There are no Decorating Rules in This Texas Home
Learn the secrets of do-your-own-thing design from this clever-thinking Austin, TX, homeowner. HGTV Magazine takes you inside.
Merrilee McGehee’s home is in a constant state of creative flux. “One time my husband, Pittman, came home, and I’d swapped the living room and the dining room,” she says. “He may have been thrown when he walked in, but he’s gotten used to change.” In short: Merrilee, an interior designer and artist, likes to keep it fresh. She’s constantly coming up with design surprises — kooky wall murals, unpredictable paint colors and brave pattern mash-ups — to keep her clients (and her family) guessing.
Her own 2,500-square-foot 1940s bungalow in Austin, TX, is a laboratory for her just-do-what-you-love style. “A 1960s credenza, an antique chest and modern art in the same room? You bet,” she says. Luckily her family is happy to be along for the ride. “Pittman doesn’t always get my ideas, but he trusts me, even when they’re really out there,” she says. “And the kids (Clementine, 6, and Finnegan, 10) love that our home is never boring.”
Merrilee doesn’t limit herself to one style — and definitely not one color palette. “I need pops of color everywhere,” she says. So she painted her wall-spanning bookcase pink grapefruit (for a similar look, try Mineral Red by Pratt & Lambert), hung dandelion-hued chinoiserie drapes that date back to the ’80s, added a pair of vintage navy armchairs, and put down an antique area rug featuring every color of the rainbow. Subdued details like a gray velvet sofa, which belonged to Merrilee’s grandmother, and a seagrass rug help balance out the vibrancy. The modern sputnik light is from Practical Props in North Hollywood, CA.
Merrilee, who got a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Texas in Austin, created this 5-foot-by-6-foot piece using more than 5,000 colored pencils glued to wood. She started by painting the wood glossy black — the spaces left blank create the letters. It hangs in the living room above a rosewood credenza found at an antiques store in Austin.
For this room, Merrilee wanted something unplanned and abstract, so she picked a quirky assortment of paint colors, mapped out a plan in her head, sketched the lines on the wall and painted a mural of crisscrossing stripes. Then she peppered the space with some of her favorite vintage finds: a travertine pedestal table found on Craigslist, Bauhaus-style chairs from Uptown Modern in Austin, a gilded mirror that she picked up at the Round Top Antiques Fair in Texas and sconces pilfered from her mother-in-law’s garage.
Replacing the existing cabinetry was beyond her budget, so Merrilee kept the cabinet boxes and swapped out the doors and the drawers, then coated everything in deep blue (New Providence Navy by Benjamin Moore). The countertops are a mix of Carrara marble along the perimeter and butcher block from IKEA on the island. The island base is painted Decorator’s White by Benjamin Moore, and she used the same color on the pine floors in a high-gloss deck and porch formula with epoxy, which makes them super durable. The brass knobs and pulls are from House of Antique Hardware, and the striped runner is from Dash & Albert.
This space used to be the laundry room, but because it has a door that leads to the backyard, the McGehees thought it would be better suited for entertaining. So they installed cabinets and a butcher-block counter from IKEA to make a bar. The walls and the ceiling are painted muted rose pink (Venetian Rose by Benjamin Moore), and the floral wool rug is from World Market. As for the doorway’s inspiration, “I was going through a Moroccan phase,” says Merrilee. She drew the outline and had her contractor cut the drywall.
To cozy up this corner, Merrilee and Pittman built a banquette with a neighbor’s help. Merrilee had its purple linen, from Calico Corners, treated to make it wipeable, like oilcloth. The tulip table is from White on White in New York City, but when the top cracked, Merrilee replaced it with a precut round of pine from Home Depot. “I love mixing materials,” she says. “Stained wood paired with white metal really appeals to me.” She scored the chairs from a thrift shop — $20 for the pair — and had them reupholstered in a posh David Hicks fabric. A framed piece of vintage Verner Panton fabric hangs front and center.
The house originally had black shutters and shiny white siding that showed every speck of dirt. So the McGehees repainted it forgiving matte gray (Fieldstone by Benjamin Moore), then chose dark green (Olympus Green by Benjamin Moore) for the shutters. “I like in-between colors,” says Merrilee. “This is such a deep green, you might think it’s black from afar.” She plopped a patio table and chairs from Uptown Modern in Austin in the middle of the lawn; it’s a great place to sit while the kids play.
The Merrilee way to design a gallery wall: Use a mix of frames, and cover every inch of wall space. The runner? She found it on the street! “We live in a college town,” she says. “Kids are always moving and throwing things away. I found this rug and had it cleaned. Now it’s in my hallway.”
“Clementine is a fun little lady,” says Merrilee, so grown-up accents like ’70s floral paintings, a brass chandelier from Again & Again in Dallas and an overdyed rug from Rugs USA coexist with a Hello Kitty pillow, a toy microphone stand and a berry red Jenny Lind bed from The Land of Nod. This past Christmas, Clementine wanted a desk, so Merrilee bought a bamboo-and-brass one from a vintage shop called The Brass Peacock on chairish.com and painted it pink (Paris Romance by Benjamin Moore). The three-elephant lamp is from a Shirley Fintz collaboration with West Elm.
Merrilee repeated her not-too-kid-like kid room decorating style in 10-year-old Finnegan’s bedroom with a red-and-gray-stripe rug from Wisteria, a dark brown bobbin bed from Restoration Hardware and vintage bamboo card tables that serve as nightstands. The Belle & Sebastian concert poster was a gift to Merrilee from a friend.
This gilded mirror from Gypsies Antiques in Austin probably wasn’t intended for a bathroom, but flanked by brass sconces from Circa Lighting, it looks made for the space. The McGehees replaced the bulky vanity with a pedestal sink and added a slim cabinet, which they topped with Carrara marble left over from the kitchen. The old linoleum floor was ripped out in favor of hexagonal Carrara marble tiles, and the rug is from an antiques shop in Northport, MI.
Some people subscribe to the “less is more” theory when decorating a bedroom. Not Merrilee. A vintage Italian candelabra from Again & Again fills the wall above the bed, and Pine Cone Hill euro shams pick up the coral in the Kantha blanket from Spruce Home. The nightstands are IKEA finds that she personalized with white paint and brass pulls from House of Antique Hardware. The vintage caned bench is topped with spotted fabric from Kravet.