Interior designer Lisa Curran employs brilliant color to update a tired cottage for 21st-century living
Drawing inspiration from some of today’s most talented men and women in the field, designer Lisa Curran has renovated and rejuvenated her home in one of Kansas City’s beloved older neighborhoods. Small in scale, but large in style, the house provides the perfect setting for everything from long lunches a deux to celebrations of 150 or more.
“I like to think of this house as the reinvention of the great room,” says Curran. “Usually, you walk through the whole house to the great room in the back. Here, the great room greets you.” Indeed, her front door opens to a space flooded with light from windows on three sides that span the width of the house.
“The room is really a nod to David Easton and his country house,” Curran says of the well-known designer’s widely published Connecticut home. Following Easton’s lead, Curran took advantage of the entire space, using unique gathering areas rather than a traditional grouping around the fireplace and formal arrangements against the wall. A smart center table holds favorite objects every day but can accommodate an intimate dinner for Downton Abbey watching on a whim. Curran, whose experience in the arts is broad—her father was a museum curator and she is a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art—is toying with the idea of hosting art classes or small lectures.
She purchased the house six years ago and began an extensive renovation with the help of her son, who is an architect. “It’s smaller than my last house and it takes a skilled eye to edit,” Curran says. “I don’t like the word ‘downsizing.’ I like to think of it as ‘optimizing’.” Still, she used more than her eye and her creative spirit; she applied sweat equity, too. “I painted. I stained the concrete floors. I moved bushes. I did a lot myself.” It was a labor of love. “If you give your house a voice,” she notes, “it will deliver for you.”Exterior before Interior before Interior before Interior before Interior before Garden before
Exterior after Interior after: Two antique French chairs in their original Aubusson upholstery flank a vintage midcentury walnut table in the great room. Curran’s painting easel occupies one corner. Interior after: The 19th-century French walnut mantel is topped by an 18th-century Baroque gilded mirror, one of Curran’s favorite pieces. Interior after: The tiny house lives large because of the generously sized openings between the rooms. Interior after: At first, Curran painted the dining room walls dark green. She much prefers the glazed walls “the color of a Venetian sunset. It’s much warmer and beautiful in candlelight,” she says. Flowers from The Little Flower Shop. Interior after: In the kitchen, Curran specified a solid oak counter for serving, and opposite she used Golden Light granite. Interior after: For her clients and herself, Curran designs art quilts—antique silk and brocade fabric fragments fashioned into small blankets.
The kitchen is completely new, although Curran did not feel the need to use a great deal of space here. Galley style, the room looks out through an opening to the great room. “I love to cook and this room makes sense. When I entertain, I’m still engaged with the people who are here. The last time my son was here he said, ‘We lived in that room.’”
Curran believes in looking to the past to bring things forward but wanted the house to have a fresh, youthful feel as well. She deftly designed curtains of satin trimmed with burlap and relied on the color red to give rooms a lift.
Inspired by designers like Charlotte Moss and Carolyne Roehm, Curran created a cozy living room in the back of the house. It’s more traditional than the great room in the front and holds many treasured objets.
“I learned a lot from my mother and grandmother,” she says. “Their homes did not look like my friends’ homes. There was no avocado or orange or harvest gold in my house growing up. My mother had this long, modern sofa slipcovered in white. She built a coffee table out of bricks. You would have had to see it. It was fantastic.” These rooms were highly personal and unique and they taught Curran the value of collecting, both quality furniture and art. “They both had an amazing creative force, and I’ve always thought you can’t know if you have it if you don’t use it.”
Even in the private rooms Curran has applied her personal style. Her office, an engaging French blue enhanced by a collection of blue-and-white pottery, is “an homage to Jackie O.” No opportunity for detail is overlooked; the bookcase that holds her printer is backed with a lovely and feminine Cowtan and Tout floral fabric.
Her bedroom, which overlooks an established garden outside—“There are rose bushes that are over forty years old”—is flooded with light and filled with flowers as well. Flowers on the curtains, the bedside lamp and over a dozen pillows celebrate blooms without being cloying or kitschy.
Curran believes that making a home personal is important. “I want my house to reflect me but my clients’ homes to be a reflection of them. Taking care with the place that you come home to after the stress of the day matters. No technology can replace that. Times are changing,” she reminds us. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t give grace to our homes.”
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