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‘New traditional’ design updates old spaces

North Carolina is a great place to be a “new traditional” interior designer, says Durham’s Heather Garrett.

The state has plenty of traditional architecture, but people don’t necessarily want the inside of their homes to look like Grandma’s house, said Garrett, who recently landed on Traditional Home magazine’s 2013 list of 10 up-and-coming “new trad” designers to watch.

“A lot of my clients are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and they want to buy a house that feels solid, and it feels classic and it feels traditional, but they don’t want to have to furnish it and design the space in a way that necessarily matches that,” she said. “But it has to blend.”

That’s what “new traditional” is all about.

“It’s that fusion,” Garrett said. “It’s that way of infusing something very fresh and very cutting-edge with the traditional pieces, architecture, surroundings that kind of keep a space grounded.”

Traditional Home’s readers voted Garrett, who runs Heather Garrett Interior Design from a studio a few blocks from the American Tobacco Campus, their favorite of the 10 designers to watch. Garrett described those readers, like many of her local clients, as “a younger, little bit more modern reader who loves design and appreciates classic architecture, the classic shapes of furniture. That reader that wouldn’t consider themselves contemporary but really doesn’t want to be penned in by the furniture that they’ve inherited from their parents.”

In highlighting Garrett’s work, Traditional Home cited her art history background and ability to blend French modern and Southern traditional styles to achieve a distinctive look.

“Her signature look includes sophisticated surfaces as varied as plaster and hide or velvet and linen, as well as extraordinary lighting,” the magazine wrote.

In rooms she designs, Garrett puts the focus on “classic American and European design sensibilities with a natural and organic flavor,” she said. She might cover an antique French chair with a contemporary print or use a chandelier that incorporates rope and seashells as a focal point. An updated perspective on paint can also give a room a modern twist without losing the elegance of a traditional style, she said.

Sick of a stuffy dining room with white chair rails and moldings? Choose a bold paint color you love and cover everything – including those chair rails.

“You preserve the traditional architecture and the feeling of that detail, but you’re not calling attention to it like they traditionally would have,” she said. “You’re pulling it back a little bit.”

For that matter, you don’t even have to use the dining room as a dining room.

“That room can be kind of a dust-catcher for a modern family,” Garrett said. She’s turned the dining room into a far less formal family room in many local homes to keep up with the way people live.

“New traditional,” at least as Garrett sees it, can be very family-friendly.

“Kids, pets and red wine are facts of life,” she’s fond of saying, and her designs take those facts into account. She often uses outdoor fabric for indoor upholstery, including in her own home. When her two kids spill food on the family’s white sofa, which is covered in ultra-soft outdoor umbrella fabric, no one gets sent to time-out. The mess sponges right off and life goes on.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility not to create a household that’s more tense than it was when I found it,” she said of designing spaces for families. Kids shouldn’t feel like interlopers, and parents shouldn’t be shooing the little ones away from the furniture, she said.

To give your home a “new traditional” look, you don’t need a blank slate, Garrett said. “It’s more of a mind-set, really, than an actual undertaking.”

“We all have kind of our go-to aesthetic,” she said. “For every three things that you have, that you would consider to be beautiful but very solidly traditional, force yourself to choose one thing that’s really modern for you.”

A “new traditional” home can be beautiful and show high style, but it doesn’t have to look like the set of a magazine photo shoot, Garrett said.

“I try to really make sure that my spaces don’t feel overly decorated,” she said, “that it really feels like somebody got a helping hand in helping the space more clearly reflect them.”

Chandler: 919-829-4830

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