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When History and Styles Intersect | An interior designer uses creative thinking and evocative materials to integrate heirlooms and nostalgia for a modern redo. By Elyce Berrigan-Dunlop

When Billy Lowery was growing up in Orinda in the 1970s, his parents were big entertainers and dancers, and the great room of his childhood home—a two-story estate off one of Contra Costa County's idyllic hillside roads—saw many a party full of guests enjoying evenings by the fireplace.

Anchored with an expansive hearth and wooden beams crossing the ceiling, the great room, however, felt a bit dated when he and his wife, Laurie, moved into the home they purchased from his parents. Eventually, they embarked on a room refresh to maintain its festive history while updating it in a purposeful and sophisticated way that would work for them and their three kids.

Admittedly, the living room had a lot going for it, namely a breathtaking terrace view of vast shades of green, splashes of vibrant blues, and dreamy taupe and oatmeal hues—a lot for Leslie Price Style and Design to start with.

But the Lowerys threw in a kink, asking Price to incorporate a distinct furniture item—"the funky chair"—into the redo. The chair is a vintage high-back piece that belonged to Laurie Lowery's grandmother. Price, a seasoned designer, was up to the challenge and let the chair inspire her design suggestions.

Price further allowed the natural color palette outside the floor-to-ceiling windows to become a muse. Additionally, she used a mix of the Lowerys' personal belongings and new items such as vases, books, frames, and fabrics to bring the range of blues, greens, and neutrals indoors.

For "the funky chair," Price offered three fabric options, and in the end, a Robert Allen Basket Beat in Denim print won over the couple with its quirky but calming cream-and-navy pattern.

"Once we established the style of the room, we knew this was the one," Price said.

She also found the perfect way to incorporate memorabilia from Laurie Lowery's father's days in the Navy, displaying an officer's cap and black-and-white photographs prominently.

"I totally appreciate how important family heirlooms are. They're at the heart of memories, and it's important to have things that have meaning," Price said. "I wanted to incorporate some of those treasures and some of that history."

Using the surrounding beauty to inform style decisions wasn't a new concept for the Lowerys. Billy Lowery often looked at the home from a nearby hillside to settle on the perfect exterior color. When it came to switching up the look of the interior, the couple used the same idea.

"Blue stood out," Laurie Lowery said. "It's not too frou-frou, and it's somewhat neutral. It's like looking outside and bringing it in."

As for the space, Billy Lowery explained, "We wanted to get people out of the kitchen. We wanted to make it—not a great room—but an open space."

"We wanted to make it more of a gathering area with lots of seating," Laurie Lowery said.

One of the prominent features of the newly designed room is a pair of swivel chairs that can either face the tastefully placed flat-screen television above the fireplace or turn so guests can tend to snacks and conversation at a low-level, dark-wood coffee table.

After three months of conceptualizing, styling, and finishing, the Lowerys entered their new space to discover plush fabrics and room for lounging and dancing. By Thanksgiving, the family of five was able to invite guests into an updated room that continues to be a beloved feature of their home.

"It's a transitional take on mid-century modern," explained Price. "The room has some of that retro feel. Billy grew up in the '70s, so it's a fresh take on designs from the past."

 

 


Leslie Price Style and Design helped Orinda couple Billy and Laurie Lowery update the great room of his family home. Photo by Kathryn MacDonald.