Design Journal

Conversations With...Erika Buchholtz


All pictures of Erika’s home  by Anna Routh/Anagram Photo


I love reading articles about what makes people successful and always hope I’ll unlock the secret.    I am a sucker for articles like, “What  the Most Influential  CEO’s Do Before Breakfast”.  I send links to my kids in hope that these habits will rub off on them but apparently they don’t have the same enthusiasm for them that I do. They kindly asked me to stop sending articles since they do not have time to read them which proves they will be more successful than me!

Erika Buchholtz is one of those  people that seems to have what it takes to rise to the top of everything she chooses to do.  Erika is one of the leading brokers in the country, having  sold over 1, 500 homes with close to 1 billion dollars in sales.   I am always so curious about people like that. Were they born that way?  Did their parents push them in a certain direction?

I have known Erika for a long time, but have recently gotten to know her better.  I adore her cheerful disposition and  she is someone I really admire.   She is always gracious and kind but is not someone who over shares or likes to talk about herself too much. I was thrilled that she said yes to the blog post and that she really opened up  about her dreamy childhood in California.  She also brings out my design alter ego.   I love a dark and cozy palette,  but  whenever I leave  her home I want to go back to mine  and paint everything white!  She has amazing style and knows how to execute a white and modern palette like few people I know.  She  mixes in antiques, art and personal pieces like a pro to create a modern and bright, sunny space that is warm and not at all cold.  I think you’ll enjoy seeing her home, hearing her journey, her  perspective on work, and life with her  adorable children Chloe and Theo  and her biggest cheerleader, her husband Chris.


Tell us about growing up in Beverly Hills. 

Growing up in Beverly Hills was idyllic.  For most of my childhood it was all I knew and I didn’t realize, until I was older, that it often carried an unpleasant connotation about living in excess.  From high school on, when asked I where I was from, I would routinely say “West LA” instead of Beverly Hills.  I learned that saying Beverly Hills led to automatic assumptions.  While large houses, manicured grounds, movie-star sightings, gorgeous stores, shi-shi dining and fancy cars are the norm, my family instilled mid-western values.  My mom was Dorothy from Kansas (she changed her name to Dori as an adult) and my dad was a doctor’s son from Brooklyn.  We made the weekly trip to Costco just like most people.  While surrounded by crazy luxury, my family was super grounded.



Tell us about the house you grew up in?

My childhood home, 9900 Sunset Boulevard, was a stunning 1932 Mediterranean we all adored.  My parents spent the entire forty-five years of their ownership renovating and expanding.  It was a thoroughly loved home- grand, elegant and supremely comfortable all at the same time.


A cumquat tree grew outside our back door, a peach tree in the back yard and lemon as well as grapefruit trees in the front – of course amidst tall, skinny as well as stout, palm trees.  My mom also had a large rose garden so the house was always filled with fresh citrus and vases of roses.  Our doors and windows were open to the outdoors everyday.  Believe it or not, bugs flying into the house are not-a-thing in California.  At night the scent of Night Blooming Jasmine would permeate the yard and the house.  Divine.


Every holiday was a big celebration with my mom in the kitchen for days and a houseful of friends and family.  My mom and dad enjoyed entertaining and mom hosted everything from gourmet dinners, showers, milestone celebrations to dance parties where she made most things from scratch.  My favorites were seeing the freshly made pasta roll out of the pasta maker and her famous Boccone Dolce cake – which I relished because I got to munch on every broken meringue.  There were inevitably quite a few.  One of the best days of my life was when Chris and I got married in 1996 in the backyard by the pool.  We had cocktails under the pergola and the reception in the garden.




Sounds like your mom loved to entertain!

Absolutely, she never let an occasion go un-celebrated.  Very young I started helping her decorate tables for entertaining –arranging flowers and vases; placing mom’s collection of Baccarat crystal animal figures down the table; carefully folding cloth napkins; selecting just the right candles, place mats or chargers, silverware and china.  My mom and I had so much fun collecting new table décor and positioning everything just right to maximize the festivity of the gathering.


Did you live near any movie stars?

Our front lawn was a giant grassy hill and I spent countless hours rolling from top to bottom.  I would often be interrupted by the Seeing Stars vans that slowly tour Beverly Hills streets telling tourists where the movie stars live.  I always wondered who they said lived in our home.  My mom and I promised we were going to take the tour one day to see.  We haven’t yet.  While I was growing-up various stars did live on our street or on the road behind us:  Julie Andrews, Eydie Gorme, Lionel Richie, George Segal, Bijan, Dorothy McGuire, Kiki VanDeWeigh and Randolph Scott.  One of my all-time-favorite actresses, Lucille Ball, lived a few blocks away.  I walked by her house hoping to hear her scream “RICKY!” more than I should admit.



Your mom sounds wonderful.  Tell us about your dad.

We just celebrated my dad’s 86th birthday.  Six years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  His slow decline has been very painful for my mom and me.  It is a brutal disease.  The only saving grace is I don’t think my dad is aware of his struggles.  He was brilliant, easy-going, generous, devoted and got stuff DONE.  A world-renowned ear, nose and throat doctor, he loved going to work everyday.  I got my pull to the ocean from him.  He adored cycling, boating, fishing and scuba diving.  My favorite vision of him is captaining his boat with ever-present jazz music, the wind blowing his hair and a huge smile on his face.  He loved cars and relaxed by tinkering with them so we often had fun sports cars like the Maserati and DeLorean.  My favorite of his car collection was a brown van with a desert scene painted on the side that my dad fondly called “Van-Go.”  They used to drive up the coast in Van-Go to go antiquing in Northern California.  I still have some of the pieces that rode home in Van-Go – a gorgeous armoire with 1801 written in inlaid wood across the top and an antique wood-frame mirror.


My parents love dogs and we always had Great Danes – usually two-at-a-time named by my dad (Chester I, Chester II, Albert, Oliver, Winston, Lili and Morgan) except for one Collie he christened Boswell and a Poodle my mom and I named Coco – after Coco Chanel.



It sounds like you had a sublime childhood!

It really was.  The public schools in Beverly Hills were great and I went from kindergarten through high school with mostly the same kids.  I am still close with my core group of four girls.  We grew-up fast and were exposed to things earlier.  Not many people can say their wildest days were in elementary school (our school went from K to 8th grade) but I can!  I will leave it at that!  Everything was bigger and faster with a backdrop of endless sunshine.

I took piano lessons from a wonderfully wise woman who dispensed sage advice and made a lasting impression on me.  Unfortunately I loathed practicing so I can only play a few refrains today.  Years of ballet and jazz classes were enjoyed in the moment but, alas, I was never passionate.  The highlight of my ballet career was performing Swan Lake at age 7 in front of Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner as their daughter was my neighboring swan.

What is one of your favorite memories growing up in your home?

The 80s brought shoulder pads, big hair and weekly bar and bat mitzvah’s, which were always lavish dance parties.  My sweet sixteen was the grand finale of my childhood.  My whole grade was invited and we notified the neighborhood we were going to be loud.  The theme was “black, white and read-all-over” – the invitation was printed on newspaper print.  Everyone wore black-and-white and I wore red.  My parents had the huge wall in the motor court painted to say “Happy Sweet Sixteen Erika.”  We had a ginormous dance floor, amazing DJ, my mom’s incredible seven-layer dip and we danced the night-away.  Unforgettable.




How has growing up in California influenced your lifestyle? 

California’s sunny-relaxed vibe runs in my veins.  I was definitely bit by the health and fitness bug.  Completely drawn to the ocean and all things beachy, I also love the carefree, less-is-more aesthetic of California style.






Where is your favorite place in your home?

My favorite place in my home is my bed when the whole family piles-on for a chat, snuggle and inevitable laughter.

Erika’s beloved pup, Dash.



What does your home say about you?

I hope it says that I am open, warm, together, somewhat stylish and not fussy.


Erika’s moms’ blue and white china displayed in a fresh, modern way.

The same blue and white china in her childhood home.



You are such a highly accomplished person. You were a summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate and valedictorian of your college at UCLA.  You are one of the top agents in the country with over 1 billion dollars in sales volume.  I am always interested in why some people reach for the stars while others are afraid to take chances and afraid of failure.  Were you always driven or did you develop some of those characteristics later in life?  Was it your parents influence, is it innate…give us insight!

