Interior designer Meredith Ellis was born and raised in Texas but her influences and interests draw from all over the world. You can’t help but be impressed with her decade working for renowned designer Bunny Williams in New York, a stint with Thomas Beeton in Los Angeles and even White House designer Michael Smith. She and her husband, Hunter, are happily now living back in Austin, Texas, where together the couple runs the JAMES Showroom, a boutique designer resource and homebase for her interior design consulting.
This summer, Meredith had the honor of being named one of Traditional Home magazine’s “New Trads,” an elite group of 10 designers from around the country. We caught up with Meredith to find out her style and how she put together this recent Ellis house (a rental house, believe it or not!) for their family of four.
StyleBlueprint: You have a background working in New York, Los Angeles and Austin. How do all these influential cities play into your design style? Is there such a thing as an “Austin look” for those of us who don’t live there?
Meredith Ellis: New York fostered my appreciation for history. I began to understand the importance and prominence of antiques. While working for one of the top designers in the business, Bunny Williams, I was introduced to so many incredible craftsmen who were the absolute best at what they do, many of whom I still use today. It helped train my eye to recognize real quality. I also love so much about Los Angeles: the bright natural light, the weather and the casual laid-back vibe. In California, people tend to use a lot of color and more linens and cottons. I adopted a “casual elegance” as one of my signature looks that works so beautifully back in Texas. I am a born and bred Texan, however, and find it very exciting to be living in Austin during this time of rapid growth. Austin is becoming a world-class city known for its high-tech modern edge but it’s also a city deeply rooted in tradition that draws people from all over the country.
SB: What are some of your earliest memories in interior design? Were you one of these designers always rearranging your room at age 10?
ME: Yes, I was! I think I truly tortured my dad and my brother by rearranging my room practically every weekend. Fortunately for me, my mother was an interior designer, so I always had great things to play with. I remember following her into showrooms and to clients’ homes. From a young age, I recall giving my two cents in a meeting about what to hang where or what fabric I thought was best. Luckily my mother was incredibly supportive and always gave me confidence. She wisely and kindly always told me, “There’s not just ONE way to do things.”
SB: What attracted you and your husband to this charming cottage … and I understand it was a rental? Tell us what were some of the things you did to the house to make it your own.
ME: Yes, it was a rental. My husband and I moved from California for a lifestyle change and to be closer to family once our daughter was born. Though we hoped Texas would be a permanent move, we didn’t know for sure, so renting made the most sense for us. I loved this house immediately because it had character. When we first saw it, it was painted a million different colors but I could see it had amazing bones and that is what mattered most to me. My wheels started to spin with the possibilities. The first thing we did was paint nearly every room to create a cohesive flow throughout the house. Secondly, I removed all of the existing heavy window treatments and installed matchstick blinds in most areas. The ceilings were high, so I wanted to draw attention to the architecture and detail of the home. I used fabric drapery and shades in a couple of the bedrooms to soften the areas a bit.
We also made some changes to the way we live in the house to fit our family of four better. Because I have small children and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I turned the previous dining room space into the living room, so I could be close to them while they played or watched TV. (Also, and because we have children, we don’t do a lot of dinner parties, so didn’t need a room devoted solely to dining.) And in typical Craftsman bungalow style, with this house you enter the front door right into a living room, so what looks like the foyer was originally the living room. We loved the kitchen that came with the house but I removed the “furniture-style” island that was in the kitchen and replaced it with our antique table and chairs. It was really important for us to have a place to sit as a family for breakfast or at night; I love dining in a kitchen.
A round kitchen table replaces a traditional island previously in the same spot; Meredith prefers the old-fashioned charm of a kitchen table — and its opportunities for family dinners together.
SB: How did you add your own style to the house, decorating-wise?
ME: I love injecting personality into a home by using collections, books, photography, art or other things that are a part of your own history. I think it’s important to decorate not only for the way you live, but also how it relates to the architecture. For me, this house really spoke to tradition. One of the benefits of moving back to Texas was getting some great “hand-me-downs” from my parents. I have meaningful pieces throughout our home that belonged to my parents or grandparents.
Most of the artifacts hung on the walls are from my husband, Hunter’s, travels around the world. He worked for the History Channel for six years and before that as a Navy fighter pilot for 10-plus years, so he was fortunate to do lots of traveling. Wherever he went, he would pick up mementos from his trip. Some of the items are from my own antiquing trips, too, but all contribute to a sense of “wanderlust,” which is what we hoped to convey in the room — and the house as a whole.
Thanks to Meredith Ellis for sharing a peek inside this beautiful Austin bungalow — it’s fantastic! See more of Meredith’s work on her website, meredithellisdesign.com.
And thanks to Amy Bartlam for today’s beautiful photography.
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