Debbie Propst brings her work home every day. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. As president of , an online home furnishings retailer, she believes it’s impractical to think work and life shouldn’t, or won’t, overlap. “I know our team members are thinking about creative briefs in the shower,” says Debbie, who recently blurred the lines between the two worlds in an unprecedented, somewhat dramatic fashion: by offering up her New Canaan, Connecticut, home as a company showhouse.
“I wanted to engage with our customers, vendors, and partners in a way that felt personal—to showcase what the company means to me and how I live with our products.” So in spring of 2017, Debbie, alongside husband Michael and kids Charlotte, 3, and Henry, 1, opened her doors to design-curious visitors for a month and, in December, for a holiday house tour that drew a whopping 1,200 visitors during a two-day period.
While many people shy away from hosting family and friends until their home feels “complete,” Debbie, who has lived in eight houses, from a classic cottage in England to a “modern concrete box” in Barcelona to a 1930s Tudor in Ohio, and “a bunch of apartments mixed in between,” is undaunted by change—or by company. Her unconventional open-door policy, combined with her artful approach to layering, makes the home a true lesson in housewarming.
Designed by famed American architect Royal Barry Wills, the home was transformed from a ranch house into a farmhouse by its previous owners. The topiaries, a nod to the One Kings Lane logo, are a classic component of New England landscaping.
To allow the surrounding Connecticut countryside to take center stage, homeowner Debbie opted for a creamy neutral wallcovering. A welcoming Dutch door and casual grouping of straw hats set a breezy, laid-back tone.
Thanks to Debbie's "shop for the house—not the room approach," everything can be used elsewhere in the home, including the living room's old furniture. "I approach the whole house as a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, with pieces that may appear in one room in one context but can move around as needed," Debbie says. "You can’t make it feel 'right' unless you’re working with things you generally love, and approaching your purchases on a larger scale gives you more freedom to buy what speaks to you."
Debbie worked with (the brand’s in-house design service) to achieve her casual, collected mix. “You can get a layered, lived-in look without working at it for a lifetime,” says Debbie. A blend of fabrics (velvets, linens), eras (modern armchair, antique dough bowl), and muted colors (blues, browns, corals) reinforces the effortlessly layered approach.
This bland, but versatile room was ready for an upgrade.
“I collect things that remind me of my English childhood,” says Debbie of the dressers flanking the entrance. She offsets her more serious, storied antiques with modern silhouettes, as with the . Similarly, a sleek pendant casts light above a traditional pedestal table.
The dark and heavy kitchen just needed a few coats of fresh paint in addition to some colorful and personal accesories.
While it appears to be the most dramatic of the home’s before-and-afters, the kitchen transformation was purely cosmetic—and mostly due to a milky matte paint that allowed the home’s original hand-forged hardware to pop. Robin’s-egg blue barstools, from , and the original beechnut island reinforce the farmhouse aesthetic.
English silver reminds Debbie of childhood and makes for pretty props for pantry shelves.
One of Michael’s decorative demands: swapping the room’s original baby blue hue for something more sophisticated. “I picked the dark blue based on a paint swatch with fears I might regret it,” Debbie says, “but then I read the color was ‘inspired by the dramatic Scottish skies.’” Debbie, who is 100 percent Scottish, felt it was a sign. Natural shades don’t compete with the serene scenery.
"My approach to color depends on the surroundings," Debbie says. "Now that I’m in a farmhouse nestled in woodlands, I choose muted gray-casted versions of colors as opposed to super-vibrant hues."
“I love Mongolian rugs with rich colors, so I wanted a wall color that would make the reds and purples pop,” says Debbie, who selected a dark navy for the task at hand. A adds playful decorative “pow,” as does an armchair upholstered in a quirky “Champs” fabric by .
Of her approach to kids’ rooms, Debbie insists she’s not a look-to-the-future, convertible furniture sort of decorator. “I create rooms for right now,” she says. Kids’ fleeting tastes give the design-lover an excuse to change things up. Fortunately, a whimsical-yet-understated wallcovering makes it easy to swap in playful, colorful elements.
Outfitted with casually hung, porcelain-shaded disc lights, the patio serves up farmhouse staples such as and with more buttoned-up boxwood topiaries.
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