Houston designer Meg Lonergan turned her humble Craftsman home into a colorful testing ground for her latest decorating ideas
When Meg Lonergan and her husband, Tim, went house hunting in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, they were excited to find a 100-year-old, 2,500-square-foot Craftsman that needed very little work. The couple—who had met and become high school sweethearts while in Singapore—loved old homes but had their hands full at the time raising a toddler son, Julian, and an 8-month-old daughter, Margot. “We weren’t looking to sign on to a financially devastating project,” she says. So they redid the house’s wiring and plumbing, painted it inside and out, restained the floors, and moved in. That’s when Lonergan, an interior designer, got to work creating a sophisticated but welcoming home energized by unexpected details.
The bright front door (Drawing Room Blue, No. 253; us.farrow-ball.com) hints at the bold ideas inside.
Experimenting with Design
A Louisiana native who spent her childhood on the move—skipping from Chicago to Singapore to Paris to Colorado—Lonergan is known for skillfully integrating high-end, traditional pieces with truly inexpensive ones. In fact, her eye for thrift store finds can make even the most peaceable person steam with envy. For her own home, she gave her inventive streak free rein. “My house is my laboratory—I like to experiment and play with things,” she notes. Though she says the space feels less than ideal—her daughter’s bedroom is tiny, and her son’s doubles as a guest room—she didn’t settle when it came to decorating. She lavished attention on every surface, from wallpapered ceilings to custom-edged rugs, and peppered each room with gestures big and small. “My goal for interiors is that when you leave a room I’ve designed, you won’t recall one specific thing. You’ll just remember it being beautiful,” she says.
Lonergan relied on a painted floor and a suite of British Colonial-inspired furniture to transform her front porch into an outdoor room.
Thrift shops are a decorator’s dream.
Lonergan is a regular at secondhand stores in Houston and at the Original Round Top Antiques Fair—the sprawling, twice-yearly Texas show where she scoops up both big-name vintage pieces and regular old bits other people might term junk. She puts the money she saves to use by refinishing or reupholstering her finds, especially if she already has a certain fabric in mind (which she usually does). “If I want to use a high-end material, I’ll wait until I find the right chair so the total cost of it won’t be out of control,” she says.
Lonergan did just that when she sourced the modern pink-and-red geometric Muriel Brandolini fabric and waited to use it until she found just the right pair of low-cost chairs during a thrift store run. Now transformed, they flank the entryway table, which is topped with a collection of ginger jars. It also provides a cozy nook for her daughter’s dollhouse.
Mama was wrong: It’s okay to clash.
“I prefer for things to be off. I wouldn’t do this for clients, but I like rooms in my home to be a little imperfect. That’s why I chose a different green for the chairs in the living room than I did for the sofa,” says Lonergan. This gives a space personality and keeps it from feeling too sterile, like a showroom or a hotel. “If everything matches or is perfect, then it doesn’t have as much soul,” she says.
Inspired by legendary style icon Lee Radziwill’s much-photographed sofa (which was upholstered in a silk velvet Scalamandré tiger print that got worn to tatters), Lonergan invested in a classic sofa for the living room and covered it in an equally luxe and lively way. She, too, plans to wear hers into the ground.
Mixing things up is interesting.
Part of the full, rich feel of Lonergan’s rooms comes from the way she piles on patterns and textures of all kinds. A single room might contain nubby wools, rich velvets, rough sisals, and woods in a wide variety of finishes. As for the patterns, some are outspoken, but even those that are small and subtle are much more interesting when paired side by side—often in similar shades.
The breakfast nook’s unique light fixture was previously a cupola; the designer found it in a Charleston, South Carolina, antiques store and had it wired. Lonergan complemented the shape of the cupola with a round jute rug (Flanagan Brown Area Rug; wayfair.com).
It's ok to make do.
