Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a new series here on Stuffy Muffy where I will be sharing the treasures of talented ladies in decorating, art and beyond. I am most pleased to welcome our first guest, interior designer Louise Cronan. Louise was mentored by some of the most revered names in the decorating business before starting her own firm, LWC Interiors. From decking out show house rooms to undertaking projects like a Fifth Avenue duplex, Louise is an authority on good taste when it comes to the home. You can find her work in New York City, Atlanta, where she currently resides in West Palm Beach and beyond. I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into her venerable career and learn a thing or two about gracious decorating from our conversation.
Disclaimer: most of Louise’s projects spanning thirty years have not been photographed, the images in this post are a very small sampling of the breadth of her work.
Muffy: Louise, thank you very much for agreeing to this profile! Let’s start from the beginning; what was your first job in design?
Louise: after graduating with a degree in interior design, I realized to be successful I would need to train under some of the best residential designers in New York. I packed my bags, jumped on the shuttle and landed in the Big Apple. After much cold calling, I landed a position in the residential department of Dorothy Draper & Company. Working there was glamorous and Carleton is a fun and wonderful person – it was an honor to work for such a prestigious firm at such a young age and have so much responsibility and direct interactions with clients. I certainly was not a gopher!!! I still run into Carleton in Palm Beach and he always has something up his sleeve!!
Muffy: Incredible! At the time, what were clients requesting for their homes?
Louise: Although Dorothy Draper & Co. is famous for the use of very bold color, when I was in the residential department of the firm in the early eighties, soft pastels were becoming a very popular color palette. Requests were often flowered chintz galore, stripes, wallpapers, needlepoint, dhurrie, wilton, hooked and cotton rags rugs, lacquered furniture, custom upholstery with all down cushions, mirrored walls, bleached floors, built-ins, skirted tables, custom lampshades, the “preppy” style, Sisal and raffia were entering our lives!!
Muffy: what are some signature Dorothy Draper elements you still use today?
Louise: Saturated colors, mixing color and pattern, comfortable and practical interiors, black and white patterned floors, tropical leaves, balance and scale, a bit of “wit and whimsy” and lacquer.
Muffy: Your position at Dorothy Draper was followed by another distinguished gig. We have to talk about your tenure under Kevin McNamara. How did that come about?
Louise: After a visit to the Kips Bay Show House and seeing a room designed by Kevin McNamara I was dying to work with him! The room was the epitome of taste and talent! I was able to get an interview, but how was I going to convince Mr. McNamara to hire his first female designer? According to my dear friend Alan Campbell, over lunch at Gino’s he told Kevin “you are a fool if you do not hire her.” Within the week, the most exciting moment of my career began! I was hired as one of two senior designers in Mr. McNamara’s office and the rest is history!
Muffy: what is your most memorable project from working under Mr. McNamara?
Louise: This is hard question as all the projects were very memorable and interesting! The most beautiful apartments, country houses, summer houses and private residences! A palatial apartment in the River House – a 1930’s Art Deco building – with a gated cobblestone courtyard and fountain located on 52nd street overlooking the East River. It was described as “arguably the city’s, if not the world’s, finest apartment building.” River House is the epitome of “swell” living. This apartment was memorable as Kevin gave me free rein!
Muffy: I am cuckoo for curtains and have long admired Mr. McNamara’s use of them. What are your curtain musts and what should you avoid?
Louise: For length, I prefer to break at the floor – no puddling – in any case make sure curtains are flush with the floor. I never want to see light coming through, line and interline with flannel and use blackout lining, this is what gives curtains their body and fullness. The luxury of the visible lining being a small scale “squiggle” of chintz. Hang curtain panels as high above the window frame as possible – just under the crown – this will add a sense of height to the room. Make sure to use the best quality rings, poles and finials when you do this “style” of treatment.
Do loads of detailing – biased banding, tape, cording, tassel fringe etc. I hide the heading of tassel fringe in the seam – often doubling the yardage for fullness. I add a contrasting bias banding to the leading edge which the fringe “lays” on – instead of looking like tassels are drooping off “the edge.”
Use the proper type and weight of fabric to ensure the curtains will “fall” correctly, no skimpy panels! Beautifully shaped valances that are well thought out are a lovely touch. Most importantly, use a knowledgeable workroom and know how to communicate with them and submit detailed purchase orders.
