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Eye on Design: An Insightful Conversation with Interior Designer Liz Caan

To interior designer Liz Caan, founder of the nationally renowned interior design firm, Liz Caan & Co., creativity, and communication is key. Based in Newton, Massachusetts, Caan has been able to transform the living space of countless clients, specializing in traditional architectural detailing, with modern twists.

In a recent sit-down with Brown Harris Stevens Agent Suzanne Werson, Caan shared some of her favorite projects, discussed some of the questions that clients should ask their designers, and how her firm has taken a "greener" step forward.

How much time should someone spend time in their home before deciding what changes they want to make and style they want to have? Is this necessary when one has a designer helping them with the process?

I believe it’s always a benefit if a client has lived in the home for a while prior to the renovation. They will know what is working and what is not. When we work with clients on a renovation, we want them to articulate the challenges and pinch points to us as they relate to everything (even the HVAC) so we can all collaborate on what the best options could be. I think it’s vital that a client is able to communicate things like how they want their home to function, any new technologies they want included, describe how they want their home to feel, and what is most important to them… maybe it’s an art, wine, or book collection, or maybe they dream of a master suite that is spa like and allows them to decompress at the end of each day. Sometimes it’s a dream closet or a bunk room… whatever it is, we think having spent time in the home is an added benefit.

What was one of your favorite projects and why?

We had a client about 10 years ago who was a book collector. He wanted a two-story library and since there were plenty of bedrooms in the home for their family and guests, the architect was able to absorb a bedroom on the second level and incorporate this into his dream library. We were able to design a space just for him where he is surrounded by his favorite books, beautiful art, a fireplace, and a hidden bar.

What questions should one ask when interviewing a designer, contractor, or architect?

I think clients should ask about the designer’s process and how they work. I would ask about how and where they discover, learn, and get inspired. I think a client should ask about the firms’ values and what that firm believes in. They should ask about transparency, regarding pricing as well as potential errors. I think asking about communication preferences and expectations is important to address. I also think clients should choose firms they feel comfortable and relaxed with. At the end of the day, many firms could deliver a beautiful project, but not all may be the right fit regarding personality or process. I think chemistry is everything, and you should trust your instincts and not get caught up in celebrity or labels.

"The best projects are true collaborations where everyone is invested, trusting and respectful of one another." -- Liz Caan

Has your design aesthetic changed due to becoming “greener”?

We are trying to become greener every day. We are really thinking about transportation, manufacturing and materials and are putting a higher value on things crafted by local artisans with indigenous materials for new pieces. By helping clients choose things that are vintage or had a previous life to add character and soul and personality to a space, we are able to cut down on utilizing mass manufactured products. We are always trying our best to reuse things the client may have or even reimagine it in another space or in a different finish. Educating and helping clients invest in better materials that are natural, cleanable, and sustainable is at the forefront of what we care about. We value craftsmanship, and well-made things that are worth recovering and refinishing.

My firm offers a Preservation and Concierge Program where we help clients take care of their home after the installation. It gives them peace of mind knowing we have them covered. From scratches, dings and general wear and tear… we are able to have most anything cleaned, repaired, resealed and/or refinished, from countertops to furniture, upholstery and carpets and we even take care of all their lightbulbs!

We think that designing a beautiful home is just the start and maintaining it is the next chapter that truly gives longevity and protection to their investment…. which is greener! -- Liz Caan

Is a bar area something that you like to include and if so, where?

Recently, clients have been asking for bars in their homes again. We have had to design bars that are very visible and need to be beautiful and functional. Depending on the home and the location of the bar, we try and integrate them with the rest of the home so they feel residential, appropriate to the architecture and will age gracefully.

In newer homes, clients are opting to dedicate a wing of the home to more adult entertaining with a lounge, a bar and a den with higher level finishes. In summer homes, we are seeing the bars front and center in the main entertaining spaces… more open concept spaces with a dining home, and some seating zones for television or relaxing and taking in the landscape.

Have you ever done a super fabulous laundry room, and what made it fabulous? (I want one!)

I love using laundry rooms and love designing them. Personally, I prefer to make laundry rooms fun, elevated, and utilitarian. Sometimes we incorporate fun flooring materials, wallpaper, and even useful and attractive accessories, like great laundry baskets and nice hangers.

My favorite is a very large laundry room we did in a historic home outside of Boston. The family has 4 children and 2 dogs, so they needed several washers and dryers, a place to fold, sort, mend, and press clothing. We made this almost like a wet room with penny round tiles on the floors, large subway tile floor to ceiling. We had a modern soapstone sink fabricated with custom iron legs. The room is a modern version of what it was 120 years ago; the same materials but with new technologies.

Recently we decided to make the second-floor laundry room a showcase and had verre eglomise painted on the glass door. The room has graphic cement tiles, fun wallcover, and all the necessities. I think of it as a "white while you work" space!

Lots of people have pets and need litter boxes, doggie gates/doors, pet beds etc., how do you make these things disappear or appear to be fabulous?

I love my dogs and I am always trying to integrate their needs into our lives. For most projects, we like to integrate dog crates under counters in mudrooms and also have concealed gates that are hidden in the wall like pocket doors… only about 36” high though. When we design crates under counters, we usually use a powder coated metal or mesh material for the doors, so the dogs still feel part of the family. We source pretty latches that tie into the rest of the home’s aesthetic.

For tiny breeds, we sometimes leave a little opening under a kitchen banquette so the dog can have a dedicated spot under the table and out of the way in the kitchen which is generally where they like to catch crumbs. We also make custom dog beds for clients that coordinate with the decor of the rooms they will be in.

Suzanne Werson is a licensed real estate agent in both New York City and South Florida. Click here to connect with Suzanne and view her listings.

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