As seen in Today's Woman magazine (Louisville, Kentucky)
Contrary to minimalist designers, Don Harris, co-owner of the store Willow & Ivy, believes less is less. “If I think one of something is pretty, then two is even prettier,” he says. It is evident Harris loves to be surrounded by beautiful things, and the quantity of those things adds to the drama of his home.
From as early as age six, Harris had a flair for design. “I remember my mother bought me a bicycle when I was six and I cried my eyes out because I thought it was the most ridiculous gift I had ever gotten. I wanted cut flowers and art supplies.” True to his calling Harris started his career as a floral designer and won designer of the year for Louisville in 1986 and the following year for the state of Kentucky. However, his love for interior design won out and for the past 12 years, he has co-owned Willow & Ivy with Stewart Morris.
When Harris drove by the St. Mathews home with a For Sale sign in its front yard, it was love at first sight. After going inside, if it weren’t for his vision of seeing the possibilities, he would never have bought it. The house was so neglected that the ceiling in the front two rooms was falling in from water damage. However, he knew exactly what changes he wanted to make, so he bought the house the next day.
Structurally Harris only made a few changes. First he knocked down a wall in the front room opening the rooms up to each other creating a double parlor effect. Then he converted the back porch into a beautiful room filled with sunlight let in by a 14-foot palladium window Harris built to add more architectural interest to the house. Other details Harris added to give the house more sophisticated elements were columns flanking the doorway from the living room to the library and an embossed wallpaper on the ceilings to emulate the plaster ceilings found in older homes.
Something was still not right. Harris said that several windows in the house were off center in the room. His solution was to simply cover up the windows that distracted him with mirrors or a painting, thus creating a more symmetrical room. One example where he did this was in the library. Behind the large antique painting of a little girl, who he thinks resembles Jane Hathaway as a child, is a window. As Harris likes to say, “it’s all staging.”
The biggest surprise is that this house with all its gracious elegance is in fact a 1200-square-foot cottage. It has one bedroom, which is in the attic, one bath, and one-and-on-half closets. Harris, almost in a boastful way, says he can have 35 guest seated at once when entertaining, which he does often, and would have guests everyday if at all possible. Considering his small space he has to work with when entertaining, he says every room in the house is full. In fact one of his pet peeves are large houses that only have a sofa and two chairs. “They don’t have enough seating for a house of that grandeur.”
Amazingly the rooms in the house appear much larger than they are. Harris has purposefully done this using several techniques. Instead of painting the small rooms at the front of the house white, Harris painted both of them Pompeiian red. It was important to keep a uniformity in both of the rooms. Although most people think a dark color will close in a room, Harris believes dark rooms can make a room look bigger for the same reason when you look into the night sky it seems endless.
Next Harris filled the room with furniture, paintings, and accessories. “If you layer a room it becomes larger. Your eye won’t rest and think that’s the end of the room. Instead it takes you on a journey and you subtly discover other areas and things in the room,” says Harris. Also adding to the grandeur and drama are some rather large accessory pieces. “Big things show up better in a small house.” For instance in the living room sitting on a skirted table is a large 17th century Italian tabernacle that probably came out of a catholic church.
When designing a room Harris says, “rugs are the foundation of any good room.” In keeping with the uniformity of the two red rooms there also needed to be a consistency in the rugs. In the library, Harris used a beautiful Bessarabian Kilm rug from Turkey dating from the 1930s. For the living room rug, Harris purchased a similar looking new rug for half the price. To give it the same rich patina found in the older rug and color that was achieved with vegetable dyes Harris took his new rug outside and sprayed it with a garden sprayer filled with five pounds of instant coffee. Now he has a new rug that looks like an antique.
To make a room look more inviting, Harris says there should be a few things on angle. The leopard sofa in the living room, which is set on angle, draws you into the room and calls to you to sit down so your eyes can feast on the treats that are inside this house.
Sofas are not only inviting but they also create a sense of space. There are six sofas in the house. Four of the six are neutral so Harris can show off his beautiful collection of needlepoint, tapestry, and vintage fabric pillows.
Among his other collections Harris has 150 coffee table books, 122 mirrors, and 300 pieces of blue and white porcelain. The porcelain was Harris’ starting point in designing the biggest room in the house now appropriately called “the blue room.” His blue and white porcelain collection is a mixture of Dutch, English, and Oriental. Some of it is costly, some not so much. Regardless, Harris says, “It’s just timeless. It can be used in contemporary settings and with antiques. I love the freshness of it.”
Adding to the freshness is the fabric used for the draperies and over-sized ottoman. The secret to beautiful drapes is to use a lot of fabric. Harris used 10 yards for each of the two panels. The smocking effect at the top creates even more elegance. “I love draperies that look like a ball gown,” says Harris.
In fact Harris’ home looks like it should be filled with beautiful ladies in ball gowns and men in black tie sipping cocktails before attending the ball. Harris’ home is not a mansion, but you sure wouldn’t know it from the inside.