|When interior designer Lee Best bought her small, three-bedroom, three-bath Highlands house in 1975, she didn't buy it for its superb architecture, tall ceilings, and great crown molding that so many old Highlands homes have. Instead Best says she bought the cape cod style house built in 1973 because, 'It was a manageable house for a single person, and I liked the location.'
Not to say her house didn't stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. It did, because it was a two-year-old house among much older and more charming homes representative of the Highlands. Even today, Best says, "Basically it's not a very exciting house architecturally. It's really a very simple house."
The first thing she did was rip up all the tri-colored shag carpet, popular in the '70s, and put down hardwood floors throughout. "I started changing the concept from off-white, small-scale patterns to strong colors and larger-scale patterns," says Best. There is no question Best loves color. It hits you the minute you set foot in the house. "It does tend to surprise you when you walk in the door," she says. "It's not what you'd expect."
The entry, which is really quite common architecturally, comes alive with a bold-striated vertical, emerald-green wallpaper. But what really makes this room jump is the emerald green Stark carpet with the large-scale black border running up the staircase. Without the combination of bold color, different patterns, and good quality carpet, this entry would look just like everyone else's. "When you're in the business you don't want to see your things somewhere else," says Best who has been with Bittners for more than 20 years. "That's what you get when you hire a designer. Your rooms are more individual. They're something unique."
Best started decorating the public spaces first and treated them as one area since they are all open to one another. These areas, the entry, dining room, and living room , were wallpapered or faux painted. After the drapes were installed, the furniture and accessories were collected over time. Next to that, nothing was changed architecturally. Yet, these rooms radiate a beauty and charm found in homes much older than this one. Best attributes this to the details. "They just define things," says Best.
Some of the details found in her house are combining fabrics with different patterns and scale. "Most people wouldn't have the nerve to do this," says Best. She uses seven or eight different patterns in the living room alone. Most evident are the details in her beautiful pillows. Best says what makes the pillows special are the rich trims she added, mitering the corners and again combining different fabrics on one pillow.
When it came to architectural changes, Best actually did very little. One of the fortunate things about this 1970's house is its rather large kitchen. The only thing missing for Best was ample cabinet space, so she added more cabinetry. Off the back of the kitchen, Best added on a screened-in porch and went to the extra effort of putting Chippendale railing around the base of the porch. She says, "I thought the backend of the house needed something to give it a focal point, so you wouldn't pay attention to the rest of it." For example, "Across the back no two of the windows actually match," says Best. "It's weird."
One last architectural change Best added was to build bookcases in the den. She found at Bittner's an 18th century Irish valence that was the inspiration for the cases. In fact, she had the bookcase made around the antique valence and mimicked certain design details and colors in it, making it look old and as if it were originally built this way. The results are extremely charming and again add more character to this '70s cape cod.
Best was around antiques when she was growing up, and she collects them. When she bought this house, which at the time was new, she says, "I didn't want it to look like I just plopped these antiques in a contemporary setting. I wanted them to look like they belonged here." So, without really thinking about it, this was her thought process for the changes she made to the house. It took her four to five years to get it where she liked it. "But," she adds, "a house is always changing."
Best's satisfaction comes from transforming this so-so house into one of warmth, beauty, and comfort. Now she has time to devote to her clients and doing the things that bring her pleasure like traveling, entertaining, and gardening. If she is finished designing inside, the gardens are always there to challenge her outside.