The bright and the beautiful: Top Mountain West designer talks color, crimes and stories
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Starting her career on television and movie sets helped Denver-based Andrea Schumacher formulate her distinctive approach to design: Every room in a house should say something about the person who calls it home. That goes for real-life people, not just film characters.
The story of your life
As much as Schumacher loves combining tailored lines and quirky touches to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind spaces, that’s not where she starts. “Your house is your story. If there’s a piece that you love, we will make it work,” she says. “When people ask, ‘Where’d you get that mask?,’ you should be able to say, ‘My grandfather got it in Africa in the 1960s.’
“I see designers who specialize in sleek, clean spaces, and it seems very livable but it can also feel like a model home,” she adds. “I look at it and think, ‘Where’s the story?’”
Of course, even when a client provides perspective, Schumacher has an underlying design aesthetic that informs all of her projects. “My style is clean and classic upholstered goods combined with antique case goods.” (Case goods are non-upholstered pieces of furniture such as tables, dressers, desks and beds, usually made from wood or metal.) “I like old objects mixed with good, clean lines, large neutral pieces with pops of color.”
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Hues on first
People don’t become interior designers unless they have an innate sense of color, and Schumacher is no exception. In one dressing room-cum-office, she combined teal walls, white cabinetry, deep red upholstery, and a carpet laced with yellow details. Instead of looking like a primary-school playroom, it is the essence of sophistication.
“One method is to find an object that you love, full of colors that you love — even something with as many as 15 different shades,” she says, adding it could be a piece of wallpaper, a vase or an area rug. “We’ll start with that and pull out colors that will inform every room in the house, from the powder room walls to a guest bedroom ceiling.”
Another strategy she employs: “Get to know what colors a client looks good in and build a home around that.” Not necessarily painting every room that color, but using it as a thread that runs throughout your house. Is emerald green your go-to shade? Think about emerald throw pillows in a family room, wallpaper in a library, bar stools around the kitchen island. Got ice-blue eyes? You might love a color scheme that stars cool aquamarine.
Traditional mountain homes are often a symphony of natural materials and neutral tones. With so much harmony, choosing a color that complements it all can be a daunting task. We asked Valerie Stafford and Lindsey Jamison of Steamboat’s Rumor Designs to weigh in on what hues work in the Yampa Valley.
- Keep a monochromatic foundation with furniture and case goods. This allows you to jazz up your space with punches of color through accent pillows, area rugs, art and accessories. These are all easy ways to switch out during changes of the seasons or if you want to vary your view.
- Decide how you want to feel when you want to walk into a room. Cozy and calming? Choose white and linen beige tones.
- You can choose any colors when designing your mountain home’s interior but mountain design tends to sway toward neutral color palettes of white, grays and blues. Many clients relate to rich tones such as dark forest greens, rust orange and navy. Mix these with shag textures and a touch of leather and you have a true mountain aesthetic.
- Colors are also drawn from building materials in mountain homes. This can vary form steel and natural wood to smooth glass and rough stone. Neutral colors allow the materials of all textures to show.
A word on walls
Long before the rest of the design world rediscovered wallpaper, Schumacher made it one of her signature statements. Which is fine for a professional designer with an unerring eye, but how is a mere mortal to know if that vibrant tropical dreamscape will make your dining room look fresh and dramatic, or like a misstep undertaken after one too many margaritas?
“I like a play of scale — when people take an Old World look and then blow it up. It’s modern, but you’re still tied to the history of it.”
Schumacher references Chiang Mai Dragon wallpaper, introduced by F. Schumacher & Co. (no relation) in 2006. “It was such a bold pattern, but it became an instant classic,” she says. And she advises that in 2020, homeowners shouldn’t be too worried about investing in a few rolls of wallpaper. Unlike the design commitment of yesteryear, “Nowadays it’s no big deal to take it down. If you want to change it every two years, so what?”
Another love: rooms painted in dark, satiny finishes. “I love a black room. A turquoise room. A navy room. You can go wild with dark colors in a powder room, a dining room, or a study — even an entryway if it’s enclosed. I usually pick one or two rooms, obviously nothing where you want a lot of light, like a master bath.”
On the other hand, there is one wall crime that she won’t forgive: bad drywall. “Builder-grade, knock-down drywall is horrible. If we’re doing a full remodel we’ll remud the walls and sand them. Otherwise it’s too invasive to smooth it out — the fine dust gets everywhere in a house. In that case I’d suggest just grass-clothing the entire home and covering it up.”
Mastering the mountains
As a designer based in the West, Schumacher has seen her share of rustic mountain interiors. Given her appetite for brilliant colors and graphic patterns, designing a lodge-style home might seem an awkward stretch. It helps, she says, when she’s working with strong architecture and scenery.
“If I’m working with great views, I don’t want to fight with nature,” she says. “I try to keep the colors organic, helping to draw the eye outside, to the views, and also bringing the outside in.” As for materials? “Anything goes. Acrylic? Sure — if you love it, we’ll mix it right in.”
For those without the inborn ability to successfully place a Venetian mirror beneath an antler chandelier, she says it’s a matter of continual revision. “Keep scanning your space and you can tell if you’re doing too many antiques, or too many modern things. You have to keep assessing as you work through a project.”
The good news, if you suddenly realize you have overdone it with the tufted throw pillows: Unlike adding too much salt to a stew, you can always take some out.
Schumacher’s formula for working with super-scale great rooms, another challenge in many mountain homes, is an idea any homeowner can apply. Instead of thinking solely about the purpose each section of a room might serve, start by analyzing the room’s different viewpoints. “You might have a fireplace on one wall, a TV on another, and a wall or two with windows that look out on a view. You want to create groupings for each of those viewpoints.”
When asked about her ideal client, Schumacher jokes that it’s a billionaire, but then quickly reverses herself. Money is part of the equation when it comes to creating a beautiful home, but she becomes most expansive when thinking about the personalities she relishes working with: “A client who knows what they want. A client who is traveled and has some type of collection, which gives a home a story. A client who is collaborative and is open to new ideas.”
Most important of all: a person who appreciates the power of good design. “Some people don’t understand the emotional well-being that comes from being in a beautiful space,” she says. “A client who sees the value of beautiful things — that’s a true dream client.”
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