Good question!  Not sure I have a good answer!  I always had to work hard to realize success in school.  Along the way I learned that most good things don’t come without focused dedication.  The rewards from effort in school brought the drive to achieve more success. Through that process I slowly learned how to be effective and efficient.  Hard work and good organization is a winning combo.  I was also born with a desire to please others and the perspective to see how I might help or be needed. I don’t think I have reached for the stars as much as put my head down with a single-minded focus.  I am fortunate to have the stamina and perseverance to do the hard stuff coupled with really caring about making my best effort in every situation.  My parents and upbringing instilled a strong moral compass.  I go to bed each night knowing I have always tried to go high even when others may go low.  When something goes wrong, as it inevitably does, I will go to whatever lengths necessary to fix it.  I don’t compare myself to others.  I do my own thing.  I finish what I start, love the gratification of getting stuff done and have tons of energy.  Chris jokingly started calling me the Energizer Bunny shortly after we met thirty-years-ago (gulp!) and calls me Bunny to this day.


You were admitted into law and medical school and instead chose to go into real estate.  What made you choose to take that path?  Secondly, what did your parents think of your decision!

That was an interesting time!  After graduating from college I had an early-life crisis.  After merrily going on the expected route of elementary, middle, high school and college, I found myself floundering without an expected next step.  The world and all its possibilities were completely overwhelming.  Too bad I didn’t realize that for the glorious opportunity it was!  My dad was a physician and being a doctor was completely enmeshed in his entire persona.  He loved helping people and knew being a doctor was his calling from childhood.  He was most in his element taking care of patients – or being in the ocean.  I didn’t have that same passion for one particular path.  So I tried a few on for size!  I was a communications major and was offered a post-graduation on-air reporting job at NBC, I applied to medical school and got in, I applied to law school and got in.  So, Chris and I ended up moving to Chapel Hill and I became a cocktail waitress at The Washington Duke in Durham.  Yes, my parents were “thrilled”!  When I look back on how they handled it, I hope I am as cool with our kids when the time comes.  While they “weren’t sure” I was making the best choice, they had faith that I would figure it out eventually.  I never mastered the art of carrying a food-and-drink-laden tray but did end up being offered a position in hotel management  – which I also realized wasn’t for me.

Growing up, my home, along with my family, was a wonderful, stable and ever-present comfort.  While I realize home is more about the people than the structure, I do believe that having a space we identify with as supremely ours envelopes us with peace and is an invaluable foundation, as well as uplifting presence. I have always appreciated architecture, interiors and differing styles – the things that create one’s home as a representation of who they are.  My mom has a great design sense.  As a teenager and young adult I spent a lot of time watching her handle one renovation project after another – from designing the space to arranging every last detail.  I soaked-in all aspects of the process, especially appreciating the wonder of the newly completed space.  Chris helped me finally crystallize my natural interest in what is involved in creating home – it could have led me to building, interior design or something similar.  I ended-up enrolling in real estate school with Chris in 1994.  It was something fun we could do together before graduate school.  Afterward, Chris went on to law school.  I deferred law school for two years after starting in real estate and then never looked-back.

Details matter!



You are literally at the top of your game in real estate.  You are the #1 agent with Berkshire Hathaway in North Carolina and in the top ½ of 1% of Berkshire Hathaway agents in the country!  What advice can you give to new agents entering the field of real estate?

Onsite new homes sales are a great way to learn the business because it is a more structured environment with available inventory and, typically, great training.


I think it is so fascinating that you have little social media presence in this day and age where we are all told you MUST have it to be successful.  Was that a conscious decision? 

HA!  I certainly did buck that trend.  It was a conscious decision.  I genuinely feel social media would not make me more productive or effective and would likely be a distraction.  One thing I don’t have is time to waste!  Social media does not sell homes.  The best personal promotion is doing your very best work for the people you are fortunate to represent.  99% of my business is referral based.  Full disclosure:  I have been known to look over Chris’s shoulder on occasion to see what is happening on Facebook.


What is the biggest piece of advice you can give to a homeowner to prepare their home to go on the market?

  Follow my advice.


What would you say is the biggest selling point in a home? 


Erika’s vacation view.



You have amazing style and I love the way you have designed your home.  Have you always been interested in design? Where does that come from? 

Thank you!  Yes, I have always been interested – even before I realized it.  I remember, as a young child, having a sense of pride about my home.  The way it looked and felt.  My mom was a successful interior designer before she became a fashion designer.  She created a stunning environment for our family.  While our living spaces were very put together and stylish – they were also warm, comfortable and creative with a touch of whimsy.  As I grew up I increasingly appreciated my mom’s ability to design such spaces and realized the emotional effect well-done surroundings have on your psyche.  Eventually I started helping my mom redefine rooms in our home – make selections, organize furniture, pick-out accessories.  To this day I find home-making an incredibly enjoyable and relaxing pastime.  Whether it is selecting a new pillow to freshen a space, finding just the right spot for a splendid orchid or taking everything out of my utility cabinet to purge and make it more organized and efficient – that is pure joy.


The Dori Collection, Erika’s mom’s line of jackets, wraps and scarves.


Do you have a morning routine that is important to you?

I have a fairly new morning routine that I treasure.  Our almost ten-month-old puppy, Dash, senses when I am waking-up.  He is usually sleeping beside my head or feet and he groggily makes his way to plop his face and most of his body on top of mine for his morning snuggle and rubdown.  I can’t help but start the day with a smile on my face.  My next stop is the perfect mug of Nespresso.  I am then ready to face anything.


Are you working on any projects or events that are exciting to you?  Yep!

I hope to spend more time working with A Lotta Love.  Founded by Lotta Sjoelin, A Lotta Love improves the living environments, one room at a time, of local shelters.  I am on the Board and have been able to re-do several bedrooms – painting, fixing, buying furnishings along with bedding, art and accessories to transform the space for an individual or family trying to move forward.  It is an incredibly rewarding experience.


I have always been a sponsor of the Super Cooper Little Red Wagon Foundation, supporting the needs of children and families fighting pediatric brain cancer.  This year I am joining the auction committee and am really looking forward to working with a group of wonderful women on such a meaningful endeavor.


Last year, every week I met with a group of six fourth graders from Scroggs Elementary School, including my son.  I  worked with them on an advanced reading and writing analysis program called Jr. Great Books.  Their enthusiasm, earnestness and engagement fueled me for the rest of the day.  I loved my time with them and got such a kick out of the zany things they think and say.  That experience has also fostered my endless respect and admiration for our teachers.

My family also alternates doing the monthly PORCH pick-ups for Southern Village.  It fills me to the brim collecting the generous food and monetary donations from neighbors.  I also hope it helps give Chloe & Theo some perspective on how fortunate we are to take for granted that we always have good food to eat.  We walk into St. Thomas Moore carrying the contributions from Southern Village and see the sea of tables filled with food from communities all over Chapel Hill.  It is a powerful visual that reinforces how great the need is and how much good is being done to fill it.

I also LOVE identifying, purchasing and renovating rental properties.  We currently have seven and each one has brought me countless hours of FUN.  It is as much a creative outlet as an investment.  I am always on the hunt.



What is the one thing you can talk about all day if given the chance? 

I love asking people questions.  I prefer listening.


What would you love to be doing in 10 years? 

My idyllic scenario would be traveling our country and the world with Chris – for exploration sake but also spending time doing good works for others.  Our home base will be a small cottage with endless marsh views.  I already have it designed in my head.  Envisioning that cottage, tweaking the layout and enjoying my imaginary view is where my brain wanders when I am trying to fall asleep.  It is usually therapeutic and sleep-inducing except for the nights when it isn’t!  Hopefully the kids will join us on our travels a few times a year and they will always have rooms to come home to.

I do try to stay present, focused and appreciative of all the wonders of the here-and-now rather than looking forward toward what is to come.


What would you give to a person that has everything?

  A memorable experience.



Name 3 things that are essential to your well being

My family, healthy habits and finishing what I start.


Who has been a mentor to you or an important figure in your life, personally and professionally? 

My Funny Grandma,  Mary Ellis Carlton, who turned 100 years old on May 13, 2018.  She is the epitome of optimism, professionalism, dedication, resourcefulness, independence and joi-de-vivre – all wrapped-up in a 5’7”, long-legged with a preference for super high heels and pencil skirts, blond-haired, green-eyed, beaming-smile package.  Mary had a tough childhood.  She was raised by a single mother who supported them by cleaning hotel rooms.  They moved constantly.  Mary loved school and devoted herself to learning.  She became the editor of her college newspaper, Homecoming Queen and married the star of the football team.  They had three daughters – my mom is the oldest.  She worked as a newspaper journalist for most of her life – and was the only one of her daughter’s friends’ moms that worked outside the home throughout my mom’s youth.  She has been an inspiration personifying how women can excel at motherhood while having a successful and fulfilling career.  Most of all though, she has impressed me with her steadfast appreciation for life, as well as the beauty that surrounds us, her sole focus on the good that lies within everyone, and her ability to find the funny in every situation.  She radiates joy and is always ready to sing, dance or bring out the sillies.


Favorite 3 places to eat in the Triangle? 

Lantern, Brewery Bhavana and JuJuBe; favorite for a quick pick-me-up:  Clean Juice


What do you collect?