Muffy: Speaking of prolific designers, you are also close with venerated decorators John Rosselli and Furlow Gatewood. Tell us about your connection to these two!
Louise: We just bonded from the beginning is all I can say—and as John’s nephew said to me a few years ago—“you are considered a part of the family.” I walked into John and Furlow’s little shop on 72nd Street late one Friday afternoon in a panic- I had to accessorize a coffee table the following day and did not think I knew how to do it right. John said “Weeze get down on the floor and I will show you how to do it!” I was in my twenties and was so flattered! We have remained close and stayed in touch over the last 30 plus years! One of the first things they did for me that is still special to me—they bought me a silver cup they saw at flea market that was engraved with my name on it!
Muffy: After a successful run in New York City, you moved back to Atlanta with your husband and two sons. Aesthetically, how are the two cities different or alike in interior design?
Louise: They are distinctly different and to answer this question would probably get me in trouble! To be honest, I ended up leaving NYC as I had a very sick baby. Fortunately, lots of my work has remained in New York. I have been lucky to have very loyal clients! I always felt like clients in Atlanta changed designers like one changes shoes!!!!
Muffy: I can’t help but notice the effective use of color in your work. How do you recommend infusing some bold hues into decor?
Louise: Familiarize yourself with “the color wheel” and remember that “in design, Mother Nature is our best teacher,” a quote by Van Day Truex. The best color combinations can be found right outside your back door. Besides flowers, look at the color combinations of birds, butterflies, fish, shells, reptiles, crabs, lobsters etc. Here are some suggestions for adding color:
- Paint the back of bookshelves a bold color- I just lined the back of a bookcase in a marbleized paper from Il Papiro.
- Lacquered coffee table, accent chair, mirror etc. You pick the color!
- Throws, needlepoint and accent pillows
- Every room needs a touch of black
- Paintings, prints, collages- even frame a colorful Hermes scarf!
- Paneled screens
- Colorful chintz curtains
- In your dining room use bold colorful china!
- Porthault bed linens and towels
- Kitchen backsplash and floor tiles
- Painted furniture
Muffy: your former Mediterranean-style house in Atlanta was featured in Cottage Living magazine. In the article, you mention making every inch of the 1,800 square feet count. Funnily enough, this is the exact size of my home! For those of us thinking we have to renovate to accommodate our growing families, what are your tips for making our smaller homes work smarter space wise?
Louise: Absolutely declutter —it is not easy—I have to pay someone by the hour to do—so ridiculous!! I have used an armoire as a linen closet—also as a kitchen pantry. Hire an experienced closet designer—mine was able to get 60 shoe boxes in a very small closet along with too many clothes. I am a clothes horse! The closet space was 6’x4’ and all my scarves and pocket books were also stored. A closet designer is invaluable!
Use built-ins galore—but tasteful and discreet ones with concealed slide outs. Any piece of furniture that will provide storage is essential, for example, a chest with drawers in the dining room for silverware. Bunk beds for your growing children with drawers as the base work well. Put those tacky storage boxes under beds too!! If you are lucky to have a garage, hire the closet designer for that space too.
In the kitchen, have cabinets going to the full ceiling height—get yourself a stepstool. Make some of your cabinets between 15” to 18” deep to store smaller items. If possible, have kitchen banquets with storage below. Don’t forget hooks and storage options on the backs of doors.
Muffy: Do you prefer a more traditional home blueprint or are you open to knocking walls down for the ever-popular open concept?
Louise: I am not big on open floor plans, but at the same time I do not like a “warren” of little rooms. I am certainly not opposed to knocking down a wall, if it will allow the space to flow better. For example in my new house, I went as far as taking out a powder room to open up the kitchen to the sunroom (which has become the family sitting room) but I do have a framed opening with deep reveals/jambs to define the two spaces. Within the same area, I knocked down a half wall and doorway so I could have a one wall kitchen, so to speak, and gaining space to have a butler’s pantry with an informal eating area.
Muffy: What is your favorite part of a house to make a splash?
Louise: An entryway should make a statement because it’s the first thing guests see. It’s the “calling card of the house.”
Muffy: Your painted floors are a dream! What are your tips for getting them right?
Louise: Floors must be properly prepared, primed and have a clean surface. Use a high quality floor paint and seal with a coat of polyurethane when completed. Choose an interesting design that is not too intricate or busy—I prefer a design with a bit of sophistication.