A full kitchen renovation wasn’t part of the Lonergan’s plan. Instead, she made small decorative tweaks to add some fun to her functional kitchen. Chalkboard paint applied below the island’s counters keeps her children occupied, but close-at-hand when the family is in the kitchen. A single bamboo shade, rather than two, hung straight across the pair of windows makes the cabinet wall look less choppy. Lonergan, a Louisiana native, shows off her roots and her eye for collecting with the oyster plates displayed on the stair wall.
Exotic pillows are an inexpensive sofa’s best friend.
Because sofas can be costly and children can be pretty hard on them, the designer used three modular pieces (as well as an armrest) from Ikea’s Söderhamn collection to construct a sectional in the family room, and then she covered it with a large assortment of pillows. Found at a Turkish retailer online and at various vendors on Etsy (see spilledpaintdesign.etsy.com), the pillows on the sectional feature an array of textiles from around the world, including kilim, indigo batik, and mud cloth. “I try to discover things that are unique and that my friends aren’t all going to have,” says Lonergan.
Tiny tweaks make pieces feel custom.
While she does have a few 100%-custom pieces—the round, white coffee table in the family room—she likes to “customize” basic furnishings with special accents. To visually tie the seagrass rug in the family room to the drapes, she added an eggplant-colored border to it (many vendors offer a select-your-own border option).
Wallpapered ceilings create more interest. Here, Graffito (kellywearstler.com) adds a little bit of gold shine and a lot of modernity to the family room.
Big-ticket and budget items can coexist.
“I like mixing things that are precious with things that aren’t. “We have a grand Louis Philippe buffet deux corps in the family room and then these chipped-up, painted, raw tables beside the sectional,” Lonergan says. In addition to mixing furnishings, she also places inexpensive rugs under pricey furniture and hangs serious works of art next to mass-produced pieces and creations made by her children. Antique pieces from different periods work together as a bar in the living room.
Get creative with every-day items.
The TV, disguised by a black “mat,” sits inside a vintage frame from the Round Top Antiques Fair.
Hint: Your old stash is valuable.
Lonergan encourages her clients to use pieces they already own—not only to save money but also to make a space unique. If you look at an object and think about how you can repurpose it instead of just purchasing a ready-made piece, you’ll likely end up with something as distinctive as the mirror setup in the powder room, where she installed a pair of vintage mirrors in place of something mass-produced. She also decided to paint the floor navy instead of installing new tile.
Colors aren’t scary—neutrals are.
The designer’s home is filled with greens, pinks, blues, purples, and golds, and she is a big advocate for using color rather than sticking to neutrals. “People are so afraid of color. They say, ‘Let me do neutral. Let me do plain. I don’t want to do color. What if I get tired of it?’ But with neutrals, you get tired of the look because it’s so boring!” she says. To achieve unity, she sticks with mostly muted tones in matte finishes.
Playing it safe doesn't have to be boring.
Wary of a contemporary decorating scheme that might quickly feel dated, Lonergan chose to do the master bath (the one bathroom they fully renovated) in a style that could be mistaken for original. She used unlacquered brass fixtures that will develop a patina, hung an antique French bistro mirror, and installed a custom-built cabinet that has a solid, furniture-like feel.
Kids’ stuff doesn’t have to be plastic.
The sophistication and solidity of the furnishings in Lonergan’s house aren’t limited only to the “grown-up” spaces. Her daughter, Margot (now 4), sleeps in an antique French bed, while her son, Julian (now 6), stores his clothes in an antique French armoire that originally had a glass front that was replaced with a mirror (which now functions as a looking glass and also hides the cabinet’s contents). These timeless pieces give the rooms flair, and, unlike typical kiddie furniture, they won’t need to be replaced as the children age. Floor- to-ceiling curtains edged in a found floral pattern soften the shingled walls in daughter Margot’s room (originally a porch).
Pick a pattern and work it.
Layers and layers of stripe patterns—including Peter Fasano’s Angelina printed paper on the walls, Albert Hadley’s Fireworks wallpaper on the ceiling, Peter Dunham drapes, pillows, dust skirt, and a rug from Restoration Hardware—set a playful yet sophisticated tone for her son’s room, which pinch-hits as a guest room.