  I collect random items that strike me as beautiful and serve to remind me of a cherished experience.  Here are a few of my faves:  the black carved ballerina figurine that my mom and I came across at a New York outdoor bazaar; the zany Baccarat elephant from Gearys Beverly Hills; a luminous antique green glass compote discovered in a quaint shop in Greensboro with my sister-in-law; shells from my childhood added to from our family travels – my favorite of which are the sand dollars from Sea Island; an antique carved-wood box my mom purchased from Johnny Rosselli when she was living and modeling in New York in the 1960s; select treasured pieces from my mom’s extensive collection of blue and white Chinese export porcelain and a small but adored grouping of decanters gathered from all over the world.  Best of all:  family pictures.  We have over 20 black albums lining our playroom shelves that document the lives of our children  – both mundane and monumental moments – from the womb (yep, the ultrasound photos) and beyond.


What do you do to relax or recharge?

  Find a comfy, peaceful spot to read a travel magazine from cover-to-cover while listening to music.  Heaven.

Chris and I try to go on two to three getaways a year.  Our go-to is either Fearrington House or The Umstead for one or two nights.  We take long walks, lounge in the spa, linger over dinner, sleep late, read the newspaper and usually watch a movie from the long list of movies we want-to-but-never-have-the-time-to watch.  There is nothing more relaxing or recharging.

Erika and her super-nice husband, Chris!




Architecturally, what is your favorite style? 

Modern.  But I am pining for a dilapidated small beach cottage with a standout view that I can renovate.

Erika’s inspiration for her dream  beach cottage. Source Unknown.



Who inspires you design wise (any artist, clothing designer, interior, architect, painter etc.). 

Barbara Barry.  She is a style goddess.  I am so moved by her points of view:

  • Design is perceived through our five senses. It is a conversation between things. Subtle differences taken in: the differences between smoothness and texture, dark and the not so dark, the plain and the patterned, and how those differences make us feel.
  • Beautiful process generally begets beautiful product; just as food cooked with love tastes better.
  • Everything is composition…your face, my face, a room…any room. The skyline is a composition as is the view from the plane window. Food on your plate is a composition as is the work on your desk. Everything is composed in a way that is pleasing…or not.
  • Design is connection and the pleasure taken in, in making those connections.



What would you like to be an expert at if given the chance? 

Yoga and meditation.


Any new discoveries you want to share? 

Johnny Was has been around for years but I feel newly connected to the brand and am a huge fan for summer attire – Eli Levite’s clothes bring a bit of California cool to my day.  Also, the Harry Josh Ultra Light Blow Dryer is revolutionary.



What is something you look forward to everyday? 

Seeing my kids after school.



How do you describe your style? 

Simple, chic and classic with a casual bend.



What inspires you? 

Truly connecting with another person.  Reading.  New experiences.  Nature.  Being inside and watching really bad weather outside.

What is something you love to do for other people? 

Reach out and touch someone everyday.  If you think something nice, say it.  A simple meaningful compliment can make someone’s day.  I also try to be a positive force in people’s lives.

Erika’s favorite things: 

Spotify on my Sonos, green olives, Dr. Rogers Restore Healing Balm, Lacefield Designs pillows, Diptyque Paris perfume, fresh white hydrangeas, my mom’s art collection, Eric Javits floppy sun hats, Baccarat crystal, Live Oak trees with Spanish moss, Nespresso Volluto, anything designed by Kartell, the Morgan vest designed by mom, ripe mangos with chili powder and lime, Nest candles, Barton Perreira sunglasses, anything painted by Jacob Cooley, Skingoop Body Butter, frozen grapes, Johnny Was embroidered gold sneakers, everything Apple, the sheepskin throw from Annie Selke on my office Ghost chair, Janet Stoltz’s almond roca, the kids baby teeth, hanging chairs & hammocks, NPR, Roberta Roller Rabbit PJs & swim cover-ups, ice cream sandwiches from Robert’s Grocery in Wrightsville Beach, Knoll outdoor furniture, the marsh and family photos.


Hostess Gift:

Nest candle, soap or diffuser.  My favorite scent is Bamboo.  Although I recently found these smart navy and white catchalls that say:  Hello Gorgeous.  I bought every one they had for all the gorgeous ladies in my life.


Favorite gift given to you:

A glass heart from my mom that says “I love you all ways, always” and the Baccarat candle-lit chandelier from the dining room of my parent’s home on Sunset that now hangs in my dining room.  Growing up the chandelier would tinkle throughout the house when I would play in my bedroom above the dining room.  Now the room above the dining room belongs to my eleven-year-old son, Theo, and I still get to hear that wonderful tinkling.





Favorite go to color palette to use in your home:

Whites, neutrals, natural fibers, sage green, different shades of blue and grays.



Most cherished item:

My memories.


Creating memories with her family.


Favorite Flower: 

I equally adore the peony, hydrangea and orchid.


Book you think should be on everyone’s book shelf: 

The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary


Favorite TV/Netflix obsession? 

This is Us and The Handmaids Tale.  The kids and I love an “I Love Lucy” marathon.


Favorite Travel destination:

I am still working on that!  Traveling is a passion.  I love every place I have been fortunate to travel.  My top contenders in no particular order are:  Portofino, Tokyo, Nantucket, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Tuscany, Rajasthan, London, Paris, Burgundy, Lucca, Kuala Lumpur, Squirrel Island, Marblehead, San Francisco, Napa, Santa Barbara, Wrightsville Beach, Nevis, Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, Lake Forest, Bald Head, Boston, Vancouver, Madrid, Cairo and Sea Island.


Favorite Drink: 

During the day I drink water with a little lemon juice and cayenne pepper.  I love Sangria with fresh fruit.

What would you tell someone to do if they were visiting Chapel Hill for the first time:

Stroll the Upper Quad and Arboretum on UNC’s campus, grab a bite at Al’s Burger Shack, meander down Gimghoul, find a way to attend a UNC basketball game (or second best, checkout the basketball museum), lounge on the Carr Mill lawn, browse the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, checkout an author reading at Flyleaf books, don’t miss the Ackland Art Museum, visit the belted cows and charming gardens at Fearrington Village and soak in the vibe at Fridays on the Front Porch at the Carolina Inn.

Picture courtesy Al’s Burger Shack


Something you crave daily:

More time.

Family rules: 

1. Be the first to say thanks and the first to say sorry. 2. The floor is not a coat hook. 3. Family meeting once a week on Sundays. 4. If it’s full, empty it. 5. Only touch something once. 6. Put others first. 7. You are allowed to be mad, but you aren’t allowed to be mean. (#2, #3 and #5 get broken often)

My favorite local shop:

  South.  I especially love their selection of gift cards.  Some of my faves are:  “Sup Buttercup”  “Viva La Groovy” “You Brighten My Life” and the one I got my thirteen-year-old daughter “You’re posting a lot of song lyrics and we’re all worried about you.”


Favorite place to shop outside of the Triangle: 

The Malibu Country Mart and the local boutiques on Lexington Avenue in New York.


 My golden rule is: 

I have Golden Rules:  People will forget what you say or do, but people will never forget the way you make them feel (Maya Angelou).  AND Why put-off what you can get done right now?  AND You will pass this way only once, do it right.


Best advice I have received:

Even if you have pains, you don’t have to be one  (Maya Angelou).  AND There is nothing more valuable than putting a smile on someone’s face.  AND Are you a problem solver or a problem maker?

When you sit down at your desk in the morning, what’s the first thing you do? 

Review my to-do list for the day created the night before.


Are there any lessons from childhood that you still carry with you today? 

Yes!  One of the few things that we can control is our attitude.

Someone you admire: 

Humanitarians, Doctors Without Borders, teachers and civil-rights activists and My Funny Grandma.


Favorite memory with your family:

This is a favorite recent memory.  We were in Keystone, Colorado this winter at the Kickapoo Tavern for an après-ski dinner. Chris and I savored margaritas-on-the-rocks and the kids sipped mock-tails. Drinks rolled-into a greasy, but so-hungry-after-skiing-food-never-tasted-so-good dinner.  We sat there for more than a couple hours talking, being silly, laughing and ribbing one-another.  Walking back after dinner, both kids exclaimed, “Wow, that was so much fun!”  There is nothing better than simply enjoying one another’s company.



Brewery Bhavana

We finally made it to Brewery Bhavana in downtown Raleigh  and it was an incredible experience from the delicious food to the beautiful, moody interiors.  I have been wanting to eat here after it was included in  Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants  in the country.  It is owned by Patrick Woodson and   brother-and- sister team Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha. The original restaurant, Bida Manda, was on my wish list too, but it was so hard to get into that it just never worked out.   I just watched a video about how they started Bida Manda and it is a wonderful and moving story.  It makes me love their restaurants even more.  It is not long…watch it if you can. It is such an inspiring story.

