Designer Lauren Conner breathes fresh air throughout her childhood home, opening up rooms, employing beloved family pieces, and adding stylish touches that celebrate its innate stately beauty.
Not everyone wants to live in their childhood home, but when you grew up in a stately 1928 white colonial in walking distance to Mountain Brook Village—and you get the opportunity to return—well, it would seem like a no-brainer. However, there aren’t many who would be willing to take on the necessary renovations to update the house for today’s lifestyle. Interior designer Lauren Conner, a self-described sentimentalist, was certainly up to the task since she loves pieces steeped in family history. “I’m also a bit of a hoarder,” laughs Lauren. “It’s hard for me to let go of things from my parents and grandparents, so I used as many of their items as I could.”
Before the decorating part of the project began, Lauren made some smart changes to the downstairs floor plan to open it up and give it a more comfortable flow. She worked with architectural firm Shepard & Davis and contractor Philip Woods to figure out the layout. “Some of the spaces were really tight,” says Lauren. But that did not discourage the trio as they also renovated and expanded the kitchen, adding an island, more windows, and an eating area.
The other big change downstairs involved the addition of a new laundry room, now a spacious bright place to wash and fold. Upstairs, the floorplan remained as is but with updated bathrooms.
Other spaces stayed the same or morphed only slightly, but every room still reflects the feel of Lauren’s childhood home. Her original bedroom had painted white floors that she kept for one of her three daughters to enjoy in her room. The family room’s wood-paneled den was painted to lighten it up, while most of the furniture and art remained in the space. Most of the light fixtures stayed in the home but were moved around. And almost every piece of furniture has a family history.
In addition, her mother’s original choice for the Clarence House wallpaper pattern (The Vase) still graces the foyer and stairway—just in another colorway. “She preferred it in pale peach,” Lauren says. “I simply changed it to blue.”
The house has been in Lauren’s family for almost 50 years—something that invites reflection. “I look back at my grandmother’s life, and many of the things she did are in vogue today,” says Lauren. “She upcycled furniture and décor with no packing materials and a very low carbon footprint!”
“I’ve been predicting the return of brown furniture for a long time. Now it’s back! I encourage clients to rethink pieces they inherited that may be languishing in the attic or basement and to be open to painting or stripping them to give them a new look.”—Lauren Conner
The designer tries to walk a fine line between celebrating the past and keeping her home lively and evolving. “I’m so attached to old things, but I don’t want the house to look too ‘grandmotherly,’” she says. “I just think rooms are much more interesting when there’s a mix of antiques and more transitional pieces. You want your home to tell a story.”
When asked if she is finished collecting for her home, Lauren says the thrill of the hunt for treasures—whether for herself or a client—is still a passion. “I went to an estate sale just last weekend and bought a lot of amazing pieces,” she says. There’s no doubt she will find just the right place for each item to continue its story.
In With the Old
Lauren Conner with Catherine, one of her three daughters, shares her tips for using antiques and family heirlooms in a fresh new way.
• Move things around and they can take on a whole new attitude. I took the original foyer chandelier and moved it to the dining room and put the dining room chandelier in one of my daughter’s bedrooms. It suits her personality perfectly.
• Paint is powerful! If you paint a wood piece, it will look totally different. You can also strip dark brown furniture to give it a lighter finish that feels fresh.
• To keep things from looking too historic, add contemporary lamps, pendants, and chandeliers. I am also slowly trying to mix in some more modern art to go with my parents’ collection of more traditional pieces.
• Fabric is transforming. If a piece has good lines and is good quality but has a dowdy fabric, you can reupholster or add slipcovers, depending on the look you want. These are not inexpensive to do, so make sure you really love the piece.
Interiors: Lauren Conner, Lauren Conner Interiors Architecture: Shepard & Davis Architecture Builder: Philip Woods Landscape: Paul Lell Hardwood Floors: Ford Flooring Kitchen Cabinets: Kitchen Potential Kitchen Hardware: Brandino Brass Appliances: AllSouth Appliance Group Countertops and Tile: Cottage Supply Company Bathroom Fixtures: Fixtures & Finishes