Q+A

Decorating tips from Lonni Paul, designer to the stars

Updated: 2013-03-17T02:31:11Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

You may recognize Lonni Paul as a finalist on the HGTV reality show “Design Star” and a contributor to the Style Network’s “Giuliana & Bill Show.” Paul, who has designed homes for celebrities, will speak about “Celebrity Style Within Reach” at 2 p.m. March 23 and 24 at the Greater Kansas City Home Show (KCHBA.org) at Bartle Hall.

Q. Who are some of the celebrities you’ve designed for?

A. I’ve worked for Robert Downey Jr. and Meat Loaf. I’m working now for Jason Priestley, Melissa Joan Hart and Tiffani Thiessen, and I’m doing Sarah Michelle Gellar’s nursery. I did Giuliana and Bill (Rancic’s) Brentwood home.

They are the nicest people. What you see on their show is exactly who they are. Very unpretentious.

Describe your style.

I consider myself classic modern. I don’t like a lot of mess and frou-frou-ness. I like clean and simple. I like elegance. I like styles that last.

How did you get into this business? I know you were a model.

It’s funny. In-between going to Europe to model, I started building spec houses, and people would say, “Would you do my interior?” I was also enrolled in the UCLA interior design and architecture program. Lise Davis, a friend of mine who is married to Mac Davis and has a beautiful home in Bel Air, asked me to do her house, and jobs started coming. I was called to be on “Design Star,” and I did that. By that time I had a full-fledged business.

Who are some of the designers you admire?

I love Philippe Starck just because he always takes such risks, and things are so interesting and surprising. I like Martyn Lawrence Bullard because his interiors are so comfortable, yet exciting. I also love Windsor Smith.

Where do you find inspiration?

I get my inspiration from everything. I’m a mom of 7-year-old twins. I just took a walk with them through the UCLA campus and saw this cool shape in the architecture and it gave me a great idea for a fabric design. I also look at clothing, probably from my fashion background. A well-made jacket inspires me. Art inspires me.

What’s different about designing for celebrities other than the size of their budgets?

There really isn’t a difference except that when you’re designing for celebrities, people always want you to use their products in their homes. I’m always fielding calls from furniture, textile and other businesses who want their products placed.

Is security a factor?

Sometimes it is. Most clients have their security in place by the time I arrive. I have to go through their protocols when I bring crews into their homes.

Have you found a degree of eco-consciousness among the celebrities you design for?

It comes up a lot. No VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint. They want natural fiber carpet and fabric so they don’t have any off gases. Some of them have rainwater catchers in their yards. A lot of them are into the counter tops that can be recycled, like Silestone.

Have people requested special accommodations for their pets?

I had to make a special staircase for Meat Loaf’s dogs to be able to climb up to the bed because they’re older. I covered five steps to match the bed. You have to use special fabrics because you have to clean them more often.

What about artwork? Who are the popular artists?

A lot of celebrities have art they like already, and it’s all over the map. Robert Downey Jr. has a ton of art that is museum-quality.

I’ve worked with Greg Lauren several times on the Esquire Magazine House Project for charity. He’s Ralph Lauren’s nephew, and he did a series of artworks called “Heroes.” They were superheroes, in costumes, but in situations where their expressions have so much pain.

He recently had an exhibition of clothing all made out of paper, which inspired him to design a new deconstructed clothing line.

Any surprises in your line of work?

In the first meeting with Meat Loaf when I was pulling fabric out of the bag, he laid out the fabrics and put them together. He’s really involved in the process of design. He has a good eye and knows what he wants. Robert Downey Jr. was like that too, picking carpet for his son’s room.

What are some of the celebrity design ideas you will share during your talk?

How to do celebrity style for more of a realistic price. A celebrity is not afraid to spend a lot of money on beautiful high-priced wallpaper for the living room or dining room. You can do it with paint and stencils, and it’s easier to change.

You can also add that wow factor with pillows and decorative objects. It’s less expensive to change out accessories than major pieces.

Tell me about your PetitNest line.

That is the children’s furniture line I started with Tiffani Amber Thiessen, and I run it myself now. I met Tiffani on “Design Star,” and when we did a nursery we couldn’t find the things we wanted.

Six months later I had designed six cribs and dressers and a wall tree and the bedding. It’s definitely a classic modern line of children’s furniture. I always thought the nursery shouldn’t be the odd room in a home, but continue your aesthetic throughout.

What else are you working on now?

The Mattel Doll House Project for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. They’re building 10 giant 3- by 5-foot doll houses with big architects designing them and interior designers doing the insides. The doll houses will be auctioned at a big gala to raise money for the hospital. This is a fun thing to do that involves design.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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