Brewery Bhavana is just as hard to get into, but my friend Laura and I made a lunch reservations instead and we were able to snag a table.  Since there are only two of us we could only order so much, but the few things we tried were so delicious.  Next time we want to go with a big group so we can order everything!


 Food photographers have a lot of restraint because we ate all of the best dumplings I have ever had before getting a picture!

The duck egg rolls and steamed buns were delicious too!



I love when you walk into a restaurant and the design makes you feel like you have been transported to another place.  The lighting, cane chairs, and potted trees take you away to an exotic setting.  There is a beautiful  flower  and bookshop in the restaurant, and  as strange  as that sounds, it all comes together to create very special atmosphere.





The stunning bar with 40 beers on tap.


All photos by Laura Montross


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Conversations with...Laura Montross

Photography by Anagram Photo

When I got into the design business, I was happy to see how generous designers are with each other and how eager they are to help or give advice. I always thought they would be competitive, but the opposite has been true. Once in awhile you may run into a big ego here and there, but luckily it is rare. I did attend a design event recently with one of THE top designers and I was so excited to meet her because I love her work. During the party, she was answering a design question when a very wealthy person walked by our group. She literally turned on her heels and walked away in the middle of her sentence to chase down this person. Not even an “excuse me”! I was so disappointed to see her public persona was so different then her private one, as she displayed several times that evening. It is always interesting to see how people react with someone with fame or fortune and how they treat someone who is not.

I preface with this story because my blog guest this month, Laura Montross, is someone that inspires me with her humbleness and humility. I have seen her with millionaires, VIP’s, and the average Joe, and she treats everyone EXACTLY the same. I can honestly say she is the most authentic and genuine person I have ever met. She is who she is with every single person she meets. We met many years ago when our sons became best friends, and we happened to be paired as co-chairs of a committee to bring an arts program to our children’s school. Right before the introductory event to parents and potential sponsors, we discovered we were both terrified to speak in public and in front of large groups. We both panicked since neither one of us wanted to get up in front of the crowd and just assumed the other would do it! Luckily her husband Eric, who is a gifted speaker, got up and spoke about the program right off the cuff and saved us both! Since then, she has become one of my closest friends and confidantes. She is calm, full of common sense, and thoughtful. Laura is the person I read my email to when I am fired up about something and she gently tells me to wait 24 hours before sending it.  She is the first person I call when I have wonderful news or need a good cry. She is, as my dad used to say, “good people”.

She does so much for her community and very few people know about all the good work she does because she is so private and really does it from her heart with no expectations. She is a native Southern girl with a soft Southern accent born in Lexington, North Carolina. She graduated from UNC in 1993 where she met her equally down-to-earth husband,  Eric Montross, who is a hometown hero, voice of the Tarheels, and former NBA player. Due to Eric’s job, Laura has lived in Boston, Dallas, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Toronto. Moving that much can be trying, but Laura cherishes that time to experience new cities and meet new friends. She is a proud mom of two of the kindest kids I know, a job she is devoted to with all her heart. Laura and Eric founded the Eric Montross Father’s Day Basketball Camp that has raised millions of dollars for UNC Children’s Hospital.  She is a founding Co-Chair of the Arts in Action program at Frank Porter Graham Elementary, as well as Co-founder of Raise a Racquet, an annual tennis fundraiser for UNC Children’s Hospital held at The FARM (UNC Faculty-Staff Recreation Association). She currently serves on the Board of Visitors for UNC Children’s Hospital and the Board of Directors for Be Loud! Sophie. As you can see, Laura is a passionate advocate for children and for the UNC Children’s Hospital. I am truly blessed to call her my friend because she is pure goodness! Enjoy getting to know her more and see how she takes joy in the simplest of pleasures.

You are the most down to earth and genuine person I know and your children are too! What life lessons did your parents teach you that you continue to instill in your own family?  I grew up in a rural North Carolina town near Lexington. Tyro has one flashing stoplight and the community was close knit. My grandparents lived two miles away and my parents, brother and I ate a home-cooked meal with them every weeknight and after church on Sundays. From an early age, I was taught the importance of family, staying humble and doing for others. My hope is that my children learn these lessons through my actions more than my words.

It was a sad day when my kids aged out of the Eric Montross Father’s Day Basketball Camp. I think it is also a bittersweet moment for the dads because they have as much fun as the kids! It was a real bonding experience for the families and was a reunion every Father’s Day when people returned year after year and made life-long friendships. Tell us about the camp you started 23 years ago.  My husband and I started a basketball camp in 1995 in memory of Jason Clark, a Durham native that battled cancer at UNC Children’s. Jason was inspiring in so many ways. Shortly after his passing, he was asked what the new children’s hospital should look like to make it more “child-friendly”. Jason wrote  three pages.  As a tribute,  Eric and I, along with his family, use the camp to raise funds to carry out his wishes and honor his memory. Held on Father’s Day weekend, the Eric Montross Father’s Day Basketball Camp provides a unique opportunity for dads and their children to share quality time together while working as a team. They practice, play, and compete in contests.  This special weekend incorporates time on the court with teaching the importance of helping others. 100% of the proceeds benefit UNC Children’s, with well over a million dollars raised to date.



What are some of the projects the funds have been used for? Camp funds have been used for many projects, including the Jason Clark Teen Room, murals, a pediatric short stay unit, an outdoor space (The Lookout Terrace), a pediatric dialysis center, simulation mannequins for training on infants and teens, and equipment including a high performance liquid chromatographer, video laryngoscopes, and a high resolution ultrasound machine. 

The camp is so organized and runs like a fine-tuned machine. How do you keep such a large event with multiple activities so well-organized?  In conjunction with UNC Children’s, I enjoy working throughout the year to plan camp, using a detailed timeline to accomplish tasks each month. We are grateful to have the support of  many local businesses including The Root Cellar, Nantucket, Domino’s Pizza in Carrboro, Mediterranean Deli, Maple View Farm, Chik-fil-A at University Place, Whole Foods, Great Harvest Bread Company, UNC Hospital Catering, Granville Towers, and The Angus Barn in Raleigh. I am the behind-the-scenes organizer, and Eric handles everything on the court. We enjoy our distinct roles and working as a team to make this camp a success every June.


You are so busy planning this event every year.  Have you recently finished any personal projects?  I recently wrote a short “book” that I gave my children for Valentine’s Day. It is a series of letters to them about life lessons that I think are important.  I’ve also just completed a lap quilt for my son using his favorite pajamas from childhood.

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What is your favorite space in your home? My favorite space in my home is in the kitchen by the fireplace. I love to read books in my rocking chair, or cuddle on the couch with our golden retrievers, Murphy and Molly. 

Photography by Anagram Photos

What was your goal in designing your home? Our goal was to make it warm, comfortable and inviting.

What do you collect? Our family has collected shark teeth during summer trips to the beaches of North Carolina. Our favorite places to find big teeth is Topsail Island. I also collect smooth and heart shaped rocks.

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What is something you look forward to everyday? Although it doesn’t happen seven days a week, one of the things I look forward to most is sitting down and having dinner with my family.

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What is the one thing you can talk about all day if given the chance? I grew up watching sports with my dad and learning the intricacies of the games. I watch ESPN’s SportCenter most days, listen to the Carolina Insider Podcast on Tuesdays and Fridays, and arrange my schedule around college and professional games. Sports are definitely something I enjoy talking about given the chance. 

What is something most people would be shocked to learn about you?  In 2003, I drove a Nascar at Charlotte Motor Speedway…and loved it!

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Do you have a hobby that you enjoy in your spare time? I have absolutely no formal training, but I love taking photos. I own a Canon Rebel with a zoom lens and basically use it as a “point and shoot”. I really enjoy taking flower and nature photographs. My computer now holds the almost 75,000 photos I’ve taken over the years.

Photography by Laura Montross

Who inspires you? The Steiner family in Chapel Hill inspires me. Niklaus, Lucy, Elsa and Annabel created the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation to honor their daughter’s/sister’s wish to help teens and young adults who might be going through  the same thing she did. The foundation’s name is taken from a poem Sophie wrote on her blog when she was thirteen, just a few months before her diagnosis. 

…Be Loud

And move with grace

Explode with light

Have no fear…

Sophie lost her battle in 2013,  and the Steiner’s have turned their greatest tragedy into a lasting legacy.  They did extensive research and pushed to start  a ground-breaking program that is one of the first of its kind in the nation.  The foundation has funded age appropriate programming and the salary for an adolescent and young adult program director at UNC. The goal of the director is to get to know the patient and give them a sense of independence, dignity and identity. I was so moved by their efforts, I am now on their Board of Directors.