Scale is of great importance— I have seen too many floors that were wrong in scale and proportion. Know when to use a border or not, and good color combinations and placement. I prefer a satin finish when sealing—with a shiny floor, more little dings and scratches show. I used a spatterware pattern on a staircase of a lake cottage in Harbor Springs, MI and it is so charming!
Muffy: What are the makings of a truly hospitable guest room?
Louise: As my grandmother was noted for saying—sleep in your guest room before you even think of introducing it to a guest! Here are my must-haves:
I love a guestroom that has two full size beds-
- Best mattress you can afford
- Custom linens—lightly starched
- Blanket cover and duvet, no heavy bedspreads
- Quality pillows—boudoirs and necks rolls, Euro shams are optional or put in the closet with extra pillows (hypo allergenic) and blanket.
- Bed side tables with a good reading lamp and a drawer and shelf
- Chair and ottoman or a chaise with a small flanking “drink” table
- A flat surface with a chair for laptop or writing if possible
- Chest of drawers with a mirror above—line the drawers with a pretty paper
- I like to paper the closets with a very small scale print, include padded hangers and trouser hangers
Extras: flashlight, water carafe and bottled water, tissue boxes, wastebaskets, updated magazines and a few new novels, extra reading glasses or magnifying glass, phone chargers and Wi-Fi access, robe and slippers, notepad with pen and pencils, small vase of flowers, a full length mirror, luggage rack and Tiffany clock with an alarm!!
In the guest bathroom:
- Built in vanity with counter space and cabinet below for extra t.p., tissues, small magnifying mirror, towels, hairdryer, soaps, bath oils etc. It’s nice to have drawers if space permits.
- On the vanity top have toothbrush holder & cup and laminated small trays for makeup and jewelry
- Medicine cabinets with mirrors on the backside and electrical outlets are wonderful! Stock with basic toiletries and shower cap
- Fluffy towels and hooks
Muffy: what is your advice for someone starting to decorate their home on a tight budget?
Louise: regroup your furniture and reuse existing furniture by adding slipcovers. Spend the money on that “favorite fabric with throw pillows and incorporate stylish accessories—there are so many reasonable ones available. Use green foliage, flowers, seagrass, giclee prints, colorful throws and books, books and more books! Invest in quality, timeless upholstery—even if you do it one piece at a time. Group your artwork, make a statement with crown moulding and frequent flea markets and thrift stores. The old saying “paint and wallpaper work magic!” applies.
Muffy: What is your advice for someone decorating their home with an all-out-sky-is-the-limit budget?
Louise: Hire a competent architect and get the “bones” right before the “decorating” begins. Hire a well experienced interior designer who is familiar with blueprints, space planning, architectural elements, bath and kitchen design, and being a project manager. Hire the architect and designer simultaneously—do not just bring the designer in when the architecture has been completed. An excellent decorator gets most of their jobs by word of mouth.
Muffy: I have a Westie who will not stay off the furniture and I don’t have the iron will to discipline him. What can we dog lovers do to keep our sofas and beds looking lovely while being pet friendly?
Louise: Use throws and quilts on upholstery. Arm-covers and antimacassars (haha) are a must—hide them under the cushions when company comes. Be aware that sisal/seagrass are going to get stained and will reek! Pretreat your fabric before you even send it to your workroom. There are many stain resistant fabrics now on the market that are quite attractive. I think children and husbands can do more damage than pets!!!! My 2 year old took a hammer to a lacquered coffee table and my significant other left water rings on our antique side table—I have plenty of linen drinks napkins and coasters he should have used!!!
Muffy: you are having a dinner party, what is your go to menu?
Louise: A decadent Chicken Tetrazzini—everyone begs for the recipe and then find out it is made with Velveeta!!!!! Spinach Salad, and for dessert lemon mousse with raspberry coulis or the best vanilla ice cream with a heavy splash of Cointreau.
Muffy: it’s five o’clock, what is in your cocktail glass?
Louise: A cold glass of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc with a clean starched Porthault napkin or linen monogramed one! Kidding—Duckhorn is only for guests!!!
I will toast to that! A grand thank you to Louise for indulging my burning design questions and I hope you all enjoyed her delightful, insightful candor. You can find Louise on Instagram here for continued inspiration.