Reality Realty: HGTV designer conveys meaning through makeovers
An eight-year renovation might sound exasperating, but Grace Mitchell has treated her family’s home transformation as grist for both her blog and HGTV show, “One of a Kind,” premiering March 19.
“I washed dishes in a bathtub for about six months,” Mitchell said, while remodeling her century-old foursquare home in Fort Worth, Texas, where she lives with her husband and four young children.
On her show, Mitchell imbues designs with layered meaning, culled from stories the families tell her. She transformed love letters exchanged by one couple into wallpaper and emblazoned another couple’s dining room ceiling with a fiber-optic star map, a replica of how the constellations shone the night they met.
Mitchell spoke to us from her home’s library, with its dark, paneled walls, 1919 crystal sconces and stone fireplace.
An eight-year renovation — just, wow. And you have your girls’ room left to do.
I think if we had bought the house and renovated everything all at once, we would have made more mistakes. We wouldn’t have realized how we live here and what we needed.
You’re past the “dark phases,” as you’ve termed it. What are your tips for avoiding divorce during such marathon makeovers?
Right? We’ve sequestered parts of the house, put up plastic, but that white construction dust just gets into everything. I always try to approach it from the sense that this is something we’ll talk and laugh about years down the road.
Any home conveys a sense of story the minute one walks in — but your designs are real conversation pieces.
The homes that I remember have themes and stories that tell me about who lives there. People look at Pinterest or magazines, and they want to copy exactly what’s there. That will only get you so far. You can have a very put-together space that doesn’t really say anything about you.
There’s often a design split between the genders. You’ve bridged this so well in your master bedroom — bold ceiling wallpaper, with giant florals set against a black background.
I wanted the room to be white and bright. My husband wanted something darker, a little bit moody. My husband loved the wallpaper, just the vibe he was wanting with the dark, but it has the light feel of the florals.
Your designs strike us as family-centric. What are some tips for involving kids, especially younger ones, in a home’s look?
When it came to a floor, I knew the exact color I wanted, and oftentimes my kids don’t pick what I would pick. I gave them three choices, and then I had them explain their choice. I find that it’s easier for them to take care of things they have input in. They can paint and sew and do some woodworking. They have a sense of ownership of the house, which is really great.
When designing kids’ rooms, how do you keep these spaces from getting quickly dated?
Your kid might love pink, and then all of a sudden they want a yellow room. So I have a big crayon box for color picking, and I do this with adults too. Pick three to five colors that you really love. It helps to regulate the choice into something tactile — holding the color really helps them focus in on what they want.
Do you find that your kids have things to teach you about design?
Initially, I was going to paint all the woodwork in my boys’ room white. They were completely horrified. “White? That’s sooo boooring!” I put some samples up and they picked the dark one. I thought, “This is going to be too much.” But it’s so striking and beautiful. Kids push you in a direction you don’t want to go — but it’s often more fun and interesting.
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