What is a secret talent that you have that not many people know about? I became interested in quilting when my children were young as a way of having some time to myself and enjoying a new hobby.  I signed up for a hand-quilt class and fell in love with picking out the fabrics, piecing the squares, and then quilting it together.  That was my first and last quilt I made by hand. I bought a sewing machine shortly after completing the class. Initially, I made many quilts for family and friends. As my children got older and our lives got busier, I didn’t have the time to devote to the process.  I am just now getting back into quilting and look forward to creating more pieces when I become an empty nester in a few short months.

Photography by Anagram Photos


What is something you love to do for other people?  I enjoy taking the time to pick out the prefect card for someone that is celebrating a special occasion or is in need of a little encouragement.  I have found that friends appreciate a hand-written note over emails and texts. 

Favorite Traditions? I love traditions! They keep us connected to family and create so many fun memories. 

Birthdays at our house include making homemade Spice Cake with brown sugar icing.

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Christmas involves a trip to Greensboro to pick out the tree (and a stop at Krispy Kreme doughnuts), keeping up with the “elf on the shelf”,  making gingerbread cookies, hanging stockings on fireplace after reading “Twas The Night Before Christmas” under the tree, leaving cookies and milk for Santa, finding  a message in the ashes the next morning, eating stuffed turkey and making sweet potatoes with golden brown marshmallows on top for Christmas dinner.

Photography by Laura Montross

Every summer at my in-laws lake house in Michigan, we make homemade marshmallows (Barefoot Contessa’s recipe) and use them for s’mores.


Each May, my husband and I visit McAdams Farm in Efland to buy 36 quarts of  fresh strawberries to make 75 pints of jam. I order custom labels for the tops and we enjoy giving them to family and friends throughout the year.

Photography  by Anagram Photos


Are there any lessons from childhood that you still carry with you today?  A good lesson  I learned from childhood is the only thing I can control is me.  You can’t make people behave or react the way you want them to. You can’t control  situations or the outcome.  But you can always control your attitude and the way you react to it. 

Favorite family get-aways? Our favorite family get-aways are to Ocean Isle Beach and my in-laws lake house in Michigan.

Photography by Laura Montross


Do you have a daily routine?  A daily routine I look forward to is walking to the barn with my golden retrievers.

Photography by Anagram Photos


Laura’s Favorite Things


Hostess Gift: My homemade strawberry jam.

Photography by Anagram Photos

My Favorite Meal: My favorite meal is the same today as it was when I was  a child. I love spaghetti with meatballs, salad, and garlic bread. 

Favorite Place To Eat In Chapel Hill/Carrboro: ACME


Favorite Gift Given To You: My favorite gift given to me was a surprise for my 40th birthday.  My parents, who had been married for 43 years at the time, gave me their engagement ring stone in a newly designed setting. I wear it everyday.

Favorite Go-To Palette To Use In Your Home: Blues and Browns

Favorite TV/Netflix Obsession:  I am obsessed with watching This Is Us every week. The last show I binged-watched was Big Little Lies.


Favorite Travel Destination: My family’s favorite travel destination was the Galapagos Islands. We saw tortoises, iguanas, fur seals, finches, blue footed-boobies, hawks, lava lizards, and frigate birds. We even snorkeled with black tip reef sharks.

Photography by Laura Montross


Favorite Drink: Milk!  My family and I consume almost five gallons a week.

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Something You Crave Daily: Chocolate

Favorite Indulgence: Chocolate  ice cream with strawberries, bananas, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. 

Favorite Local Shop: I visit Great Harvest Bread Company in Chapel Hill on a weekly basis. The owners, Jeff and Cathy Bailey, know my order when I walk through the door. I consistently buy Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Challah Bread (Fridays only), and I can never resist the Brownie Bread/Tea Cakes/Muffins when they are available. 

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In My Purse I Always Carry: Bert’s Bees Lip Shimmer (Rhubarb).

My Favorite Perfume: “belle nuit” by Fragonard.

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Favorite Flower: Stargazer lilies are my sentimental favorite flower because they remind me of my wedding (courtesy of Purple Puddle), but I also love hydrangeas.

My Golden Rule Is:  Treat others with kindness and respect.

Best Advice I Have Received: Some of the best advice I received is happiness is a choice. It’s not something you search for. Be optimistic, live with joy and try to envision a glass as half full rather than half empty.


Laura has graciously offered to give away one of her delicious jars of strawberry jam as a give-away! The bad will be hard to eat the store-bought jam when you run out!  It is that good!  Sign up to receive the blog and one lucky person will get to enjoy Laura’s favorite hostess gift.





Roman and Williams

Photo by Adrian Gaut from


I  am doing a pretty extensive re-design of my own home right now  and I am really pushing myself to go out of my box and try something new.  I decided to try a softer, fresh and more feminine scheme.   In general, I’ve always designed my own home in a  moody and slightly masculine palette since I find it to be  warm and cozy.  I think I am really regretting my decision to go with an airy and  light décor.   I keep seeing  pictures on Instagram  from the Roman and Williams Guild in New York City that  stop me  in my tracks.  These  images  make me realize this is truly the look that is close to my heart.    I  just love everything about these spaces.

La Mercerie, the cafe at the RW Guild. Photo by Adrian Gaut


Roman and Williams is one of my favorite design firms. Every time I see their work, I want to move right into that room.  The husband and wife team were  set designers in Hollywood, and I think that experience made them  exceptionally in tune with what a  space should feel like, not just look like.  On a movie set, the audience has to believe that a beach house is really a beach house even though it may be a sound stage in Brooklyn.    They  try to create a story for each space so it has a well-defined personality. They are master mixers… high and low, old and new, with different eras of furniture and pieces  expertly  added  in.   I love going into spaces that take you away…you can feel like you are in a French café even if you are far from it.


The lovely bar and murals at Le Cou Cou in New York City,  Roman and Williams



Brooklyn Townhouse,  Roman and Williams



Exterior of Greydon House, where new and old are blended, Roman and Williams


The very charming Greydon House Porch on Nantucket,  Roman and Williams


I think this kitchen is just perfection!  Goop Pop-Up shop in New York,  Roman and Williams


They do “pretty” well too! Goop Pop-Up NYC Roman and Williams


  The greenhouse from the movie set, Practical Magic. The set was so beautiful and realistic that Barbra Streisand called to ask where it was because she was interested in buying it! Roman and Williams








Conversations with...Paige Zinn


When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is to explore the local  architecture and sights, but what I really am fascinated with is  how people live and what they eat in other parts of the world.

This summer, I went to Europe with my family and in each country  we visited,  the locals were enjoying all the foods  we are told are bad for you.   Bread , pasta, cheese, and wine were  consumed with gusto. Yet, everyone partaking  looked glowingly healthy! In Paris, all the women were so chic and put together, despite the 95 degree heat.  No jeans or flip flops here. Years earlier, we traveled to  Sweden and visited a children’s museum.  In the museum cafeteria, the children were eating Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce…no junk food was even offered.  When I am fortunate to stay with friends or family in their home while traveling ,  I enjoy experiencing  their rituals – their exercise routines, a cup of coffee or tea prepared a certain way, a good book they are reading, or learning about a skill they have that I never knew about.   As a natural observer, I always find something inspiring to take home with me.

Because I am curious about  people’s rituals and lifestyles,  I thought it would be fun to  start a series of interviews with interesting people in our  community, state and beyond. I am leaving the serious posts about world happenings  for other blogs! Hopefully you will be  inspired by what people do to fill their creative souls  when they step away from the daily grind  of the everyday. 

My first “guest” is someone who fascinates me all the time  and happens to be my sister-in-law, Paige Zinn. She is the Owner/Principal of Jennings, one of the top  healthcare marketing firms in the country.   And she is the most efficient and organized  person I have ever met. She taught me the saying “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person” – a saying  she personifies.  Before she had children,  her house was always so neat and organized.  I used to whisper to myself “Wait until she had kids”…thinking  her house would be a wreck like mine when little babies and toddlers take over.   She now has not only one, but two busy and talented kids, yet  everything is still in its place.   She is a wife, mother, and a  respected business woman and has found the time to  run the NYC marathon,  become a certified yoga instructor,  chaired  the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce BOD, and currently sits on the Orange County Economic Development advisory board.  While she has received numerous awards and has sat on a number of boards in the hopes of making our community a better place, she still finds time to be creative and find joy in her everyday life.  My mother-in -law, who is a builder and a designer, always encouraged me to pursue a career in design, but it was Paige that  gave me the final push.  “What are you waiting for…go back to school and do it now!” So I did! Cheers to this go -getter who is always trying to live her best life.


You are the most organized person I know.  Any advice for the rest of us?

I definitely understand that being organized is not everyone’s forte. But since I was in junior high, I’ve always enjoyed and been good at planning and organizing. Recently,  mom reminded me that on Christmas mornings, even when I was very young, I would open my gifts and then immediately take them upstairs to organize in my room. I didn’t like messy, chaotic environments. And I still don’t.




