiful bench with a back!

    1. What kinds of design projects does the EHD team usually do if not residential?
      I’ve been curious since we never see any make overs presented here except design staff personal projects. Just curious, I would love to see more real client jobs.
      This recurring post series is wonderful and super informative… thank you for the authentic content!

      1. They don’t do client jobs any more. The blog, and we the readers, are their client, everything is geared towards that. So they make over each other’s homes to provide content for us.

  13. I think any of this could be mixed and matched amazingly, great finds Velinda! My personal option based on their feedback, I’d do Option #2 for the living room but with the rug swapped out for the one in Option #1 and the chairs they love from Option #4. The coffee tables from #2, #3 or #4 are all great! As for the dining room, I LOVE the rug from Option #2 and desperately hope they use it!

    Can’t wait to see what is actually chosen! There are no bad options here!

    1. I’m also a fan of #4 with black dining chairs. I do love the yellow sofa in #6, too, but the sofa in #4 is my favorite.

    1. And you could always add in more black through accessories for Mac like those black weathered vases in the first pic with branches to give that organic feel they both love!

    2. I’m actually planing on using the bar cabinet more for dishware and linens and the bar cart will be more for booze.

      1. That works too! 😉 I was wondering why you’d need 2 bar cabinets haha. I’m looking forward to seeing the final design! It looks amazing!!

  14. Dying to know where the wooden platform sectional (sectional? I think it’s a sectional!) in Option 3 came from. I love it!

  15. Love so much of each concept. My one question is this, Are any of those sofas really anything you would relax on or just practice perfect posture? Not saying, come on in and relax to me. Am I the only one?

    1. We actually told Velinda that we were willing to go more “style over function” in the living room, because our TV room is where we’re going to spending most of relaxing time. But hoping to find a marriage of the two for the living room anyways!

      1. I would love a review of comfort for the sofa you end up getting, and would love to hear if there are any ways to sort of guess if a sofa will be comfortable just by looking at it online!

        I seriously love Velinda! She is the next style super star!

  16. Velinda, thanks so much for sharing your process through this. It’s always a little daunting to urge your clients in the ‘right’ direction, while keeping their personal preferences in mind.

    Mascara, really looking forward to your space. I’m planning to merge homes with my partner soon, so seeing your unique tastes visualized into one is really inspiring.

  17. What color do you like to use on the wall for white? I like it a warm and rustic feeling too. I need to paint my dining room white.

    1. I used Simply White but I would prefer something with a touch more warmth next time like Dove White!

  18. Fun! I know I’m not the client, but I like option 4 + the coffee table from option 3 to bring the light tones from the cabinet into the living room and modern it up a little. If you’re nixing the closed vintage piece for an open cart, going brass might help it pop amongst the dark things, create a moment, and tie into the mirror you have included in option 4. Just a thought. 🙂

  19. Can’t wait to see this design evolve and come to life. The options are looking beautiful.

    Also, since I can’t comment there any more, I read the “bit of gutting” October 2 post, and I want to chime in my thanks and love for that post, as well! Like someone else said, I was riveted. My eyes teared up when thinking about your brother and dad helping – and your dad helping for free. What a cool dynamic to have family members pitching in to help make things happen. It shows the love and bond of family, and it shows big things happening with grit and patience!

    1. WAAAHHH thank you ::crying tears of gratitude emoji that I don’t think exists but SHOULD::

  20. Obsessed with the green sofa! Hope it makes the final cut. Would you mind sharing the source for the armchairs with the white cushions in option 6? Thanks!

  21. I can’t resist commenting, first off–I LOVE this series. Second, as an owner of the Article Mello sofa (the brown leather featured above), I have to warn you that it is a full 2″ lower to the ground than the measurements indicate (seat to floor is 14″). It’s awkwardly low to the ground. Which could be great in the right space, but definitely requires thoughtful planning for coffee tables and other seating. Can’t wait to see what you choose!

  22. I love option 6 esp. for a small house as it looks visually light and a bit Scandi which is my vibe. Option 4 is my second choice, those chairs and that sofa are an awesome combo. I agree that Mac needs to go with the vintage cart as it really adds soul to all the designs. Looking forward to see what makes the cut!

  23. Love the design boards….they are all perfect!

    Question… not long ago there was a blog post. It was in detailed about a property that was purchased by one of your amazing designers which had a rental and happened to need an incredible amount of work…. they had an amazing contractor!
    Can’t find that blog post… has their been a new post on it?! Can’t seem to find one!
    It has kept me waiting…..thank you!
    Thank you!

  24. I love the 2 benches with backs (concept #1 and concept #4) and am looking for something similar as a dining bench. I would love to know where you found those! ?

  25. Love the green velvet sofa and dark cabinet. I have bentwood chairs like in option 2 and have been looking for a more modern table for them to go with, so I’d like to see where that goes. Where abouts is the arched wood (?) frame in option 1 and 5 from?

  26. You are so generous with your design advice and resources! What a great balance of modern and traditional. I would love to know where the black floor lamp is from in option one. Hopefully it’s not that designer one that I’ve been coveting but can’t bring myself to spend the money on. ?

  27. Haha!! Pretty sure he did mean “lit”, as in “extremely cool” ..”awesome”….my 22 yr. old son says it all the time! 🙂

  28. Absolutely love Concepts #1 and #4. I agree with Mac on those lovely black chairs. And, will you post all sources at some point too? Thank you for putting together all the concepts in one place to, as you say “study them.”

  29. Option 4 fits my taste the best, but it needs a coffee table, maybe something in gold metal or even chrome with a walnut top that would be an unexpected pop in the space. Overall, I’m excited to see where this goes.

  30. I feel like I’ve seen the interesting leather armchairs in the first photo on Emily’s blog before. Does anyone know where they are from?

  31. I love the way they look, but the green sofa and leather sofa looks very uncomfortable to sit on for longer stretches of time.

  32. Goodness, I love their style and all of these boards!! If I were the client, I think I’d choose option 4 but switch the rugs, use the dining chair/bench combo from option 5, and add the coffee table from option 3 – Those light wood tones would speak to each other across the rooms. Oh and I’m on team chunky vintage bar cart!

    Can’t wait to see how this comes together!

  33. Wow, these are so beautiful! Thank you for sharing the design process. Would you be able to provide the source for the accent chairs in option 2? Thanks!

  34. Sorry, but that chunk of leather masquerading as a piece of furniture is visually heavy and stylistically bland. Hard pass.

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