Last year was a busy one for interior designer Gail Davis. In addition to decorating the homes of her ever-growing list of clients and hosting Schumacher‘s Made in the Trade webinar series, she finally began the long-awaited renovation of the South Orange, New Jersey, home she shares with her husband. We chatted with Davis about her wonderfully personal and colorful vision for her home—and how she transformed the first two rooms on her checklist.
FREDERIC: Tell us a little bit about your house and your vision for the renovation.
GAIL DAVIS: My husband and I bought this center-hall colonial in 2003. It reminds me my grandparents’ house in that it’s a gathering place, where all our family and friends come and visit for a couple of days. So, my overall vision has been to make sure that it’s not just a house for my husband and myself. That’s a big deal for me, because my husband loves to cook and I love to drink, so I want everybody to feel welcome. I think it probably stems from being raised by my Southern parents and my grandparents. For them, it was always about hospitality—your home should always be open to guests and friends.
What was the house like when you first bought it?
When we moved in, the house was painted this dark, unhappy brown. It was horrible. Before we touched anything, I found a really light beige, almost white color and told the painters to just paint every room in it so I could see where the light dances as it comes in through the windows. I always tell my clients that you should live in your house at least for a year before renovating because when you move in, you think you’re going to use the house a certain way, but what you think will be the living room may end up becoming your dining room or vice versa.
You started with the dining room! Tell me about the decision to make all the walls and details the same color.
When we initially had the dining room painted, just the walls were orange, and the trim was white, because that’s just what you do. But I felt like I was walking into a creamsicle! I had a big fight was with my painter because he tried to repaint it the way it was before, even though I told him I wanted it all—walls and molding—this earthy orange. He said it would be too strong for this room. But when he finally did it the way I wanted, he said, “Wow, this is amazing.” I almost did the ceiling orange, too, but I stopped myself and did a pearlescent paint instead.
Tell me about that ceiling treatment.
I hate white ceilings—why not do something amazing? I used this great Benjamin Moore pearlescent paint that has a goldish-bronze tone to it. When the light goes on, it’s just brilliant—it’s like the light itself dances on the ceiling. I feel like every room needs a little bit of shimmer—it’s another part of making the space livable and cozy. Even if I do a white ceiling, I’ll use one layer of the whiter pearlescent over the white paint.
I can imagine how beautiful this room must look at night.
The whole room really reminds me of this amazing restaurant in Manhattan, La Caravelle, that my husband used to take me to when we were first married. It was very old-school, Doris Day. The lights were low, the candles were high, you heard the clamoring of people talking and the clinking of glasses. It was just really amazing. And that’s how I always think of dining rooms—what would this be like at night? How can you make it dreamy? How can you make it fun, inviting, and sexy? I imagine people leaning in, sharing secrets or having a laugh with one another and even though everybody’s at the table together, a husband is leaning over to whisper something sweet in his wife’s ear.
You tackled the living room next. How did you come up with this mix of materials?
The grasscloth is actually metallic—it has a silver-white sheen. It was something I had used in a client’s space, and I just loved it. It really lightens up the room. I knew I wanted a bold color for the sofa, and I always like a contrast welt. That gold is such a happy color to me—it reminds me of sunshine. The rug and the chairs add even more visual movement, and I’ve always been a bouclé lover. Now people are always saying, “Oh, it’s back,” but to me, it never left! My dogs love curling up on those ottomans.
Those window treatments are so much fun.
They’re performance linen, because I have three rescue dogs! But I am really obsessed with the Punk Rock Mix Tape. I had sent a picture of it to a friend of mine, and he told me to use a different trim because I might get bored with it, but I knew that it was so authentically me that I had to use it. And I still love it—I always look at it and think, what else can I use this on? The entire room is really a reflection of who I am and how I live, from the giant lampshades to the high-gloss ceiling.
That sofa looks incredibly comfortable.
I’m really crazy about making sure that upholstery makes you want to sink down in there and read a book. We had this old sofa in our library and when any of our friends would come over to hang out or watch movies, without fail, the husbands would always end up passing out. I’ll never forget this time we had a couple over when we first moved in and the husband sat on the sofa. We were talking and a game was on and suddenly his wife looks over and he’s asleep! He woke up and said, “Gail, I don’t know what it is about this sofa, but it is so comfortable.” That’s what it should be like everywhere in your home.
That’s a big compliment!
Your house can be a showpiece, but it also needs to function. I cannot stress that enough. A few years ago, I had new chairs delivered from Highland house for the living room and a girlfriend of mine who loves to come over to see what’s going on, sat in the chair. And she was said, “Oh my, I don’t want to get up!” That’s what being a really good designer is—your home should be a place where people want to sink in and read, take a nap, or hang out with loved ones by the fire and chill.
Shop the Look
Nakuru Linen Velvet, fschumacher.com
Cristol Large Tiered Chandelier by Aerin for Visual Comfort, circalighting.com
Open Paperweave Shimmer Wallcovering, fschumacher.com
Punk Rock Mix Tape by Johnson Hartig, fschumacher.com
Leaping Leopards fabric, fschumacher.com
Paloma Footstool, shopsocietysocial.com
Hourglass Side Table by Bunny Williams Home, onekingslane.com
Maze Indoor/Outdoor Tape, fschumacher.com
Marco Performance Linen, fschumacher.com