Buy a paper planner and use it every day. I use mine to keep my schedule and to list my to-dos. My planner includes the tasks/appointments I have for the office, as well as all of my personal appointments/tasks. It even includes my kids’ activities and appointments. It has been proven that writing things down helps you remember them. And once you’ve completed a task, make sure to mark through it. There is something incredibly satisfying about that.

Using your planner, take 10 minutes at the end of each day to review your day. Those items that still need to be done should be written in the next day’s to-do list. And take pride in reviewing all of the things you accomplished that day.

Each morning review your day in your planner. That way, your schedule is in your head and you can mentally prepare for what’s ahead.

Carry your planner everywhere. You will be amazed at the number of times you need to reschedule something or tweak a to-do.

At the end of each day, spend 30 minutes picking up the house and putting things in their proper place. I vacuum our family room, mud room and kitchen every other night. Not only does it pick up the dirt that has been tracked into the house, but it allows my brain to wander. I wish I had more time for my brain to wander.




You always send the most beautiful thank you notes and cards and it is such a treat to get something in the mail these days!  What are some of your favorite sources to get beautiful cards and paper?

My new favorite stationer is Nancy Sharon Collins. I recently commissioned her to create bespoke hand-engraved stationery for me. The process took about 3-4 months, but it was worth it. The custom cipher was the first step. Then we selected a color palette. I went with Peony Pink, which surprised me a bit. I am not a pink kind of gal, but I wanted a color that made me smile.  The last step was selecting paper stock. I wanted a paper that had a smooth finish, but also was a good match for my fountain pens (That is the only type of pen I use.). I selected a bamboo paper stock, after reviewing a number of different types of paper. You can learn more about Nancy and her process at

I’ve also used Emily McCarthy for my stationery. While I like her monogram styles, they are not custom. And I really wanted to invest in a custom cipher.




What is something you love to do for other people?

I love to write letters. My goal is to send at least one handwritten letter a week. I try and make the letter a work of art. I use my new bespoke letterhead and envelopes. And I write in Copperplate calligraphy for the address. And I finish with a wax seal. Currently, I’m using a seal that you brought back for me from Murano, Italy. I love it!





What would you like to be an expert at if given the chance?

Calligraphy. I dream of being a Master Penman.




Where do you go to find peace in your house?

My office. I can truly relax there. I used a Farrow & Ball wallpaper (an English company) – St. Antoine Damask – on one wall in this room. And I painted the trim and coffered ceiling a dark, rich brown. The walls are cream. The floors are a dark walnut hardwood. And I have an area rug in the center of the room that has cream and light blue colors.

The office looks out over our backyard pool which backs up to open space filled with trees. The view has a calming influence on me.





Architecturally, what is your favorite style?

Tudor and classic English country

What does your home say about you?

My husband, Omar, and I designed a Tudor home. We both like the steep roofline, the embellished doorways and the decorative half-timbering. The house was designed so that all of the rooms would be used. We don’t like wasted space. Both of us appreciate the elegance yet livability of the home. And the porte-cochere adds a bit of whimsy to the house.


What do you collect?

Fountain pens: my favorites right now are Sailor and Pilot Vanishing Point (both Japanese companies)



Leather planners: I am especially fond of Gillio and Van der Spek planners. Gillio is in Belgium and Van der Spek is in the Netherlands.

Ted Muehling jewelry: especially his rings and bracelets


Goyard bags



Coclico shoes: hand made in Spain


What do you do to relax?

Watch British TV series – Vera, Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis.




Are you working on any projects or events that are exciting to you?

I recently was accepted into the Ink.Academy (Yes, there is a period after Ink for some reason!). I am taking a yearlong course in Spencerian script. I enjoy calligraphy and I’m interested in improving my skills.

I’m also working on two projects – our family’s holiday card and my daughter Parker’s  Sweet 16 birthday invitation. Both will incorporate my calligraphy.


 Parker’s Sweet 16 birthday cake. She is a talented  seamstress and hopes  to be a fashion designer.




Dream work/ project?

Owning a design business with my daughter (Parker)  that specializes in custom pieces and collaborations. I would manage the operations of the company and work on the calligraphy assignments, and Parker would be Creative Director. 

Currently, Parker and I work together on ParkerPaige designs. Parker creates a variety of bags – travel, toiletry bags, evening bags, duffel bags, and sells them online and in trunk shows. I created the logo and help her with the business side of things.



What would you love to be doing in 10 years?

Help manage the design business for Parker , and run  a brick and mortar destination store that specializes in premium papers, paper planners and fountain pens. It would also offer calligraphy design services.

How do you describe your style?

I had my “Style Statement” done years ago by Carrie and Danielle. My style was called “Genuine Invitation.” This is how it was described:

“Genuine Invitation just wants to be itself and deeply appreciates people and experiences that are free from hypocrisy or dishonesty; and are sincere. I appreciate things that last and endure, and come from original and pure sources. I have a knack for taking the best and leaving the rest. I like things that are comfortable and comforting. I appreciate strong craftsmanship that stands the test of time. I don’t like replicas, rip-offs or imitation designs.”

I think this description fits me perfectly.



What would you tell someone to do if they were visiting Chapel Hill for the first time:

Stay in the Carolina Inn. Get up early and grab a cinnamon roll at Sunrise Biscuits. Also eat at Suttons, IP3 Pizza and Crook’s Corner. Walk on campus.


My golden rule is:

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

Are there any lessons from childhood that you still carry with you today?

There is no substitute for hard work.

What inspires you?

People who have extraordinary talents, teachers/coaches/parents who genuinely love what they do and get the most out of their students/players/children, books that are difficult to put down;  my husband’s love of life and people

Something you crave daily:

Alone time


Paige’s favorite things:

Hostess Gift: The Laundress sample packs, hydrangeas mixed with dianthus, box of stationery that I love.

Favorite gift given to you: A few come to mind: my dad’s UNC class ring, a wax seal from Murano, Italy to use on my stationery envelopes, any jewelry my husband purchases for me

Favorite Meal: Mexican anything. I LOVE Mexican food.  I could bathe in guacamole with nice, big chunks of avocado.

Favorite go to color palette to use in your home:

Browns, blues, cream

Most cherished item: My family.

Favorite Flower: Peony

What would you give to a person that has everything? Lancome’s Nutrix Royal Body Cream, BeautyCounter’s facial oil gift set, Mr. MG Ward’s foiled desktop leather blotter

Favorite 3 places to eat in the Triangle? Thai Palace in Chapel Hill, Vin Rouge in Durham, Stoney River Steakhouse in Chapel Hill.



What would you give to a person that has everything? Lancome’s Nutrix Royal Body Cream, BeautyCounter’s facial oil gift set, Mr. MG Ward’s foiled desktop leather blotter





My favorite local shop: Lark and Crazy Alan’s Emporium

Book you think should be on everyone’s book shelf: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Favorite TV/Netflix obsession? The Crown, Vera and Midsomer Murders

Favorite Travel destination: I really enjoy the big island in Hawaii. My husband and I visited there for a wedding, and it still ranks as our favorite vacation.

Favorite Drink: Prosecco.


Thank you, Paige!  Receiving a letter from her is like  getting a small  work of art. I want to frame it!  If you sign up to receive the blog, Paige and I are giving away one of her favorite gifts to receive and give to one lucky person,  a large jar of Lancôme Nutrix Royal Body Butter! You will love it!


Blackberry Farm Part 2


PART II: Kreis’ daughter-in-law, Mary Celeste, made a brief appearance to welcome us and to tell us about her own design journey with Suzanne.   Kreis said her son Sam, who was the proprietor of the inn after his parents handed over the reigns,  took his favorite design elements  from each house they lived in over the years and incorporated them  into his family home at Blackberry Farm.  His most cherished home was in Mobile, Alabama where the dining room was right when you entered the front door. It was a welcoming gesture  and statement that family and food were of the most  importance. Suzanne and Mary Celeste   took the special memory  Sam had as a child and brought it to their Tennessee home on the property of Blackberry Farm.  Imagine being a guest and this is the first thing you see when you enter.

Photo By Pieter Estersohn via Architectural Digest



We ended the lecture and  in true Blackberry  style, there were dozens of golf carts with blankets waiting for us outside. We  assumed we were simply going to tour  the property. Instead, we traveled around  winding roads only to stop in front of the most charming collection of small cottages. We had no idea we were getting a tour of Kreis’ former home which had been featured in Architectural Digest. Now the house is  currently owned by another  VIP,  that was kind enough to let our group walk through the cottages on the property and take as many pictures as we wanted. Talk about the ultimate in openness and hospitality!



Kreis and Suzanne in front of Toad Hall, the main log cabin on the property.



The entry to Toad Hall.



The rustic main kitchen at Toad Hall.



The rooms and nooks in the main house were so cozy!




Each of the guest log cabins had a different décor.





One of my most favorite places on the tour was the stone and steel Carriage House. The architectural details were uniquely different from the rest of the property but worked so well together.  Suzanne explained that in Europe, when they made additions  to homes, they typically used stone or limestone and  did not always try to match it to how the structure was originally built.


The Carriage House



Inside the Carriage House



We  hopped back into our carts where Kreis  took us to the “Black Barn” which is her design studio.  Before we arrived, we made a pit stop at a tiny “shed” that was converted into a guest cottage!  Kreis’ house had sold before she built another one so  she had her builder convert this cute little shed into temporary living quarters. She now uses it for guests or a retreat to write her book.



Open the barn doors and voila!


Next we were off to her office for a quick tour and had the opportunity to see her design boards and works in progress!




After our whirlwind tour we went to get a quick lunch by the fireplace and then headed off to the spa for a treatment.  Even the bookshelves in the spa have so much style!



We hardly had any down time before meeting back at The Barn for a look at Bramble Hall, the newest building which doubles as a conference center and a performance space for the many concerts held at Blackberry.  We went downstairs and were able to see the incredible wine collection, most of it collected by Kreis’ son, Sam.  She told us  he would bike to  small wineries to  meet face to face with the vintners to build Blackberry’s special  wine collection.




While walking around Bramble Hall, I kept running into a  woman taking pictures of the same design features as me.   I asked if she was a designer and she was and told me she was an assistant to Jeannette Whitson.  I was so excited to meet  another talented designer whose work I just loved!  If you ever read House Beautiful, you may recognize her work from this now iconic “blue room” in her own home.

Photography by Simon Watson for House Beautiful. Design by Jeannette Whitson.


I  showed a client Jeannette’s living room  a few years back  as an inspiration picture for  her space , including the hidden TV over the fireplace behind the picture!



Jeannette is incredibly talented. She is an antiques dealer and owns Garden Variety Design in Nashville.  My friend and I hope to meet up with  her  at the Nashville Antiques and Garden show next month and visit her shop.  If you don’t already follow her Instagram account, you must! She has a magic touch and puts old and new  things together  in a way that is traditional, yet feels so fresh.  I love her breakfast room where she uses an old French marble table and look at that chandelier!


Jeannette mixes  antique books and little knick knacks to create a festive touch that is incredibly chic.  I love how she decorates for the holidays which really showcases her very unique style.



Just as I thought the night could not get any better, we walked into the wine cellar and sat down at the most beautiful table.  We assumed  we were having dinner in The Barn like the rest of the guests at the inn, but instead were treated to this magical moment.



There was an option to have wines paired with your meal and how could I turn that down?



The meal and  guests made for the most extraordinary and memorable evenings I have ever had.  We were exhausted from a day  filled with  one surprise after another.  Just when we were headed back to our room,  our new friend Jeannette, who was such a  fun and spirited person,  had another idea.  She took us on a joy ride in her golf cart giving us  a tour of an old graveyard, almost crashing a corporate smores gathering and just driving  around enjoying  the most beautiful clear evening sky where you could see every star. It was magical!  She took us to the “game cottage”  where we had a quick game of pool.  Jeannette was probably disappointed in what duds we were.  We were so tired after a long day  and couldn’t wait to get back to our beautiful cottage  that we barely had spent any time in and sit in front of the fire.

The next morning we packed up after experiencing a weekend  we will never forget.  I could not stop thinking about how gracious Kreis Beall was even after all she has been through.  Throughout the tour, Kreis and her staff spoke often about  Sam and his vision for the Inn. Someone asked her if she dreamed it would be this  special place that people traveled from all over  the world to visit. She said  she never imagined it would be anything but a simple inn with delicious food.  It became what it is because of Sam.  While Kreis was thinking big,  Sam was watching her  and brought all of his experiences  to life at Blackberry in ways that no one could imagine, not even Kreis herself.  He studied under Thomas Keller and  traveled the world to bring the best wine and food back to Blackberry Farm  making  it one of the top inns in the world.  What wasn’t said and what no one brought up, not even once, was that Sam had died almost a year to the day of this  event in a  ski accident at the age of 39. He left behind his wife, Mary Celeste, who is now the proprietor of the Inn and   5 children.


I had read about her son passing away shortly after it happened.    Kreis was obviously filled with joy and love when she spoke of him and if  you didn’t know he had passed away, you wouldn’t have known.  He was such an important part of the weekend that it was almost as if he was standing right there with all of us.  The admiration and love for Sam from Kreis and the entire staff  was a very special moment for me. Anyone who had been touched by Sam Beall,  spoke of him as a visionary not just for Blackberry, but encouraged  everyone  around him  to chase their dreams. I’ve never seen people carry on with so much grace, love and determination  after the loss of a loved one. It was very inspiring and humbling experience.

The whole weekend  was  real, authentic and genuine, just like Kreis. She was so open and warm and really wanted to hear our  opinion on how to make the experience better at every turn, when she could have secluded herself from a bunch of strangers.  We were her guests and she was going to see to it that we  would  to have one of the best weekends we could have  imagined.  I came to see Suzanne Kasler,  who is such an  amazing talent, but I walked away totally smitten with Kreis Beall.  She is a  lovely  example of how to live a beautiful life in an authentic way….not only on the outside but on the inside.


Photo from Blackberry Farm


I was always a big dreamer and my mother made me feel like I could do anything. I am not sure how she kept a straight face when I proclaimed what I was going to do that week.  Because she believed in me, I believed in myself and was able to make some of my own dreams happen.  If I didn’t,  I figured it out on my own that it was not the right path for me.   As soon as I had kids, I hoped I could be as encouraging as  my mom, especially  to my oldest son. As a natural leader, he actually had the personality to take on  and do anything.  I encouraged him and honestly believed he could do whatever he dreamed of.   However, as he got older and closer to going  out on his own,  I could feel myself reigning him  in.  He wanted to pick a major that didn’t seem like  it would have a lot of job opportunities,  so  I pushed  a business major in college because it seemed like a solid choice.  However, my weekend at Blackberry opened my eyes.  Spending time with some of the most creative and innovative  people I have ever met,  who see beyond what many of us don’t see, made me want to change the way I approached my life as an adult when you start to “know” too much.   No one stopped Sam from taking an inn and turning it into one of the most renowned Relais  and Chateaux properties in the woods of Tennessee.  I could not wait  to get home and call my son at school to tell him to declare the major he originally wanted.   Maybe it did  not have a direct path to the perfect and  safe job, but I had to believe  he would take himself to a place that he has always dreamed of, even if it was one that I could not  see.


The sweet little chapel at Blackberry Farm.



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Blackberry Farm Part 1


In the early 90’s before I was married or had children and  was learning  to cook, I read an article in Bon Appetit about a woman named Kreis Beall. Gorgeous photos of Beall showed her at her beautiful home in Alabama on Mobile Bay. The pictures  painted a scene of kids,  friends, dogs and fun chaos among what seemed to be an easy-going life where only food and entertaining were taking seriously.  Beall’s description of her days… biking to pick fresh  tomatoes and only cooking things in season…had me dreaming. This was before the farm-to-table movement and I was fascinated with her emphasis on fresh seasonal food being so important.  It is funny why something resonates with you. I can’t remember why I came downstairs to get something most times, but I can remember that article and even the dishes she cooked…fried chicken and peach pie! Over the years I kept seeing her in articles, her beautiful homes and an historic country inn she started called Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. I always wanted to go, but the timing never seemed to work.  Long story short, I was able to go with some dear friends for my 20th wedding  anniversary  and we had the most amazing time!  I thought it would take years for me to get back there, but by happenchance I found out that Suzanne Kasler, one of my favorite designers,  worked with Beall and  was doing a design workshop last spring.   The itinerary seemed like a simple one that included a joint lecture by Suzanne  and Kreiss about their design process through the years. There was also a wine dinner in the Barn that Saturday night. My design-loving friend who accompanied me  thought the rest of the time was  lightly scheduled so we  could enjoy the activities at the inn.  Boy were we in for a surprise!


Driving  by the turn-of-the century converted  Red Barn where dinner is served.

Playing with the Lagatto Romagnolo pups before dinner…the “truffle dogs”  that are bred and trained at Blackberry Farm.

We were escorted to our cozy cottage and were told to freshen up. The owner had arranged for us to have welcome cocktails at her home. What a lovely way to be greeted!

Sitting room with a beautiful view and real fireplace which  they will light for you…”Just call us”!



Arriving at Kreis’ charming converted farmhouse for cocktails, which previously housed the inn’s spa.





The next morning we arrived at the barn to see Kreiss and Suzanne Kasler’s lecture and to hear about their collaborations over the pasts 20 years.


The lecture was fantastic and we thought that was the end of the event until dinner.  The real treat was ahead. They told us there were golf carts outside waiting for us to take us on a tour of some very special properties on the grounds…(to be continued)

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The Charm of Awnings

Source: Travel and Leisure


My obsession with awnings began over 14 years ago when I was relocating my retail store and had  the opportunity to re-design the exterior.  While looking for inspiration pictures, I was most attracted to the charming store fronts of Europe with the gorgeous millwork, colors  and small awnings over the windows. I knew I wanted to convey the same charm of a European shop.

Here are some inspiring awnings from my recent travel in Europe. The charming storefront, Laduree, in a perfect shade of green.


Eating steak frites at  Relais de l”Entrcote

One of my favorite hotels, Plaza Athenee…beautiful awnings with coordinating flowers

Maybe it is a coincidence since I have been paying attention to the charming store fronts in Europe, but I have seen so many awnings and outdoor draperies  in all of the design magazines!

Here is a lovely awning with drapes from Tobi Fairley from Traditional Home

Photo by Nancy Nolan

Love this one from Architectural Digest

Photo by Francois Dischinger

One of my all time favorite backyards is this design by Shelley Johnstone in her own home.  It is so full of charm and details.

It is also the inspiration that I am using for a current client’s patio.  I saw she had touches of pink throughout her house and when I saw this picture I was hoping she was game  for pink for her outdoor furniture.   She loved it and we just ordered some  outdoor fabric in a very soft petal pink! She also has the most incredible vintage Ficks Reed furniture that we are going to re-upholster and order new outdoor sofa,  drapes and accessories so we can transform her back porch into a place for her family  to relax out of the heat.  Love when a client is game for something different and this client is light hearted and fun!

My client’s  before shot of her doggie posing on her beautiful   vintage Ficks Reed furniture.

I would love to add an awning to my back patio.  It was supposed to have a pergola built in to provide a little shade and structure, but it never happened. (The perils of being married to a builder/developer…you are last on the list!).  I think I may like to add an awning to up the charm factor, but I have a wood shingle home so need to find the right look.

How about this in a different shade of blue?

Image from House and Garden via The Glam Pad

Keep checking to see what we choose!  I am making lots of transformations to my yard and home.

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With gratitude,


Kids Rooms that Grow


I just finished  a favorite project with the most charming family.  They live in a beautiful old rambling historic home in Chapel Hill  that sits up on a hill.  It is a home I’ve always admired as I would drive by it often to drop  my son off at a friend’s house. Imagine my delight when I got the call to help  with the design of 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.  The wife is this very petite powerhouse at her job, mom of 5 children and a successful author. She has style to spare but what she did not have was time.  As her children got older, they were outgrowing their rooms and furniture.  The little ones would hop around from  room to room,  so our main goal was to  tailor  each bedroom to the children’s colors, style and needs so they would feel that space was made especially for them.  I loved interviewing each of them to find out their favorite colors and hobbies and we went to work  to create spaces that were truly their own.   The first thing I noticed were stacks and stacks of books everywhere.  The children loved to read and be  creative,  so every room needed built-in storage  to house all of the books, trophies and projects.  The mom really wanted the rooms to grow with  the children using quality pieces since the first time around she purchased a lot of toddler/child sized furniture that they outgrew.  We added new paint, beds,  wallpaper, rugs, lighting, and bedding. We saved some original lighting and a few antique and special furniture pieces.  Through color, fabric and artwork (that sadly did not make it in time for the photo shoot!) we created beautiful  bedrooms and bathrooms that the children just love!  The mom has reported back to me that  we have acheived success…all of the little  ones are sleeping in and loving their very own bedroom!

We can start with the one sweet little girl’s room which was a dream to design.  She wanted pink which was such a thrill for me since my own daughter was always anti-pink.   She loves to read and snuggle with her mom  so lots of comfortable reading spots were a must.  The highlight of the room is the built-in window seat  that has  the softest pink fabric and the sweetest ribbon  light fixtures.  Every fabric in this room is as soft as it looks.  We mainly used pink and white with a touch of soft green in the room using a variety of textures..cottons, velvets, chenilles and mohair.   The final touch was the rug we found that was made in India.  It has an old world touch that is fitting with a historic home, but the color makes it fresh and modern.


All after photos by the amazing  Anna Routh Photography










We took a little used office that turned  into a storage room and made that the oldest son’s room. He loved navy and red so it worked beautifully with the wood paneling.






The adjoining half bath was a simple space with light blue paint but was a little serious.  We took this as an opportunity to add some more red and bright blue color to the windowless half bath.  The angles of the deconstructed stripe wallpaper were fun to play off of, so we added a pedestal sink with an angled corners, hardware with strong geometric shapes…even the fabulous towel ring had an interesting shape!



Since all the  boys liked blue, we were lucky that each child also wanted a secondary color to go with it to individualize each space. The child in this room loved blue and orange so we were able to have another great color combo.





The next room was the most challenging of all  because it was going to be shared by 2 boys and was the smallest room but had the biggest bathroom and the most closet and storage space.  We went back and forth  but the tiny closet and smaller bathroom in the larger room  would just not function for two people.   Since the space was more compact, we did  a built-in bookcase  with a small desk. We also found twin  rattan beds that would offer less visual clutter and keep the tiny space clean and neat.  One boy loved green and one boy loved blue so we put this classic color combination together that looks fantastic together but we were also able to individualize each bed and make them more personable.

Before pictures of the room:



Here is the bathroom that had plenty of space for 2 boys to get ready for school every morning.  We kept the beautiful marble top that the mom had picked out years ago but gave the room a more kid-friendly punch of color.




I loved working with the parents of these sweet children.  They are two very highly respected and accomplished  professionals in their field and were amazing to work with. They really understood how challenging it can be to make a fresh start when change is needed and time is limited.    It  can be very difficult to design your own home since we tend to  be sentimental about furniture and trinkets.  They gave me lots of creative freedom to make it happen.  I will really miss working with their children, too!  They were some of the most polite and well-behaved kids I have ever met…yes all 5 of them! It was fun to create a special room for each of them and it is a memory and job I will cherish.




Kitchen Stories: Cooking Couples

zinn_annarouthphotography_018   There is a joke in the design industry that we are not  only designers but counselors and psychologists. When you work with two people who are making decisions about a room they have dreamed of remodeling, all kinds of issues can come up. Designers frequently get caught  in the middle when one is hoping you will take their side.  I recently worked on a kitchen/breakfast room/bar remodel with a couple who thankfully had none of those issues!  Usually  one person drives the design and the other adds wanted or unwanted input!    This husband and wife team had  strong opinions about what they liked, but always worked out a solution that satisfied both of them. There was lots of give and take and it  really was  wonderful to see them interact with each other in such a thoughtful way.


They moved into a home that had a white dated kitchen with formica countertops and wanted a total redo so we demolished  the entire kitchen and once again, donated everything  to Habitat for Humanity. They wished for a  classic white kitchen  with some black, grey and modern elements thrown in.  This kitchen had to be durable because they love to cook. We increased the size of the island and  mixed it up with black  and white quartz counters that are basically bullet proof, industrial lights and  white and light grey cabinetry.  They wanted  a few high-end appliances and really loved the  restaurant quality  Blue Star range top and double ovens.   We demolished a set of pantries and added a Sub Zero fridge with a large countertop for extra prep.  This is a real cook’s kitchen! There was a cramped space with a small breakfast table so we added   custom built-in seating with cushions  that follows the curves of the window to maximize space.   They were totally open to doing a dramatic black tiled bar off of the dining room  that  is perfect for entertaining.


The mix of materials, colors and elements make their kitchen  special, interesting  and so representative of them.   I say it in every post and I am so afraid I will jinx myself, but I am lucky to have worked with this exceptional couple.  When I had to tell them  the light they loved was back ordered for the 3rd time, they really could have went off the edge and may have after I left, but always treated me with such patience and kindness.  I am so grateful for their  thoughtfulness to me and the other team members.  We all loved them and wanted to bend over backwards to make them happy since they were so darned nice when we kicked them out their kitchen for so long!  Thank you  #projectrossburn2  for being so positive, fun, open-minded and creative!


All of the beautiful after photos are by Anna Routh Photography.


Side note:  The before pictures were  taken while the previous owners were still living there and in the middle of  packing so it is  more chaotic then the usual before pictures!

Before: stove and fridge wall


After:  Blue Star range and double ovens

zinn_annarouthphotography_009     zinn_annarouthphotography_011

Before: pantry wall


After: new Sub Zero fridge and work station


Before:  sink wall




Before: breakfast room




Before: Island


After: larger updated island


Before: Butler’s Pantry


After: black tiled bar